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.

14 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Heroes”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. In “The Interview” Potter says the costs of the war in human lives don’t make whatever innovations they might come up with it worth it in the long run:

      Interviewer: “Do you see anything good coming out of this war?”

      Potter: “Not a damn thing.”

  5. Joe’s health might have been part of the reason behind his behavior. The tour was clearly a strain on him, and his heart, along with his celebrity lifestyle.

    Father Mulcahy’s reminiscences gave a great deal of insight to his past and character and were long overdue. I’ve often thought there were many scenes with patients that Mulcahy could have been involved in, this was definitely the best. And how often do you get to hear Plato mentioned on TV?

    What happened to Klinger’s refrigerator? It would have been cool if he shared the food with the rest of the camp!

  6. I like this episode some, only for the “bedside monologue” that Father Mulcahy gives, showing the viewers why he’s a boxing preist, which could seem like an oxymoron to some who don’t see the episode.
    One thing I notice about Mulcahy’s character is that he doesn’t share much about his home and family like the others do, and the seldom few times he did, his past seemed terrible, like in “Bombed” you find out his mother used to swear at him, and in another episode, he said he had to share a bed with his brothers because there wasn’t much room in the house, in this episode, we find out he was bullied as a child and that his father tried to change his personality by wanting him to fight back, and didn’t he say in one episode his father was a drunkard? I know in “The Interview”, when the reporter askes him if he wants to say anything to his folks back home, he just gives a quick “Hi”, as if he didn’t feel comfortable saying anything more to them.
    In a fanfiction I wrote, I have a theory that he and his sister the Nun were abused by their father, who had been abused by his father, and they joined the church to escape him, as well as to take vows of chastity to make sure that they died childless, ending the cycle of abuse that had been going on for some time…but his plan goes out the window when he meets a pretty Irish nun who makes him wonder if he can open his heart to love when it had been so scarred as a child.
    That’s my theory on Mulcahy’s past, I’d love to hear anyone else’s ideas on his mysterious past before the war!

    1. I support your creativity, but, as both a MASH and Star Trek fan, I’ve never really been crazy about fan fiction. It seems to me that the characters get a bit twisted out of context by the personal angst stemming from whatever issues plague the writer. Although, on the other side of the coin; I haven’t read your story. Nor have I written anything, myself.
      Just my thoughts from reading your post. Please take mine FWIW.

  7. There’s quite a but of bad behavior in this episode. First Gentleman Jim and his description of the camp as a little hovel or something to that effect. What did he think a war looks like? He seemed to just want to get it over with. I think the show was speaking to all celebrities who come over and act like divas for the photo op. They do raise the spirits of patients but at what cost to everyone else?

    Then we have Father Mulcahy’s bad behavior. I get that he didn’t like anyone trashing his hero but he was unnecessarily rude to Margaret amd Charles. His behavior was not that of a priest and he’s growing more childish as the series wears on. If something doesn’t go his way lashes out.

    Then there’s BJ and Charles. Their jealousy was boring and something we’ve seen before from them. The medical journal article, Charles trying for promotion in Boston, the camera from the soldier’s parents, etc. They all seemed to hate the press but got angry at Hawkeye for the attention. There was no reason behind it other than their own egos.

    The part at the end was so contrived. How did they go from Potter saying they needed to hurry up to BJ building a working defibrillator for the first time? Hey they’re all heroes! (Ugh) They all read medical journals but somehow it’s always BJ who actually retains anything and applies it. And he never shares any info with anyone else. How many patients got worse or suffered because he took extra time building a new machine? If he thought it would work, why didn’t he build a defib when he first read about it?

    1. B.J. and Charles’s jealousy especially irritating because Hawkeye wasn’t reveling in the press attention or encouraging it. At worst, he was drawing attention to himself by trying to give witty answers instead of speaking plainly, but he always does that. They come across as peeved that they didn’t get the celebrity patient, which was really petty and childish.

    2. Actually, it’s Potter who annoys me here, or I should say the way he is written. He’s hemming and hawing? Gives a clumsy speech? Sherman Potter?! This is the guy who didn’t say “hello” to the folks back home in Clete Roberts’ documentary because it wouldn’t be “dignified.”

      I totally accept the annoyance at Hawkeye. And Mulcahey’s annoyance at everyone. Absolutely believable. But the defib? Added as a supremely clumsy coda. Did BJ say he wanted Klinger to help him build it, while he was holding on to the boy’s heart? Wow, what superhuman engineering! And all for giving him the fictional credit for an actual invention. Not credible. A lesser series would call this jumping the shark.

  8. “A fifth actor is credited as an unnamed soldier but I don’t recall another patient with any dialogue.”

    One of the refrigerator delivery men, he asked if they were expecting a fridge from the general. The actor (Richard Cummings) later went on to Northern Exposure as the “brother” of the radio D.J. with whom he had lots of philosophical discussions.

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