The word “tough” is often used to describe something or someone that is difficult or extremely resilient, or perhaps strong and full of courage. A person can be tough to deal with, we can have a tough day, and meat can be tough. Likewise, having to make snap decisions is tough, confronting an enemy is tough, and a soldier is built tough.
“Hawaii Five-0” has often shown this kind of toughness- especially when two members of the Five-0 task force are SEALs– Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) and Junior Reigns (Beulah Koale). When they are called to help rescue a friend and fellow SEAL, Joe White (played by recurring cast member, Terry O’Quinn), we see not only toughness but brotherhood and courage beyond what many of us can grasp.
This week’s episode,“Ka lālā kaukonakona haki ‘ole I ka pā a ka makani Kona” which is Hawaiian for “The Tough Branch that Does Not Break in the Kona Gale,” is a teleplay by Zoe Robyn based on a story by series star Alex O’Loughlin. Directed by Krishna Rao, the episode has McGarrett joining fellow Five-0 team member Junior Reigns and his SEAL team brothers on a special mission to save Joe White, who is being held hostage in Nigeria by a high-value US military target.
The title is based on a ʻōlelo noʻeau, or Hawaiian proverb and poetical saying, which is said of a sturdy, strong person. A branch that does not break in a Kona wind– the winds that bring rain and strong gusts and typically bring storms to the islands. The deeper meaning behind the phrase is about the kind of person who can withstand stormy weather– a person who is sturdy and will not break even when life gets tough.
The episode, which is full of military-style action, shootouts, and explosions, reminds McGarrett about why Joe White means so much to him. And from the start, we see that there are a few sturdy, strong branches within the Five-0 universe. The obvious being McGarrett, but also Junior who has weathered his own storms this season, and Joe White who even after months being kept as a hostage, seems to be able to rally to join McG and Junior in a gunfight. We also get more of McGarrett’s past when he flashes back to when Joe saved his life in Afghanistan.
While Junior and McGarrett are off saving Joe– Gerard Hirsch (Willie Garson) pulls Lou (Chi McBride) and Tani (Meaghan Rath) into the case of the week. Hirsch is busy with Crime Clean, his crime scene cleaning business, and while sanitizing a bloody home where a woman was stabbed 13 times, finds two paintings that he believes have been missing since World War II. And by missing, he means stolen, specifically by the Nazi regime.
After Tani and Lou do a little digging into the husband of the murdered woman, Kurt Wagner (Tatum Shank), they find a family connection to Germany, and they think it is possible that the art could have been stolen by Wagner’s grandfather after the war. But they have no way of getting access to the paintings, as if they ask to check them out, Wagner would most likely sell them. If they can charge him with his wife’s murder, then they could gain access to the paintings– but Wagner has an airtight alibi, and since they can’t charge him with a crime– they cannot test the paintings to see if they are authentic.
Hirsch, as a former master forger and black-market art dealer, knows they are real, and he and Kamekona (Taylor Wily), his silent partner in Crime Clean, forge their own investigation into the stolen art. Of course, this leads to hilarious antics and even funnier dream scenes with Hirsch and Kamekona shooting it up with the bad guys while the “Cops” theme plays in the background. Hirsch bravely channels his inner bad boy and breaks into Wagner’s house to covertly test the paintings– and ends up gathering way more evidence than he anticipated when Wagner’s mistress arrives while Hirsch is hiding under his bed.
The funny scenes always help balance out the more dramatic moments, especially the ones where McGarrett is shot and near death. And even though those scenes were in flashback, it was still hard to watch McGarrett say in a matter-of-fact way, “Joe, we’re going to be dead in a couple minutes,” since the odds are not in their favor.
The flashback has Joe carrying a severely wounded McGarrett through the mountains of Afghanistan while he tries to get a radio call out for backup. Joe tells McG that he promised he would keep him safe, and then asks Steve to make him two promises if they get out alive. Sort of a payback for saving his life. Joe asks Steve to promise that he will ask Catherine (as in Rollins, who in the flashback is just a close friend of Steve’s) out on a date. That is how Steve can pay Joe back for saving his life. And then he tells Steve to go and see his dad, who Joe says loves him, no matter what Steve believes.
The scene is touching as McGarrett is coughing up blood, pale, and exhausted from surviving through the night. We think that McG’s current mission with Junior is to save the life of the man who saved his life, but McGarrett has a deeper reason for wanting to save Joe. He tells Junior’s commander– “If it wasn’t for Joe White, I wouldn’t even be a SEAL today. He trained me, he pushed me through BUD/S, and he was my father when my father could not be there.”
Unlike the McGarrett of eight years ago, there is no bitterness in his tone about his father not being there when he was becoming a SEAL. It’s as if he has come to terms with why his father was absent and is still grateful that he had Joe. It’s a nice change in McGarrett’s character arc, one of wisdom and emotional maturity. His feelings are no longer bitter, but certainly bittersweet.
What was even more touching about the SEAL storyline, was how much Junior has come to mean to McGarrett. As McGarrett, Joe, and Junior are trying to escape the enemy compound together– where again, the odds are not in their favor– Junior apologizes for calling Steve to join the mission. Steve tells him he would have done the same thing, and thanks him for showing up on his doorstep seven months ago. Earlier in the episode, Junior shared with him that he had been looking at apartments, and Steve reacted in a way that gave us the impression that he was sad that Junior was planning to move out. He obviously needs Junior in his life as much as he needed to pay Joe back for saving his life. While it seems as if Steve was there when Junior needed saving, perhaps it was McG that needed a little saving as well.
Of course, they get out alright, and while Joe is recuperating in a military hospital in Germany, McGarrett asks Joe if the promise to keep Steve alive was to his mother, who at the time when they were in Afghanistan, Steve had thought was dead. Joe slides by the question and says “Even if I didn’t make the promise I wouldn’t have left you there.” Steve nods knowing he is telling the truth, and then shares that he did ask Catherine out, and he also went and spent time with his dad. He tells Joe, “Because of you, I got to spend some great time with him before he was gone. Thank you for that. More than saving my life, thank you for that.”
Sometimes, even the tough ones go above and beyond what is physically possible because of more tender reason. McGarrett put himself in harm’s way to not only protect Junior, who he seems to care for almost like a son; and to save the man who was more than just a mentor and a family friend. Joe is the man who made Steve see what was truly important in his life– and then gave him the courage to pursue it. That is a toughness that is hard to describe, and no matter the storm, worth all the sacrifice.