During the holiday season, “Hawaii Five-0” tends to deliver a sweet Christmas episode complete with a positive message of hope, along with a reminder that giving is always better than receiving. This year’s Mele Kalikimaka message, however, was a little stronger and tied to one of the common themes the television show has worked to develop over its seven years on television. Five-0 has always been a show that thanks and honors our military and has worked very hard to shine a positive light on the issues veterans face once they return from duty. As Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) is a Navy SEAL and served for many years before creating the Five-0 task force, many storylines have incorporated the military in some way.
This week’s episode, “’Oni kalalea ke kū a ka lā’au loa” which is Hawaiian for “A Tall Tree Stands Above the Others,” did an excellent job focusing on our veterans and putting them in a situation that allowed them to use their strengths to help others. And while the storyline was fiction, the fact that real-life veterans played these roles, only helped to give the episode more punch and credibility.
The title of the episode is a ʻōlelo no‘eau, or Hawaiian proverb and poetical saying, which is “said of a person of outstanding achievements.” The episode, written by Rob Hanning and directed by Tara Miele, definitely focused on several people of “outstanding achievements”– mainly the veterans who come to McGarrett and the Five-0 team’s aid to help capture two armed robbers dressed as Santa.
The episode starts with Danno (Scott Caan) telling his young son Charlie (Zach Sulzbach) a story on Christmas Eve about how McGarrett and the Five-0 team caught the two bad Santas. He tells Charlie that it is a story about a Christmas miracle and proceeds to delight the boy with a great tale involving cops, robbers, Santa, and special angels who help save the day.
Of course, the cops are McGarrett and his team, Grover (Chi McBride) and Tani (Meaghan Rath), along with Jerry (Jorge Garcia) on the magic table, and Junior (Beulah Koale)– just as he is driving a truckload of highly trained operatives, who are currently disguised as retired veterans.
Daddy Danno is not in this story because he was recovering after being shot in the chest. The robbers are two Santas who coordinated the heist of an armored car, and the special angels are the five veterans. Junior had been driving them to help serve the holiday meal at a homeless shelter. They were all going to meet McGarrett at the shelter, but McG calls Junior to tell him he is going to watch the Christmas parade with his sister Mary Ann and his niece Joanie when he is sidelined by an explosion and people running toward him in a panic.
The veterans are played by several former and retired military members. Retired Navy SEAL, Lieutenant Jason Redman, who was struck in the face by machine gun fire during one of his many missions in Fallujah, Iraq; retired U.S. Army Sgt. Steven Jackel, a double-amputee who survived an IED blast in Afghanistan; former Marine J. Eddie Martinez; and former Navy Reservist Kathryn Taylor-Smith. Zachary Perez-Rukavina, who had a rare sarcoma cancer which caused his left forearm to be amputated, also played one of the veterans.
While some of the veterans are trained actors– Martinez who played the tech-savvy Kekoa, and Taylor-Smith who played Josie the medic– Redman who played the jovial Frank, and Jackel who played the skilled bomb investigator Henry, are relatively new to acting. Perez-Rukavina is also a trained actor and screenwriter. Director Miele told CBS how he was very helpful in figuring out how his character Reggie could use his titanium prosthetic hand as a crowbar for a scene with O’Loughlin.
What really made the scenes with the veterans work was more about how the episode had the veterans put their military skills to use in order to help Five-0. While there were no specifics released about what the real-life veterans did in combat or while serving, it was believable that these vets would have the skills needed to aid McGarrett and Junior in finding the two “bad Santas” who have escaped into a very busy pre-holiday shopping mall.
The team, aided also by Adam (Ian Anthony Dale)– who seems to always be at the wrong place at the wrong time– work together with the veterans to search the mall. While McGarrett is at first trepidatious about allowing the veterans to help– as they are not HPD or Five-0– Josie (Taylor-Smith) comments that they have all seen combat and they can certainly handle two armed men in Santa suits.
