Heading well into season 7, it's kind of odd that the question of exactly what a main character role is, a character that's been there since the start I should add, but it is.
We know that Father Mulcahy is a nice guy, he's linked to the local orphanage, he runs sermons that people seldom attend, he does a few routines to lift morale, and every time there's a pool he wins all the money. Previous episodes such as Mulcahy's War reinforced the questions over his value by suggesting that without unless you're a doctor or out in combat, what you do is of little value, and this is further compounded by perspective episodes such as Letters or Hawkeye's Will where Father's perspective is on the ore outlandish, comic relief end.
It's in this context that Dear Sis stands out as a real hidden gem of the series. The episode starts off with the perfect quote to set the tone for the episode to come: "I stand there on the edge of usefulness".
People don't attend his services, or seek confessional so he's unable to provide absolution or even any therapy for the soul.
He tries to calm a soldier in the OR, gets put in a headlock and when he thinks he has succeeded, he gets informed that a sedative did it for him. Bit of a rare ass moment for Potter here who nonchalantly stands by and watches as Father nearly gets the life choked out of him.
Getting asked to do a cow prayer by Radar whilst not directly insulting further emphasises how segregated from the action he is, and Charles rather funny need to intervene medically steals the spot light of the scene (detracting a tad from the point of the scene) but is very funny.
The talking point of the episode comes in the middle when Margaret is trying to calm a wounded soldier that first pushes her off and slugs Mulcahy before Father hits him back and puts him down. In the OR room after, Mulcahy tries to apologise but is met derision and insults. This is probably the highpoint of the episode in terms of intensity and it just misfires on a couple of minor levels. 1 - though he is a trained boxer, he's not an actual fighter so it seems a little unrealistic that he would react that way. It seems that rather than being an actual character moment, it's a moment that happens because the story needed it. 2 - That soldier is an actual #[email protected]
%. Most would feel he got what was coming to him and would expect him to apologise for his behaviour after he calmed down... or at least be put in his place by one of the doctors when he was mouthing off like that.
Though the above is an irritation it does play its role, which is sweet heart to heart Mulcahy has with Hawkeye where Pierce tells him to cut himself some slack.
The final scene where everyone is attempting to celebrate Christmas proves to be his shining moment when you see how a little bit of compassion and thoughtfulness from the kind Priest leads us to see a lift in Charles' mood after he discovers his tobagon hat amongst the presents. As per usual we are treated to a superb acting performance from David Ogden Stiers whose Major Winchester does everything he can to star in all the scenes he's in... he even throws out one of the best lines in the episode: "here buy them everything they need, and here buy them everything they don't need" - and that interaction illustrates the message of the episode to a tee - it's the little things that make a difference.
A superb directing performance Alan Alda who manages the episode perfectly, juggling multiple pieces to deliver a well flowing, funny, sweet and touching episode.
The night ultimately belongs to Mulcahy however who drives the point home, as he again delivers maybe not the funniest line of the show "I've actually seen Santa Clause and you ain't him", but perhaps the most powerful...
"It doesn't matter if you feel useful going from one disaster to another--the trick I guess is to just keep moving"
Yes there are missteps, but this is a fantastic episode that makes us wonder for years after just how under-utilised the character of Father Francis Mulcahy was and how good he could have been. Above average but short of perfect for me.