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.
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.