Hawkeye (Alan Alda): I'd like to talk to you about Corporal Klinger.
Col. Potter (Harry Morgan): And his all–girl orchestra?
The last that MASH fans had heard, Frank Burns (Larry Linville) was acting commanding officer after the discharge and death of Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), and every MASH fan knew that Frank fully expected to be made permanent commanding officer. He was already trying to mold the 4077th in his and Hot Lips' (Loretta Swit) somewhat twisted images.
But 40 years ago tonight, Frank was notified by mail that the Army, for whatever reason (and I'm not even sure a reason was given, but it's been awhile since I have seen the episode), had decided not to make Frank the permanent commanding officer. Instead, Col. Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan) had been given the assignment.
Col. Potter was a career Army doctor who had spent the previous two years behind a desk. As such, the surgeons were concerned about two things — that he would submit the camp to a lot of Army discipline to which no one was accustomed and that he had lost his surgical touch in two years of inactivity.
Their first concern seemed to be legit when Potter summoned the camp's officers to his office to get acquainted — and he read aloud to each of them from their personnel files.
Col. Potter: Major Margaret Houlihan.
Hot Lips (Loretta Swit): Sir!
Col. Potter: Ten years, spotless record.
Hot Lips: Thank you, sir!
Col. Potter: Major Frank Burns.
Hot Lips: Just friends, sir.
Col. Potter was quite different from Henry Blake. When he met Corporal Klinger (Jamie Farr), he told him to get out of the dress he was wearing and into a uniform — and to stay in uniform. After making the change, Klinger began suffering from a rash that the surgeons determined must be psychosomatic — and they agreed that Klinger should wear women's underwear beneath his uniform. That seemed to solve Klinger's problem — at least until one day when the only thing he had to wear beneath his uniform was a half–slip.
The staff at the 4077th soon came to realize that Potter was not going to be the wild–eyed disciplinarian they had feared — that he would be reasonable, but he did have his standards.
The one who was having the most difficulty, of course, was Frank. He was crushed when he wasn't made permanent commanding officer, and he went AWOL.
Hot Lips covered for him around Col. Potter, but away from Potter she confided in Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and B.J. (Mike Farrell), who found it hilarious that by–the–book Frank Burns was absent without leave.
After the first intensive surgery session, which, as I recall, wrapped up in the wee hours of the morning, it was clear that Potter had not lost his touch. When he told them that "I could use a belt," Hawkeye and B.J. invited him back to their tent for some of their homemade hooch — and the three began to bond.
As they were in the process of becoming inebriated, Potter told Hawkeye and B.J., "I had a still on Guam in WW2. One night it blew up! That's how I got my Purple Heart."
As it so often did, MASH provided some good life lessons in this episode:
- Your life's journey will probably expose you to many different kinds of people. It is unfair to judge one against another because everyone is different. The folks at the 4077th were used to Henry Blake as their C.O. Now they had to get used to someone else. They did not always agree with the way he did things, and they missed Henry, but that didn't necessarily make either wrong, just different. The key was giving each the space to do the job the way they were able to do it.
- Your life's journey is also likely to include some disappointments. Have the courage to face them. Now, courage isn't always an easy thing to summon forth, and it doesn't necessarily mean you will prevail, but you will feel better about yourself when you have the courage to face your setbacks.