Given that it is one of the most beloved series ever made, M*A*S*H is made up of many highly acclaimed episodes, but few compare to the series finale. “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” is a mega episode, so much so that it isn’t even considered an episode — it’s a TV movie! This one has it all: laughs, heartache, wonderful character moments, great performances, and an expertly written bow that ties up all loose ends and sends off the best show of the ’70s in the finest way possible. Since its release, some have found it to be a bit too challenging of an ending, while others stand by it for making such daring decisions with its narrative and characters. Either way, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is an episode that no fans or casual viewers could ever forget.
“Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” Is an Extra Long ‘M*A*S*H’ Episode
To sum up the finale’s plot, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” takes place during the final days of the Korean War, and has a lot of loose ends to wrap up. This wasn’t just going to be a typical 25-minute episode! This final episode has a 2-hour and 30-minute runtime, one that feels appropriate for many reasons. For one, it’s the ending of a show that ran for 11 years, so both the creators and fans deserve a gargantuan send-off. Secondly, if we’re just thinking about the narrative, it only makes sense for the episode to run this long. M*A*S*H has a huge cast of characters, and “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” gives each part of the ensemble a few moments in the sun. Moments to laugh, reflect on their time in the Korean War, and say goodbye. It might feel daunting going into anything that’s this long, but if you’ve already invested yourself in this show for 11 seasons, then it’s likely that this TV movie’s length will not only feel logical, but it’ll be just what you need.
That doesn’t mean that the TV movie starts on a light note, though. Even though M*A*S*H is primarily known as a comedy, you could argue that it’s filled up with almost as many dramatic scenes. The story starts out with “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda) being treated at a psychiatric facility after having a nervous breakdown in the operating room. We learn that while Hawkeye and some of the staff were heading out for a beach outing, they stopped to pick up a couple of refugees and wounded soldiers. Soon after, their bus had to avoid an enemy patrol stop. In order to stay under the radar, Hawkeye forces one of the refugees to keep a chicken quiet, only to end up smothering and killing it.
‘M*A*S*H’ Gives Its Characters a Happy Ending
Elsewhere, the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital has turned into somewhat of a refugee camp, while rumors of the war ending begin circulating among the staff, leading everyone to start planning their post-war careers. Major Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) longs for a chief surgeon position at a hospital back home in Boston, meanwhile, Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan (Loretta Swift) has been offered an administrative job for the Army. B.J. Hunnicutt is honorably discharged, leading him to help find a replacement surgeon for the position that will be left vacant in his absence. There is even a moment when Klinger (Jamie Farr) tries to tell Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan) that Hunnicutt’s discharge was revoked, but Potter tries to act like he didn’t hear him. Klinger ends up with a happy ending of his own though, after falling in love with a refugee. It’s wonderfully positive moments like these that counteract this TV movie’s dour opening with Hawkeye.
Later on, we go back to check in on Hawkeye and catch him in an uncharacteristically dark moment. Hawkeye comes to his senses and realizes that the woman on the bus didn’t smother a chicken, she smothered her baby and killed it. Hawkeye hates that this memory had to be clarified, but it’s one that he has to come to grips with if he is to heal from his trauma and report back to duty. It’s this stretch of the episode that is most divisive among fans. While this is an interesting arc for Hawkeye to endure on paper, it’s almost a bit too dark, considering this is close to the last time that we’ll ever see Alan Alda’s incredibly likable iconic character. M*A*S*H is full of plenty of dramatic moments and earned ones at that, but this one is far more depressing than any of them. Maybe not exactly one of the moments that this show should have gone out on, but your mileage may vary depending on what you think of this daring narrative choice.
The Series Finale Feels Like a True Ending
From there, the episode starts to head from being what feels like a dark M*A*S*H episode to true series finale territory. The camp comes under attack from opposing forces, but Hawkeye distracts them by driving a tank through enemy fire. Hunnicutt ends up returning to Korea after initially leaving, a tragic moment in theory, but selfishly for viewers, at least we get a bit more time with him! From there, Hawkeye is initially unsure whether he can still operate, but for one last time, he musters up the strength to save a child.
Soon after, the war is announced to officially be over, and the camp throws a party to celebrate and say goodbye. Everyone reveals their post-war plans. Klinger reveals that he and the refugee, Soon-Lee (Rosalind Chao), are getting married and staying in Korea to find her family. Father Mulcahy, on the other hand, decides he’s going to work with the deaf, and Margaret Houlihan plans on working at a hospital back home, Hunnicutt jokes about meeting women in Guam, and Hawkeye just wants to take it easy. Everyone says goodbye to each other, with Hawkeye and Margaret even sharing a kiss. Real classic finale kind of stuff, here!
‘M*A*S*H’s Series Finale Was Record-Breaking
All of these moments are great, but nothing is better than when Hawkeye and Hunnicutt have to part ways. They wonder if they’ll ever see each other again, but ultimately, they leave it up to time to find out. Then, in one of the series’ best shots, as Hawkeye flies away in a helicopter, he sees “goodbye” written on the ground in rocks by Hunnicutt. Cry your eyes out — this is the ultimate M*A*S*H tear-jerker moment! For all the uncertainty about where the beginning of this TV movie was taking Hawkeye’s character, they sure do stick the landing. If anything, it’s this moment that seals the deal and makes “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” one of the best M*A*S*H episodes in the series.
The impact of “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” was no joke. This TV-movie made a cultural splash like no other! M*A*S*H’s series finale drew in 106 million viewers total, a record that still stands for episodic television shows. The only thing that has been able to surpass its viewership record since has been Super Bowl broadcasts, so that’s how you know M*A*S*H was the real deal. People everywhere were tuning in. You would think that this would mean either leaving the series on a high note, or at least developing a solid spin-off… right? Well… the answer isn’t all that positive. We would see two shows branch off in the wake of this iconic series. One is AfterMASH, a show that follows the lives of Colonel Potter, Klinger, and Mulcahy after the war. AfterMASH ran for two seasons but didn’t really land that gracefully, and ended up being canceled in 1985. Nothing had a worse fate than W*A*L*T*E*R*, a spinoff that chronicled Radar’s (Gary Burghoff) adventures as a police officer back home in St. Louis. That series didn’t even make it past the pilot. Bummer.
“Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” might be a challenging series finale, but that’s also one of the best series finales in TV history. It further proves that M*A*S*H wasn’t just a thin-brained show that was full of jokes and used its Korean War setting as a simple backdrop. Instead, it actually set out to say something about the psychological state of its characters after the war and proved how deeply its audience felt for the ensemble that they spent following for years. More than any episode that precedes it, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” will make you laugh, and it’ll make you cry, but that’s why we love M*A*S*H.
THE BIG PICTURE
- “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is a highly acclaimed M*A*S*H episode that serves as a TV movie and expertly ties up loose ends, leaving a lasting impact on fans.
- The episode explores dark and dramatic moments, such as Hawkeye’s breakdown and a heartbreaking revelation.
- The series finale transitions from a dark tone to a true ending, with characters celebrating the end of the war, revealing their post-war plans, and sharing heartfelt goodbyes, making it a tear-jerking and unforgettable episode.