From 1983 until 2010, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" remained the most watched television broadcast in American history, passed in total viewership (but not in Ratings or Share) in February 2010 by Super Bowl XLIV. The episode drew 121.6 million American viewers, more than both that year's Super Bowl and the famed Roots miniseries, and remains the most watched finale of any television series. While the M*A*S*H series ended with this episode, three of the series' main characters (Sherman Potter, Maxwell Klinger, and Father Mulcahy) would later reunite in the 1983–1985 sequel series AfterMASH.
The episode's plot chronicles the final days of the Korean War at the 4077th MASH and features several story lines intended to show the war's effects on the individual personnel of the unit, and to bring closure to the series. After the cease fire goes into effect, the members of the 4077th throw a farewell party before breaking camp for the last time.
A repeat of GFA on September 19, 1983 was appropriately the last official telecast of M*A*S*H to air on CBS; the finale was rebroadcast again September 16, 1984. The episode was added to the syndication package for the series in 1993.
The Korean War is finally nearing an end, and Hawkeye, having had some kind of mental breakdown, is in Seoul being treated by Sidney Freedman. Hawkeye's memories of what led to his breakdown have become repressed or altered, and as he and Sidney draw them forth, Hawkeye initially remembers the details inaccurately.
In his first recollection, Hawkeye and most of the rest of the camp went to the beach at Incheon to celebrate the Fourth of July. On their merry way back to camp, Hawkeye sarcastically called for a liquor bottle to be passed back to a sullen soldier who “can’t wait”; later, he is able to remember that the soldier who couldn't wait was wounded, and that the bottle Hawkeye needed was an I-V bottle. When asked where the soldier came from, Hawkeye remembers that on the way back from the beach, the bus stopped to pick up some South Korean refugees, and then some wounded soldiers who brought news of an enemy patrol in the area. The bus pulled off the road into a grove of bushes, and everyone is told to stay completely quiet to avoid being spotted by the enemy. One local woman carried a live chicken that began clucking loudly, prompting Hawkeye to angrily admonish her (in a hushed voice) to “keep that damned chicken quiet!”; moments later, the noise abruptly stopped.
With Sidney's prompting, Hawkeye begins to recall the correct details of what happened: It turned out that it was not a clucking chicken, but a wailing baby; unable to keep it from crying, the woman made the ad hoc decision to smother her own child to silence it and save the lives of herself and the others on the bus. Hawkeye was so inwardly traumatized by this that he suppressed the memory of what actually occurred. After they returned to camp, he attempted to operate on a patient without anesthesia, while accusing the gas passer of trying to smother the patient with the mask. But it was a later incident-- driving a jeep through the wall of the Officers' Club and uncharacteristically ordering a double bourbon-- that caused Hawkeye to be committed to the mental hospital.
When he accurately recalled the horror that happened on the bus, Hawkeye broke down in sobs saying, "I didn't mean for her to kill it! I just wanted it to be quiet!" He then quietly rebuked Sidney for making him remember what actually happened, to which Sidney replied, "You had to get it out in the open." With the true memory of the events on the bus now restored to his consciousness, Hawkeye acknowledges the fact that he has suffered a nervous breakdown, and was in the process of writing his father that he might be coming home soon as he doubted the Army would let a surgeon operate "whose cheese has slipped off his cracker". But Sidney, deciding that he is ready to be released, sends a dubious Hawkeye back to the 4077th, promising to check up on him periodically.
Back at the 4077th, an out-of-control tank runs over the camp latrine, forcing Charles to go to a temporary facility in a ravine down the road to relieve himself. Encountering a rag-tag group of five Chinese soldiers on a motorcycle, he is surprised when they “surrender”, but even more surprised when they reveal that they're actually musicians. Playing "Oh Susanna" on the way, the five Chinese follow a chagrined Charles back to camp. B.J. then takes possession of the motorcycle and later annoys Charles by painting it yellow.
Frustrated that he is about to miss his chance to win a coveted position at a hospital in Boston, Charles consoles himself by conducting the Chinese musicians in rehearsals of one of his favorite Mozart pieces (the first movement of the Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581). On the surface, he is irritated with them over their inability to play the piece correctly, but he is actually bonding with and growing quite fond of them. Margaret learns of his situation back home and puts in a good word with the Boston hospital's board, but her efforts only earn Charles' fury when he finds out.
