“To Market To Market” - Air Date: September 24, 1972
PLOT: When the 4077’s supply of hydrocortisone is hijacked, Pierce and McIntyre embark into the black market underworld to secure a supply. Meanwhile, Col. Blake is excited about his antique oak desk.
FRANK BURNS ABUSE:
-A black marketer thinks Frank is gay.
-Wacky slow jazz version of “Suicide is Painless” with ‘70s guitars when Henry discovers his office is trashed.
OVERSTATED PRAISE FOR PIERCE: “You guys got the best rep in the Southeast Asia Theater of Operations!”
The big comedy setpiece of “To Market To Market” is Hawkeye and Trapper stealing Henry’s desk to trade it to black marketeer Charlie Lee (Jack Soo). It takes up majority of the episode, and passes through a variety of diverse mini-sketches, which is an inventive story to spin out of a situation that basically involves moving furniture. The Desk provides a kind of primer on sketch comedy situations: a satiric Frank and Margaret character-comedy love scene in Henry’s office pins Pierce and McIntyre behind the desk. The problem of fitting the massive desk through the door is all physical comedy, with an improbable finish for the clandestine operation: they remove the entire back wall of the building. The funniest is an absurdist gag straight out of Bugs Bunny, where Hawkeye and Trapper pretend to be holding an “early Mass” on the tarp-covered desk in the middle of camp, to throw Frank off their scent.
Again, Hawk and Trap get off the hook because even though Henry knows immediately who is responsible for the Fellini parody image of his beloved desk flying over Korea, suspended from a helicopter, their motivations are noble and Henry’s a softie. One of the themes M*A*S*H explores again and again is when to sacrifice personal comfort for a greater good, and when indulgence and recreation are necessary to maintain your humanity. That sounds very specific, but the idea is linked to the even bigger notion that war, as an extreme circumstance, brings out the worst and the best in us, in ways that may not be readily apparent.
Henry needs to let the desk go. But the look of dumbstruck loss on McLean Stevenson’s face as he watches it fly away is the best sight gag of all. “I don’t know what it’s doin’ up there,” he moans. “It just keeps going up. Up. Up.”