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Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

Title card
Written by Alan Alda
Karen Hall
Burt Metcalfe
John Rappaport
Thad Mumford
Dan Wilcox
David Pollock
Elias Davis
Directed by Alan Alda
Release date February 28, 1983 (1983-02-28)
Preceded by "As Time Goes By (M*A*S*H)"

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen is a television movie that served as the 251st and final episode of the M*A*S*H television series. Closing out the series' eleventh season, the 2½-hour episode first aired on CBS on Monday, February 28, 1983. Written by a large number of collaborators (including series star Alan Alda), and directed by Alda, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" surpassed the rating record which had been set by the Dallas episode that resolved the "Who Shot J.R.?" cliffhanger from 1980 and, as of 2010, the episode is still the single most watched television broadcast in American history.[1]

The episode's plot chronicles the waning days of the Korean War at the 4077th MASH and 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 final cease-fire of the war goes into effect, the members of the 4077th throw a closing party before taking down the camp for the final time. After saying their tear-filled goodbyes, the main characters go their separate ways, leading up to the iconic final scene of the series. The episode drew 121.6 million[2] Americans, more than both that year's Super Bowl and the famed Roots miniseries. It still stands as the most watched final of any television series. While the M*A*S*H series ended with this episode, three of the series' main characters (Sherman Potter, Maxwell Klinger, and Father Mulcahy) would later meet again in 1983 – 1985 spin-off series AfterMASH.

Reruns of this episode air on TV Land, History Channel, and the Hallmark Channel from time to time.

Contents

Plot

During the final days of the Korean War, Capt. Hawkeye Pierce has been sent to a mental hospital for treatment by Dr. Sidney Freedman. Gradually, over the course of several scenes scattered through the first half of the movie, Freedman leads Pierce to recall the events that led to his breakdown and hospitalization. [3] He gets a phone call from the 4077th while in treatment, with the staff wishing him well and telling him that there might be a peace treaty soon.

Pierce's memories of what led to his breakdown have become repressed, and as he and Freedman draw them forth, Pierce at first remembers the details inaccurately. In Pierce’s first recollection, he was on a bus, riding back to the 4077th after a day of drinking and partying at the beaches of Incheon. He called for a bottle of whiskey to be passed back to someone who “can’t wait”; later, he is able to more accurately recall this person was a wounded soldier, that the item for which Pierce had called because the man couldn't wait was not whiskey, but plasma. The bus then picked up some South Korean refugees, followed by some wounded soldiers who brought news of an enemy patrol in the area. As Pierce relives the memories, he recalls that the bus pulled off the road and everyone was told to stay quiet so they would not be discovered by the enemy. One woman carried a live chicken that would not stop squawking, prompting Pierce to angrily admonish her to “keep that damn chicken quiet!” – after which the noise soon stopped.

This last detail causes Pierce to break down sobbing as he finally reveals the true ending of the story. When Hawkeye snapped at the woman, he had not told her to keep a chicken quiet, but in fact had insisted that she keep her baby quiet. Pierce now accurately recalls that the noise which had been endangering the lives of everyone on the bus was not really a chicken that would not stop squawking; in actuality, it had been the woman's baby who would not stop crying. After Pierce's imperative, and with all of her other, desperate efforts to quiet the baby having failed, the woman made the decision to smother her own child to silence its cries and thus protect the lives of the people on the bus.

After having insisted that she keep the baby quiet, Pierce had turned his attention away from the woman. Only when he later turned back to her did he realize what she had done, as he then saw the anguished mother silently sobbing as she held her now dead infant. Pierce, of course, had never intended for the mother to kill the baby; he had only wanted her to find a way to keep it quiet. Upon seeing what had happened, he was so traumatized and so wracked with guilt over his order to the woman, which had prompted her fateful choice, that he then repressed the memory of what occurred on the bus. Once he was back at camp, he attacked an anesthesiologist who was preparing a patient for surgery, accusing him of trying to smother the patient. This was the incident that caused Pierce to be committed to the mental hospital.

