Day 137: TBT / Countdown to Christmas – M*A*S*H: “Dear Sis” (1978)

This is the third of the four “Countdown to Christmas” TBT posts I’ll be making this month (and the second episode of M*A*S*H I’ll be featuring). Because I (once again) couldn’t find a clip of this episode of M*A*S*H (or even any real highlights from it) online, I’m sharing another excellent synopsis from Rob’s AfterM*A*S*H blog instead. (I’ve bolded the paragraph summarizing my favorite scene in the episode.)

And again, if you can catch a rerun of this episode on TV – or find it on DVD – in the next week or so, it’s definitely worth your time.

“Father Mulcahy is writing a letter home to his sister, and he’s bemoaning his relative lack of usefulness at the 4077th. He tries to help out with an ornery patient in OR, but instead of being able to talk him down, it requires Margaret to shoot the patient with a sedative, leaving Mulcahy to feel like he didn’t help much.

Later, Radar asks him to say a prayer for their pregnant sow over the phone, which he agrees to. But before he can finish, the sow goes into labor, requiring the advice of Winchester, who is waiting to use the phone to call his sister. Again, Mulcahy feels useless.

He admits no one comes for confession, or even just to chat. Serving as bartender, he tries to comfort those drowning their sorrows with booze over being stuck in Korea over Christmas, but he keeps getting interrupted, never getting to finish a thought.

Later, wounded arrive, and one lightly-wounded patient is short-tempered and combative. When Margaret tries to check his wound, he pushes her off, insisting he see a doctor. Mulcahy tries to help, but the soldier angrily pushes him away, too, onto the ground. Mulcahy pauses for a moment, rears back, and belts the young man so hard in the jaw he knocks him out of his stretcher. Mulcahy can’t believe what he’s done.

In Post Op, he tries to apologize, but the soldier is an even bigger jerk, ridiculing Mulcahy, asking where was he ordained: ‘Stillman’s Gym?’

Mulcahy is devastated. He goes outside to cry, and Hawkeye follows him out and tries to comfort him. Mulcahy admits it isn’t just the punch. It’s that he feels useless at the 4077th.

Hawkeye, B.J, Margaret, and Potter “celebrate” Christmas in his office. Potter has a stiff upper lip, but his three younger friends are miserable. Potter tries to cheer them up, taking them all to the ‘traditional turkey dinner’ the cook has prepared in the Mess Tent. They all cheer up at the prospect, but their enthusiasm is quickly dimmed when they got a load of the meal – turkey on shingles with cranberry sausage – which Potter can’t even bring himself to eat.

Christmas presents are dispensed by Capt. ‘Santa’ Hunnicutt, and Winchester is surprised to learn that there’s one for him: his old childhood toboggan hat, which makes Winchester’s eyes tear up with nostalgia. He thanks Radar, who admits the whole thing was Father Mulcahy’s idea. Winchester tearfully thanks Mulcahy, saying he’s a credit to ‘Your kind of person,’ the most effusive praise he can muster.

There’s also a present for Mulcahy: Hawkeye leads everyone in a toast to Mulcahy, thanking him for his simple decency and kindness. He also has everyone sing ‘Dona Nobis Pacem‘ – ‘Give Us Peace.’

It starts to snow, making the 4077th almost look pretty. Unfortunately, wounded arrive, breaking up the festive mood. Everyone goes to work, and Mulcahy ends the letter to his sister with ‘It doesn’t matter if you feel useful going from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.'”


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