Episode Spotlight: Sons and Bowlers

Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.

“Sons and Bowlers” (#233, 10×19)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, March 22nd, 1982
Written by Elias Davis & David Pollock
Directed by Hy Averback

Capsule Summary: Colonel Potter tries to put together a winning bowling team so he can finally beat the Marines. Meanwhile, Hawkeye waits anxiously for news about his father’s surgery.

I absolutely love half of this episode. It’s M*A*S*H at its emotional best and gave David Ogden Stiers the opportunity to do some of his finest acting on the series. Alan Alda does a terrific job as well. Charles opening up to Hawkeye about the distant relationship he has with his father gives me chills every time I watch it.

The way Stiers and Alda are able to convey so much emotion with just the tiniest of facial expressions is impressive. When Charles says “Even now, the sight of lettuce makes me talk faster” he smiles almost imperceptibly at the memory of those family dinners.

The scene ends with a powerful exchange:

Charles: “I always assumed that that’s how it was in every family. But when I see the warmth, closeness, the fun of your relationship… My father’s a good man. He always wanted what was best for me. But where I have a father, you have a dad.”
Hawkeye: “Charles, you never told me anything like this before.”
Winchester: “Actually, Hawkeye… I’ve never told you anything before.”

When Charles calls Hawkeye by his nickname rather than Pierce, Hawkeye’s reaction is subtle–just a small turn of the head–but effective.

Unfortunately, the bowling A Story is nowhere near as good as the Hawkeye/Charles B Story. It’s not an awful idea but it’s filled with far too much screeching from both Colonel Potter and Margaret. I do love Potter’s yelling “Not now, Margaret, I’m recruiting!” And I appreciate how the two storylines intertwined, with Hawkeye bowling a few frames to keep his mind occupied.

Charles scheming with B.J. seems somewhat out of character but perhaps he was feeling friendly and sociable after bonding with Hawkeye. The two sharing a drink in the Officers’ Club and toasting to fathers and sons is the perfect ending to the episode.

I think we can all be grateful the episode didn’t end with a freeze frame of Margaret jumping in the air while celebrating the 4077th’s win over the Marines. The slow motion bowling was bad enough.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Sons and Bowlers showing Charles and Hawkeye toasting.
Charles and Hawkeye toast to fathers and sons.

The opening credits of this episode feature the closing theme song and are thus shortened considerably.

Pay close attention to the background while Colonel Potter is trying to convince Margaret to keep Marty Urbancic occupied. You can see tables set up outside where people are eating. It’s actually a little surprising that M*A*S*H went to such lengths during Season 10. It’s the sort of attention to detail and use of extras that was more common during the early years of the series.

Roy Goldman has a rare speaking part in this episode yet isn’t credited.

Roger Hampton receives a credit as The Second Marine.

Dick O’Neill made his third and final guest appearance on M*A*S*H in this episode. He previously played Admiral Cox in “38 Across” during Season 5 and General Prescott in “B.J. Papa San” during Season 7.

10 Comments

  • Larry P. says:

    I’m probably in the minority here, but I absolutely LOVE this episode. Aside from the series finale, it’s my favorite “later M*A*S*H,” and to be honest, I’d probably put it in my all-time top 10. Lemme explain:

    The Hawkeye / Winchester storyline, it’s just terrific. This was Charles at his most human; as much as I like Frank Burns, the series never could have went places like this with him, not like this. M*A*S*H as a whole has no shortage of emotional moments, but man, Winchester’s consoling Hawkeye, and his foregoing of the usual “Pierce” in favor of calling him by his nickname, the whole “I have a father, you have a dad” line, even just his quietly telling Hawkeye it’s going to be okay, it’s all great. Winchester in general is amiable this episode; his helping BJ with sabotaging the Marines, it does seem a little out-of-character, but it also fits with the overall episode.

    As for the bowling storyline, I love that, too. I may be horrible at it, but I’m fond of the sport, so that endears things to me from the start. Beyond that though, the whole “rigged sport” thing recalls the earlier seasons of M*A*S*H (Trapper boxing, in particular) and even the football game in the movie. Except for some of the Margaret/Potter exchanges being a little irritating, I find it a very entertaining plotline.

    I like how when the wounded arrive during the bowling tournament, the Marines drop everything to help the 4077th, no griping, no reluctance. I thought that was a nice touch.

    Also, Fr. Mulcahy’s hurt “I came in here for cocoa…” when Potter is getting on him about practicing is hilarious.

    Some people like to complain about “Later M*A*S*H,” and while I understand the concerns, it wasn’t all preachy, heavy-handedness. This episode proves the show could still successfully walk the line between comedy and drama. The Hawkeye/Winchester plot is touching and emotional without becoming treacly or saccharine, and the bowling plot is a lot of fun.

    An overlooked, underrated episode that I love endlessly.

    • hrflyer says:

      One of the best episodes of the later years – actually one of the best in the entire series. Easily top 10 all time for me. This particular episode shows the huge chasm between the Frank and Charles characters. By year 5, Frank was such a beaten-down nitwit, there is absolutely no way this could have been attempted with him. Of course, it couldn’t have been done with Charles in his first 3 years since he was was far too smug and aloof.

      The bowling story has just enough to it to tie in nicely with the Hawkeye/Charles plot line.

    • Father Angus says:

      I also really love this episode. The Bowling A Story I can tolerate, but the B Story is one of the best B Stories ever. This is probably in my top 10 episodes, thanks to the B Story.

    • Maggie Hoolihan says:

      I think you’re in the majority. Would be tough to dislike this episode. Your comments were everything I was thinking too even dowm to liking Frank but being able to see something in Charles too. I’m finding more and more later eps I’m enjoying too. They weren’t all bad as you said.

  • 007 says:

    Like the others here, this is one of my favorite latter season episodes, and easily the best season 10 episode. The bowling storyline is decently entertaining but honestly to me it’s just like something I have to get through before we get back to the Hawkeye/Charles storyline, which might be the most touching and emotional storyline of the entire series.

    The story Hawkeye tells about his dad hiding his mom’s illness from him, and then Charles telling Hawkeye about his dad is written and acted so well, it’s beautiful.

    As much as I do like the goofier funny episodes of seasons 1-3 better, this story line is near perfect television.

  • Doc Funnypants says:

    What I want to know is how did Charles know what MARS stood for?
    An OK episode except for the final ball rolled by Margaret. I thought they went over-the-top showing it in super slow motion.

  • Adam's Ribs says:

    I get choked up at the toast at the end. When my mother died, my family deliberately excluded me from a toast to my mother while I was in another room. This was after I made all the funeral arrangements.

    This was done by a vindictive older brother who tried to have my father institutionalized and was later thrown out of the hospital for fighting with doctors when my mother was in a coma, and nothing could be done.

    Even if my brothers, father, and cousin got together right now and redid that toast with me there, it wouldn’t be the same. Last night I found my answer.

    Six years ago on June 20, it was my mother’s funeral. Last night, MeTV showed the episode “Old Soldiers” when Potter has Hawkeye, B.J., Charles, Mulcahy, Klinger, and Margaret drink a toast to the last of Potter’s four best friends who just died. They had made a pledge that the last survivor would do that from a bottle stored by a law firm. I’m doing the same thing with a former classmate who lost both her parents. We will toast all four parents when my father goes, but we will have to do it long distance as we are several states apart.

  • mspence says:

    The bowling story was just horrible for the way they dealt with Margaret’s character; it was a throwback to her days as Hot Lips, which seemed to be happening frequently in the later episodes. Hawkeye’s father should have been the A story.

  • Maggie Hoolihan says:

    I was so impressed and moved by how concerned Charles was about Hawkeye’s dad. I loved that he waited with him to hear the outcome of the call and gave his medical opinion on it to reassure him but he didn’t ever try to placate him. What a great friend he has turned out to be. He listens way better than BJ and actually knows how to take things seriously. David Stiers really was an underrated actor. What a treat it was to see two powerhouse actors like Alda and Stiers really work with each other. Their scenes were almost like a dance sometimes. Some actors just wait for their turn to talk without noticing what the other actors are doing. Also, Hawkeye’s call with his dad also really moved my heart. The way he got choked up. He talks so much about him that it was nice to hear them finally speak. Great later season episode. Almost seems like they’re trying to cram all these in depth looks at each character’s innermost feelings. Seems like one after another is somebody crying over something that happened in their childhood or at home.

  • Lady, You ARE A Piece of Cornbread says:

    I like Margret’s line “They might have a pro, but YOU DON’T!”

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