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Ranking the best MASH episodes of all time

  • Ranking the best MASH episodes of all time

    Some television shows transcend time and genre—and leave an indelible mark on culture long after they’ve left the airwaves. “M*A*S*H” is one of those shows.

    Created by comedic writer and playwright Larry Gelbart, the legendary, Emmy-winning series was adapted from the 1970 Robert Altman film of the same name, which was based off a book by wartime-surgeon Richard Hooker. The comedy-drama, which focused on the lives of the doctors and staff stationed at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, ran from 1972 to 1983 and aired more than 250 episodes in its 11 seasons. It lasted longer than the actual Korean War by around eight years. The “M*A*S*H” series finale still ranks as the most-watched TV finale of all time, with nearly 106 million viewers tuning in to say farewell.

    “M*A*S*H” remains the gold standard for TV writing; in 2013, the Writers Guild of America voted it the fifth best-written TV series of all time. It’s inspired countless shows today, partly because the show’s talented writers weren’t afraid to take risks with its characters and storytelling. The show pioneered narrative techniques like 30-minute episodes with two plotlines, usually one funny and one serious. The writers also refused to shy away from hard truths about war and the human condition despite network pressure, leading to some of the series' most powerful episodes.

    Thanks to its staying power, fans have passionately debated over favorite storylines and the most dramatic or funniest scenes—with iconic characters like Hawkeye (Alan Alda), Charles Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) or Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swit). But debate no further: Stacker has taken a look back and created the ultimate, definitive list of the top 100 “M*A*S*H” episodes of all time based on fan-voted IMDb scores. Do you remember these memorable moments or is it time for a rewatch?

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  • #100. Season 2, Episode 22 - George

    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - IMDb user votes: 339
    - Air date: Feb. 16, 1974

    The title of this episode, strangely, has nothing to do with the mysterious, unseen George character mentioned briefly two episodes earlier. Instead, it refers to Private George Weston, a gay soldier who shows up at the 4077th with injuries he sustained from a beating at the hands of his unit.

    Confronting homophobia, particularly in a military context, was considered edgy for primetime in the mid-70s, and as such, CBS executives were nervous about the issues raised in the episode. The script is incredibly progressive for its time; Frank’s homophobic attitudes are spotlighted as petty and repressive, while Private Weston is portrayed as a brave and determined soldier—who demands a swift return to the front despite having been wounded in the line of duty four times.

  • #99. Season 2, Episode 4 - For the Good of the Outfit

    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - IMDb user votes: 346
    - Air date: Oct. 6, 1973

    If nothing else, "M*A*S*H" will go down in history for its gall in addressing the harsh realities of the American Military Industrial Complex. An episode that embodies what "M*A*S*H" did best, “For the Good of the Outfit” sees Hawkeye and Trapper confronted with an unseemly truth: The U.S. military is responsible for many civilian deaths after reigning artillery fire down on the South Korean village of Tai Dong.

    Of course, this was network television, so some narrative compromises were made. For example, the artillery fire is believed to be an “accident.” Digging a little deeper in its critique, the episode takes things further by having the higher-ups call for the incident to be covered up. With the frequency and volume of protests over the years leading up to 1973, this corrupt wartime reality had moved from the pop culture status of "conspiracy" to "probability," but it was still incredibly controversial.

  • #98. Season 1, Episode 11 - Germ Warfare

    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - IMDb user votes: 390
    - Air date: Dec. 10, 1972

    Hawkeye and Trapper play vampire in this episode, tapping Frank (during his sleep) for a pint of blood to help save a POW with the rare AB negative blood type. But when their patient develops hepatitis, they worry Frank may be a carrier and have to devise a series of misdirections and distractions to keep him away from everyone (especially Hot Lips) until his tests come back. Aside from the darkness of its subject matter, this episode is notable for including the last appearances of supporting characters Spearchucker, Private Boone, and Lt. Dish.

  • #97. Season 1, Episode 9 - Henry, Please Come Home

    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - IMDb user votes: 406
    - Air date: Nov. 19, 1972

    When Henry, after receiving a commendation for his work at the 4077th, is transferred to Tokyo to teach, Hawkeye and Trapper must grapple with Frank taking his place as their C.O. But rather than bow to Frank’s tyranny, they immediately set out to convince Henry to return with a scheme in which Radar fakes a mysterious illness that necessitates Henry returning to base to lend his "expertise."

