The Merchant of Korea was the 137th episode of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H. The episode, which was the 14th episode of Season 6, was written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, and directed by William Jurgensen. It originally aired on December 20, 1977.
In need of money to make a down payment on some prime property back home, B.J. borrows $200 from Charles, but he soon finds himself having to do several favors for Charles in return.
Full episode summary
In the midst of a heatwave, Hawkeye and B.J. use their down time to whip up a new batch of gin when Radar bursts in with a telegram from B.J.'s wife Peg: she needs two hundred dollars by the 15th for a down payment on a tract of land in Stinson Beach. B.J. extols the virtues of the piece of land having trees, a beach, and even a view of San Francisco, but when B.J. realizes that today is the 15th and doesn't have the money, his situation seems hopeless until Hawkeye, seeing Charles enter the Swamp, does some quick thinking and, throwing subtlety out the window, tells him about B.J.'s quandary. Charles is initially hesitant, but with tomorrow being pay day, he relents and lends B.J. the money, right before more wounded arrive.
As they are operating on the last of the patients, Charles calls on B.J. for a consultation and then, citing how lucky B.J. is that Charles was there with the money, none too vaguely asks him to finish up for him while he goes to the Mess Tent. It doesn't take long for B.J. to realize that Charles' "small favor" has turned him into a temporarily kept man.
The next day, everyone is ready to get paid, but Radar has some bad news: HQ screwed up and sent a chunk of their payroll to Guam, and it will take at least a week to straighten it out. Potter orders what money did come to be pooled and to pay off the enlisted until it runs out, but this doesn't sit well with the officers, especially B.J.,, knowing all too well that this new situation keeps him indebted to Charles, and leaves him and the other officers, except Charles, strapped for cash.
Later, Hawkeye and B.J. wander into the Officers Club only to find that Charles is there alone. B.J. wants to leave, but Hawkeye, accusing him of being "childish and chicken", persuades him to take his medicine, and the two sit down next to Charles at the bar. After Hawkeye remarks about Charles not sweating in the 120 degree heat, he orders beers for the three of them, but when he tells bartender Zale to put it on his tab, Zale refuses him, citing that he is thirty dollars over his bar tab limit. Hawkeye is disappointed, but then Charles decides to pay off his tab for him before he goes on duty in Post Op; Hawkeye is grateful, at least until Charles directs him to bring a beer to him later in the Swamp. Hawkeye can't believe Charles' nerve, but B.J. fittingly throws Hawkeye's own words back at him, calling him "childish and chicken".
That night in the Swamp, B.J. is fiddling with a deck of cards while Hawkeye is still complaining over falling into Charles' debt, rhetorically asking, "Who does he think he is?? The Merchant of Korea?!" Moments later, Charles walks in, and Hawkeye tosses him a lukewarm bottle of beer, which doesn't go unnoticed. Hawkeye is uneasy, but B.J. suggests that they play some poker to settle down; Hawkeye is uninterested until B.J. suggests that Charles, whom they know is a novice, join them for a few hands, to which Charles agrees. B.J. and Hawkeye go off to round up some players to meet in the Officers Club; Hawkeye recruits Klinger and Margaret, B.J. convinces Father Mulcahy, and Potter, who had already heard, borrows money from Radar so he can get in the game.
At first, Charles acts uncertain, which causes everyone else to bet heavily, but the tables quickly take a nasty turn for them when Charles wins the first hand, hitting a straight off of a four-card draw! Charles starts winning hand after hand against the others, who are now more broke than ever. In the middle of the night, Charles decides to take a break and go for a walk. After he leaves, the others deliberate over how he is pulling off his winning streak. The discussion then comes around to Charles' smugness, and then his incessant and insipid whistling; when Radar points out that his whistling only gets louder when he has a bad hand, they suddenly get it: Charles whistles louder when he has nothing, which B.J. refers to as "a Rhapsody in Bluff".
Now armed with this very important stratagem, they are more than ready to resume the game when Charles comes back, and as the night wanes, so does Charles' luck and money, with Hawkeye and B.J. paying off their debts to him before daybreak. Hawkeye bets ten on a hand as the sun rises, but Charles is now short on money, so Hawkeye and B.J. each loan him twenty dollars in chips, most of which he quickly throws into the pot to raise. They all wait until Charles, now sweating, starts whistling again. As if on cue, everyone at the table calls his bet, and as expected, he had nothing, while B.J. appropriately wins with a full house, and they bring their all-night game to a close, calling it a rout. After everyone else clears out, Hawkeye and B.J. goof on Charles for losing so much, but he takes it all in stride, boasting he's spent more on a "late-night snack at home." And seeing as how Charles is now in debt, Hawkeye and B.J. guilt him into sticking around and cleaning up the Officers Club, which he does, singing Mañana as he clears the table.
In the closing scene, B.J., a huge grin on his face, is on the phone with Peg, holding a small bottle of dirt and talking about how that tract of land is now theirs, and what they'll do with it the day he gets home (qualified to "the second day"). He ends the call and kisses the jar, anticipating when he gets home to see the land that will soon become his new home.
Research notes/Fun facts
At the end of the episode, as Charles is left to clean up in the Officers Club, he begins singing Mañana. Earlier in the same place, he turned off the nearby radio as Sergeant Zale was listening to the same song.
Anomaly: Father Mulcahy takes a red $20 scrip note out of his boxing glove to use in the second half of the poker game. "Change Day" was 5 episodes ago, so the note should be blue.
Geography mistake regarding the location of the Hunnicutt's Property. B.J. announces that land "[has] trees, the beach, [and] a view of San Francisco," However it is not possible for this to be true. Stinson Beach is not in San Francisco Bay but is rather along the cost facing the Pacific Ocean, so the city would not be visible. It is possible to view the city from Trojan Point in Mt. Tamalpais State Park which is near Stinson Beach, but their is no residential housing in that area.