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The Character Everyone Forgets John Ritter Played In MASH

The late John Ritter was an actor renowned for his comedic roles in such series as "Three's Company" and "8 Simple Rules." However, what many fans forget amidst the madcap antics depicted in the above shows, as well as cinematic comedies like "Real Men" and "Skin Deep," was Ritter's capacity for dramatic performances that could at times enthrall and even terrify. 

Fans of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" will remember Ritter's turn as Ted, the seemingly friendly boyfriend of Buffy Summers' mother Joyce who turned out to be a nearly unstoppable evil robot who wanted to rebuild his creator's picture-perfect family no matter the cost. But before his villainous turn as Ted, there was another role that played with Ritter's wholesome-looking image and made him a surprising threat: that of Private Carter on the classic wartime medical dramedy "M*A*S*H" as a traumatized soldier driven to the edge of sanity by his need to escape the horrors of the Korean War.

Ritter played a desperate man

In the second season episode "Deal Me Out," Ritter plays Private Carter, a soldier wounded in action and brought to the M*A*S*H 4077 (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) for treatment of his injuries. Carter, shellshocked and suffering what would likely be recognized as PTSD in a modern-day setting, steals a pistol and holds Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville) hostage in the camp showers, stating he wants a helicopter to take him to the nearest airfield so he can be flown back to the United States and escape the war. 

Burns — the camp's resident jackass — nearly gets himself killed with his jingoistic rhetoric in support of the war until he comes to realize that antagonizing a desperate man with a gun isn't the likeliest course of action for survival and shuts up. Lt. Colonel Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) and psychiatrist Major Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) try to bring Carter back from the edge, as Freedman had treated Carter previously. Another surgeon of the 4077 manages to subdue Carter and save Burns, with the episode's denouement seeing the young soldier being transported to Seoul for treatment.

Ritter delivered potent performance

Prior to this guest appearance, Ritter was most well-known for the role of the wholesome Reverend Matthew Forwick on "The Waltons." In his "M*A*S*H" appearance, Ritter was able to essay a dramatic performance of a young man so desperate to avoid the war and escape the violence that he's willing to go to extreme lengths in the service of his own bid for escape. Burns' casual dismissal of Carter's concerns and rote adherence to the rules in shipping him back to the front make him the perfect target for his well-earned comeuppance, but for all his bluster and posturing, you can't help but feel concerned for Burns as he stares down a desperate man brandishing a gun. 

The episode shows Ritter's range, from a performer who could make you laugh with a quick quip to one who could make you feel sympathy and fear all at the same time. It's an underrated gem of an episode that showed the burgeoning promise of a future television star.