Goodbye, Farewell and Amen is a television movie that served as the 251st and final episode of the M*A*S*H television series. Closing out the series' eleventh season, the 2½-hour episode first aired on CBS on February 28, 1983. Written by a large number of collaborators, including series star Alan Alda, who also directed, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" surpassed the single-episode ratings record that had been set by the Dallas episode that resolved the "Who Shot J.R.?" cliffhanger. From 1983 until 2010, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" remained the most watched television broadcast in American history, passed in total viewership (but not in Ratings or Share) in February 2010 by Super Bowl XLIV.
The episode's plot chronicles the final days of the Korean War at the 4077th MASH and features several storylines intended to show the war's effects on the individual personnel of the unit, and to bring closure to the series. After the cease-fire goes into effect, the members of the 4077th throw a closing party before taking down the camp for the last time. After tear-filled goodbyes, the main characters go their separate ways, leading up to the iconic final scene of the series. The episode drew 121.6 million American viewers, more than both that year's Super Bowl and the famed Roots miniseries. It still stands as the most watched finale of any television series. While the M*A*S*H series ended with this episode, three of the series' main characters (Sherman Potter, Maxwell Klinger, and Father Mulcahy) would later meet again in 1983–1985 spin-off series AfterMASH.
The episode was added to the syndication package for the series in 1993.
During the final days of the Korean War, Hawkeye has been sent to a mental hospital for treatment by Dr. Sidney Freedman. Pierce's memories of what led to his breakdown have become repressed, and as he and Freedman draw them forth, Pierce at first remembers the details inaccurately. In Pierce’s first recollection, he was on a bus returning to the 4077th after a day of drinking at the beaches of Incheon. He called for a bottle of whiskey to be passed back to someone who “can’t wait”; later, he is able to more accurately recall this person was a wounded soldier, and that the bottle was filled with not whiskey, but plasma. The bus then picked up some South Korean refugees, followed by some wounded soldiers who brought news of an enemy patrol in the area. The bus later pulls off the road and everyone is told to stay quiet so they would not be discovered by the enemy. One woman carried a live chicken that would not stop squawking, prompting Pierce to angrily admonish her to “keep that damn chicken quiet!”, after which the noise suddenly stopped.
This last detail causes Pierce to break down sobbing as he finally reveals the true ending of the story. When Hawkeye snapped at the woman, he had told her to keep not a chicken quiet, but rather her baby. Unable to keep the baby from crying, the woman made the decision to smother her own child to silence it and protect the lives of the people on the bus. Upon seeing what had happened, Pierce was so traumatized that he repressed the memory of what occurred. Once ba
ck at camp, he attempted to operate on a patient without anesthesia, while accusing the anesthesiologist of trying to smother the patient. But it was a later incident, driving a jeep through the wall of the Officers' Club and ordering a double bourbon (which Pierce never drank), that caused Pierce to be committed to the mental hospital.
With the true memory of the events on the bus now restored to him, Pierce can acknowledge the fact that he suffered a nervous breakdown, and was in the process of writing his father that he might be coming home soon as he doubted the Army would let a surgeon operate "whose cheese has slipped off his cracker". But Freedman, deciding that Pierce is ready to be released, sends him back to the 4077th promising to check up on him periodically.
Back at the 4077th, an out-of-control tank runs over the camp latrines, forcing Maj. Charles Winchester to go to a temporary facility down the road to relieve himself. Encountering a raggedy group of five Chinese soldiers on a motorcycle, he is greatly surprised when they “surrender” and follow him back to camp, playing musical instruments. Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt takes possession of the motorcycle and later annoys Winchester by painting it yellow.
Winchester, irritated that he is about to miss his chance to win a coveted position at a hospital in Boston, consoles himself by conducting the Chinese musicians in rehearsals of one of his favorite Mozart works (the first movement of theClarinet Quintet in A, K. 581). On the surface, he is irritated with them over their inability to play the piece correctly, but he is actually bonding with and growing quite fond of them. Maj. Margaret Houlihan learns of his situation and puts in a good word with the Boston hospital’s board, but her efforts earn his ire when he finds out about them. With the crashed tank still in the camp and Col. Sherman Potter under orders not to have it moved for the time being, enemy forces begin a mortar assault against the 4077th. Several POWs, locked in a makeshift pen in the compound, are unable to get to safety until Father Francis Mulcahy lets them out. In the process, a mortar round explodes, knocking him out and leaving him with a severe hearing loss (later revealed to be caused by tinnitus). Only Hunnicutt knows about Mulcahy’s condition, and Mulcahy begs him not to tell anyone else, as it could result in his being sent home, unable to help the local orphans. Shortly before Pierce returns from the mental hospital, Hunnicutt receives his discharge papers and leaves for home. Just as he is boarding a chopper, Sgt. Max Klinger shows Potter a just-arrived set of orders that rescinds the discharge, but Potter cannot (by choice) hear Klinger over the chopper. The shorthanded operating-room staff is soon swamped with patients, and Potter calls headquarters to get another surgeon to replace Hunnicutt. Pierce, arriving after Hunnicutt's departure, is upset that his roommate left without saying goodbye, much as his old friend Trapper John McIntyre had. Shortly afterward, during another barrage of enemy shelling, Pierce drives the crashed tank through the newly built latrine and into the camp’s garbage dump to draw the shelling away from the camp. This impulsive action by Pierce, coming on the heels of his breakdown, prompts Potter to call Freedman in for another talk with Pierce.