With the crashed tank still in the camp and Potter under orders not to have it moved for the time being, enemy forces begin a mortar assault against the 4077th. During one barrage, Father Mulcahy runs to open a makeshift prisoners' pen in the compound in which several POWs are being kept. A mortar round explodes nearby, knocking Mulcahy out and leaving him with a severe hearing loss (later revealed to be caused by tinnitus). Only B.J. knows about Mulcahy's condition, and Mulcahy begs him not to tell anyone else, as it could result in his being sent home, unable to help the local orphans.
Shortly before Hawkeye returns from the mental hospital, B.J. receives his discharge papers and joyously runs through the camp. Showing the papers to Potter in the Mess Tent, Potter is taken aback as he had no knowledge of the orders, but he is also put off by the fact that B.J.'s departure will leave the 4077th badly understaffed with only two available surgeons. B.J. begs Potter to call in for a replacement, which Potter reluctantly agrees to, and B.J. is well on his way home. Later, just as the chopper takes off, Klinger informs Potter that B.J.'s discharge has been rescinded, but Potter cannot (by choice) hear Klinger over the chopper.
The shorthanded OR staff are soon swamped with wounded, and Potter, while in surgery, again calls I-Corps to angrily expedite a replacement. Hawkeye, returning after Hunnicutt's departure, is upset that his roommate left without saying goodbye, pointing out to Margaret that Trapper John left in the exact same way. Shortly afterward, during another barrage of enemy shelling, Hawkeye decides to take matters in his own hands and drives the crashed tank through the newly-built latrine and into the camp's garbage dump, far enough away from the camp where the shelling won't hurt anyone. Most of the camp is relieved that they are now out of harm's way, but Margaret, Mulcahy, and Potter begin to wonder if Hawkeye might have been released too early, so Potter calls in Sidney for a visit.
In the meantime, Soon-Lee Han, a Korean refugee from a previous episode, is still in camp and trying to locate her lost family. Klinger becomes worried when he learns that she has gone off on her own to find them; when he catches up with her, they both realize that they have feelings for one another. Later, back in camp, Klinger proposes to her, and she accepts; Klinger regales her with how much she'll love living in Toledo, but much to his frustration, Soon-Lee insists that she cannot and will not leave Korea until she finds her family.
A salvo of incendiary bombs starts a large fire in a nearby forest, and the 4077th is forced to bug out. As soon as the camp is set up in its new location, the new replacement surgeon arrives, and it turns out to be B.J., who only got as far as Guam before finding out about his rescinded discharge. Reuniting with Hawkeye, B.J. apologetically explains that everything happened so fast that he had no time to leave a note.
B.J., who longed to be home in time for his daughter Erin's second birthday, discusses with Father Mulcahy about inviting the orphanage to a big party, during which Potter, Mulcahy and Margaret decided to have a "birthday by proxy", finding an orphan girl close to Erin's age and declaring the day to be her birthday as well, causing B.J. to remark, "What better birthday present to get than your own birthday". Seeing all the children at the party, Hawkeye becomes withdrawn and tries to slip away, but Sidney, who shows up during the festivities, reassures him. He considers moving the tank to be a wise action that took his fellow soldiers out of danger. Hawkeye opens up about the thought of losing a patient under his care, which never bothered him so much before; Freedman says it may make him an even better doctor than he already is.
Charles eventually has to say goodbye to the Chinese musicians, who are to be part of a POW exchange. As they are driven away, they finally play the Mozart piece correctly for him. At that moment, the PA announces the news that the armistice has finally been signed, and a cease-fire will go into effect at 2200 hours that night, officially ending the war. A loud cheer goes up in the camp, but the celebration is very short-lived as more wounded arrive, and Potter announces to everyone that I-Corps wants them back in Uijeongbu right away, so only the patients that cannot wait get first priority before they move back.
Back at their old site, everyone takes a long sobering look at all the fire damage before they go back to work; much of the equipment left behind was destroyed, but somehow the hospital building itself was largely undamaged. The camp again sets up shop and gets to work on the remaining wounded they brought back.
With less than six hours left before the ceasefire takes effect, Hawkeye and B.J. take a break in the Mess Tent and discuss many of the things they're not going to miss, but then they get around to what they will miss: each other. B.J. tries to reassure Hawkeye that they'll still get to see one another back home, but with each of them living on an opposite coast, Hawkeye doesn't see how and becomes convinced that once they go home they'll never see one another again. B.J., however, refuses to accept that finality.
Charles goes to do triage on more wounded that have arrived, among which, to his horror, is one of the musicians, near death after the truck carrying the POWs was shelled. After he is informed that none of the others survived. A shaken Charles retires to his tent, where he plays a record of the Mozart piece they were rehearsing, but this only intensifies his pain, and he angrily yanks the record from the turntable and smashes it to pieces.
