M*A*S*H star Alan Alda, always the intellectual, loves to talk about communicating. He basically devotes a podcast to the art of talking and understanding other humans.
So, it should come as no surprise that out of all the M*A*S*H episodes, one of his favorites was about a different sort of communicating. It was about dreaming and the thoughts and images that manifest while someone sleeps.
Alda never named an all-time favorite. That’s like picking a favorite pet. But he did name several favorite M*A*S*H episodes during a 2005 interview with CNN.
“There are classes of episodes,” Alda said of M*A*S*H. “There are a few all of us wish we didn’t have to do because the idea didn’t work. The one about a gold jeep was a low point. There are a lot in the middle, and some that were really good.”
What were the really good ones? He listed them off.
There was Point of View, a 1978 episode from 1978 that was told through the eyes of a soldier. And Alda liked Life Time, an episode from 1979 that was done in real time. A soldier needed to be treated in 20 minutes or die.
Another M*A*S*H favorite was The Interview. This one was in 1976. A TV reporter interviewed the characters.
And then there was Dreams. In this episode, all the members of the 4077th are exhausted to the point of being delirious. They’ve been working around the clock for 48 straight hours. Yet, they can’t sleep because of all their vivid, very bizarre dreams.
Dreams Episode of M*A*S*H Aired in 1980
The M*A*S*H episode originally aired on February 18, 1980. Alda, who played Dr. Hawkeye Pierce, wrote the M*A*S*H plot for this one with James Jay Rubinfier. In it, the characters operate and treat 211 patients in 33 hours. Because of their weird dreams, the 4077th is drinking coffee to keep from sleeping.
An example of the bizarre visions? Margaret Houlihan is kissing a handsome man, then realizes she’s wearing a blood-spattered wedding dress.
B.J. falls asleep clutching a photo of his wife. He dreams that the M*A*S*H medical tent is a ballroom. He’s wearing a white tux and waltzing with his wife. Then B.J. is handed a scalpel and his disappointed wife walks away. Meanwhile, Charles is a magician, performing tricks. A patient is dying, yet Charles can’t stop his magic act to help him.
Klinger is back in his hometown of Toledo. He walks the empty streets, but then finds a familiar restaurant. He goes inside and finds the doctors operating on someone. And, it’s him!
Then there’s Alda’s weird dream. He’s back in medical school and can’t answer a question asked by his professor. He doesn’t know how to reattach an arm or leg. So the professor tells Hawkeye to cut off his own arms. He then finds himself floating on a boat. And he’s surrounded by mannequin arms and legs.
The M*A*S*H cast realizes that this was how they processed the horrors of war.
And here’s a unique detail about the episode. The Writers’ Guild of America nominated the episode for both a drama and comedy award. It was the first time a single episode of qualified for both comedy and drama honors.