Episode Spotlight: Bottoms Up


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

“Bottoms Up” (#209, 9×15)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, March 2nd, 1981
Written by Dennis Koenig
Directed by Alan Alda

Capsule Summary: Margaret tries to help one of her nurses, an old friend, who has a drinking problem. Meanwhile, Hawkeye is ostracized after he pulls a prank on Charles.

This isn’t the first episode of M*A*S*H to address alcoholism–“Alcoholics Unanimous” from Season 3, “Fallen Idol” from Season 6, and “Bottle Fatigue” from Season 8–but is perhaps the most dramatic attempt to spotlight the darker side of imbibing too heavily. Unfortunately, the story line falls flat for me because the stakes are too low. Like so many other episodes, it focuses on a one-off characters viewers have never seen before and therefore don’t care about.

The episode tries to force a connection by making Captain Helen Whitfield an old friend of Margaret. There’s also a weak explanation for why she hasn’t been seen before: she only been at the 4077th for two months and will be leaving in two weeks. It’s not enough for me. Imagine the impact if one of the recurring nurses–like Kellye or Shari or Bigelow–developed a drinking problem. It still might feel forced, particularly if it came out of nowhere, but at least viewers might care more.

It doesn’t help that Whitfield’s drinking problem isn’t given time to develop. We’re introduced to her, she makes a mistakes in the O.R, and then Klinger finds her drinking alone in the supply room. The shot of her bottle falling to the floor? It doesn’t get much obvious and heavy-handed than that. Her breakdown in the Mess Tent feels equally forced. Margaret insists she hasn’t allowed Whitfield to be alone for two days–and moments later she has an attack of the DTs in front of half the camp.

M*A*S*H insisted on including at least two stories in every episode. Had “Bottoms Up” focused only on Whitfield and her drinking, perhaps it would’ve worked better. There would be more time for it to unfold rather than forced upon viewers.

The Charles B story is amusing enough but nothing special. Hawkeye shouldn’t be surprised B.J. had double-crossed him. After all, B.J. is famously a master prankster, as seen in “Dear Sigmund” during Season 5.

Still from the M*A*S*H episodes Bottoms Up showing B.J.

B.J. wakes up in the nurses’ tent.

I likely saw “Bottoms Up” for the first time more than 15 years ago. Yet I only realized the title works on two levels and connects to both story lines while rewatching it for this review.

It looks to me like Charles is holding a film camera in the crowd when B.J. runs out of the nurses’ tent. So how did Klinger develop photographs?

Colonel Potter tells Klinger he’s painting Teddy Roosevelt but we never see the finished painting.

While Hawkeye is complaining in the Swamp, B.J. starts playing pyramid solitaire in his bunk.

Father Mulcahy is barely in this episode. He makes a brief appearance in the Mess Tent where he calls Hawkeye a goon and a blockheaded bozo.

11 Replies to “Episode Spotlight: Bottoms Up”

  1. Charles: Old Doc Funnypants is at it again, and once more I’m the butt of his joke. The poor man is demented, he’s obviously suffering from a fanny fetish. No telling how often I’ll be torpedoed by Rear Admiral Pierce.

    Hysterical derriere-based wordplay by Major Charles Emerson “Cuddles” Winchester III.
    An episode that really drives home the point about excessive drinking and what it does to good people.

    Potter: Good man, TR. Tough as a two-bit steak.
    An excellent assessment of Franklin Roosevelt’s distant presidential cousin.

  2. Always remember this episode for having the longest and best look at Nurse Laurie Bates in the scene where BJ has been moved to the nurses tent.

    This episode is also one of the ones I have memories about from my young childhood when I first started watching MASH because of the DT’s scene.

    Always nice seeing BJ become the butt of jokes since he’s such a crap head throughout the shows run. Another good example of this is Friends and Enemies from Season 11

  3. There are a couple of episodes where camera film is developed “in X ray”. That would explain where the photos come from.

  4. From the looks on the others’ faces in the Mess Tent, you can see them thinking “That could have been one of us” when Whitfield has her breakdown. I’m surprised we didn’t see any of the other characters have the dt’s occasionally if they really were alcoholics.

    It’s often implied that Potter knew Roosevelt personally at one point in his life. That would have been a fascinating tale to hear.

    I also find it hard to believe that Charles wouldn’t have picked up on BJ’s pranking, but it’s not too unreasonable that Margaret would have been able to meet an old friend from the States who’d been sent over during the war. BJ had Leo Bardonaro, his practical-joking friend, and Hawkeye his journalist friend from “Sometimes you Hear the Bullet.”

    1. Very true about others possibly being alcoholics. Klinger made a big dramatic deal about her drinking alone but plenty of people on the show drink alone. How many times have we seen Hawkeye drinking in his tent alone? Or Charles or even Potter and his belts after a rough day? I agree with Margaret that it was because she was a woman that they made a big deal about it. Granted, she obviously really did have a problem but I don’t think Klinger would have even mentioned it if it were a man drinking in the supply room. Also found it strange that Charles got new pants from the supply room. I wouldn’t think they would keep those there considering all the different possible sizes.

  5. The DTs are actually more rare in alcoholics than they used to be. Most don’t experience them because the alcohol is “safer”these days and even in the 50s. Back in the 30s, DTs were more common because the liquor was almost pure alcohol without anything to filter it so the body reacted violently to it. However alcohol withdrawal is still one of only two drugs that a person can die from during withdrawal.

  6. Klinger’s overdramatic acting when he told Whitfield she grabbed the wrong blood was ridiculous and maudlin. “You got the wrong stuff,” he said after barely even looking at the bottle. Then he stares after her suspiciously like nobody has ever made a mistake before. It’s getting to the point where Klinger on the screen is ruining the episode. His overacting comes in two flavors: shouting every line with forced enthusiasm or trying to inject emotion or significance whether it’s called for or not.

    I didn’t like that Whitfield was someone we never met before, but I understand why they did it that way. They wanted to address a serious problem without tainting the main characters. They couldn’t very well have Hawkeye get the DTs and then go back to drinking from the still next week as though nothing had happened. Even one of the recurring nurses would be too much because we would think of it every time she was in the O Club or near narcotic medication. It wouldn’t fit with the nice half hour wrap up storylines we’ve grown used to.

    Father Mulcahy is judgemental again in this episode. I guess he missed the part in the Bible about forgiveness. He jumped on the bandwagon and attacked Hawk for his prank. I don’t remember him being so lacking in empathy before, but in their quest to give him something to do, they have made him forget his priestly ways when it’s convenient.

    1. Also was funny that Margaret’s solution for Whitfield was to take her out of OR and put her in the lab. This way she can misdiagnose diseases and mix up patient samples. “Congratulations Corporal but you’re pregnant. I mean you have hepatitis. I mean cancer. Wait, what was your name again?” Lol

  7. Knowing what we know about Winchester now makes the scene where he and Hawk both drop their pants at each other a little awkward…

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