The Novocaine Mutiny
|Episode no.||Season 4
|Directed by||Harry Morgan|
|Written by||Burt Prelutsky|
|Original air date||27 January 1976|
"The Novocaine Mutiny" is an episode from the TV series M*A*S*H, the twentieth episode of its fourth season. It was aired on January 27, 1976, was written by Burt Prelutsky and directed by Harry Morgan. As Prelutsky had written a number of episodes of Dragnet, of which Morgan had been a main cast member, the episode could be said to be a reunion, of sorts, between the two men.
The show opens to a court martial (presumably titled United States Army v. Pierce, CAPT B. F., though this is never specified) in the aftermath of Hawkeye Pierce's accused mutiny against Frank Burns in October 1952. The presiding officer, a Lieutenant Colonel Carmichael, points out, "If found guilty, Captain Pierce COULD be hanged." After an opening statement from Major Burns and Captain Pierce, along with a statement by Colonel Potter, B. J. Hunnicutt takes the stand and begins recounting the events.
In a narrated flashback to the prior events, Colonel Potter prepares to leave for Tokyo and Major Burns anxiously awaits taking command. After Potter had left, Burns (who cackles showing his malicious intent and his contempt for his CO) initiated a move across the road, then back to the original location (Burns: "M stands for 'mobile'!" Hawkeye: "Also Meshuggah!"). Burns also instilled parades; calisthenics; cold showers; and snap inspections. He also prohibited gambling, insisted on a spotless kitchen, and started a camp-wide search for a thief upon hearing of Staff Sergeant Zale "losing" $300. (In actuality, Zale had lost the money to Radar at the poker table.)
Captain Hunnicut's narration ends during a recess (where Burns gloats "I think it's going well, don't you?") and resumes with Radar O'Reilly. He outlines the searches of the tents of Father Francis Mulcahy, Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger, Corporal Radar O'Reilly, and naturally the Swamp. Burns finds a teddy bear in O'Reilly's bed and ridicules him for it, but does not push the issue. Radar then admits to the court that the money was hidden inside the bear.
Next, Lt. Colonel Carmichael calls Frank Burns back to the stand to recall the breakdown of command. Frank's retelling is embellished to show himself in a better light: during a particularly brutal OR session, he shoves a passed-out anesthetist aside and takes over passing gas, donates his own blood to save a patient, comforts his colleague Hawkeye, performs triage duties, takes on extra patients, administers the last rites, sends patients back to the front, and gives tough love to Hawkeye and Hunnicut to get them through the overly tough period at the 4077. Finally, he is drugged by Hawkeye and passes out on a stretcher. [In a break with established show tradition, this is one occasion where canned laughter can be heard during an O.R. scene, an indication what we are seeing is not happening in the real "M*A*S*H" universe.]
Finally, we hear from Hawkeye again. His account of the OR session is markedly different. Hawkeye retorts that Frank's version was right-they were in Korea and it was October 1952. However the truth is quite different: Hawkeye and BJ are given patients that have not been properly prepared to undergo surgery and who would either die or have strokes during surgery. It is then revealed that Frank is in charge of pre-op. When Hawkeye confronts Frank about his inattentiveness, Frank insists he and BJ are merely nitpicking and then becomes borderline hysterical as he insists that the casualties are piling up, and that the surgical staff will be "buried alive". Frustrated by Frank's attitude, Hawkeye threatens, "Frank, you can either help the wounded or become one." Frank is then hit in the face by the door leading from the pre-op area to the O.R., and is knocked cold. Hawkeye tells Father Mulcahy to take over in pre-op, and Klinger drags the unconscious Frank away.
Back at the court martial proceedings, Lt. Colonel Carmichael has returned with his ruling, stating that while Hawkeye is, surely a prankster and thoroughly un-military, his record indicates that he is a superior surgeon. Carmichael opines that while he would not want to lead a company of Pierces into battle, he would want them around afterward. Further, he dismisses Burns by saying that if Frank was not a doctor, he would probably have been drafted as "a pastry chef." The mutiny charges are then advised to be dropped, and the court is adjourned with Burns complaining that he doesn't want Hawkeye's innocence to be a blot on his (Frank's) record.
The final scene is another game of poker. Hawkeye laments his disinterest in the game and Zale bails out of a hand, suspecting Hunnicut has a straight. Burns and Colonel Potter arrive, with Burns reporting their disobedience of his unrescinded order against gambling, as Hunnicut reveals he has only a pair of fives. Potter joins in the game, leaving Burns momentarily stunned before he walks out.