#4 "Abyssinia, Henry" -- MASH (1975)
MASH was a series capable of reaching great heights of inspired jocularity and goofiness. That such humor was set against the backdrop of the Korean War made for a curious juxtaposition. In the early years of the show, the humor tended to dominate through the antics of Hawkeye, Trapper John, Hot Lips Houlihan, Major Frank Burns, among others. Colonel Henry Blake was the leader of this motley crew, a mild-mannered and gentle man who ruled the compound by the sincerity of his spirit as opposed to an iron fist.
In "Abyssinia, Henry," Henry Blake receives his orders to return home to the United States. His tour of duty is over. He and the camp rejoice, and we viewers rejoiced with him. If any of them deserved to make it home to their families, it was Henry Blake. The episode concludes with the MASH team in the operating room, joking and conversing as they set about their grim duty. Then Radar O'Reilly appears in the doorway and announces that Colonel Henry Blake's plane was shot down and there were no survivors. After a brief pause, the surgeons and nurses, this time in silence, return to their work. The business of death goes on, you see.
As a nine year old kid in 1975, I tuned into MASH each week for the humor. This episode was the first television episode I ever saw that stayed with me awhile. It was a pointed reminder of the reality of war. This episode set the stage for the remaining years of MASH, which increasingly incorporated the serious into the silly. As a series, it illustrates how life is a tenuous balance of light and dark, joy and grief, life and death,