A Holy Mess was the 14th episode of Season 10 of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, also the 232nd overall series episode. Written by David Pollock and Elias Davis and directed by Burt Metcalfe, it originally aired on February 1, 1982.


A special egg breakfast is complicated by a distraught AWOL soldier talking Father Mulcahy into granting him sanctuary in the mess tent after a church service.

Full summaryEdit

A soldier wanders into the Mess Tent one evening and sits down next to Hawkeye and B.J. He seems nervous and sullen, so they ask him if he wants to talk; he is reticent at first, but when they invite him back to the Swamp for a drink he accepts.

The young man, Private Nick Gillis, opens up about how he just got a letter from a friend back home in Idaho that his wife just had a baby three weeks ago, but then Gillis adds that he has been in Korea for just over a year; in other words, his wife had given birth to someone else's child.

Gillis then reveals that he has been AWOL from his unit for just over a day, and that he is trying to get back home at any cost. Hawkeye and B.J. gently suggest that Gillis go talk to Father Mulcahy right then and there, but Gillis promptly falls asleep on a cot in the Swamp, and Hawkeye and B.J. decide to let him sleep it off.

The next morning, Sunday, Gillis agrees to talk to Father Mulcahy after services, and assumes that Hawkeye and B.J. are also going. Afraid to turn him down, they reluctantly come along with him.

During service in the Mess Tent, Lieutenant Spears (David Graf), an officer from Gillis' platoon, comes in and orders Gillis to come with him. Gillis refuses, but Spears won't take no for an answer. As services are about to end with the congregation singing the Doxology, Spears impatiently grabs Gillis' arm, but Gillis pulls away, causing an uproar and disrupting the service. Gillis claims that Spears cannot touch him because they are, in effect, inside a church. Spears angrily disagrees, but Gillis' argument resonates with Father Mulcahy, who grants his request for sanctuary there in the Mess Tent. Potter is dubious, but goes along with Mulcahy until he can get further instructions from higher up.

While Potter and Spears call the Judge Advocate General, Mulcahy and Gillis get to know one another. He tries to show sympathy for Gillis, who is still determined to get back home no matter what, but Mulcahy warns him that, after thirty days, AWOL becomes desertion, a serious military offense. Eventually, the JAG rules against sanctuary, but Mulcahy, feeling that in this case he is bound by sacred principle rather than military law, says he will only follow the orders of the Command Chaplain at I-Corps. Spears is incredulous, asking Potter if he's going to "let this 'mess tent monk' run his camp", but Potter shouts Spears down and defends Mulcahy saying, "I've known this man long enough to give him the benefit of a couple hundred doubts! He's not about to take a stand unless he feels it pretty deep."

Meanwhile, tensions begin to rise as the rest of the camp, who have no knowledge of what's going on with Mulcahy and Gillis, get impatient over the fresh eggs they were promised (courtesy of a grateful local farmer) that aren't prepared in time for breakfast. Potter puts Hawkeye and B.J. in charge of calming down the agitated mob. After a few moments of panic, they announce that they will be serving Sunday Brunch outside, to which the camp reservedly agrees.

Word from the Command Chaplain comes back, but it is not good news: the Command Chaplin has determined that the Mess Tent is not a permanent structure, so it cannot be considered a church, and therefore cannot be used for sanctuary. But when Mulcahy still refuses to concede, Spears has had enough and orders his MPs to go in and arrest Gillis, who panics and grabs for his rifle.

As Mulcahy and Gillis struggle for the weapon it discharges through the roof of the Mess Tent causing everyone else to hit the dirt (where the eggs land after getting knocked over). Gillis prevails and aims his rifle at Mulcahy who furiously stares him down, rebuking him for using God's house for his own purpose, and then for his willingness to kill when it's no longer convenient. Mulcahy then reminds him that "a faith of convenience is a hollow faith" and orders Gillis to surrender the rifle, but Gillis refuses. After a brief tense moment, Mulcahy grabs the rifle by the barrel and hurls it out of Gillis' reach. Gillis then collapses in sobs into Mulcahy's arms and tearfully apologizes, to which Mulcahy gently replies "I know... I know."

Epilogue Edit

Potter announces that before Gillis returns to his unit, the JAG has approved a stop-off at the EVAC hospital where he will be treated by Sidney Freedman; Mulcahy is relieved that Gillis will be "treated as a casualty rather than a criminal." The Father is being treated to an omelet with copious amounts of bologna, onion, and cheese, which he states are hiding the taste of the eggs, but B.J. assures him it's no loss as the eggs are powdered.

Fun facts Edit

  • Final appearance of Val Bisoglio as SSG Sal Pernelli, the mess cook.
  • As part of the subplot, each person is promised two eggs and the officers each accost SSgt. Pernelli, the mess cook, with how they want their eggs prepared, but Pernelli puts his foot down and says everyone will get their eggs scrambled, except for Colonel Potter, who ordered an omelette.
  • Mulcahy could have been brought up on charges of interfering with the MPs.
  • The status of the fresh egg in the M*A*S*H universe seems to change from season to season. In this episode, the announcement of fresh eggs causes the camp to almost go into hysterics. In Season 2, Radar is pelted with one while playing "Revelie" on the bugle ("The Chosen People"); in Season 4, Klinger is excited to win a real egg in a poker game, and Hawkeye later says he had it poached ("Dear Peggy"). In Season 5, the mysterious mad joker (later revealed to be B.J.) puts at least two in Frank Burns' helmet ("Dear Sigmund"). Later in Season 5, we see Hawkeye waxing poetic about the egg while cracking open one that was hard-boiled ("Souvenirs").

Guest castEdit

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