"You have to admire a man who won't take no for an order..."
(~Hawkeye, speaking about Colonel Lacy)
Preventative Medicine was the 23rd episode of Season 7 of the M*A*S*H TV series, also the 170th overall series episode. The episode was written by Tom Reeder, and directed by Tony Mordente. The episode originally aired on CBS-TV on February 19, 1979.
Hawkeye finds himself dealing with a reckless front line commander with a very high casualty rate. Meanwhile, Klinger pulls out some heavier stops with yet another ploy to get a Section Eight.
Detailed episode summary
During OR, the doctors notice that many of the patients have multiple entry wounds from multiple directions. Potter explains that these wounded are part of Lieutenant Colonel Lacy's unit, the 603rd Battalion, which sustains more casualties than any other in Korea; while all the other units were retreating, Lacy ordered his men to stay and fight a little longer.
Later, Lacy himself arrives in camp, and seems to be quite the charmer. He's complimentary to Radar, Potter, and Margaret. He tries to be cordial to Hawkeye and B.J., but knowing of his casualty record they are indifferent to Lacy's kind words, and it is soon revealed that his men outright despise him; one of them, Corporal North, confides in Hawkeye that if he gets sent back to Lacy's unit he swears that he will kill him. Lacy comes in to Post Op and makes a speech about how their bravery has inspired him to submit a plan to HQ to for a dangerous mission up Hill 403. Hawkeye and B.J. are disgusted, and Potter futilely tries to talk Lacy out of it.
The next morning in the Mess Tent, Lacy joins Margaret, who is openly attracted to him-- until he tells her about his plan to go up hill 403, casually adding that he expects 20-30% casualties- approximately a hundred men according to Margaret. Horrified, she asks what makes the hill so important; when Lacy callously responds, "Well, getting it", an offended Margaret excuses herself and leaves the Mess Tent.
Lacy then tries to talk to Hawkeye and B.J., and Hawkeye reveals his own repulsion of Lacy's duplicity, how he is cold, calculating and cares nothing about his men, but then turns into a cheerleader as the wounded are being carted off the battlefield; Lacy's smug and condescending attitude only reinforces Hawkeye's belief about him. Later, while Hawkeye and B.J. are in Post Op, Lacy arrives to give his wounded their Purple Hearts, but none of them want them, and one of the soldiers goes into cardiac arrest when he sees Lacy. Hawkeye yells at him to get out of Post Op, but when Lacy is about to argue back, Radar tells him that General Higgins is on the phone from HQ. After he leaves, Hawkeye tells Radar to keep Lacy out.
Hawkeye and B.J. resuscitate the solder and walk into Radar's office as Lacy is on the phone. Apparently the conversation is not going Lacy's way as General Higgins has turned down his plan as being too risky. Hawkeye and B.J. overhear the conversation and gloat, but Lacy has another plan to take hill 403: subterfuge, using reconnaissance which he knows usually draws fire. Once the shooting starts, Lacy is sure that nobody will know who started what.
B.J. is disgusted, but Hawkeye appears to have a change of heart about Lacy; he compliments him and invites him to the Swamp for some drinks. B.J. is initially shocked, but Hawkeye quietly explains to him that he has a plan is to slip Lacy a mickey to get him off the line. After a couple of drinks mixed by Hawkeye, Lacy doubles over in pain, and while B.J. quickly diagnoses it as gastritis, Hawkeye argues it is appendicitis, requiring surgery. Hearing this, Lacy protests, saying he'll lose his command if he's off the line for too long, which only empowers Hawkeye to order Lacy to be prepped for surgery.
In the scrub room, Hawkeye and B.J. have it out - B.J. reminds Hawkeye that what he's doing is mutilation and unethical, but Hawkeye, citing doctors back home who do needless surgeries for money, believes it will save the lives of all the soldiers who, with Lacy reassigned, won't have to climb Hill 403. B.J. warns Hawkeye that he'll hate himself for the rest of his life, but Hawkeye replies, "I'll be able to hate myself with a clear conscience", and performs the appendectomy, but B.J. refuses to help.
Weary, Hawkeye later returns to the Swamp and quietly admits that he tossed Lacy's "pink and perfect" appendix into the scrap bucket. But then B.J. informs a disbelieving Hawkeye that more wounded are on the way, just a few seconds before the P.A. announces it. B.J. adds: "You treated a symptom- the disease goes merrily on." He helps a tired and frustrated Hawkeye back to his feet, and the two return to the OR.
Klinger makes yet another attempt to get a Section Eight. He confronts Potter by throwing powder in the air and muttering in a strange language (actually gibberish) while brandishing a dead chicken. Claiming to have taken up voodoo and now unafraid to be the bad guy, Klinger threatens to stab a voodoo doll he made of Potter if his demand is not met. But despite several attempts, Potter still does not budge, and in exasperation puts a curse on Klinger- extra guard duty; when asked how it works when he does it, Potter replies, "Because my bird is more powerful than your bird!"(comparing his colonel's rank with Klinger's dead chicken)
Still determined that his new ploy will work, Klinger, while on duty, takes a pin and stabs the voodoo doll, and just as he does, Colonel Lacy loudly grunts in pain, and Klinger turns around to see Hawkeye and B.J. carrying Lacy to OR. Fearing his "magic" has targeted the wrong man (as he simply addressed the doll as colonel, which could basically refer to either Potter or Lacy, the latter of whom can still be addressed as Colonel) Klinger remorsefully hands over his voodoo gear to Father Mulcahy in repentance. Mulcahy insists that Lacy's pain was a mere coincidence, but to placate Klinger, he agrees to take everything- except the dead chicken, which Klinger decides to give back to the cook.
Research notes/Fun facts
- For the record, there was never a 603rd Infantry Battalion [US Army Lineage Book Vol II Infantry 1953].
- The original script had Hawkeye and B.J. simply removing Lacy's appendix, as he and Trapper had done in a previous episode (White Gold) without incident. However, Mike Farrell strongly objected and felt that B.J. would not knowingly cut open a healthy patient, no matter the reason. Inspired by this twist to a recycled plot, Farrell and Alan Alda's argument was written into the episode.
- The parts where Hawkeye saves a patient and Klinger stabs a voodoo doll is not in syndication but are seen in the remastered version.
- This is a remake of an earlier episode, The Ringbanger where a high casualty colonel is taken out of action by Hawkeye and Trapper John. This theme would later be used again to varying extents in Ping Pong and Friends and Enemies.
- In a call sheet for 10/26/78, Jo Ann Thompson is listed as Nurse Able, separate from the other enlisted men and nurse extras who are not named. However, she does not get a credit in the episode.
Guest stars/Recurring cast
- Jeff Maxwell as Igor Straminsky
- James Wainwright as Lieutenant Colonel Bingham Lacy
- Larry "Flash" Jenkins as Corporal North
- Uncredited appearances: