Episode Spotlight: Heroes

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

“Heroes” (#232, 10×18)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, March 15th, 1982
Written by Thad Mumford & Dan Wilcox
Directed by Nell Cox

Capsule Summary: A famous boxer visiting the 4077th on a goodwill tour suffers a stroke, upsetting Father Mulcahy and pushing Hawkeye in front of the press.

I appreciate the way the three storylines in this episode tie together around “Gentleman Joe” Cavanaugh. His visit to the 4077th doesn’t constitute its own story but serves as the foundation for Father Mulcahy, Hawkeye, and Klinger. The A story is clearly Father Mulcahy’s hero worship of Gentleman Joe. His unbridled enthusiasm and blind defense of the boxer may seem silly at first. But then he tells a touching, personal story to the comatose boxer later in the episode that adds so much depth to the character.

The episode easily could’ve taken the easy way out and made Cavanaugh a huge jerk, proof that it’s never a good idea to meet your heroes. Instead, Cavanaugh is depicted as a somewhat abrasive man who can turn on the charm when he needs to. Does he truly care about the patients he meets at the 4077th? Maybe not, but he cares enough to act like he does. Charles and Margaret aren’t big fans of Cavanaugh, which bothers Father Mulcahy. But Cavanaugh doesn’t do anything other than complain about a rough jeep ride and the quick pace of his tour.

When Cavanaugh suffers a stroke, his visit to the 4077th becomes big news, leading to Hawkeye’s B story. It’s unfair of B.J. and Charles to accuse Hawkeye of throwing himself at the reporters. He’s pushed in front of the reporters and is clearly uncomfortable. As always, he uses humor as a defense. It’s not his fault his quips are appreciated by the newsmen. I can buy Charles growing increasingly jealous of the attention Hawkeye is receiving. It’s less believable that B.J. would also resent Hawkeye.

Father Mulcahy’s monologue, delivered at Cavanaugh bedside, is among William Christopher’s finest work on M*A*S*H. The story he shares offers insight into his character. It’s not hard to imagine Francis Mulcahy as a young boy, worshiping Plato and Gentleman Joe, realizing it’s occasionally necessary to get your hands dirty to do good deeds.

If there’s a misstep in “Heroes,” it’s B.J. and his defibrillator. Forget about historical accuracy. It feels out of place and awkward, a bungled attempt to wrap up Hawkeye’s storyline by proving how little reporters–and the public–care about saving lives and medical innovation. The heavy handed message here is that boxers are heroes, doctors aren’t newsworthy.

Finally, there’s Klinger’s very minor C story involving General Wilburforce’s memo. After being run ragged by Major Hatch taking care of the reporters, in the tag scene Klinger gets his revenge by requisitioning more food than he can possible eat–and a refrigerator to keep it in. It’s a weak ending, in my opinion.

Still from the M*A*S*H episode Heroes showing Father Mulcahy
Father Mulcahy talks to his hero.

This is the second of three episodes directed by Nell Cox, the only women to direct more than one episode of M*A*S*H.

The closing credits list four actors playing unnamed patients in Post-Op during Cavanaugh’s visit. There are four patients with lines in this scene. A fifth actor is credited as an unnamed soldier but I don’t recall another patient with any dialogue. A soldier does come to the Swamp to tell Hawkeye that Cavanaugh is slipping fast.

Among the extras seated at the table for Cavanaugh’s steak dinner are Shari Saba, Roy Goldman, Kellye Nakahara, and Jo Ann Thompson. Nurse Jo Ann is seen earlier in the episode–and called by name twice–but has no lines.


  • Doc Funnypants says:

    Mulcahy’s bedside monologue made this episode worth watching especially the part about keeping one foot in the ideal plain and the other in the real world. If only everyone lived their lives like that. One gripe I have about this episode is when Margaret is pestered by a reporter in the Mess Tent about Cavanaugh’s condition. Why did he imply that Cavanaugh’s stroke may have been caused by flirting with Margaret?

    Mulcahy: It was then I decided to keep one foot in the ideal plain and the other in the real world.
    That is a life philosophy we all should abide by.

  • 007 says:

    Was never a fan of this episode because of Joe’s attitude. RJ seems to agree with Father Mulcahy but I always agreed with Charles and Margaret. He just seems like a big jerk, and the fact he turns on the charm like that to me makes him just seem super fake, which is even worse.

    Granted as RJ said you could say “he cared enough to do it”, but I saw it more of he cared more about himself and his career, and his popularity then the fans themselves.

    • RJ says:

      I waffled a bit when it came to Joe’s motivation. Does he truly care about the wounded soldiers he’s visiting? Or is he touring Korea for good publicity? It’s hard to say, which was probably intentional. Some viewers will side with Father Mulcahy, others with Margaret and Charles.

      • 007 says:

        Yea, they just don’t show us enough to really make a determination. I tend to lean more towards Margaret and Charles opinion just because of the way he flips and turns on the charm when he walks into post op after being so down and grumpy. It just comes off as so fake. His personality also just seems like the type who would only have his own interests at heart.

  • hrflyer says:

    Charles and BJ chide Hawkeye for loving the spotlight, but everytime I watch this episode, I don’t see it. Yeah, he is the lead surgeon in the case, therefore getting the most attention, but it seems he’d rather be doing anything else than being in the middle of a hopeless medical case. In fact, this is one of the more professional moments for Hawkeye who can be a glory hound.

  • Lady you ARE a Piece of Cornbread says:

    Potter’s line about the Army taking a dim view of treating soldiers like lab rats seems to contradict the often quoted line in other episodes about war leading to medical innovations.

    While the refrigerator may be a weak ending gag, it would have been a nice bit of continuity had they kept it from that point on in front of the background wall between the doors and Klinger’s bunk.

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