Discuss: Episodes That Could’ve Served as the Series Finale


Monday M*A*S*H Discussions offers fans the opportunity to offer their opinions on a wide variety of topics relating to M*A*S*H. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. My hope is these discussion posts will continue to elicit comments in the weeks and months after they’re initially published. Have a suggestion about something you think might be worth discussing? Let me know and maybe it will become my next Monday M*A*S*H Discussion topic.

Doug suggested today’s topic: Episodes that could’ve served as the series finale.

Any Other Potential Final Episodes?

I’ll let Doug share his thoughts on this topic:

What would be a fitting finale had the series not gone 11 seasons? We’re aware that there is an alternate ending to Season 1’s “Ceasefire,” which had the truce be the actual one. This was in the event that CBS cancelled the series. Would that be fitting? Would a series that only lasted a season need a final episode? What about “Abyssinia, Henry”? Too much of a downer? Not enough closure? Or “The Party” at the end of Season 7? Or “Goodbye, Radar”? Or another episode?

As I mentioned in my Episode Spotlight review of “Ceasefire,” Larry Gelbart debunked the rumor that the episode was written as a possible series finale, with an alternate ending, in the event CBS cancelled M*A*S*H after its first season. Yet it’s still interesting to ponder the episode serving as the final episode of M*A*S*H. While there’s no closure for any of the characters, in a way that’s what could’ve made it an imperfect series finale. Viewers are left wondering what happened to everyone at the 4077th, just as the characters were left wondering if they’d ever get home.

Doug suggests several other episodes with series finale potential: “Abyssinia, Henry” from Season 3; “The Party” from Season 7,” and the two-part “Good-Bye, Radar” from Season 8. Do you agree with him? Would any of these episodes work as a series finale? What about other episodes?

I’ll add “The Interview” from Season 4 and “As Time Goes By” from Season 11. I think “The Interview” would’ve made a fine ending for M*A*S*H in terms of quality and impact but not a very good series finale. “As Time Goes By,” on the other hand, does work pretty well as a final episode. Had CBS refused to order a true series finale, I think “As Time Goes By” would’ve done a good job wrapping up the show.

Hit the comments with your thoughts.

26 Replies to “Discuss: Episodes That Could’ve Served as the Series Finale”

  1. As Time Goes By is probably the best candidate for series finale had they not made GFA. It really does have all the feelings of what you’d want in a finale episode for the show, except of course for the war ending and everyone going home. Watching that episode is always tough because it was the last one produced, and all the actors/actresses…especially Loretta Swit just look so old. I love that it mentions Blake, Burns, & Radar. Too bad Trapper was left out. They should have put in one of the parts of the still and mentioned him building it!

    Other than that, I’ve always felt “The Party” would have been almost the perfect way to wrap the show, by having GFA, including Radar being a made for tv, or perhaps even in theater movie afterwards.

    In a perfect world though I think they would have made one additional season after 7, and it would include all the best/well known/poignant episodes from 8-11, and then had GFA. That final season would look something like the below, and they would have gotten Gary to stick around for it somehow:

    Life Time
    Yessir, That’s Our Baby
    Old Soldiers
    April Fools

    Cementing Relationships
    Death Takes a Holiday
    A War For All Seasons
    No Sweat
    Oh, How We Danced
    Bottoms Up
    Blood Brothers

    Communication Breakdown
    Twas the Day After Christmas
    Follies of the Living – Concerns of the Dead
    A Holy Mess
    Where There’s a Will, There’s a War
    Sons and Bowlers

    The Moon is Not Blue
    Run for the Money
    As Time Goes By


    1. +1 on the bit about Trapper. I’m always annoyed when watching the episode that someone so significant in the show’s and Hawkeye’s life was not mentioned at all.

      1. Actually, what I found interesting was the precision that occurred in how the series gave a moment to mention all the past characters at the very end. Henry, Frank, and Radar all got mentioned in the next-to-last episode (but not Trapper). And then Trapper got mentioned the following week in the final episode (but not the other 3 who got their turns during the previous week).