In the meantime, a Korean refugee from a previous episode, Soon-Lee Han, is still on the base and trying to find her parents. Klinger becomes worried when he learns that she has left to find them, and the two realize that they have feelings for one another. They decide to get married, but much to Klinger's frustration Soon-Lee insists that she cannot leave Korea until she finds her family.
A North Korean incendiary bomb attack causes fire in the adjacent forest, and Potter orders the 4077th to "bug out." (a well-rehearsed evacuation order). As soon as the camp is up and running again in its new location, Potter gets the replacement surgeon he asked for—Hunnicutt, whose travel plans were delayed just long enough for him to find out about his rescinded discharge. Meeting up with Pierce, Hunnicutt says that he had meant to leave a note for him, but had no time to do so. The 4077th throws a party for Hunnicutt, who had intended to be home in time for his daughter’s second birthday, and for a local orphan girl who is about that age.
Seeing many children at the party, Pierce becomes withdrawn and tries to slip away, but Freedman, who shows up during the festivities, reassures him. He considers Pierce's commandeering of the tank to be a sensible action that took his fellow soldiers out of danger. Pierce’s feelings about the thought of a patient under his care not surviving, Freedman says, may make him an even better doctor than he already is.
Winchester eventually has to say goodbye to the Chinese musicians, who are to be part of a POW exchange. As they are driven away, they finally play the Mozart piece correctly for him. A public-address announcement then broadcasts the news that a truce has been signed; a cease-fire will go into effect at 10:00 that night, officially ending the hostilities. But the celebration is short-lived, as Potter orders the camp moved back to its original site so the remaining wounded can be treated. Among the wounded is one of the musicians, barely alive after the truck carrying the POWs was shelled. None of the other four survived, and this one soon dies as well. A shaken Winchester retires to his tent, where he plays a record of the Mozart piece they were rehearsing, then angrily yanks it from the turntable and smashes it.
In the operating room, Hawkeye finds himself about to operate on a child and hesitates at first. When Potter offers to switch patients with him, he declines and goes to work, indicating that his recovery is complete. Freedman, his work now completed, leaves the 4077 with the same parting line he used during one of his first visits: “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.” The staff continues operating throughout the night, stopping only briefly to take note when 10:00 PM comes and the guns fall silent as heard in a radio broadcast over the loudspeaker.
Once all the wounded have been cared for, the staff throws a final party in the mess tent, with many characters commenting on their future plans. Among the main cast, Potter looks forward to rejoining his wife in Missouri and becoming a “semi-retired country doctor”; Houlihan has rejected several overseas postings in favor of working at a big-city hospital in the United States; Mulcahy decides to begin ministering to the deaf; Pierce wants to take some time off, then go back to work where he can get to know his patients; and Hunnicutt jokes about running off with a girl he met during his travel delay, then says he will return home to his family in San Francisco. Winchester has won the position he wanted at the Boston hospital and agrees to accept it, despite Houlihan's "meddling," but remarks that the music that he had loved and used as a refuge from the experience will now serve as a reminder of the deaths of the Chinese musicians and the war itself.
The biggest surprise of the evening comes from Klinger, who announces his intent to marry Soon-Lee and stay in Korea to help find her family. The wedding takes place the next morning, with Mulcahy officiating, Potter as best man, and Houlihan as matron of honor. After the ceremony, the staff begins tearing down the camp and prepares to move out by various means. The mileage signs to everyone’s hometowns are pulled off the long-standing signpost (except for Tokyo and Seoul) and taken home by their respective owners, and the officers say their goodbyes as the last pieces of the camp are dismantled.
Mulcahy and Houlihan travel to the 8063rd MASH, a stopover on the way back to the States. Winchester cannot find room in Houlihan’s jeep, so he sends Sgt. Rizzo to get him another ride; he then makes peace with her and allows her to keep a treasured book she borrowed from him. Just before leaving the camp, Houlihan receives hugs from various members of the unit and also engages in a long, passionate goodbye kiss with Pierce. The last available vehicle is a garbage truck, which Winchester boards after saying goodbye. Before P
otter rides away to the local orphanage on his beloved horse, Sophie, planning to leave her there and take a jeep, Pierce and Hunnicutt offer him a small token of gratitude: a salute, which they seldom performed for a
nyone. The Colonel emotionally returns the salute and rides off.
Pierce and Hunnicutt, the last to leave, find it difficult to part. As they reminisce over their shared time, Pierce laments that they will probably never see each other again, though Hunnicutt insists that someday they will. The latter rides off on his motorcycle, shouting that he left a note this time. Only after Pierce’s helicopter has lifted off does he see this note: the word GOODBYE spelled out in stones on the ground. Pierce smiles as he flies away from the former site of the 4077th.