The veterans certainly come through in other ways for the team. (Frank (Redman) was once a security guard at the mall so he offers to help the team as he knows the layout of the mall, and Henry (Jackel), who was a munitions expert in Iraq, helps Tani and Duke (Dennis Chun) investigate the bombing site where the Santas blew up the armored car in order to hijack the money bags. Josie uses her medic training to help a civilian who is injured by an escaping Santa. Kekoa (Martinez), uses his experience as a comms specialist to help Grover set up a checkpoint. Jerry connects Kekoa to the magic table so they can scan all the IDs of the exiting shoppers and compare them to a “bad guy” list– much like Santa’s naughty list. They are trying to stop the bad Santas from escaping after shedding their Santa suits, while McG continues to search the mall.
The scene with Henry, Tani, and Duke was especially poignant. As Henry is wheeling around the bomb scene, Duke tells Tani that they could not find anything from the armored car or the getaway vehicle, so whatever Henry finds will help the team with their investigation. When Henry asks Tani to pick up a piece of metal, she seems impressed by what he is finding just by looking at the scene. She tells him about her father serving in the Gulf War, and how she’s really sorry about what happened to him. He tells her he is not sorry because he saved a lot of lives and that he would go back if they let him. “You can only lose your legs once,” he tells Tani.
In real life, Jackel was in an IED explosion in Afghanistan when he lost his legs. According to “Operation Finally Home,” which provides mortgage-free homes to service members and their families who have become wounded, ill, or injured as a result of their service in the defense of our country– Jackel “was injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded underneath his RG31 vehicle. The force of the blast knocked Jackel out. When Jackel came to he realized that he was trapped inside the burning vehicle, along with his team members. While attempting to escape and save the lives of several soldiers, Jackel used his amputated leg to put out the flames around him before finding an exit through the hatch at the top of the vehicle. With the hatch open, he quickly assisted others out of the burning vehicle.”
Danno tells Charlie several times during the episode that the veterans who are helping Five-0 are the “real heroes”– and he’s right. But they don’t stop being heroes once they are home. Danno’s story is about miracles and angels and it had a happy ending– they catch the bad Santas with all the clues, and with the help from the veterans– but it is also about showing that just because someone looks like they can’t help– doesn’t mean they are useless. Sometimes veterans think they have no worth if they are retired or no longer actively serving, and that makes it even more difficult to return to civilian life. So while the message of the episode was a serious one, I loved how the episode wasn’t heavy or overbearing– it was really a fun episode, with a good message, and an uplifting ending. And the veterans really made it very special.
If we get nothing else out of the episode, besides an exciting story– is that our veterans are truly valuable and still very viable members of our society. And they seem to be a welcome part of the Five-0 team– as they join the crew at a Christmas party at McGarrett’s house. The gang’s all there– Noelani (Kimee Balmilero), Duke, Flippa (Shawn Mokuahi Garnett), and Kamekona (Taylor Wily), as well as Dog (Duane “Dog” Chapman) who has joined the Eddie the Dog fan club. Noelani teases McG that he needs to finish his costume– as has a Santa hat on his head– but Duke wisely says he probably has had enough of Santa suits for a while.
Their banter is easy and fun, and it is a perfect moment for McGarrett to give Junior his Five-0 badge. It seems as if Junior has paid his dues, and as a veteran who seemed to be lost and quite literally homeless– he has now found a home with Five-0. And that is the best kind of Christmas miracle– when someone can give you a gift that is not charity– but is something you earn and deserve. Each time McGarrett hands someone a badge– he does it because of their actions– not because he feels pity or sorry for them. And that is exactly how our veterans want to be treated and honored, at any time of the year.
REDUX SIDE NOTE:
Last week “Hawaii Five-0” aired two episodes on Dec. 15, “I ka wā mamua, I ka wā mahope” (“The Future is in the Past”) and “ʻOni kalalea ke kū a ka lāʻau loa” which is Hawaiian for “A Tall Tree Stands Above the Others.” This is a review of the second episode aired that night.
New episodes of “Hawaii Five-0” return to its regular time slot on Friday, Jan. 5.