        Brings to mind the GREAT cover of “Cracked” magazine that was on newsstands in February 1983, featuring all the 11th season cast facing the readers, with the ghostly images of Frank, Trapper, Henry, and Radar all above them. A rare intentionally -not- funny cover for that magazine … and an absolutely appropriate one.

    2. ceasefire could have been made into a finale , but with a season or 2 more before it , and As time goes by would work as the basis for a finale … just my opinion like every elses … were all correct just how we look at each episode a a potential final episode ………….. later

      1. Very good point, stilldrummin62. Like I said, in those days, a finale episode was a rare thing. ANY episode would be the finale, if the network cancelled the show. Example: Stat Trek’s final episode was Turnabout Intruder–a terrible episode that just happened to be the last episode of the final season.

  2. There’s an old adage about plays that if you show a gun on stage it must go off by the end of the play. I think that applies here – as M*A*S*H became a big hit in season 2 and obviously stayed that way throughout its run the only true series finale could be the war ending.

  3. I think “Cease Fire” might have made a decent enough finale, considering what the show was at the time. Maybe not my favorite episode (though it was good), but it did have enough quality interactions between characters to seem like a good send-off for the characters.

    It’s very true that “Abyssinia, Henry” could be a bit too much of a downer ending for people, creating an even bigger backlash than it already did. Though it would definitely be a memorable ending.

    I don’t think any of the other character departure episodes would work too well for an alternate finale.

    “The Party” could be good, in the sense of it addressing the idea of what happens after the war, and it is a good experimental episode, which helps to emphasize why the show is so unique.

    You also brought up the two other episodes I was considering. “The Interview” could be good in the sense that you get a deeper, more intimate look at the characters, and their experiences during the war. And once again, it’s a good experimental episode, to highlight the unique quality of the show.

    And “As Time Goes By” would be good as well, because of how it reflects on the characters’ relationships, the past cast members. It also did a good job balancing the lighter time capsule story with more serious moments (Soon Lee, the pilot’s story, and the more serious moments of the time capsule story). Though, speaking of which, if it was the finale, they may have to do something about Soon Lee’s story, since it was setting up for “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.”

    All that being said, I’m glad they ended things the way they did. I’m not sure I agree that the show HAD to end with the the war ending, but having it end that way makes it so much more effective than it could have been otherwise. Seeing the characters we grew to know and love saying goodbye, and finally going home, really made the episode so much better and more emotional than it already was.

  4. Thanks for the responses so far. My opinion is that the show went on slightly too long, and was definitely losing steam by season 10, and a lot of season 11 feels like it’s phoned in. I like As Time Goes By more than GFA, mostly because I feel that GFA was just too long and melodramatic. Were I a writer, I would have cut out the Klinger-Soon Lee relationship, unless it had been introduced earlier in the season. It feels very forced. And the end could have had a post-script about what happened to all the characters, including Henry’s family, Trapper, Frank, and Radar, plus minor characters like Rizzo, Igor, and Kelly.

    Now, I am of the opinion that had MASH not been renewed, it would not have really needed a finale. In 1972, very few shows had finale episodes (off the top of my head, I can only think of The Prisoner and The Fugitive). And it would have faded away as a post-script to the movie.

    As for ending with Abyssinia, Henry, I tend to agree that it would have been too heavy to end the series with, even with a “what happened to them” post-script.

    In an ideal world, were I “The Man” for the series back in the day, I would have kept Gary Burghoff around for one final season (“Gary, bubbeleh, come in! Here’s that check for a quarter million!”) and ended the series with an episode that had elements from other episodes–the family get-together from The Party, Radar meeting the nurse at the Tokyo airport from Goodbye, Radar, and the time capsule from As Time Goes By. The plot would have had the war ending, maybe after Hawkeye crashes the peace talks, and BJ planning a party for everyone, to take place six months after they arrive home. Before they leave the camp, Margaret organizes the time capsule. The final act is everyone at the party, surrounded by family, and they mention what happened to everyone. I would have gone as follows:

    -Hawkeye goes back to Crabapple Cove and joins his father in private practice.

    -BJ goes back to Mill Valley, goes to work in a major hospital, and pioneers the emergency room and the trauma unit. He and Peggy eventually have three more children, one of whom serves as a doctor in the Army.

    -Potter retires, moves back to Hannibal MO, and works part-time as a doctor. He passes away in the mid-1970s, a beloved member of the community. Mildred passes shortly after, and they’re buried next to each other.

    -Radar goes back to Ottumwa IA, and eventually marries Patty. They raise a family on the farm in Ottumwa, with Radar’s mother living with them and helping with the kids.

    -Klinger goes back to Toledo, and is feted as a hero. He becomes a noted local businessman, and eventually remarries Laverne.

    -Charles goes back to Boston, and is immediately hired by Massachusetts General to head a new trauma unit. He quickly creates what is known as a Level 1 trauma center, famous for its ability to save badly injured people based upon his skill and knowledge he acquired serving in Korea. He keeps up regular correspondence with BJ, as they both work to create a method of saving lives after seeing so much death.

    -Margaret stays in the Army, eventually reaching the rank of Brigadier General, and being head of nursing in Vietnam in the 60s. She eventually retires in the early 1970s, having championed the MASH unit through two wars.

    -Father Mulcahy initially returns to a parish in Philadelphia, but meets and falls in love with a woman who had been a nurse at another MASH in Korea. He leaves the priesthood, marries, and teaches high school in Maryland.

    -Trapper returns home, and continues his medical career, eventually moving to San Francisco and working as a trauma surgeon (yes, it’s Trapper John, MD!!!!!)

    -Frank eventually leaves the VA, and decides to enter politics. He is elected to Congress, but in the early 60s, he is charged with corruption and ends up serving some prison time. His wife divorces him, and he disappears, losing contact with his family and even with Margaret. He writes a book about his experiences in the war, which is found after his premature death, and published as a novel.

    -Henry’s family remained close to his former soldiers, especially Radar and Hawkeye. Hawkeye sponsors Henry’s son for admission to medical school, and Radar helps pay for it. He eventually serves as a doctor in Vietnam, where he becomes a friend of Margaret, who tells him that for all their differences, she respected Henry’s compassion and skill, but not hos style of command.

    -Igor ends up as one of the first McDonalds franchisees in the midwest. He eventually buys a major league baseball team.

    -Kelly goes home to Hawaii, marries, raises a family, and continues her career in nursing. She eventually ears a PhD, and spends her time teaching new nurses. There could even be a clever little scene where she’s talking with McGarrett from Hawaii Five-O.

    -Rizzo goes home to Louisiana, Zola, and little Billy Bubba, and opens a restaurant called Luther’s Cajun Kitchen…funded by what he sent home from Korea!!!!!!!

    What do you think, all?

    1. Love the Where are they now? idea. I’d work in something about our favorite two recurring characters, Col. Flagg and Sydney Freedman. I can’t think of one for the latter, but Flagg’s would be fun.

      He’d probably have a hand in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, that seems his style. And I’d definitely see him involved in Watergate, likely in the Plumbers unit. Frank Burns could even tie into that. Say he gets out of prison in time to be hired into Nixon’s administration in a small role, and easily gets mixed up in the Watergate caper. Of course his and Flagg’s paths cross, and after a long string of “have we met?”s over time, they recognize each other. Of course, Frank bumbles so badly that Flagg gets rid of him, leaving Frank to go through the fate you’ve laid out. Even Frank’s death could be Flagg hunting him down due to the CIAer’s time in jail. If it were an actual scene, I easily hear Flagg say, after Frank’s last breath, “Yeah, I never liked that guy!” Finally, Flagg really disappears mysteriously, forever.

  5. According to THE COMPLETE BOOK OF M*A*S*H, the initial order of episodes for the show was 13 before an additional 9 episodes were ordered, then finally another 2 to bring the total to 24 (which what a standard television season was back in those days). Also, according to the production codes, “Dear Dad” was the thirteenth episode produced in that initial order, which means that, for all intents and purposes, if M*A*S*H flopped, its finale would have been a Christmas episode, which is . . . interesting to think about, actually.

    I think Larry and Gene did that with M*A*S*H’s virtually unknown sister show, ROLL OUT! in 1973: I do believe the last episode was a Christmas episode before it got canceled.

