"Morale Victory" is the 19th episode in the eighth season of the CBS television series M*A*S*H, also the 192nd overall series episode. Written by John Rappaport and directed by Charles S. Dubin, It originally aired on January 28, 1980.
Hawkeye and B.J. are appointed by Potter to deal with the low morale in the camp, while Charles tries to comfort a depressed concert pianist whose hand was permanently damaged by shrapnel.
Full episode summary
A film is being shown in the Mess Tent, but while some of the people are watching, most of them are sitting there bored, especially Hawkeye and B.J. who, after seeing the same film at least twelve times in a month, decide to break things up by going up to the screen and play-acting along with the film. Most of the others in the Mess Tent start laughing at Hawkeye and B.J.'s antics, but Potter is unamused and angrily orders the movie turned off. When he accuses the doctors of spoiling the movie, Hawkeye and B.J. point out that they have no decent entertainment, which most of the others agree with. The arguing continues until the PA announces incoming wounded, which meets with cheers from everyone when they realize the movie is over.
During surgery, Charles operates on a patient with a bad leg wound and some nerve damage to his right hand, but he pays more attention to the leg. When Hawkeye and B.J. make snide remarks on how lucky the kid is to have been unconscious while the movie was playing, Potter has had enough of their jokes and appoints them to be the camp's new Morale Officers.
Early the next morning, Potter calls the two into his office, hands them an Army Field Manual, points out the section on morale and then sends them on their sheepish way with their new task, angrily roaring at them "I wanna see people smiling!!" Hawkeye and B.J. walk out of Potter's office and are accosted by Klinger who, giving them a long-winded tirade about his own low morale, wants them to sign a form granting him a two-week leave of absence, but the doctors instead task him with building a suggestion box, and charge him with finding some better movies. Margaret comes in with her own manual and, reading from the morale section about comfort and necessity, gives the doctors an order from the nurses for some cosmetics, but when they pass the order to Klinger to fill, Klinger gets upset at Hawkeye and B.J.'s buck-passing and storms off to build the suggestion box saying "I've got a doozy to stick in it!"
In Post-Op, Charles' patient, Private David Sheridan, wakes up. Charles tells him about his leg injury and the complicated procedure he used to fix it, but when Sheridan asks about the bandage on his hand, Charles explains that Sheridan suffered some nerve and tendon damage, resulting in slightly diminished use of three of his fingers. Sheridan then asks how long that will last; when Charles replies that it is permanent, Sheridan breaks down in tears. Charles is confused, but when Sheridan tearfully says that he is a concert pianist, Charles is stunned to silence. He later turns to Father Mulcahy for advice, admitting that while he can provide physical healing, he feels that, unlike the other doctors, he cannot provide emotional comfort. Mulcahy points out that the key lies in his and Sheridan's common love of music, and believes that that is how Charles can get through to Sheridan.
Two days later, Hawkeye and B.J. are in the Mess Tent perusing through the numerous ideas submitted to the suggestion box, including "burning down the entire camp" and "First Annual Naked Day". Potter stops by their table with the observation that nothing has been done about camp morale, and then Margaret arrives complaining that her nurses' cosmetics haven't yet shown up. Klinger then arrives with the news that the only movie he could find is a western with a midget cast. Everyone in the tent begins complaining when Igor comes out from behind the serving table and vents about his own situation: that while he does not prepare the food for the camp, as the server he is the one who is the recipient of all the insults. He then tells everyone to direct their complaints to the cook, who is eating at Rosie's! The others in the tent start chanting "Kill the cook! Kill the cook!" until Hawkeye announces that he and B.J. have been planning a big surprise dinner for tomorrow night, promising that it will be "spectacularly unforgettable". The two leave the others skeptical in the Mess Tent, and as they walk back to the Swamp, B.J. quietly realizes that Hawkeye hasn't got a thing in mind.
Doing some brainstorming, Hawkeye comes up with the idea of a beach party in the compound, cooking up some seafood from Incheon. B.J. seems to agree with the idea, but when they go to Klinger for help the next morning, he thinks the idea is stupid, but knowing that B.J. and Hawkeye's necks are on the line, Klinger agrees to go along with their idea- in exchange for a blank three-day pass. Right after Hawkeye grudgingly signs the pass, Charles comes in and, unwittingly revealing that Klinger was already planning to run an errand in Seoul for Potter, requests that Klinger procure certain pieces of sheet music for him at the military library while there.