With the true memory of the events on the bus now restored to him, Pierce can acknowledge and begin to deal directly with his feelings about what happened. Freedman soon decides that Pierce is ready to be released, sending him back to the 4077th and promising to check up on him now and then.

At the same time, a tank veers out of control near the camp, runs over its latrine, and crashes, forcing an ill Maj. Charles Winchester to go to a temporary facility down the road to relieve himself. Encountering a raggedy group of five Chinese soldiers on a motorcycle, he is greatly surprised when they “surrender” and follow him back to camp, playing musical instruments. The motorcycle is brought back as well and put into the care of Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt.

Winchester, greatly irritated at the fact that he is about to miss his chance to win a coveted position at a hospital in Boston, consoles himself by conducting the Chinese musicians in rehearsals of one of his favorite Mozart works (the first movement of the Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581). On the surface, he is perpetually irritated with them over their inability to play the piece correctly, but he is actually bonding with and growing quite fond of them. Maj. Margaret Houlihan learns of his situation and puts in a good word with the Boston hospital’s board, but her efforts earn his ire when he finds out about them.

With the crashed tank still in the camp and Col. Sherman Potter under orders not to have it moved for the time being, enemy forces begin a mortar assault against the 4077th. Several prisoners of war, locked in a makeshift pen outside, are unable to get to safety until Father Francis Mulcahy rushes to let them out. As he does so, a mortar round explosion knocks him out and leaves him with severe hearing loss (later revealed to be caused by tinnitus). Only Hunnicutt knows about Mulcahy’s condition, and Mulcahy begs him not to tell anyone else, as it could result in his being sent home, unable to help the local orphans.

Shortly before Pierce returns from the hospital, Hunnicutt gets his discharge papers and leaves the camp for home. Just as he is leaving on a chopper Sgt. Max Klinger shows Potter a just-delivered set of orders that rescinds the discharge, but Potter cannot (by choice) hear Klinger over the chopper. The shorthanded operating room staff is swamped with patients, and Potter calls headquarters to get another surgeon in to replace Hunnicutt. Pierce is mildly distraught at the fact that his roommate left without saying goodbye or leaving a note, much as his old friend Trapper John McIntyre did. Shortly afterward, he drives the crashed tank through the newly built latrine and into the camp’s garbage dump to stop the North Korean shelling. This impulsive action by Pierce, coming on the heels of his breakdown, prompts Potter to call Freedman in for a talk with Pierce.

In the meantime, a Korean refugee from a previous episode, Soon-Lee Han, is still on the base and trying to find her parents. Klinger becomes worried after he learns that she has left to find them, and the two realize that they have fallen in love. They decide to get married, but she insists that she cannot leave Korea until she finds out where her family has gone.

A North Korean incendiary bomb attack touches off wildfires in the adjoining forest, forcing the 4077th to break camp and relocate. As soon as the new camp is up and running, Potter gets the replacement surgeon he asked for — it is Hunnicutt, whose travel plans were delayed just long enough for him to find out about his rescinded discharge. Meeting up with Pierce, Hunnicutt says that he had meant to leave a note for him, but wound up with no time to do it. The 4077th throws a party for Hunnicutt, who had intended to be home in time for his daughter’s second birthday, and for a local orphan girl who is about that age.

Seeing many children at the party, Pierce becomes withdrawn and tries to slip away, but Freedman (also in attendance) reassures him. He considers Pierce's commandeering of the tank to be a sensible action that put his fellow soldiers out of danger. Pierce’s feelings about the thought of a patient under his care not surviving, Freedman says, may make him an even better doctor than he already is.

Winchester eventually has to say goodbye to the Chinese musicians, who are to be part of a POW exchange with the North Koreans. As he watches them being driven away, from the back of the truck carrying them, they finally play the Mozart piece correctly for him. A public-address announcement then broadcasts the news that a truce has been signed; a cease-fire will go into effect at 10:00 that night, officially ending the war. The camp’s celebration is short-lived, though, as Potter orders it moved back to its original site so the many remaining wounded can be treated. Among a truckload of wounded is one of the musicians, barely alive after the truck carrying the POW’s was shelled. None of the other four survived the attack, and this one soon dies as well. A badly shaken Winchester retires to the Swamp, begins to play a record of the Mozart piece they were rehearsing, then angrily yanks it off the turntable and smashes it.

