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TV Flashback: CBS’ ‘MASH’ Concludes its 11 Season Run on This Day in 1983

On this day in 1983, a record 106 million viewers tuned in to watch “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” the 2½-hour series finale of “MASH” on CBS. The Emmy Award-winning series aired for 11 seasons (and 256 episodes).

From Wipekedia: The episode’s plot chronicles the final days of the Korean War at the 4077th MASH; it features several storylines intended to show the war’s effects on the individual personnel of the unit and to bring closure to the series. After the ceasefire goes into effect, the members of the 4077th throw a party before taking down the camp for the last time. After tear-filled goodbyes, the main characters go their separate ways, leading to the final scene of the series.

As final peace negotiations continue during the Korean War, Hawkeye Pierce undergoes treatment at a psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown in the OR. Prompted by Sidney Freedman, he gradually recalls an incident that occurred while the personnel of the 4077th were returning to camp from a beach outing. Their bus picked up some refugees and wounded soldiers, but was forced to pull off the road to avoid being spotted by an enemy patrol. Hawkeye recounts that he told a woman to keep her “chicken” quiet, which she did by smothering it, leading to its death. Meanwhile, a runaway tank destroys the camp latrine and crashes nearby. Leaving the camp to relieve himself in a creek, Charles Winchester is surprised to find five Chinese soldiers ready to surrender to him. He takes them back to camp and, after discovering that they are musicians, calls for some Mozart. One of them plays a theme from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, and Winchester begins to teach them the entire piece.[1] When he is turned down for a staff position at a prestigious Boston hospital, Margaret Houlihan secretly uses her father’s connections to get it for him. Winchester becomes angry with Margaret after learning from Klinger that he only won the position through her intervention.

Klinger has fallen in love with Soon-Lee Han, a local Korean refugee, and persuades her not to look for her missing parents in an area of heavy fighting. B.J. Hunnicutt receives his discharge orders and promises Colonel Potter that he can arrange for a surgeon to take his place. During a sudden mortar attack prompted by the presence of the crashed tank, Father Mulcahy rushes to free several POWs from a makeshift holding pen, and is affected by an exploding shell. He demands that B.J. – the only one who knows about Mulcahy’s deafness caused by the explosion – keep it a secret so that he will not be discharged and lose his opportunity to care for the local orphans.

Upon further treatment, Hawkeye eventually reveals that the chicken was his own mental substitution of the event in order to cope with it, as the woman had actually smothered her baby. He resents Sidney for making him remember the baby’s death, but Sidney explains it is a necessary part of the recovery process. He sends Hawkeye back to the 4077th and promises to check in on him. B.J. leaves to begin his journey home after being discharged, when Colonel Potter receives a notice rescinding B.J.’s discharge but decides not to act on it. Hawkeye returns to camp and learns to his dismay that B.J. did not leave him a goodbye note. As the shelling continues, he impulsively jumps into the tank and drives it into the camp garbage dump, diverting the enemy fire away from the OR. Potter becomes concerned and calls Freedman for a follow-up visit with Hawkeye. There is no follow-up regarding the woman on the bus, so terrified of the enemy she killed her baby.

The camp is forced to relocate due to an incendiary bomb attack and resulting forest fire. Once the unit has set up, the replacement surgeon arrives – B.J., who had made it as far as Guam before word of the rescinded discharge reached him. During a party to celebrate the second birthday of B.J.’s daughter, Hawkeye thinks Sidney is there to confront him about the tank incident, but Sidney reassures him that his actions were sensible in caring for his fellow soldiers. Hawkeye then confides to Sidney that the incident on the bus has made him scared to be near children. Sidney brushes off these fears, telling Hawkeye that his failures may make him a better doctor. Hawkeye later hesitates briefly before operating on a young girl, but is able to go ahead with the procedure; Sidney leaves the 4077th with Hawkeye’s thanks.

Charles reluctantly says goodbye to the Chinese musicians during a prisoner exchange, and they play the Mozart Clarinet Quintet for him while being driven away in a truck. A final ceasefire is announced, to take effect at 10:00 that night and mark the end of hostilities in the war. The camp moves back to its original site on orders from headquarters, with wounded soldiers continuing to arrive. While performing triage, Winchester is horrified to discover that one of the musicians has been brought in dead and that the others were killed when their truck was attacked. Dazed, he returns to The Swamp and tries to listen to the record of the Clarinet Quintet he taught them, but smashes it in anger.[1]

Once the surgical shift is finished, the camp personnel throw a final party and talk about their plans for after the war. Klinger surprises everyone by announcing that he wants to marry Soon-Lee and stay in Korea to help her find her parents. The next morning, Mulcahy officiates at their wedding before the camp is dismantled and everyone says their goodbyes, leaving via assorted modes of transportation. Winchester apologizes to Houlihan for his earlier poor treatment of her, and gives her a book of her favourite poetry. Just before Hawkeye leaves in a chopper, B.J. shouts that he left a note this time. As he lifts off, Hawkeye looks down and sees it: the word GOODBYE spelled out with rocks across the landing pad. He smiles to himself as the chopper carries him away from the 4077th.