Episode Spotlight: Settling Debts


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

“Settling Debts” (#242, 11×07)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, December 6th, 1982
Written by Thad Mumford & Dan Wilcox
Directed by Michael Switzer

Capsule Summary: Colonel Potter goes crazy wondering why his wife sent Hawkeye a letter. B.J. treats a young officer while Hawkeye treats the sniper who shot him.

In my opinion, “Settling Debts” would work better if the A and B stories were swapped. Colonel Potter growing increasingly upset about the letter Mildred sent Hawkeye is too silly. Angry Potter is sometimes funny, sometimes over-the-top. Here, it’s definitely over-the-top. He convinces himself that Mildred has purchased a houseboat and doesn’t like it.

Watching Father Mulcahy run back and forth trying to gather everyone together while Margaret and Klinger try to stall Potter gets old quick. Charles is an afterthought, his few scenes forgettable, even as he gets increasingly drunk.

The minor B story involving the young Lieutenant Pavelich and his men offers a dramatic counterpoint to the humorous A story. It is a little paint by numbers, though. Viewers are introduced to Pavelich. They’re told he’s a solid young officer who takes care of his men. He returns to the 4077th, wounded by sniper fire. Worse yet, he tells B.J. he can’t feel his legs.

Obviously, we’re supposed to be especially depressed to see Pavelich paralyzed. After all, he gave up a safe desk job in Paris so he could serve on the front lines and get his hands dirty. His men love him. Sgt. Lally captures the sniper who shot Pavelich. Lally is so upset at the thought of his beloved lieutenant never walking again that he’s willing to kill the sniper in cold blood. But then Pavelich wakes up and tells Lally to put his gun away, proving once again he’s an upstanding officer and human being. Interestingly, we never learn if Pavelich is permanently paralyzed.

As I said earlier, I think I’d like this episode more if the A and B stories were swapped. However, I’m not sure how to expand the B story. Perhaps by having Sgt. Lally and his fellow soldiers tell Hawkeye and B.J. tales of Lt. Pavelich’s dedication. Maybe Pavelich could try to write home to tell his wife or his parents that he’s been paralyzed. Or what if Pavelich was the one who wants to murder the sniper, only to change his mind at the last minute and call off Sgt. Lally.

The A story, on the other hand, is easily trimmed. Cut out everything involving Klinger and Margaret keeping Colonel Potter away from his tent. Cut out a few of Potter’s angry outbursts. Have him curious and perhaps concerned about the letter rather than furious and fuming.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Settling Debts showing Colonel Potter, B.J., Margaret, and Charles

Colonel Potter sets his mortgage on fire.

Look closely and you’ll see the piece of paper Hawkeye gives Colonel Potter actually does say MORTGAGE on it. I wonder if a member of the cast or crew brought a copy of their actual mortgage to the set so they could see it go up in flames.

The framed picture hanging in Colonel Potter’s tent, to the left of the door, changes during the episode. Likewise, the bulletin board to the right of the door has a photograph and two pieces of paper on it at one point but later, during the party at the end of the episode, the photograph is missing.

Guy Boyd, who plays Sgt. Lally, later guest starred in a January 1984 episode of AfterMASH.

If you’re interested, you can read Joe Miller’s Complete Jest Book online courtesy of the Internet Archive.

9 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Settling Debts”

  1. I do hope you keep these up, I’ve started coming here every monday just to read the recaps, as I don’t really get time to watch the episodes anymore.

    Thanks for doing it.

  2. Never was a huge fan of this episode, mainly because of the way Potter acts throughout it. Definitely agree with RJ that he’s over the top sometimes. Why would his wife send a letter to Hawkeye for something that she knew would make him mad like the houseboat? That would be a very cowardly thing to do and he should know that she would know better.

    Obviously since the letter was sent to Hawkeye, it would be something that’s a surprise, which would generally be a good thing. All Hawkeye and BJ had to say was “Look Colonel, it’s a surprise, we’ll tell you at a certain time that is relevant to the letter, and it is NOTHING that will make you mad or angry, and in fact will do the opposite, and is a GOOD thing financially.”

    That’s all had to say, but then of course we wouldn’t have a story, and by this late in the shows run, they were almost struggling for that.

  3. I’m back and forth on this one. I like the Sgt. Pavelich storyline quite a bit, but the Potter one tends to grate; he’s WAY too over the top. An okay episode, but not a great one.

  4. A good episode, if you can sit through all the subterfuge to keep Potter away from his tent. His rant about possibly moving to Florida and becoming a scuba-diving walking liver spot is priceless.

    Potter: No one over the age of 60 should have to go to scuba school!

    Of course, when he learns the truth about Mildred’s letter, he lovingly opines about her deciding not to live like a gypsy anymore. IMO, Angry Potter balances out with Potter’s other moods expertly.

  5. I didn’t mind this one that much. Potter’s anger at everything got old but we had a few very funny Charles gems. When he drunkenky stumbles up in tears to tell Potter he was touched by his Mildred speech. And when there talking about every to do for the party that might have a 30s theme and Charles says, why don’t we all dress up like stockbrokers and jump out the window? ” That had me cracking up.

    Didn’t understand why the sergeant even brought the North Korean to MASH if he just wanted to kill him if the Lt was hurt. So he was only upset if his Lt was just a little bit shot but not if he was seriously hurt? It seemed strange that a guy like him would even bring him in at all knowing his Lt was there too. Just seemed like a slap in the face.

  6. I got a little tired of the “everyone has to try to keep Potter calm/out of his tent/ away from his office/ whatever trope.” It got done to death and was way too obvious.

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