Every Monday, I spotlight a random episode of M*A*S*H, providing a brief review and asking readers to offer their thoughts.
If you’re a new fan of M*A*S*H and have never seen “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” don’t read this review until you’ve had a chance to watch the series finale. Then return and share your thoughts.
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” (#251, 11×16)
Originally Broadcast: Monday, February 28th, 1983
Written by Alan Alda, Burt Metcalfe, John Rappaport, Dan Wilcox & Thad Mumford, Elias Davis & David Pollock, Karen Hall
Directed by Alan Alda
Capsule Summary: As the Korean War draws to a close, Sidney Freedman tries to help Hawkeye recover from a traumatic experience. Meanwhile, B.J. desperately tries to get home in time for his daughter’s second birthday. The rest of the 4077th wonders what life will be like once the war ends.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I intentionally held off reviewing “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” so it could be the very last episode to get the Episode Spotlight treatment. What better way to conclude my journey through all 251 episodes of M*A*S*H? My Episode Spotlight project started back in January 2013 and now, almost five years later, it’s over.
Due to its length, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is the episode of M*A*S*H I’ve seen the fewest number of times. I wasn’t alive when it originally aired. I’m pretty sure I watched for the first time in 1999 when it aired on cable channel FX, likely as part of a holiday marathon. I can clearly remember setting the VCR to record it. I watched it after school the next day. I’m almost positive I didn’t watch it again until 2007. That’s when I saw it uncut on DVD for the first time. I don’t recall watching it again after, at least until I rewatched it for this review.
This is not a happy ending for M*A*S*H. True, the Korean War finally ends and the characters are able to return home or move to their next assignment. But they’ll never be able to leave Korea behind them. Not entirely. The scars run too deep. They’ve seen too much, experienced the horrors of war on a personal level.
I’m okay with that. I don’t need a cheery farewell to the 4077th. But it’s too bad that one story line–a single scene, really–has overshadowed the final episode of M*A*S*H. The revelation that Hawkeye’s mental breakdown stems from having seen a Korean woman smother her own baby is shocking and horrifying. It’s also unforgettable.
Hawkeye: “There’s something wrong with it. It stopped making noise. It just–just stopped. Sh–She killed it! SHhe killed it!”
Sidney: “She killed the chicken?”
Hawkeye: “Oh my God! Oh my God! I didn’t mean for her to kill it. I did not! I–I just wanted it to be quiet! It was–It was a baby! She–She smothered her own baby!”
M*A*S*H placed an emphasis on drama rather than comedy during its later years and explored the horrors of war during its entire run. But is it too horrifying, too dark? Does it matter that the incident is based on actual accounts Burt Metcalfe heard while in South Korea in 1981? The writers clearly wanted to shock viewers. Whether you appreciate or loathe this story line, you can’t deny it succeeded in reminding viewers that war is hell
(For some viewers, Alan Alda’s acting in this scene may be more of an issue than the content, but that’s a subjective, individual reaction.)
In general, I don’t have a problem with Hawkeye suffering a breakdown in the series finale. The character does have a history of mental problems. See “Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde” from Season 2, “Hawk’s Nightmare” from Season 5, and “Bless You, Hawkeye” from Season 9. What doesn’t work for me is isolating Hawkeye from the rest of the cast for the first half of the episode. “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” starts to pick up when Hawkeye returns to the 4077th. In my opinion, the second hour is stronger than the first.
It’s no surprise so much time is devoted to Hawkeye but I do wish the episode had done a better job giving the other characters their due. Margaret in particular deserve more attention. She feuds with Charles and that’s about it. True, she ultimately decides to stop letting her father dictate her career, but this is barely explored.
Klinger gets one of the happier endings, even if he doesn’t get to go home. He finds love, marries Soon-Lee, and decides to stay in Korea to search for her parents. It’s a fitting end for the character. I’m glad there’s a callback to his dress-wearing days. Colonel Potter also has a happy ending. After serving in three wars, he’s ready for retirement and to become Mrs. Potter’s Mr. Potter.
Father Mulcahy losing his hearing is sad. The fact that his injury has him doubting his faith is devastating. Likewise, Charles leaving Korea no longer able to enjoy in his beloved classical music is deeply depressing. Watching him wave to the North Korean musicians as they’re carted off is sad.
It’s heartbreaking when he later learns the musicians have been killed.
With the exceptions of Margaret and Colonel Potter, all of the characters require time for their story lines to unfold. Charles, for example, worries about getting a position at Boston General, runs into the North Korean POWs, takes refuge in his music, discovers the musicians can play Mozart (badly), tries to teach them to play a particular piece, watches them drive off in the back of a truck, and ultimately learns they were all killed when a shell hit their truck. He tries to seek comfort in music, but it no longer soothes him.
The way the Hawkeye and B.J. story lines intertwine is well done. B.J. tries to say goodbye to Hawkeye in person, but can’t, then doesn’t have time to leave him a letter. Hawkeye, upon learning that B.J. is gone, bitterly recalls how Trapper also left without saying goodbye. Later, after B.J. has returned to Korea, he and Hawkeye have a talk about goodbyes and farewells in the Mess Tent. Their story lines culminate with the final scene of the episode, when Hawkeye spots B.J.’s message.
The farewell dinner sequence is well done. It’s nice to see so many minor characters given the opportunity to share what they’ll be doing after the war ends. With few exceptions, everyone is cheerful and happy during the dinner. Not Nurse Bigelow. After two wars, she’s seen enough death.
Charles isn’t happy, either. “For me, music was always a refuge from this miserable experience,” he tells everyone. “Now it will always be a reminder.”
Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours with commercials, or two hours without, I believe “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is the longest series finale in television history. Does it drag at times? Yes, particularly during the first half whenever Hawkeye and Sidney are talking about Hawkeye’s breakdown. Are all the characters given the sendoff they deserve? Not quite. As I mentioned, Margaret isn’t given nearly as much of a final story line as the other characters.
Ultimately, I’m satisfied with “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” as the series finale to M*A*S*H. It’s not perfect, but it ends the war and gives the characters closure. More importantly, it offers viewers the opportunity to say goodbye to both the characters and the long-running sitcom.
“Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was filmed in October 1982. It was not the final episode produced, however. That distinction goes to “As Time Goes By.” In fact, six episodes were filmed after “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”
A fire destroyed the outdoor M*A*S*H set at the Malibu Creek State Park on October 9th, 1982, requiring hasty rewrites to the script.
Eight different writers, including two writing teams, had a hand in penning this episode.
This is the only episode of M*A*S*H in which the episode title appears on screen. It’s also the only episode to feature guest star and production credits at the start of the episode.
Some 105.9 million viewers watched “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” during its original broadcast. For 27 years it held the record as the single most-watched television broadcast in U.S. history. Super Bowl XLIV finally broke the record on February 7th, 2010. “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” remains the single highest-rated television program of all time with a 60.2 Nielsen rating. For more, read my Goodbye, Farewell and Amen Ratings Analysis.
CBS/Fox Video released “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” on home video (VHS, LaserDisc, and CED) just weeks after it aired on television.
CBS repeated “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” twice after its original broadcast: first on Monday, September 19th, 1983 and again on Tuesday, September 18th, 1984. It didn’t air on TV again for a decade. FOX kept it out of syndication until February 1993, when it aired on stations across the country to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the end of the series.
In May 2015, diginet MeTV aired a special three-hour presentation of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” with new interviews featuring the cast and crew of M*A*S*H. MeTV later uploaded the interviews to YouTube. I wrote about the ten interview segments last year. They’re well worth watching.