  6. This is off topic, but being the most active topic right now, thought I’d put it here for folks to see.

    The episode Strange Bedfellows just came on MeTV and I wasn’t doing anything else so I decided to do a little experiment. I have the entire M*A*S*H series burnt from the DVD’s onto a USB drive that plugs into my TV. I decided to put up picture in picture and play the episode side by side with the live broadcast, pausing the USB copy for commercials. The idea was just to see confirmation of scenes being cut for syndication. I thought maybe if it wasn’t too much of a hassle, the next time I went through the entire series, I’d do it this way and take note of every scene cut.

    I did find one scene that was completely cut, but I found something else that was even more shocking. The episode on MeTV is SPED UP! It’s not noticeable when watching by itself, but side by side, it’s most definitely noticeable. The tv episode kept getting ahead of the USB copy. At first I thought it was small extensions to scenes that I wasn’t noticing, so I started paying attention. The episode on TV is most definitely sped up to make room for more commercials, which is already sad as hell given that the episode plays in a 30 minute time slot and is only 22 minutes long, and had a 2 minute scene cut. I guess 10 minutes of commercials isn’t enough?

    Just thought I’d throw this out there as I found it interesting. Guess I won’t be dong my side by side viewing to find all cut scenes. That would be awful with the speeding up.

    1. That doesn’t surprise me. After all, MeTV has to sell Flex Seal, Flex Tape, and Flex Glue to pay the bills. Plus, I’m a DISH subscriber, so I’m not watching on a digital subchannel.

      I’m watching Henry In Love on TV Land right now–started at 435PM, ends at 510PM, so besides cutting scenes, they tacke on extra time to make sure they shill pharmaceuticals and bad shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and The Goldbergs.

      1. EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND isn’t necessarily a bad show – not really one I go out of my way to watch though . . . but why is THE GOLDBERGS on TV Land? That show’s still airing on network TV!

        Oh yeah, I know why. Because TV Land stopped giving a crap about classics a decade ago.

    2. It’s not just MeTV doing with this M*A*S*H, almost all older shows on any cable network are being sped up in reruns: they’ve already been butchered beyond comprehension to condense them down to 21 minutes, but that’s been too long for a few years now, so shows (that are already cut, mind you) have been sped up to condense them down to 17-18 minutes for more commercials.

      But you know what I’ve discovered? You know how some DVD players have a “Rapid Play” feature? If you play an episode of M*A*S*H (or any older show that originally ran for 26 minutes) on Rapid Play – which plays it at 1.7x faster – you know how long it runs for? 17 minutes. So all this time, they could have just been speeding up episodes on TV without having to cut anything out.

    3. I have less of a problem with Me-TV speeding up episodes. It’s better than having the network delete more scenes, and it’s only noticeable to me when music is playing. This is much better than how TV Land cuts out even more scenes and often stretches out episode run times by 6 minutes or so nightly. Another network that seems to cut or speed up (or both) episodes is WGN, where I noticed that just 1 commercial break ran 4 1/2 minutes! I imagine TV Land’s commercial breaks are even longer.

  7. I don’t know about an episode that would be a good end to M*A*S*H*, but I ❤ the ideas that Doug had for how the lives of the characters ended. I would have made Mulcahy fall in love with Nurse Gail Harris from Nurse Doctor instead of some random nurse after she finds him after she spent years searching and pining for him, and they have triplet boys named Hawkeye, B.J, and Henry, who are just as mischievous as thier namesakes and keep Mulcahy and Gail on thier toes!
    And let me add the fates of a few more characters-
    Sidney Freeman went on to become a well-known psychologist, writing a book about the Korean War and how PTSD affects veterans, and he later became the psychologist for the president of the United States.
    Colonel Flagg eventually went just too nutso for people to handle and was admitted a pysch ward along with Frank Burns and “Ol’ Ferret Face” and “The Wind” spend the rest of thier lives in straitjackets, swearing vengancr on Hawkeye and BJ, who they blame for thier troubles.

    1. Funny you should say the Father Mulcahy should have married Gail Harris. I thought that maybe he would have met someone very similar, and this time allowed his feelings to develop, whereas with Gail, he had stopped himself. Lost opportunity. Not bad for only spending a couple of minutes working it out, eh???!!!!

