Dear Sis was the 15th episode of Season 7 of the M*A*S*H TV series, also the 162nd overall series episode. The episode, which was written and directed by Alan Alda. The episode originally aired on CBS-TV on December 18, 1978.
It's Christmas time in Korea, and everybody is miserable, particularly Father Mulcahy, who again begins to have feelings of self-doubt, and wonders whether he is making any difference to anyone.
Detailed episode summary
It's Christmas Eve, and Father Mulcahy, alone in the Mess Tent and disappointed that nobody came to his ecumenical morning service, writes a letter to his sister, the Sister, lamenting over recent incidents that have only aggravated his feeling of uselessness at the 4077th, including:
- When he is called on to try and calm down a patient in OR who refuses to be sedated, Margaret surreptitiously injects the patient with another quarter-grain of morphine and he quickly goes under; Potter thanks Mulcahy for his help, but he feels as though he didn't really do anything.
- After surgery, Mulcahy asks the doctors if they would mind donating to the local orphanage so the children can have something for the holidays; Hawkeye, B.J. and Potter all pitch in, but not Charles, who claims that any contribution he could make would be a useless gesture in the long-term.
- Radar asks Mulcahy to say a prayer for their pregnant cow over the phone to his mother, but before he can finish, the cow goes into labor, and Radar drafts Charles, who is waiting to call his sister, to guide Mrs. O'Reilly through the procedure. Again, Mulcahy feels useless.
- Trying his hand at bartending in the Officers Club, Mulcahy attempts to lend an ear to anyone drowning their sorrows with booze, but he keeps getting interrupted, never getting to finish a thought.
Later, more wounded arrive, and one wounded soldier, Lieutenant Forrester, has a huge chip on his shoulder and is loudly complaining about being left on the ground and unattended. When Margaret tries to check his wound, he pushes her away, demanding to see a doctor. Margaret asks Mulcahy for help, but when Forrester slugs Mulcahy, the good father snaps and strikes back knocking Forrester off of his stretcher. Mulcahy immediately regrets his reaction, but when he later tries to apologize, the arrogant Forrester refuses. As Mulcahy walks away, Forrester insults him saying, "Where were you ordained, Father? Stillman's Gym?"
Mulcahy is devastated, but goes outside before he can start crying. He opens up to Hawkeye, who followed him out, about how he is angry at himself over what happened with Forrester, and that he feels like he isn't doing any good being there, but Hawkeye points out that if he were with someone else going through the same thing, Mulcahy would let him off the hook. He then remarks that the sheer insanity of their situation has finally visited on Mulcahy like it already has with everyone else, adding, "We have to stand here and watch so much misery we're lucky if we don't all join hands and walk into a chopper blade". Mulcahy finds some comfort in Hawkeye's words and goes back to his tent to, as he describes, "sob myself to sleep".
Later that evening, Hawkeye, B.J. and Margaret are all with Potter in his office sharing a drink with Potter offering a toast "to the Christmas we were supposed to be home by". But then Potter, noticing their collective overt misery, points out to them that it took fifteen of the eighteen Christmases he was away from Mildred to realize that he was only making himself miserable because he longed to be somewhere else; he tells them, "If you ain't where you are, you're no place". He tries to cheer them up by 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 somewhat dimmed when they get a load of the meal- turkey on shingles with cranberry sausage, which even Potter can't bring himself to eat. They then belly up to the eggnog bar which Radar is tending, and Potter asks about the present he gave him- a pair of his grandson's old pajamas for Radar's teddy bear, which fit perfectly.
Everyone is caught by surprise when Santa (B.J.) comes through the roof of the Mess Tent. As he begins to pass out presents, Radar gives a glass of eggnog to a depressed Charles who, like everyone else, longs to be back home. When Radar tells him that he happens to know that there is a present waiting just for him, a skeptical Charles decides to play along, thinking it is only a gag. But when he opens it he is surprised and then overjoyed to see that it is his old childhood toboggan cap. Radar admits that he knew Charles was unhappy and wrote his parents to send him something that would make him feel a little more at home. When Radar mentions that it was Father Mulcahy's idea to write the letter, Charles, overwhelmed with gratitude, goes to Mulcahy and hands him a stack of bills from his bankroll for the Orphanage Fund saying, "Here. Buy them whatever they need.", but then Charles stuffs the rest of his bankroll in Mulcahy's hand saying, "Here! Buy them whatever they don't need!"
Hawkeye proposes a toast to Father Mulcahy, referring to him as "someone who's too modest, too utterly simple a man to know how much strength he gives us just by the decency of his life among us". Hawkeye explains to him that they don't often get to his sermons as they are all try to catch up on sleep, but by the same token, he doesn't get to hear them sing. With Mulcahy joining in, Hawkeye leads the camp in singing Dona Nobis Pacem (Latin for "Give Us Peace").
As they finish singing, it begins to snow outside, and Potter remarks that the place suddenly looks pretty. But then an ambulance pulls up in the compound with another batch of wounded, and everyone has to go back to work. Mulcahy ends the letter to his sister saying, "Y'know, sis, it doesn't matter whether you feel useful or not moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving."
Research notes/Fun facts
- Another episode in the "Letter home" narrative format; this time it's Father Mulcahy's turn.
- This is not the first time Father Mulcahy has self-worth issues; in the Season 1 episode Showtime he also talks to Hawkeye, comparing his role as chaplain to Hawkeye's role of surgeon. But unlike Showtime, this episode manifests Mulcahy's recurring situation.
- Another appearance by Santa Claus, this time played by B.J., who refused to wear a fake mustache over his real one; this is sarcastically observed by Hawkeye who asks him "Is that a brown mustache or are you eating a mouse?" B.J. is the second of only three M*A*S*H regulars to cosplay as Santa- the first being Hawkeye in Dear Dad, and the third (and final) time by Colonel Potter in Death Takes A Holiday.
- The Christmas party scenes are great for identifying extras.
- Charles' childhood toboggan cap makes its first appearance in this episode. The hat can be seen in other winter episodes, including the episode Dreams.
- Traditionally, this episode ends on a freeze frame of MASH staff running to the ambulance while the credits start to absolute silence for a few seconds before the theme kicks in. Some airings replace the silence with the cast singing Dona Nobis Pacem again.
Guest stars/Recurring cast
- Lawrason Driscoll as Lieutenant Forrester
- Jeff Maxwell as Igor Straminsky
- Patrick Driscoll as Patient
- Perren Page as Driver
- Jo Ann Thompson as Nurse, (see Nurse Jo Ann)
- Uncredited appearances: