MASH’s Final Episode Wrote A Real-Life Tragedy Into The Show

MASH often highlighted the Korean War’s tragedies, and a real-life disaster that plagued the show’s final episode was not an exception to the rule.

The series finale of M*A*S*H, “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen,” features several tragedies in its extended runtime, but one of the episode’s plots has a basis in real life. Lasting an impressive 11 seasons, the comedy-drama show M*A*S*H features the experiences of medical professionals serving at the 4077th “Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” during the three-year Korean War. M*A*S*H follows several Army surgeons throughout its run, but its main focus is Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda), who suffers through several tragedies in the series finale, including a real-life one

As one of M*A*S*H’s most gut-wrenching episodes, Hawkeye’s troubles unfortunately don’t end after his return to the 4077 following psychological treatment for a mental breakdown. Enduring enemy fire and B.J. leaving the 4077 in the same fashion Trapper John did in season 3 among other tragic events, Hawkeye and the rest of the 4077 struggle to make it through the final days of the Korean War. However, one of the most striking calamities of “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen” has a basis in real life, making the finale even more memorable in the process.

The Fire In MASH’s Final Episode Was Real

A closeup of Alan Alda in M*A*S*H

The fire that ravages the 4077 in M*A*S*H’s record-breaking finale “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen” looks shockingly real for the early 1980s, but the fire’s realism isn’t due to good special effects. In reality, the forest fire that takes over M*A*S*H’s camp in the show’s finale was an actual forest fire that broke out near the wartime comedy’s set during filming. According to Kellye Nakahara (Nurse Kellye), “The fire came down and wiped out the set within 10 minutes.” (via The Hollywood Reporter).

After the real-life forest fire had swept through and torched M*A*S*H’s iconic set, executive producer Burt Metcalfe and series lead Alan Alda drove to inspect the damage from the fire. The two decided that incorporating the real-life fire into the episode could add another facet to the story of “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen,” which came to fruition when the network greenlit adding another half-hour to the finale episode. Rather than creating an insurmountable obstacle for “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen,” the real-life fire was made a part of the show.

How MASH Made The Fire A Storyline

A still from the M*A*S*H finale

The forest fire could have easily destroyed M*A*S*H’s finale plans, but instead, it was incorporated as a storyline. Following another psychotic break from Hawkeye, Colonel Potter, and Klinger look into the distance as Klinger remarks about the beauty of the evening’s sunset. Colonel Potter replies that the deep-orange color on the horizon isn’t being caused by a sunset, but a forest fire. The fire’s proximity forces the 4077th to evacuate, creating an increased sense of danger and urgency. Incorporating M*A*S*H’s real-life fire into “Goodbye, Farewell, And Amen” makes the episode feel even more final, bringing their chapter at the 4077 to a permanent close.

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