Season 4, Episode 74: Change of Command
Original Air Date: 9/19/75
Written by: Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum
Directed by: Gene Reynolds
The 4077th is still adjusting to being under the command of Frank Burns. With the extra space now in The Swamp, Hawkeye and B.J. set up a bar, which they christen The Henry Blake Memorial Bar.
Then Radar comes in with some startling news--the 4077th is getting a new Commanding Officer! The C.O. in question Col. Sherman Potter, Regular Army--which Hawkeye takes as a bad sign.
Radar is afraid to tell Frank the news, so Hawkeye and B.J. go with him for moral support. When Frank learns he's being replaced, he takes it surprisingly in stride--until he makes it to Hot Lips' tent, when he throws a tempter tantrum.
Later that day, Col. Potter (Harry Morgan) arrives, and he at first seems to be every bit the Regular Army man they fear--he's curt, blustery, and when Klinger presents himself, tells him in no uncertain terms that he get in a uniform, pronto.
He calls a meeting of his officers, which also doesn't go that well: first off, Frank doesn't show up at all, and Hawkeye's long list of infractions leads Potter to surmise that Capt. Pierce drinks. "Only to excess", Hawkeye answers.
Hot Lips reveals that Frank ran off to parts unknown once he learned he was losing command, which Hawkeye and B.J. find hysterical.
As Potter sets up, we see he's not quite as stiff as he at first seems, and has some nice warm moments with Radar. Potter is taken aback when Radar lives up to his nickname, hearing approaching choppers long before Potter does.
During surgery, Hawkeye's fears that Potter is a klutz in O.R. prove to be unfounded, as Potter displays superb surgical skills, and is even helpful to B.J. during a difficult case.
In the Scrub Room, the doctors are exhausted, and Potter reveals he could use a belt. Hawkeye and B.J. take this opportunity to invite Potter to the Swamp for a few drinks.
Later that night, we see the three of them, pie-eyed, singing songs late into the night. Hawkeye even manages to talk Potter into letting Klinger continue to wear dresses. They get to know each other, and there's an instant rapport.
The next morning, Frank reports for duty, offering his duties as second in command, and hoping Potter will continue the standard of discipline he established.
His hopes are dashed, though, when Klinger enters, in an outfit "from the Shirley Temple Collection", which Potter goes out of his way to compliment. Frank looks disappointed, and Hawkeye and B.J. smile, knowing things are going to be a lot different at the 4077th from now on.
Fun Facts: As good as all the characters on M*A*S*H were, I don't think there was one as brilliant an invention as Col. Potter.
Before Potter, you basically had three characters who were similar in their outlooks: Hawkeye, Trapper, and Henry. With the addition of Col. Potter, you had someone who was a Regular Army soldier, who could provide a better counterpoint to the more freewheeling characters of Hawkeye and B.J.
It also gave the series the chance to show that not all Army officers were clowns, and in fact some were highly skilled, courageous men of duty. To borrow a phrase from politics, I think the addition of Col. Potter broadened the show's tent, giving it the chance to tell stories from a more diverse point of view.
On top of all that, Harry Morgan's performance as the character--in this very first episode and for the next seven seasons--was flat out genius. Warm yet firm, courageous yet humble, this is the kind of authority figure I think we all wish we could've had at some point in our lives.
Favorite Line: There are many funny lines in this episode (the drinking scene is especially rich with one-liners), but my favorite moment is at the end, when the camera, perched outside The Swamp peering in, pans back as the doctors sing songs late into the night: "There's a long, long night of waiting/Until my dreams all come true/Til' the day that I'll be coming/Down that long, long trail with you."
A very evocative scene in terms of mood and setting, its also warm and tender, giving viewers the impression that the 4077th is going to be in good hands under this new commander.