The old man and the cats…

MASH Revisited

“Henry Please Come Home” (S. 1, ep. 9)

This episode gets its own entry because it’s at once a throwback to the film, and a step forward in the development of the characters. The premise is simple: Henry Blake has impressed General Hammond by the efficiency and good results achieved by the 4077th, the highest in all Korea. As a result, General Hammond offers Henry a sinecure position in Tokyo, where he advises on how to get similar results. At the mercy of the gunger-ho than usual Frank Burns, the Swampmen realize that they are no longer in control, and that Frank’s willingness to enforce discipline will make their lives a misery. (Frank even confiscates the still. Just because he can.)

So Hawkeye and Trapper (thanks to a defy little maneuver by Radar) get a furlough to Tokyo, where they visit a relaxed, comfortable Henry. He’s genuinely glad to see them, but in no way interested in returning to the 4077th. Not even the charms of Lt. Leslie Scorch, his mistress at the 4077th, are enough to entice him back. Hawkeye and Trapper, anticipating this reaction, have arranged for Radar to feign a serious illness, and, when Trapper and Hawkeye prepare to depart, Henry insists on going with them.

Henry, in his concern, decides to do an exploratory surgery (Gary Burghoff’s appalled terror is pitch-perfect), and the whole thing falls apart. Blake is about to return to Tokyo, but when he hears Burns announce that he intends to court-martial Pierce and McIntryre, Henry realizes that Burns (though technically correct) doesn’t consider the consequences. Not just the 40787th’s efficiency rating, but the lives that will be lost at the removal of the men he described (just before his departure) as “two of the best cutters I’ve ever worked with.”

So, beings Henry, he stays.  

****

The throwback to the film is in the Tokyo frivolity—the Japanese singers doing adaptations of Western songs, the hinted at availability of sex For hire as routine, and the tacit acceptance of this. The Tokyo scenes, to that extent, partake of some of the worst aspects of the film—though not historically inaccurate.  

What we see here, though, is some deepening of the characters—Henry’s deep concern for Radar leads him to not just return to see what is up, but to one of his very few medical misjudgments in the series. He takes Radar’s suffering at face value and acts to investigate it, though Burns, correctly, sees it as the sham it is quite quickly.  

Henry also gives up his release from the hellish (albeit with good company) 4077th to save Pierce and McIntyre from punishment, not just for their sake (he’s pretty angry at being fooled at the moment), but because he immediately sees the consequences: more dead soldiers. Unnecessary deaths. Because he gets it, he sacrifices his own comfort and stays. Earlier in the episode, Henry refers to “my right hand, Cpl. Radar O’Reilly, who incidentally is in command of this unit, and just uses me as a front.”  

This is also the episode that proves that statement false; Henry certainly is a terrible administrator. But he’s the right CO for this time and place. He just doesn’t know it. 

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