In the operating room, Hawkeye finds himself about to operate on a child and hesitates at first. However, he declines Potter’s offer to switch patients and goes to work, indicating that his recovery is complete, and Freedman delivers the same parting line he used during one of his first visits to the 4077th: “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.” The staff continues operating throughout the night, stopping only briefly to take note when 10:00 comes and the guns fall silent as heard in a radio broadcast over the loudspeaker.

Once all the wounded have been seen to, the staff throws a final party in the mess tent, with many characters commenting on their future plans. Among the main cast, Potter looks forward to rejoining his wife in Missouri and becoming a “semi-retired country doctor”; Houlihan has rejected several overseas postings in favor of working at a hospital in the United States; Mulcahy decides to begin ministering to the deaf; Pierce wants to take some time off, then go back to work where he can get to know his patients; and Hunnicutt jokes about running off with a girl he met during his travel delay, then says he will go home to his family in San Francisco. Winchester has won the position he wanted at the Boston hospital, but remarks that because of the deaths of the Chinese musicians, he will leave Korea with his long-cherished love for classical music permanently tarnished.

Hawkeye sees BJ's message.

The surprise of the evening comes from Klinger, who publicly announces his intent to marry Soon-Lee and stay in Korea to help find her family. The couple’s wedding takes place the next morning, with Mulcahy officiating, Potter as best man, and Houlihan as maid of honor. Once the ceremony is finished, the staff begins tearing down the entire camp and prepares to move out by various means. The mileage signs to everyone’s hometowns are pulled off the long-standing signpost (except for Tokyo and Seoul) and taken home by their respective owners, and the officers say their goodbyes before the last pieces of the camp are dismantled.

Mulcahy and Houlihan travel separately to the 8063rd MASH, a stopover on the way back to the States. Winchester cannot find room in Houlihan’s jeep, so he sends Sgt. Rizzo to get him another ride; he then makes peace with her and allows her to keep a treasured book she borrowed from him. The last available vehicle is a garbage truck, which Winchester boards after saying goodbye to everyone. Before Potter rides away to the local orphanage on his beloved horse Sophie, planning to leave her there and take a jeep, Pierce and Hunnicutt offer him a small parting gift as a token of gratitude: a salute, seldom ever performed by either Pierce or Hunnicutt to anyone. The Colonel emotionally returns the salute and rides off.

Pierce and Hunnicutt, the last to leave, find it difficult to part. As they reminisce over their shared time, Pierce laments that they will probably never see each other again, though Hunnicutt insists that someday they will. The latter rides off on his motorcycle, shouting that he left a note this time. Only after Pierce’s helicopter has lifted off does he see this “note”: the word GOODBYE, spelled out in huge letters with stones on the ground. Pierce smiles as he flies away from the former site of the 4077th.

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen on home video

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen was the first TV program to be released on home video by the CBS/Fox Video label (in VHS, Laserdisc, and the RCA Selectavision video disc formats), and was released to rental outlets. In the 1990s, Columbia House released selected episodes of M*A*S*H on VHS, including the finale.

The episode has been released in three DVD packages. The "Martinis and Medicine Collection" complete series set and the Season 11 set of M*A*S*H were both released on November 7, 2006, and include the series finale. On May 15, 2007, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment re-released the "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" episode as a stand-alone three-DVD set. This DVD set also includes the two "special features" DVDs that were originally included in the complete series "Martinis and Medicine Collection" DVD set but not the in the Season 11 set.[4] There are differences in the labeling and packaging of the various releases. The first circulation of the three-disc set of the finale had the Season 11 art on the first disc.

"Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" is now available on DVD in Region 2 as part of the "Martinis and Medicine" complete collection, released in 2006.

Currently, there is no report of M*A*S*H being released on Blu-ray Disc, though the series has been re-released in slimmer casings (similar to the 2007 three-disc set of the series finale) in order to make the sets more afforable to consumers.

