Ping Pong is the 114th episode of M*A*S*H, the 17th in the fifth season of the show, which originally aired on CBS-TV on January 11, 1977. It was directed by William Jurgensen, and written by Sid Dorfman.
The 4077th hosts a traditional Korean wedding, much to Frank's objections. And Colonel Potter runs into an old friend who has put his own troops in jeopardy to get a promotion.
Full episode summary
With bated breath, the 4077th is watching an inter-camp ping pong tournament, and their best player, Cho Lin, is facing off against the player from the 8055th. Cho wins the match, and of course everyone is thrilled - except for Frank who, having been given 3-1 odds, bet against his own unit.
Just as the tournament winds down wounded come in, one of them being Lieutenant Colonel Harold Beckett, an old friend of Colonel Potter, who is surprised to see him as Beckett normally worked at the Pentagon ordering commodities for the troops. Beckett explains that he had been given command of an infantry unit to advance his career. He needs five more days on the front line to get his Combat Infantry Badge; with that citation on his record he can get a promotion and retire as a full colonel.
After surgery, Cho brings his fiancée Soony to the Swamp, where he announces they're going to be married. Hawkeye and B.J. offer to hold the ceremony at the 4077th, and even pony up money so Cho can buy a wedding ring. Frank scoffs at Hawkeye and B.J.'s naivete, insisting it's foolish to trust an "Oriental."
Cho leaves for Seoul to get the ring, but when he doesn't come back on time, Soony becomes inconsolable and starts to cry, saying she believes Cho will never come back. Hawkeye tries to reassure her, while Frank callously thinks it's funny.
Later, more wounded arrive, and Cho is one of them. He explains there was a big mix-up in Seoul, when a South Korean Army truck came by, grabbed Cho, put a uniform on him, and abruptly sent him into battle. After tending to his wounds, Frank demands to know why Hawkeye and B.J. haven't shipped him out. They try and bluff their way out of it, but Frank is adamant, even drawing up a formal list of grievances against Hawkeye for various infractions which he turns in to Potter. Hawkeye and B.J. then tell Potter about the impending wedding; Potter is disinterested at first, but changes his mind when Hawkeye (doing some fast thinking) says Potter will be giving away the bride. Now beaming with pride, Potter allows the wedding to go on as planned.
Later that evening Hawkeye and B.J. talk to Sergeant Blanchard, a wounded soldier from Colonel Beckett's unit. Blanchard tells them that Beckett is a garrison officer, and that his incompetence is why they got wounded. When the enemy hit them with the big stuff Beckett panicked and then froze when ordered to withdraw. Blanchard then reveals to them what Beckett told Potter, that he needs five more days on the line to get his Combat Infantry Badge, which guarantees him a promotion to full Colonel. Hawkeye and B.J. tell Potter about it the next morning, and when Potter confronts Beckett, he claims that Army intelligence let him down, but then Potter counters with the truth that Beckett himself had screwed up. Beckett begs for a break as he only needs five more days on the line. But Potter, caring more about the lives of the young soldiers, refuses and orders Beckett to be sent back down.
Most of the officers turn out in their Class A uniforms (except for Frank, still in fatigues) for the wedding, as does Radar. Frank is furious that the ceremony is being allowed to go on, and confides in Margaret that he will tell General Harrellson, but Margaret quietly shuts him up.
Being a Buddhist* (see Research note below) ceremony, Father Mulcahy narrates the actions of the wedding; no words are spoken as the groom arrives on a white pony. He dismounts, and he and the bride share a drink of rice wine. They bow to each other, and the groom places the ring on the bride's finger. They are then declared man and wife. Everyone watching bursts into applause and steps forward to congratulate the couple while Frank wanders over to the wedding cake table, sampling the refreshments while no one else is looking.
Later, Radar and Col. Potter play ping-pong, and Radar can barely contain his laughter as he beats Potter so easily.
Research notes/Fun facts
- This episode is the only instance where Potter mentions his home as being in Nebraska. All other times, it is Hannibal, Missouri.
- The M*A*S*H unit now has another general overseeing things. Frank threatens to send his report to the unseen, offstage "General Harrelson". The last general we had heard of overseeing the unit was during the season 5 opener Bug Out , where Colonel Potter talked on the phone with the offstage character of General Irving "Binky" Hamilton.
- After he laughs at Soony, Frank is snidely accused by Hawkeye of being over-qualified as "the Ugly American". This reference is a bit of an anachronism; though the term was first coined in 1948, it's use was not widespread until after it became the title of a book first published in 1958, which was later made into a film in 1963.
- The trope of Potter exposing an incompetent friend is repeated in "Friends and Enemies." Oddly enough, in this episode, he readily accepts Hawkeye and B.J.'s testimony about Col. Beckett, and says he doesn't care if it costs him every friend he has if one kid gets hurt because of that friend's incompetence. In "Friends and Enemies," he flat-out berates Hawkeye for telling him how his friend's interference in combat caused many injuries. He does eventually change his mind and confront his friend, who angrily denounces him and ends their friendship, much to Potter's sorrow.
- The Combat Infantryman Badge (referred to in the episode at "Combat Infantry Badge") was established in 1943 to recognize contributions of infantrymen who bore great risks in combat while receiving little public recognition. According to the eligibility criteria for the Combat Infantryman Badge:
- The serviceman must be of the rank of Colonel or below and serving in a unit of brigade size (1,000-5,000 troops) or smaller.
- A recipient must be personally present and under hostile fire while serving in an assigned infantry or special forces primary duty, in a unit actively engaged in ground combat with the enemy.
- There was no 30-day qualifying period in the original criteria. The 30-day rule was added during the Vietnam War and applied only to non-infantry officers put in command of an infantry unit. Going by the criteria as they existed during the Korean War, Beckett, having been wounded by enemy shell-fire, would have already qualified for the CIB.
- Father Mulcahy incorrectly describes the wedding ceremony as "Buddhist". It is actually an abbreviated version of a traditional Korean wedding ceremony, which doesn't have the bride being given away by her father, as Colonel Potter does for the bride here.
Guest stars/Recurring cast
- Richard Narita as Cho Lin
- Frank Maxwell as Lieutenant Colonel Harold Beckett
- Sachiko Penny Lee as Soony
- Robert Phalen as Blanchard
- Enid Kent as the Nurse (see Nurse Bigelow)
- Uncredited appearances
- Jeff Maxwell as Igor Straminsky - and he has lines!
- Roy Goldman as Private (see Private Roy Goldman), also with a line.
- Kellye Nakahara as Nurse (see Lieutenant Kellye Yamato)
- Jennifer Davis - next to Potter at ping pong match (see Lieutenant Jennifer)
- Mary Peters - at wedding ceremony, behind Mulcahy (see Lieutenant Peter)
- Gwen Farrell - at wedding ceremony