In the OR, Hawkeye's next patient is brought in: an eight-year-old girl. Hawkeye is hesitant at first, but when Potter offers to switch patients with him, he declines and goes to work, indicating that his recovery is complete. Sidney, his work now finished, leaves the 4077th with the same parting line he used during one of his earliest visits: “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice: pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”
The staff continues operating throughout the evening, stopping just briefly to take note when 2200 hours comes, and they hear the guns fall silent during a radio newscast piped over the loudspeaker, with reporter Robert Pierpoint accenting the ceasefire with the words:
"There it is.. That's the sound of peace."
Once all the wounded have been cared for, the staff throw a final party in the mess tent, with many members commenting on their future plans:
- Potter looks forward to rejoining his wife in Missouri and becoming a “semi-retired country doctor”, but even more so becoming "Mrs. Potter's Mister Potter".
- After several overseas offers, Margaret, after taking a furlough, plans to work at a big-city hospital in the United States.
- Father Mulcahy decides to begin ministering to the deaf.
- Kellye has put in to be assigned to Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu to be with her family.
- Rizzo is going back home to Louisiana to breed frogs for French restaurants.
- Hawkeye wants to take some time off, then go back into private practice in Maine, where he can get to know his patients better.
- Igor is going to be a pig farmer (which earns a remark from Rizzo: "Whaddaya mean, gonna be??").
- B.J. jokes about running off with a woman he met in Guam during his travel delay, but then admits he was only kidding.
- Charles, having gotten the position he sought at Boston Mercy, says "My life will go on as expected," but adds "with one exception: for me, music has always been a refuge from this miserable experience. And now it will always be a.. reminder".
- The biggest surprise of all comes from Klinger who, after announcing he and Soon-Lee are getting married, reveals that he is staying in Korea to help her find her family.
The next morning, Klinger and Soon-Lee are married by Father Mulcahy, with Potter as best man, and Margaret as maid of honor. After the ceremony, Klinger is the first to say his goodbyes, especially to Colonel Potter, and then boards an ox cart with Soon-Lee; as they ride away, the nurses shout at Soon-Lee to throw her bouquet of flowers, which she does, and Margaret catches it.As camp is being permanently dismantled, Rizzo gives a boarding call for the 8063rd, and as they make their way to the bus, Kellye decides she's going to take her road sign with her, grabbing the 'Honolulu' sign for a keepsake off of the fingerpost, and everyone else grabs the rest of the signs; fittingly, the only two two signs remaining are for Tokyo and Seoul. Most of the staff, including all of the nurses, board the bus and ride out from camp for the last time.
Charles and Margaret intended to ride together to the 8063rd on the way back home, but Charles cannot find room in Margaret's jeep, so he sends Rizzo to get him another ride; Charles then makes peace with Margaret and allows her to keep a treasured book she borrowed from him. Just before leaving the camp, Margaret receives hugs from various members of the unit and also engages in a long, passionate goodbye kiss with Hawkeye. After Margaret leaves, the Swamp is dismantled as its former occupants gleefully laugh at its demise. The last available vehicle is a garbage truck, which Charles boards after saying goodbye.
Potter plans to take one final ride on his beloved horse Sophie before he donates her to the local orphanage, and take a jeep from there. He reflects on how Hawkeye and B.J. always managed to give him a good laugh when he needed it, recalling when they dropped Charles' pants in Bottoms Up, admitting that he was only pretending to be angry while inwardly "laughing to beat all hell." As Potter climbs on his horse, Hawkeye and Hunnicutt offer him a small token gift from the heart: a formal military salute, which Potter emotionally returns before he rides off.
With everyone else now gone, Hawkeye and B.J. are finding it all the more difficult to part ways. As they reminisce over their time together, Hawkeye tries to agree with B.J. that they might see one another again, but in case they don't, Hawkeye tells B.J. how much he has meant to him, to which B.J. responds, "I can't imagine what this place would have been like if I hadn't found you here." The two exchange a long brotherly embrace before Hawkeye boards a chopper. Right before B.J. leaves on his motorcycle, he shouts to Hawkeye that they will see each other back home, and that this time he left Hawkeye a note. Only after Hawkeye's helicopter has lifted off does he see B.J.'s note: the word "GOODBYE" spelled out in stones on the ground.
Contented, Dr. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce sits back as the chopper permanently takes him away from the remnants of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital; the last staff member to leave, beginning the first leg of a long-awaited, devoutly wished journey that will culminate in his return home.
