As Col. Sherman T. Potter, Harry Morgan delivered career-defining work, hopping into the show halfway through and never missing a step. Beginning with the season 4 opener, “Welcome to Korea (Part 2),” Potter is the benevolent leader of the 4077th, a role Morgan also assumed on set.
The actor informed his character, and vice versa, making for one of the most iconic television roles of all time. As a crucial part of the M*A*S*H ensemble, here are 10 episodes highlighting the great Colonel Potter and why each is worth your time.
Are you a diehard Potterhead? Or has this list pointed you in the right direction? Did we leave out your favorite episode? Share your thoughts with the MeTV community in the comment section below!
1. “Change of Command”
M*A*S*H‘s 75th episode is all about the ways in which Col. Potter fits into and upends the unit’s expectations of their new leader. Hawkeye and B.J. are both relieved to find out that Frank Burns will not be their commanding officer. Their joy is short-lived when they meet Potter, who they assume to be completely humorless. Their new colonel seems to be a straight-laced military man, and it’s been two years since Potter has performed surgery. The CO quickly proves he knows his way around a scalpel, aiding in a difficult operation before joining the men for a gin from their still. The experience bonds Potter with Hawkeye and B.J., who begin to find in him a trusted ally.
2. “Dear Mildred”
The eighth episode of M*A*S*H‘s fourth season is perhaps the first glimpse at Potter the human, rather than Potter the commanding officer. “Dear Mildred” is formatted around the colonel writing a letter to his wife, and he speaks candidly regarding his new relationships with the folks of the 4077th. The crux of the story, though, and the detail that reveals the most about Potter, is a horse. After receiving word of a wounded horse struck by a bullet, Hawkeye and Co. work diligently to rehabilitate the animal. Radar then presents the horse to Potter who, upon stepping in the horse’s droppings likens the experience to a “tiptoe through the tulips.” The guy loves horses!
3. “Hawkeye Get Your Gun”
“Hawkeye Get Your Gun” sees Potter in crisis, as the colonel joins Hawkeye Pierce in aiding a beleaguered Korean hospital. When the two arrive and find the hospital is little more than a hut, their marathon surgery session is besieged by enemy bullets. Not only does Potter prove Frank Burns wrong about being too old to operate, but the colonel also proves his worth as a soldier. In addition, Potter comes to respect Hawkeye’s conscientious objection to engaging in gunfire.
4. “Movie Tonight”
The 22nd episode of season 5 highlights Potter’s skills as a leader. Here, the colonel takes responsibility for raising the unit’s morale, as in-fighting hits a new all-time peak within the 4077th. Potter seeks to change the mood by treating the base to a viewing of his favorite movie, My Darling Clementine. Unfortunately, the projector frequently breaks down, but it’s no matter as Potter’s efforts to lighten the mood prove contagious, and the unit breaks out into song.
5. “Potter’s Retirement”
This episode sees Col. Potter receive some bad news; negative reports have been filed regarding the colonel’s time leading the 4077th. Worse still, the reports came from within his camp. Justifiably bruised, Potter returns to his base, where he understandably treats those around him with a cold detachment. How could the people he’s spent so much time with, his so-called “second family,” turn on him and deliver such a brutal report about his leadership? Eventually, though, Hawkeye discovers a mole within their ranks, as Lt. Benson has been secretly working undercover to dig up dirt on Col. Potter. Potter is relieved to learn that his people still think highly of him, and dismisses the mole, displaying mercy in not punishing Benson any further.
“Lil” is the third episode in M*A*S*H‘s 7th season. This episode excels at showing the viewer who Potter is as a husband. The “Lil” in the title refers to Col. Lillian Rayburn, who, upon an inspection visit, warmly asks everyone to refer to her by her first name. Immediately Col. Potter and Lil develop a tight rapport; the two are around the same age and share a lot of friends in common. Things take a turn though, when Lil makes a pass at Col. Potter. Even in the depths of hellish war, though, Potter is loyal to his wife, and he has to turn down his new friend’s advances. Awkward though it may be, Potter does the honorable thing.
7. “Old Soldiers”
“Old Soldiers” is definitely one of the sadder M*A*S*H episodes. It deals with Potter as a friend and as a loyal brother in arms. After returning from a mysterious trip to Tokyo, Col. Potter is clearly dispirited, but won’t share anything with the 4077th. Finally, the beleaguered old CO opens up, revealing a story from his days during WWI. Back then, he and his four closest friends took refuge in a French shack, where they found a supply of fine brandy. They make a pact to save the last bottle until only one of their crew is left alive, and in “Old Soldiers,” Potter receives that bottle. After reminiscing, Potter reflects on how lucky he is to have made new friends who fill his heart even more than his memories do.
8. “April Fools”
“April Fools” is the twenty-fifth and final episode of M*A*S*H‘s eighth season. Potter has seen it all, including every April Fools gag known to man. That’s why he agrees to look the other way while Hawkeye and B.J. prank the rest of the 4077th. That is, until word comes of an upcoming inspection, to be administered by an uptight and hard-nosed officer from the Surgeon General’s office. The impending scrutiny has Potter come down hard on his unit, who need to be buttoned up for examination. Naturally, nothing can keep Hawkeye from rattling Margaret, and his further prank attempts draw the ire of the visiting Col. Tucker. Infuriated, the 4077th plan their revenge, swearing to go out in a blaze of glory with one final prank on the humorless inspector. The plan backfires though, as their prank instead triggers a “heart attack.” As Hawkeye leans over the prank’s recipient, Col. Tucker utters, as though they will be his last words, “April fools!”
9. “A War for All Seasons”
“Here’s to the New Year: May she be a damned sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she’s over.”
“A War for All Seasons” begins with New Year’s 1951, and continues to play out over the course of that year. Throughout, Potter is primarily concerned with the ongoing MLB season, as he bets Klinger that his St. Louis Cardinals will win the world series. As the episode speeds along and reaches New Year’s the following year, they’re all still there. The war hasn’t ended, and there is Potter again, delivering the same speech as the year before. He is a man, preoccupied with baseball and friendship and life, and he is stuck in a time loop, in a war where no man should be.
10. “Pressure Points”
“Pressure Points,” episode 16 of M*A*S*H‘s tenth season, points to cracks in Potter’s armor. He is a fantastic leader, yes, and a great man, but even he must occasionally admit that he needs help. So he enlists the help of Sidney Freedman, who is surprised to learn that the colonel specifically requested the fact-finding mission about stress. Potter admits that, when it comes to surgery, he’s “a lot less perfect than I can accept,” but brushes off the ordeal for now. Things come to a boil, though, when Potter’s mood around the camp fails to improve, and he continues snapping at everyone around him. He finally reveals that he is fearful of losing touch as a surgeon. The conversation proves meaningful though, and that level of introspection and awareness reconnects Potter with why he became a surgeon in the first place.