Later that night, Klinger has not yet returned, and the entire camp is in an uproar and are ready to riot. Hawkeye and B.J. go to see Potter, who reveals that he hasn't heard from Klinger, but expects to soon- from Toledo, as Klinger's footlocker is gone. Things are about to hit rock bottom when Klinger finally returns from his errands; he gives Charles his sheet music, and then to everyone's delight announces that he has procured several cases of live crabs. He then reveals that he took his footlocker with him so he could load it with beach sand to bring back to camp, and the beach party begins in earnest.
During the party, Charles wheels Sheridan into the Officers Club and shows him the sheet music Klinger retrieved: a series of piano pieces written for one hand, including Ravel's Concerto For The Left Hand, which Ravel composed for a musician who lost his right arm during World War I. At first, Sheridan resists, saying he can't make a career out of "a few freak pieces", but Charles tells Sheridan that while he himself can "make a scalpel sing", his fondest but unfulfilled desire has always been to play music, admitting that he can play the notes yet he does not have the "gift" that he knows Sheridan has. Charles then points out to Sheridan that his gift lies not in his hand, but in his head, heart and soul, and that he can find new ways to share his gift with others: through the baton, the classroom and the pen. He then tells Sheridan that the musical pieces are for him because he and the piano will always be as one. Sheridan relents and tentatively begins playing the piano, but gradually plays the piece with more and more enthusiasm, and Charles listens enthralled.
As the party is winding down, Hawkeye and B.J. return to the Swamp and joke that they cheered Charles up by remote control, as they find him sitting by his bed, quietly drinking cognac and smiling to himself. Charles congratulates them on their successful party, while B.J. tells him he missed out on "some good food and a great time". He reassures them that he's doing fine on his own, remarking that "each of us must dance to his own tune."
Research notes/Fun facts
- At the beginning of the episode, the scene which Hawkeye and B.J. play-act along with is from the 1942 film Tales Of Manhattan, with Charles Boyer and Rita Hayworth.
- The piano score which Winchester gives Sheridan is The Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major by Maurice Ravel. The story behind how the piece came to be written is exactly as Winchester recounts it: Ravel wrote it at the behest of Paul Wittgenstein, an Austrian pianist who lost his right arm during World War I, after Wittgenstein was turned away by other composers.
- This is one of the earliest episodes in which Charles, albeit privately, displays his humanity. His conversation with Mulcahy is convincing proof that he is genuinely concerned about Sheridan, and it is not merely his ego which is at stake when his patient has a setback. An interesting comparison may be found with the early Hawkeye in Sticky Wicket.
- In the later episode Your Retention, Please, Charles again has to perform new surgery to repair nerve damage in a patient's hand.
- The movie which Klinger mentions, The Terror of Tiny Town, actually exists. It was produced by Jeff Buell and starred Billy Curtis. It came out in 1938 and can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.
- In this episode, Stevens graduated from Juilliard as a musical prodigy; in real life, David Ogden Stiers played the French horn in the Juilliard orchestra. In contrast to this episode in a comic relief episode The Smell of Music, Charles does comic relief as an untalented French Horn player!
- During the collective rant around the middle of the episode, Igor complains that everyone yells at him because he serves the crummy food that he doesn't even cook, telling everyone that the cook is eating dinner at Rosie's. In the following season, when Klinger tries to make a quick buck running a camp newsletter (Depressing News), he tells Charles that he's hiring Igor to do a cooking column (in an attempt to shame the Major into doing the column himself). Why would that be plausible if Igor isn't the cook?
Guest stars/Recurring cast
- James Stephens as Private David Sheridan
- G.W. Bailey as Luther Rizzo
- Jeff Maxwell as Igor Straminsky
- Connie Izay as Nurse Connie (uncredited)
- Other uncredited background appearances: Kellye Nakahara, Gwen Farrell, Jennifer Davis, Jo Ann Thompson, Shari Saba