My husband David and I have been watching the “new” Hawaii Five-O since it began 4 seasons ago, from episode 1. It had seemed that for several seasons now they’d been mostly doing storylines based on international terrorism and the spy-intrigue storyline in McGarrett’s mother’s past. Which frankly, bored me to sobs.
I preferred the storylines where it was a Hawaiian setting, with the kind of local color and flavor that is unique to Hawaii. It seemed like they were doing the islands a disservice by only finding the big drama in the “international” arena, saving the local stories for mostly ordinary cops-and-robbers or cops-and-drug dealers stuff.
Not tonight – in “Ho’onani Mkuakane (Honor Thy Father),” they finally pulled off a big, “only in Hawaii” story, for an episode that simultaneously commemorated Pearl Harbor, AND sought to handle the tragic and shameful saga of the internment of Japanese-American citizens. Amazingly, they brought about a moving reconciliation at the end.
Now if they wanted to go for an Emmy, they might have gotten George Takei, who would bring a little…. first hand knowledge on the subject of the internments, having spent part of his childhood in such a camp. But the actor they cast as an aging Korean War vet avenging his father’s mjurder handled it ably.
The episode had flashbacks, and the usual amazing coincidences that can only happen in cop dramas where there’s a strong family element – in this version of Hawaii Five-O, McGarrett’s family has been in Hawaii for generations, but I don’t remember if the original had such a back story for Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett.
This one, though, managed to handle all the pieces deftly: the annual Pearl Harbor Day memorial marred by a strange incident, followed by the strangest suspect interrogation ever. It was maybe a little too reverent and respectful, but there was solid police work (helped by some pretty eye-rolling coincidence, too, but plausible coincidence).
They listened to an old man’s story of long-ago wartime Hawaii, and solved the mystery with forensic lasers, a barrel full of rats, old men’s memories and old men’s files, and a microscope.
Most weeks, I mostly watch Hawaii Five-O with half an eye, occasionally noting some location that looks familiar or mocking their super-saturated cinematography. I grumble when there’s yet another episode with some connection to Japanese yakuza, inexplicably set in the jungles of “China” or “North Korea.”
This week, it was probably the best episode I can recall in a long time, mostly because it was very character-based, and also steeped in the memories of Pearl Harbor and the shameful backlash against Americans who happened to be of Japanese ancestry. Everybody had some good face time, good dialogue, good premise to work from.
I expect next week or so we’ll be right back in the stupid “is he or isn’t he Wo Fat’s secret spy lovechild half-brother” storyline, but this week, they had might right to the end. I even got a little teary, because for some reason, Hawaii is special to me, having visited so many times.
I wish this show could rise to this level more often. It’s at is best when it plays to its strength: the setting, the people, the culture of the islands.