Cultural reaction and impact

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Pre-airing buildup

The anticipation and buildup to the airing of "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" was almost unprecedented, especially for a regular television series (in contrast to an awards show, sporting event, or special event). Interest from advertisers prompted CBS, the network that aired M*A*S*H, to sell 30-second commercial blocks for $450,000 (about $906,000 in 2006) each – a higher cost than even for the Super Bowl of that year.[1][5]

On the night this episode aired, large areas of California (particularly the San Francisco Bay Area) were affected by power outages resulting from unusually strong winter weather. This prevented many viewers from watching the series finale. Three weeks later, on March 21, KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco, re-aired the episode.

Post show reaction

M*A*S*H was one of the most successful shows in TV history. So as not to completely lose the franchise, CBS quickly created the new series AfterMASH, following the adventures of Colonel Potter, Max Klinger and Father Mulcahy in a Stateside hospital after the war. Initially popular, script problems and constant character changes led to a steep decline in viewers, and the show lasted a mere two seasons.

M*A*S*H finished up its 11-season run on CBS with a repeat of "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" on September 19, 1983. It was repeated again in summer 1984.

Other

  • Klinger reveals he has an Uncle Jameel. Jamie Farr's birth name is Jameel Joseph Farah.
  • It was Jamie Farr's idea to have Klinger voluntarily choose to stay in Korea at the end of the episode. In reality, many soldiers who had fallen in love with, and married Korean nationals remained in Korea after the end of the Korean War, likely because of the extreme prejudice and racism that their new Korean mates and they would encounter upon returning to 1950's America.
  • The shots of the 4077th tents being packed up were taken from the season 5 episode "Bug Out". A small vignette with Col. Potter giving orders to the unit was added in. Radar can be seen running out of a building during the clip.
  • Alda reportedly had a different idea for what to do for the finale: he wanted it to be a typical half-hour episode, at the end of which the fourth wall would be broken when a director would be heard saying "cut!" during a surgery scene, and crewmen would walk on the set and do what they normally did. Alda would then say to the camera "Well, for the last 11 years we tried to show you what war was like, but it's not as much fun." Alda is the only series regular to be in all 251 installments of M*A*S*H.
  • Featured a long kiss shared between Alan Alda and Loretta Swit. Alda and Swit are the only actors to appear in both the first episode of M*A*S*H and this, the last episode. The character of Father Mulcahy also appears in both, but was played by a different actor in the pilot episode.
  • B.J., on his initial trip back to the US, is confronted by the MPs, who ask if he is "Hunnicutt the doctor?" To which he replies, "No, I am Hunnicutt the chaplain." In the 1968 Richard Hooker novel M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, which is the basis for the M*A*S*H franchise, the doctors impersonate chaplains to get out of working "short-arm inspection" (examining a soldier for signs of venereal disease) while en route back to the US.
  • Robert Pierpoint's announcements about the end of the war and the cost to both sides are re-recordings of the actual original broadcast that Pierpoint made at the end of the Korean War. The actual archival footage had degraded too badly and in order to save time and money, was simply re-recorded.
  • "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" was not the last installment of "M*A*S*H" filmed. According to the book "The Complete M*A*S*H," this episode was filmed before "As Time Goes By" due to scheduling issues. Footage from the final moments of filming (which can be seen on the bonus discs of the series DVD box set), can be seen and the scenes are from "As Time Goes By." After filming "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," the entire set had to be rebuilt in order to complete the episode.
  • The tank that was driven into the compound was an M24 Chaffee light tank but when Hawkeye drives the same tank into the trash dump he drove an M4 Sherman light tank.
  • Although the Korean War ended in July, location scenes for the episode were filmed during the Southern California winter, and the cast is commonly wearing warm clothing.
  • This episode is referenced on a 30 Rock episode ("Kidney Now") in which Alan Alda's character, Dr. Milton Green, comments, "A man crying about a chicken and a baby? I thought this was a comedy show!"

Footnotes

See also


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