|“||Nobody can get the truth out of me because even I don't know what it is. I keep myself in a constant state of utter confusion.||„|
|~ Colonel Sam Flagg|
Colonel Samuel "Sam" Flagg was a military intelligence officer who served in the United States Army during the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. He was a recurring character on the 1970's and 1980's situation comedy M*A*S*H*, and a recurring adversary to the medics of the 4077th. Starting out as a nearly psychotic, jingoistic monster, over the years he sadly devolved into an ineffectual buffoon.
He was portrayed by Edward Winter.
In his very first appearance, he seemed not only competent but savvy and even reasonable. When an intelligence officer was among the wounded, Major Frank Burns characteristically insisted on following regulations and called for another intelligence officer to be present as he was sedated, fearing the leaking of secrets while he was under the influence. With the man's life in peril from his wounds and Frank's hide-bound, fearful nature, Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John McIntyre operated on the man even as Frank called for another intelligence officer. Had they waited, the man might well have died, and in any event, he revealed no secrets as he went under. The summoned officer, (called Captain Halloran here, though confirmed later as an alias) Colonel Flagg, after being assured of the officer's silence while sedated, was actually annoyed with Frank for the long journey and quickly joined the weekly poker game. He briefly revealed flashes of his later persona when a disturbed soldier took the noisome Frank hostage in the showers, and offered to shoot the soldier, an offer Hawkeye refused on the practical basis of having to remove any bullets he put in the soldier. While a practical and reasonable man here, Flagg's next appearances would begin to establish the character as most remember him.
In his next encounter with the 4077th, Flagg came in with an injury that a fellow intelligence officer from another American agency claimed was faked, which it likely was. Blackmailing CO Lt. Colonel Henry Blake with Big Brother-like knowledge of a civilian indiscretion, the two agents played an increasingly absurd game of cat-and-mouse, essentially spying on each other, each assuming the other had found a major security breach, and wanting to snatch the collar for themselves in order to impress the US Congress come budget appropriations time. As always, snitch-tending Burns and Head Nurse Margaret Houlihan were anxious to reveal whatever they knew - which, as always, wasn't much, and in this case, became confusing to know who to snitch to. When the spy vs. spy action started to interfere with camp business, Hawkeye, Trapper and Company Clerk Corporal Radar O'Reilly decided to hand the two the information they wanted. The fact that this information didn't really exist was only a small obstacle to the practiced tricksters. Casting suspicion on Frank Burns, the doctors and Radar not only put false information into his company record, but two vastly differing sets of misinformation, one for each spy. Flagg came into the Doctors' tent, the Swamp, proclaiming him to be a Communist sympathizer (he had seen the Russian ballet in Tokyo, and 'Reader's Digest' could also be 'Red Digest', etc.) while Flagg's rival claimed that the Communist claims were a facade for Frank being a Nazi-sympathizing Fascist who gave to fugitive war criminals like Martin Bormann. Stung and humiliated by the two Doctors, the pair agreed to keep an eye on the staff at the 4077th, then went to have a friendly cup of coffee, indicating that this sort of thing happened to them a lot.
In his next appearance, Flagg neared the monster line at last. Bringing in a wounded enemy soldier, he in essence asked that the man be brought back to health in time for his execution as a spy. With a trigger-happy Flagg, an acqiescent temporary CO in Frank Burns, and the veracity of Flagg's spy claims in doubt, the doctors gave in and loaded his passenger for a trip to Tokyo - of course, said passenger was professional Section 8 seeker Corporal Max Klinger, who in his dress, looked nothing like the enemy soldier.
In another example of injuring himself to gain entry to the 4077th, Flagg attempted to make a frontline medic who stole pennicillin for the soldiers he treated into a major felon, all while nabbing the precious medicine for one of his intelligence trades, which he claimed (almost reasonably) would give him info that would turn battles in the field. But his methods and demeanor left him looking and sounding increasingly like a kook, and when the soldier returned and told why he had really been stealing the 4077th's supplies, the Doctors "gave" Flagg a case of appendicitis in order to lay him up.
On his next visit, Flagg found that newly installed veteran CO Colonel Sherman T. Potter was not as easy to push around as the late Henry Blake (while he loved the man like a brother, Hawkeye once said he thought Henry could be held up through the mail). When Flagg, with the aid of soon-to-be-broken-up snitches Burns and Houlihan, came to arrest a mentally upset soldier who claimed to be Jesus Christ, Potter stopped Flagg long enough for Hawkeye and Captain B.J. Hunnicutt to call in the army's field psychiatrist in that sector, Doctor Sidney Freedman, who had played poker with Flagg in his first appearance. When Freedman's analysis of the identity-lost man didn't jibe with Flagg's desire to put him back on duty as a skilled bomber pilot, Flagg threatened Freedman with investigation, in particular for refusing to sign his loyalty oath. When Freedman pointed out that a spy or 'fellow traveler' looking to cause mischief would never have hesitated to sign such a thing, his logic almost seemed to short-circuit Flagg. In another reverse-twist, when his threat to Sidney to have him discharged seemed to be what he wanted, Flagg vowed to keep him in the army, so as to keep an eye on him.
