Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Episode 214 - The Life You Save

Season 9, Episode 214: The Life You Save
Original Air Date: 5/4/81
Written by: John Rappaport & Alan Alda

Directed by: Alan Alda

A batch of wounded arrive late at night, and everyone is out on the compound doing triage. But there's more trouble when bullets start flying, courtesy a sniper!

As he fires away, B.J. and Winchester work on a patient underneath the Evac Bus. The patient technically dies for a few moments, but B.J. and Winchester manage to bring him back.

After the sniper is shot by a nearby control, Hawkeye, B.J., and Winchester are in Post Op. B.J. tells Hawkeye what happened, and Winchester notices a bullethole in his cap--he came within centimeters of taking a bullet in the head, and never realized it. As Hawkeye and B.J. talk, Winchester sits there, stunned.

Col. Potter comes in and assigns everyone a set of rotating, mundane camp duties--Hawkeye is now in charge of the food, B.J. the laundry, Winchester the motor pool, etc.

Later, Winchester starts spending an inordinate amount of time with the patient that came back from the dead, sitting with him in Post Op for long periods of time. When the young man wakes up, Winchester peppers him with questions about what it was like for him to be actually "dead."

The young man really can't answer, despite Winchester's pleadings. He reveals that he had a younger brother who passed away, and for a long time afterwards he couldn't pass by the young boy's room without feeling a deep sense of unease.

B.J. finds Winchester hovering over the young man, and takes him outside, demanding he leave the young man alone. Winchester accuses B.J. of not wanting to deal with "The harshest reality of all."

Winchester, still haunted by what happened, has Rizzo take apart a jeep, and lay each and every part of it on a sheet. Winchester marvels at the power Rizzo has to reduce a jeep to a pile of inert junk, and then put it all together again and have it "Roar back to life."

Later that night, Winchester (via an off-hand suggestion by Margaret) decides to head off to Battalion Aid, to better see death up close.

He ends up taking care of a young soldier(Andrew Parks) who is gravely wounded. While laying there, the young man, not able to feel Winchester holding his hand, realizes he's going to die.

Winchester asks the young man, in his last moments, what he's feeling. He answers, not to anyone in particular, "I smell bread." Winchester doesn't understand, and tries to get him to talk more. But the young soldier passes away.

Winchester, wiping tears from his eyes, leaves to go back to the 4077th, leaving his bullet-ridden cap behind.

Fun Facts: There's a scene with Father Mulcahy, Hawkeye, and a giant wall of garbage, and its very funny--the massive pile of food, bandages, cardboard, and other detritus being one of the show's best props.

Winchester's speech at the motor pool is presented via one of the show's more ambitious shots--the camera starts at eye level, but then slowly pans up, and up, until its about twenty feet in the air, hovering over the set as David Ogden Stiers finishes his speech.

Speaking of Winchester, the scene with him and the young soldier is brutal in a number of ways. Winchester, in a very real way, is using this young man's final moments for his own satisfaction, an indescribably selfish act--of all the moments of one's life, its this time, above all others, that should be yours, and yours alone.

Also, props to actor Andrew Young for pulling off a really tough part--playing someone in full realization they have but a few moments left to live.

This is the last episode of the ninth season.

Favorite Line: Potter complains to B.J. that, under his authority, the laundry has gone kerflooey. He holds up a pair of leopard print, super-tight underpants, suggesting they be returned to the "passion flower" who owns them.

Margaret, silently, grabs them out of his hand and stuffs them in her pocket. Potter, slightly stunned, mutters in disbelief, " kidding."


Russell said...

I remember watching this episode as a kid (16? 17?) thinking it was hokey. If I were to watch it now, I would probably appreciate it more. :-)

John said...

I watched this show a lot with my mom when I was a kid/teenager. And I never truly appreciated the more dramatic episodes, such as this oen until I was an adult.

There are times when it moves me to tears. And I love it.

This episode in particular presents an interesting look at one of the biggest questions we approach. Lovely way to conclude a season.

Banter Banished said...

In light of recent cinematic releases (Heaven is for Real), this episode takes on an added dimension.

I can completely identify with Winchester's character in this episode, having known someone who went though a NDE. She died last year, but I can tell you that the period of time I spent listening to what she experienced has thrilled me...and haunted me...ever since.

I saw this episode again recently, and it moved me to tears....the "harshest reality of all" that Winchester is referring to is the great gnawing question..."where do the wicked go, and what happens to them in the afterlife?"

All I can say, is that this has had a profound impact on the way I've lived my life since that experience.

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