Recurring Cast/Guest stars Edit
- Rosalind Chao as Soon-Lee
- Allan Arbus as Major Sidney Freedman
- Kellye Nakahara as Lieutenant Kellye Yamoto
- John Otrin as Ambulance Driver
- Jeff Maxwell as Igor Straminsky
- Roy Goldman as Private Roy Goldman
- Jim Lau as Chinese Musician
- Jan Jorden as Lieutenant Baker
- Jo Ann Thompson as Nurse Jo Ann
- Enid Kent as Nurse Bigelow
- Judy Farrell as Nurse Able
- Gwen Farrell as Nurse Gwen
- G.W. Bailey as Sgt. Luthor Rizzo
- As the nurses and others leave camp for the final time, Nurse Kellye suddenly gets the urge to grab the 'Honolulu' sign for a keepsake off of the fingerpost near the Swamp. Most of the others take more signs off of the post, including B.J. who naturally takes the 'San Francisco' sign. Fittingly, the only signs that remain on the post are for Tokyo and Seoul.
- For the third time in the whole series the 4077th bugs out. In fact the footage of the camp bugging out was taken from the season 5 episode "Bug Out." It was wisely edited to not show Hawkeye, Radar, and Klinger in a dress, since by that point he had stopped. New music also added along with some new dubbed voices to make it seem fresh.
- Hawkeye and Margaret's goodbye kiss lasts 34 seconds.
- This is the only episode of the series to feature the episode title superimposed on-screen.
- Alan Alda and Loretta Swit are the only regulars to appear in both the 1972 pilot episode and 1983 finale of the series. However, Alda is the only series regular to be in each and every episode of the series (251 episodes spanning 11 years). Swit appeared in all but 11 episodes of the series.
- Klinger reveals to have an Uncle Jameel, referencing Jamie Farr's birth name: Jameel Joseph Farah.
- Ironically, the idea to have Klinger voluntarily stay in Korea in the final episode was suggested by Jamie Farr himself.
- This has the most writers credited for a single episode in the entire series' run: eight.
- This is the only time opening theme song "Suicide is Painless" is then played in its entirety throughout the closing credit sequence instead of the standard closing theme.
- The wildfire story line was written into the show after an actual wildfire destroyed most of the outdoor set in October 1982. The scene was filmed less than 12 hours after the fire had ravaged the set. In November 2018, the Woolsey Fire again swept through the area, now a State Park.
- David Ogden Stiers, who played Charles Emerson Winchester III, was always a little detached from the rest of the cast. Unlike the others, no one had his direct phone number, so when he had to be reached, it was through a message with his agent. In one of the key scenes of Charles' farewell, he gives Margaret the book of poetry they argued about earlier and he has signed it - the inscription is actually to his co-star Loretta Swit, and it includes his phone number. Her reaction is genuine.
(after Winchester returns to camp with the Chinese musicians in tow)
- Potter: Major, I think there's a definite medal in capturing five Chinese in your bathrobe!
- (Charles scoffs at Potter's remark)
(after breaking down in sobs when he remembered the chicken was actually a baby)
- Hawkeye: You son of a bitch. Why did you make me remember that?
- Sidney: You had to get it out in the open. Now we're halfway home.
(after nearly getting hit by a passing jeep)
- Mulcahy: Dear Lord, I know there must be a reason for this, but what is it?! I answered the call to do Your Work. I've devoted my life to it, and now, how am I supposed to do it? What good am I now? What good is a deaf priest? I pray to You to help me, and every day I get worse. Are You deaf, too?!
(Last scene of the series)
- Hawkeye: Look, I know how tough it is for you to say goodbye, so I'll say it. Maybe you're right, maybe we will see each other again; but just in case we don't, I want you to know how much you've meant to me. I'll never be able to shake you. Whenever I see a pair of big feet or a cheesy mustache, I'll think of you.
- B. J.: Whenever I smell month-old socks, I'll think of you.
- Hawkeye: Or the next time somebody nails my shoe to the floor...
- B. J.: ...or when somebody gives me a martini that tastes like lighter fluid.
- Hawkeye: I'll miss you.
- B. J.: I'll miss you. A lot. I can't imagine what this place would've been like if I hadn't found you here. (The two men hug, then Hawkeye boards the helicopter while B. J. mounts his motorcycle, where he shouts over the helicopter) I'll see you back in the States—I promise! But just in case, I left you a note!
- Hawkeye: What?!
- (B. J. rides off. Hawkeye gives the pilot the thumbs-up to take off. As the helicopter ascends, Hawkeye looks down and smiles as he sees a message spelled in stones: GOODBYE)