When Margaret Houlihan briefly vanished to aid a Korean family having a new baby, the Flagg-led investigation quickly went wild, with Flagg using absurd disguises that would have made Boris, Natasha and Team Rocket all groan, and threatening Radar with the eating of various body parts. Amidst requests for scorpions and wild theories about what happened to Margaret (actually exceeding one of Hawkeye's attempts to lampoon the process), it began to seem clear that Flagg wanted to use this as an excuse for initiating an unneeded military action possibly costing many lives. When Margaret turned up (Klinger had forgotten to tell anyone where she was going), Flagg's plans were cancelled. Attempting to leave unseen 'like the wind', Flagg broke his leg while jumping out Potter's office window. Tellingly, even Frank Burns, Flagg's prime suspect in Margaret's 'abduction', seemed glad to see him leave this time.
By the time of Flagg's final appearance on the main series, Burns had been replaced by the far sharper Major Charles Emerson Winchester The Third, who played him like a finely-strung violin. With Flagg determined to break Hawkeye Pierce for choosing to save a badly wounded North Korean soldier over a lighter-wounded American, Winchester, no fan of Pierce's, at first seemed to go along with him. but ceased even trying to cooperate once he learned of Flagg's past antics. At first enticed with a posting in his beloved Boston, then threatened with poverty and imprisonment, Winchester began to knit together a scam, leaving false clues for the gullible Flagg, who now believed that Pierce was holding a meeting of spies. When this 'nest of sedition' turned out to be a poker game with Pierce, Potter and two prominent Korean officials, even Flagg's subordinates dismissed it as another one of his wild goose chases. Given the threats the angered officials made, Flagg vanishing for the rest of the series perhaps makes sense.
Edward Winter did make one last appearance as Colonel Flagg, but this was in a pointless appearance in which he was a complete caricature with no menace at all. The much lesser-known spin-off/sequel series AfterM*A*S*H* lasted only two seasons. In the first of these, the show, featuring Potter, Klinger and Father Mulcahy as the leads, recognized its limitations (not being its parent show, not having the war as backstory) and concentrated on the many issues that faced soldiers returning home. While not the blockbuster its predecessor was, it came in fifteenth in the ratings that first season, a respectable number (three times ahead of the parent show's first season) that nonetheless failed to impress the TV network. Executive Meddling ensued.
A determination was made to make the show 'wacky' like MASH's early seasons had been (even though they also contained some of the show's harshest moments as well). Among the elements forcibly inserted was Max Klinger entering psychiatric care in order to avoid prison time, a dumbing down of the formerly sharp Mrs. Potter, and Soon-Lee, Klinger's war bride, reverting to a very stereotyped immigrant. When Flagg showed up in this, it was during Max Klinger's trial, interrupting the proceedings with wild aspersions on Klinger's loyalty, based on his wife's family being Korean and his briefly staying in Korea after legendary efforts to get a Section 8. Ranting and raving as never before, Flagg had no role in the overall plot, and the judge rapidly ignored him. At one point Kilnger warns Flagg that he cannot ruin lives like he did in Korea, to which Flagg responds that Senator McCarthy is stealing his thunder. The final scene of this once-dangerous representation of unthinking nationalism was of him continuing his rants before a completely-empty courtroom.
- Flagg shares a surname, but little else, with a major Stephen King villain, although both their final appearances tended to disappoint their fans.
- While it could have come from any number of sources, the pilot episode of Star Trek : The Next Generation featured the trickster Q briefly turning into a 20th Century Army officer ranting about 'Commies'. During a later appearance by Winchester actor David Ogden Stiers, the ST:TNG writers all admitted to being huge MASH fans, so it is possible that officer Q turned into was an homage to Colonel Flagg.
- Actor Edward Winter died on March 8, 2001. If the medics were never happy to see Flagg, reportedly, Winter's cast-mates were always delighted to see him.
- Flagg scares Winchester when Flagg asks if he believes that Flagg could break his leg with one finger. Flagg also terrifies O'Reily, Blake ,Burns and Mulcahy.
- After M.A.S.H., in the premiere of a TV SCI-FI series "Misfits of Science". in a character switch, Edward Winter played an Aide-de-camp who is killed trying to stop an insane General - who was portrayed by Larry Linville.
- Flagg's first appearance, in his alias of Captain Halloran, occurred in the M*A*S*H episode, 'Deal Me In', originally broadcast on December 8th, 1973. Flagg's final appearance occurred on the AfterMASH episode 'Trials', originally broadcast on October 9, 1984. While M*A*S*H is still shown in reruns and is widely available on home video, AfterMASH, with only 30 episodes, has rarely been rebroadcast and is not available in any form of legitimate home video release.