    Once he’s back, the boys twist his arm into staying, and although he claims he’s going to tighten up on the disciplinary front this time around, the final scene of him joining in for poker and martinis suggest a full return to normal. The emotional highlights of this episode arrive early in the awkwardly tender goodbyes between a tongue-tied Henry and his men. However, the ease with which Hawkeye and Co. convince Henry to return drains the dramatic tension by the end of the episode, which in retrospect feels like a low-stakes dress rehearsal for Henry’s permanent departure in the third season finale, "Abyssinia, Henry."

  • #96. Season 1, Episode 1 - Pilot

    - IMDb user rating: 7.9
    - IMDb user votes: 675
    - Air date: Sept. 17, 1972

    Ho-Jon, the Swamp’s Korean houseboy, is accepted to college at Hawkeye’s old alma mater. Hawkeye and Trapper then host a raffle party to pay for his first semester’s tuition, the grand prize being a date with the alluring Nurse Dish. The pilot episode of "M*A*S*H" established instant chemistry between Hawkeye and Trapper, and established the formula of fun hijinks in the service of a higher cause (well, usually). It features one of only two Father Mulcahy performances by George Morgan, who was replaced by William Christopher early on in the show’s run. It’s also the only episode to feature a cold open before the theme music.

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  • #95. Season 10, Episode 19 - Sons and Bowlers

    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - IMDb user votes: 239
    - Air date: March 22, 1982

    After searing defeats in football, basketball, and softball, the 4077th challenges Col. Pitt and his Marine squad to a bowling match. Col. Potter and B.J. lead the team while Hawkeye must wrestle with the fact that his father is going under the knife back on American soil. He eventually processes with Charles, who calls him Hawkeye for the first and only time in the show's 12-year run. It also marked the first time the closing theme replaced the opening theme and the intro only consisted of five shots. And while neither of those things is too impactful, they accurately reflect the outlying nature of the episode, a clear standout in the series.

  • #94. Season 9, Episode 11 - No Sweat

    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - IMDb user votes: 244
    - Air date: Feb. 2, 1981

    “No Sweat” envelops viewers in a state of stress and...well, sweat. This particular sweat is caused by an extreme heatwave that keeps the company from being able to get comfortable in their own skin. Of course, they’re already more or less living in a bare-bones camp in the jungle, so it’s not like they’re in terrific conditions to start. Slap a heatwave on top, and we find our beloved 4077th in dire straits. The episode follows individuals (Peg, Margaret, Charles, Potter, etc.), examining how they all cope with the unwanted sweat storm, from TV repair to tax returns.

  • #93. Season 7, Episode 12 - Dear Comrade

    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - IMDb user votes: 251
    - Air date: Nov. 27, 1978

    Hawkeye and B.J. Hunnicutt (who replaced Trapper as the show’s sidekick from season four onwards) return after some R&R to find Winchester (who replaced Frank as the show’s nemesis in the show’s sixth season) has hired a Korean houseboy, Kwang, to clean up The Swamp. We soon learn, through his own narration, that Kwang’s actually a spy, but a pretty harmless one—his reports back home state that that the 4077th’s methods are too unorthodox to learn much from, and he even helps out in the O.R. with an herbal remedy for a rash. The use of a previously unmet narrator in this episode was groundbreaking, and fans appreciated the outside perspective on the 4077th.

  • #92. Season 9, Episode 2 - Letters

    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - IMDb user votes: 257
    - Air date: Nov. 24, 1980

    A nuanced take on the episode’s popularly used “letter home” framework, “Letters” has the company responding to mail from children of Crabapple Cove where Hawkeye grew up. The format allowed space for an episode where Charles gets especially emotional. It’s a muted version of emotional because it’s Charles, but emotional nonetheless. The episode is chock full of stories from different characters. They range from touching to forgettable to hilarious and combine to make for an interesting special episode steeped in significant character development.

  • #91. Season 10, Episode 14 - The Tooth Shall Set You Free

    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - IMDb user votes: 259
    - Air date: Feb. 8, 1982

    As per usual, hot topics abound in this classic episode. The central topic is racism. Guest star Tom Atkins plays Maj. Lawrence Weems, an impressive, selfless, and caring major when it comes to the way he treats his men. Or so the company thought. After a few fishy situations, they discover that Maj. Weems is racist. He’s been intentionally sending his black soldiers into the most deadly situations. Laurence Fishburne also guest stars as Dorsey, who helps unveil Weems’s cruel racist behavior. Potter goes so far as to accuse Weems of fighting the Civil War.

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