      1. Thank you, Doug for replying to my comment, and I’m sorry I’m late for replying, lots of personal stuff going on. I’ve been making comments on this site since July 1st, if I remember correctly, and you’re the first person to reply to anything I said, and that means a lot to me.


  8. About the only one I can see working is “Ceasefire.” That’s mainly because the series was so early in its run; after we had gotten to really know and love these characters and understand what they were going through, I’m not sure anything less than “complete closure” would have been satisfactory – at least not in my eyes.

    “As Time Goes By” manages to attain a weary, “waning days of the war” feeling, but even though it was the last episode filmed, to me it still works best as a build-up to the actual finale – and not just because of the start of the Klinger/Soon-Lee relationship either.

    See, to me M*A*S*H had the perfect finale built in: the end of the war. As we traveled with these characters over the years and joined them in their pranks, troubles, boredom etc., in my eyes anything less than giving them the one thing they had been wanting from the very start, to go home, would have been a letdown. The war coming to an end was the natural conclusion.

    Maybe someone could argue that “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” was overlong, overly dramatic, or came too late in the series’ run. I can understand that. But, the final result of GFA is the subject at hand: this group of people had become like family, not only on the show but to us at home, and as such we identified with their plight. Their closure was our closure, their goodbye was our goodbye. Anything other than that would have felt like a cheat.

    IMO of course.

  9. The Party would have been a good series finale. They learn the peace treaty is being signed, everyone says goodbye/leaves at the same time, and a party is set up for six months after returning home to the states. No heavy drama just reflection of their time at the 4077th with remembrance of those who impacted their lives.

    1. Agreed BeccaLeo. The Party could certainly have served as a series ender.because it could have expanded to an hour long and tied up all the story lines neatly.

      It was also the last episode for season 7 which saw terrible episodes like Inga, None Like It Hot and Ain’t Love Grand – while still giving viewers much better episodes like The BIllfold Syndrome, Baby It’s Cold Outside and Rally Around the Flagg Boys.

  10. GFA was of course the producers and writers fond farewell to the viewers who expected a big finish and so did CBS. I agree with some of the posts here: As Time Goes By could have been the natural ending vs GFA which was overly long and too melodramatic.

    Following up on what BDOR posted, episodes which might stand in for a series finale were likely written earlier vs later. MASH was on shaky ground early on with ratings – but later it became CBS’ ratings and production darling. There was no danger of cancellation threat once the show found its audience.

    The thing with series enders vs season finales is the old Hollywood trick of leaving the audience wanting more. In a series finish you tie up all the stories for the entire show because the audience expects that.

    With a season finale you use a hook to make sure the audience comes back next season to watch what happened next. So a season finale never really ties up all the loose ends – in fact it introduces a new one. Something significant happens and we won’t know until the season premier of the next season how it’s going to be resolved.

  11. Sort-of related historical footnote to all this: When it was announced that “M*A*S*H” would be ending with its 11th season, radio broadcaster Paul Harvey announced on one of his noontime shows sometime in 1983 that the series was ending because the creators felt they had run out of stories to tell. Paul Harvey said he really enjoyed “M*A*S*H” fan, and said he surely felt there were a lot more stories to tell. So, he invited his listeners to send their ideas for “M*A*S*H” stories to either CBS or 20th Century Fox … and gave out the address. I not only remember the broadcast where he did this …. but I also still have one of the form letters (on “M*A*S*H” 10th season letterhead, no less) that either CBS or 20th Century Fox sent out to people who had sent in story ideas because of the Paul Harvey broadcast, thanked them for being a fan of the TV series, and said that they legally could not read any story idea that was sent in by fans!

    1. Yes, there are legal issues with things like that. Star Trek TNG accepted submissions early in its run before running afoul of the writer’s union. And famously, it is why Robert Duncan McNeil played Tom Paris and not Nick Locarno, although the characters were very similar–another writer created Locarno for the TNG episode The First Duty, and he would have had to been paid for every appearance on Voyager. That would have been huge, as Paris/Locarno was one of the lead characters.

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