Most of the episode played to the series’ good-natured form. It begins with Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) informing Blake that he’s been granted an honorable discharge. He’s going home to Bloomington, Illinois. There’s a raucous, booze-fueled going-away party at Rosie’s Bar and Grill, and a couple of lovely scenes between Radar and Blake where the former expresses happiness and a tinge of sorrow at the departure of a man he’d come to view as a surrogate father. Blake leaves in a helicopter, and all that’s left is the episode’s denouement, which, like most sitcoms, always ended on a laugh line.
Not this time.
Radar staggers into the operating room without a mask, which draws a reprimand from Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce. Radar’s face is tear-streaked. He can barely get the words out. But he does, and anyone who’s a fan of the show can quote them verbatim: “I have a message. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors.”
The camera pans across the room. Everyone is masked, so you have to read their eyes. Loretta Swit’s Houlihan’s are pinched with grief. The camera ultimately comes to rest on Hawkeye, who is in the middle of piecing a wounded soldier back together. He can’t halt his work, but he does manage two glances off to the curtain behind which Radar has disappeared. He’s used to watching people die, but for Blake to perish on his ride home hits him hard. And we fade to black as he continues to hack and sew away.