The Ringbanger was the 16th episode of Season 1 of the M*A*S*H TV series, also the sixteenth overall series episode. Written by Jerry Mayer and directed by actor/director Jackie Cooper of "Our Gang" fame, the episode, in which Leslie Nielsen guest starred as Colonel "Buzz" Brighton, first aired on CBS-TV on January 21, 1973.
A colonel, Buzz Brighton (played by Leslie Nielsen) arrives at the 4077th with a high casualty record. Trapper and Hawkeye attempt to have him shipped home by convincing him he is insane.
Full episode summary
The episode opens in the OR, while Hawkeye is removing shrapnel from the bottom of a Colonel Buzz Brighton, who gets invited to the Swamp after his operation for some 8 am gin and mental rest. He doesn't want any mental rest though; instead he wants to go back to his outfit, saying that casualties are part of the war and implying that he really didn't care. Hawkeye and Trapper decide to keep him around the camp a little longer.
When consulting Radar about Brighton's record, it is revealed that he virtually never failed a physical examination, while racking up twice as many casualties as any other commander in battle, but only gaining half the ground. Hawkeye then decides he should definitely stay out of battle, and that they would fake the symptoms of combat fatigue. Frank has other ideas, though. Expressing his concern to Henry (who is in the middle of planning a date with Nurse Leslie), he assumes that Hawkeye and Trapper have a new drinking buddy, and wants to get him back into battle as soon as possible. Nurse Leslie overhears this and tells Hawkeye and Trapper about it, while Henry tells Frank to deal with it himself.
As Buzz finishes his fifty push-ups, Hawkeye and Trapper converse in front of him, implying he has a medical problem. He is finally told that he should stay for observation. He is opposed to this idea, and tries to tell Henry before Hawkeye tells Buzz that Henry's a boozer. When he tries to tell Frank, he is convinced by Hawkeye that he is a homosexual and transvestite ready to pounce at any minute.
When Frank decides to give Buzz an examination, the colonel immediately gets nervous about the warning given by Hawkeye, especially after catching a pair of high heels in his tent. As a part of the examination, Frank has to feel his leg and take his pulse. Radar also returns Frank's "laundry" of women's clothes. Buzz reacts in horror to this act, now completely convinced that Frank is a degenerate homosexual. Hawkeye then moves the PA system and Buzz's inventory to another tent, so that Buzz is convinced that his tent somehow moved while he was with Frank. Radar also sneaks a glass of milk into the tent, which Trapper claims "[that Buzz] made such a fuss about getting this morning".
Finally, Hawkeye and Trapper set up a scene where Houlihan would examine Colonel Brighton in a state of pity, and get everyone all set up for the scene. Hot Lips talks to Hawkeye about exactly why Buzz is being kept at the 4077. They manage to convince her that Buzz has an emotional problem and that he is breaking down. Hawkeye also convinces Frank that Hot Lips, er, Major Houlihan has a crush on the colonel. They convince him that she has a crush on Colonel Blake.
As Radar hands Colonel Blake an order that doctors should now have experience with pistols, and that these tests should be done at night, Houlihan approaches Buzz in a tight sweater and short shorts, in order to seduce him out of pity for his emotional problem. She nearly does so, only to find Frank knocking on the door. He yanks it open, and find the two inside together. Houlihan warns "Be careful, he's jealous". Buzz responds, "I don't belong to him", and wrenches him to the ground. When Henry, now completely drunk, barges in, Buzz apologetically says that he was unaware of their relationship. Houlihan storms out in anger over this, and Buzz gets irritable over all the confusion and the fact that he is holding down some homosexual guy.
Hawkeye finally declares that Buzz suffers from battle fatigue. Buzz, now completely confused, agrees. He gets taken out of the camp in an ambulance and get sent back to the states.
In the end, Frank is still quite irritated by Hawkeye. It doesn't help when he turns up lying on the bed as a casualty, asking for cosmetic surgery.
Research notes/Fun facts
- Origin of the title. In "Funny You Should Ask", the writer Jerry Mayer says he got the idea after reading about the term "ringbanger" used in the army. The term describes West Point graduates who would, during meetings and when making decisions, turn the big part of their academy ring around and bang it on a hard surface so that people would know they came from West Point. In the episode, Hawkeye says the action is a reminder that the ringbanger is a quarterback in the war and all the others are merely water carriers.