Episode Spotlight: Out of Gas


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

“Out of Gas” (#156, 7×12)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, December 4th, 1978
Written by Tom Reeder
Directed by Mel Damski

Capsule Summary: The 4077th is in desperate need of sodium pentothal, forcing Father Mulcahy to turn to the black market.

If Father Mulcahy and Charles seeking out black marketeers to acquire sodium pentothal seems familiar, you’re probably thinking of “Tea and Empathy” from Season 6. In that episode, Father Mulcahy and Klinger track down stolen penicillin. The two are even shot at, just like Father Mulcahy and Charles in this episode. The plots may not be identical but they’re very similiar.

Curiously, there’s no mention of Father Mulcahy’s encounter with black marketeers in “Tea and Empathy.” He does tell Colonel Potter, Hawkeye, and Margaret that he sometimes deals with the black market to obtain supplies for orphans. M*A*S*H rarely worried about continuity between episodes.

Yet there is continuity in “Out of Gas”: Charles is forced to give up the polar suit his parents sent him in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” earlier in Season 7. Sadly, although the pentothal is recovered, Charles has to leave the polar suit–and his uniform–behind.

Is it just me, or is the first half of the episode filled with scenes that aren’t necessary? The poker game at the beginning of the episode is amusing but doesn’t add much to the story. Neither does the lengthy scene in Potter’s office in which Zale reveals how he traded the pentothal to the 8063rd for plasma. It’s not until Father Mulcahy mentions the black market that the episode starts to get interesting.

Perhaps more could’ve been done with the 4077th using ether and local anesthetic during surgery. Yes, we see a nurse fumble while administrating ether, and Margaret accidentally breathes in ether and passes out, but these aren’t serious incidents. “Major Topper” during Season 6 dealt with a lack of painkillers for wounded in Post Op but I can’t recall another episode involving surgery without proper anesthetics.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Out of Gas showing Charles

Charles taunts the black marketeers.

Why is this episode called “Out of Gas”? Unless I’m mistaken, sodium pentothal (a brand name for sodium thiopental) is injected, not administered as a gas like nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas). For the record, ether (or diethyl ether) is a liquid and is indeed very flammable.

Margaret mentions two nurses by name during surgery. She asks Caldman to take over for her so she can show Carson how to administrate ether. Earlier, Carson told Charles she’d never used ether before. Despite the line of dialogue, the actress is uncredited.

Imagine how much paper work Colonel Potter and Radar had to fill out relating to the jeep Father Mulcahy and Charles abandoned to the black marketeers.

Are we really supposed to believe Goldman doesn’t know how to mop a floor?

13 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Out of Gas”

  1. Mulcahy didn’t deal with black marketeers directly in “Tea and Empathy,” the soldier who was seeing him for confession did, and told him where he stashed the stolen penicillin.

    The poker game may have been unnecessary, but I don’t believe the scene with Potter and Margaret chewing out Zale was, mainly because it set up the crisis on why the 4077th was low on pentothal.

    Charles trying to do business with the black marketeers in his usual Boston Bull manner was amusing, as was his taunting them as he and Mulcahy drove away – I used to like his Alamo-esque line, “Remember the Boston Tea Party!” Not quite as funny since Sarah Palin founded the Tea Party simply because she didn’t like Obama was President.

    I’m sure Goldman knows how to mop, I’m assuming Margaret caught him when he was catching his second wind.

    1. You’re right about Mulcahy and “Tea and Empathy.” Now I’m remembering how he learned about the black marketeers from a soldier.

      The Zale scene isn’t entirely unnecessary, just too long.

      1. The Zale scene with Potter and Margaret is hilarious! My favourite Zale scene ( not that there was many)because of what he blurts out – also Radar is unintentionally hilarious when he comes in and kind of zones out for a couple of secs till Potter startles him into action- overall great ensemble comedy based on each character ‘s previously established quirks.

  2. My gripe with this episode involves Radar’s call to another unit about the pentothal. When Radar hears the name of the other unit’s CO, he remarks “Why do they send these kids?”. But, all in all, an enjoyable episode.
    In all, three other units had possession of the pentothal in Zale’s explanation of why the 4077th didn’t get the needed supplies. Can anyone name the units that had, then traded, the pentothal for other necessary items?

    1. Let’s see here.

      Zale traded the pentothal to the 8063rd for some plasma. The 8063rd traded it to the 121st to get some penicillin. Then, they traded that to a South Korean unit for some vegetables.

      I think this is the correct order.

  3. I always felt bad for Charles losing that big coat in this episode, but then he was always pretty smug about it, and the way he tried to deal with the black marketeers was pretty arrogant and stupid. He tried to talk to them like they were some sophisticated prestigious business men instead of some low life criminals peddling stolen goods.

    I actually thought Radar’s comment about sending kids was pretty funny because of all the jokes about him for the same reason. Despite being young, he’s gotten so good at what he does, that even people older than him seem inexperienced.

    1. Yes, this is the episode in question.

      Charles: Have you ever seen such boors? Drinking red wine with stuffed capons.
      Zale: Who do I answer?
      Potter: Me, you yahoo!

      All funny lines from an entertaining episode.

  4. To answer your question about the title I assume it was because in the mid70s “Out of Gas” was a common sign on gas stations curtesy of the energy crisis and gas guzzling cars draining reserves.

  5. Actually, when Radar says, “Why do they send these kids?” he’s referring to the radio operator at the unit he’s calling, not to the CO. The “kid” had only been in Korea 2 hours.

    There is a pretty bad error in this episode. When the Father brings up the idea of dealing with the black market, he says that the procedure is to drop off the trade items at a designated spot, then come back later for the pentothal. However, he and Charles drive right up to a group of black marketeers and attempt to negotiate face-to-face. Of course, the confrontation is much funnier than a drop-and-return would have been, so I can forgive it.

    Overall, an entertaining episode.

  6. I don’t see why Charles would be hanging out of the open door of a truck taunting the Koreans while they were shooting at him. you would think he would be crouched down in the truck trying to avoid being hit.

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