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Five-0 Redux

The ‘Super SEAL’ effect

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McGarrett sky dives to save a fellow SEAL in "Ka Meʻe." (Courtesy CBS)
McGarrett sky dives to save a fellow SEAL in “Ka Meʻe.” (Courtesy CBS)

If you watch “Hawaii Five-0,” you know Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett, Navy SEAL, leader of the Five-0 Task force, is one hell of a smooth operator. His nickname, “Smooth Dog,” revealed by former SEAL Nick Taylor (Max Martini) in the season one episode “Poʻipū,” is a moniker that definitely fits McGarrett’s ability to access and execute any mission.

It’s hard to write about McGarrett and not mention his SEAL training. Of course, Steve McGarrett is a character, played with great physicality and emotion by Alex O’Loughlin, but if you ever meet a real SEAL, I would say there is very little difference between the way O’Loughlin plays McGarrett and a real operator. McG’s cool demeanor, coupled with his aggressive drive to get the job done — no matter the hurdles, the politics, or the danger — is exactly on point.

Brothers in arms, brothers in blue; however you want to phrase it, when you go to war with someone they are your brother — no matter the time, the battle, or the uniform. Much of the allure that surrounds the character of Steve McGarrett has to do with his precise and energetic response to anything downright dangerous when it comes to his work with the Five-0 Task Force. Yet, that is exactly what a SEAL would do. McGarrett is always ready to respond to whatever is thrown at him and his team.

 "McGarrett and Freddie Hart undergoing BUD/S training in "ʻŌlelo Paʻa." (Courtesy CBS)
“McGarrett and Freddie Hart undergoing BUD/S training in “ʻŌlelo Paʻa.” (Courtesy CBS)

In this week’s repeat of “‘Ōlelo Paʻa,” or “The Promise,” McGarrett takes an unauthorized trip to North Korea to reclaim the remains of his SEAL brother Freddie Hart (Alan Ritchson). SEALs have a motto: “We don’t leave our people behind,” so McGarrett’s determination to get back to North Korea and return his buddy’s remains to the United States and his family, is completely understandable.

I had the privilege to interview one of the SEALs who was on the rescue mission to save the only survivor of “Operation Redwing,” SEAL fire team leader Marcus Luttrell, in Afghanistan. Because this SEAL is still on active duty, he has to remain anonymous, but I can tell you he was very candid about his life and his experiences as a SEAL as long as I didn’t identify him.

So Senior Chief, like McGarrett, I shall keep my promise.

Senior Chief did tell me that one of the biggest elements about being a SEAL is all of the physical training to maintain mission readiness. He would often bike to work from the Moanalua housing area near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to Marine Corps Base Camp H.M. Smith at the top of Halawa Heights. It’s about five miles in distance, maybe 10 or 15 minutes by car, and mostly uphill.

If you are ever at the Aloha Stadium in Aiea, stand in the parking lot and look toward the mountains. Then imagine biking it to the top.

No mere mortal would attempt that, right? Yet Senior Chief did not think it was that difficult a way to get to work in the morning. Physical challenges were the easy part of his job and the part he enjoyed.

All that physical training and being in the best shape only helps a SEAL do his job. It goes back to being ready for anything, and that includes survival on all levels.

"SEALs McGarrett and Hart enter enemy territory in "ʻŌlelo Paʻa." (Courtesy CBS)
“SEALs McGarrett and Hart enter enemy territory in “ʻŌlelo Paʻa.” (Courtesy CBS)

McGarrett has definitely showed his SEAL readiness on many many occassions, in times when it was completely necessary, like in “Kiʻilua” when he went to North Korea the first time with Jenna Kaye and was captured and tortured by Wo Fat, as well as when he jumped out of a perfectly good airplane to rescue a fellow SEAL in “Ka Meʻe.”

There have been other times when his SEAL training has been needed on a similar scale, like in “Lana I Ka Moana” when he had to swim with the sharks to pull Danno to safety, and of course, when he escaped from jail in the season two opener, “Haʻiʻole.”

SEAL physical readiness is also a must because as special operatives, the likelihood of their capture and torture by enemy forces is always a possibility. SEALs have to go through Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, where they are taught to survive and evade capture, resist psychological and physical torture, and to plan and execute their own escape if caught by the enemy. It’s intense training that is not only given to SEALs, but to other military personnel if they are in positions that would put them at high risk for capture, or if their positions necessitate their need for understanding the concepts of SERE training.

So McGarrett breaking out of jail, withstanding Wo Fat’s torture and escaping his North Korean cell, and his skill in interrogating criminals back at Five-0 headquarters all come from this type of intense military training. He may not have been trained to be a cop like Danny, Chin, and Kono, but he knows how to interrogate, enter into hostile situations with weapons drawn, as well as handle any physically challenging situation with ease. Almost too much ease at times, but it’s what we like about McG.

So all of you nervous nellies who harped about how mean McG was to turn the combatant (Vince Shin) in “ʻŌlelo Paʻa” into a human booby trap, and how terrible he was to walk away and let Danno “convince” Ray Beckett (Henry Rollins) to confess where his captive was in “Hoʻopio” — they were situations similar to ones he most likely would have experienced if he were still operating as a SEAL. It’s all within his training and his expertise. It’s what makes McGarrett the kind of cop he is and the kind of leader he is, one who reacts with one thought in mind. To complete the mission.

McGarrett is never afraid to show emotion. (Courtesy CBS)
McGarrett is never afraid to show emotion. (Courtesy CBS)

That’s the other element Senior Chief talked about was the most important thing is the mission. If someone dies, if you are injured, if you come across a problem; you deal with the dead, the pain, and the issues, but nothing stops until the mission is complete. There’s McGarrett in a nutshell.

Yet, there’s a bit of a difference with McG. He is not afraid to show his emotions. When McG saw Freddie’s remains in “ʻŌlelo Paʻa,” he wept when he realized Freddie had been tortured and mutilated, and showed his immense guilt because he was the one who left Freddie behind.

Senior Chief said, “There’s no time for tears, we have to move on, because there’s always the mission, and that comes first.”

But McGarrett takes the time to mourn. And this is what we love about him, his ability to express his emotion. Yes, we also love that he he can jump off a balcony into a pool to catch a perp, or swipe a diamond thief off his bike and beat him silly without breathing too hard, but the best part about McG is that he can weep, he can be afraid, and he can hurt. That’s what makes him McGarrett, and not just a SEAL who does really cool tricks with weapons and slick hand to hand combat. He’s more than just a smooth operator, he’s a man.

And Super SEAL or not, we watch “Hawaii Five-0” to see the man, not just a kevlar strapped military hero. Though we like that part too, I think we want to see someone not only focused on a mission, but also feeling connected to his friends, and wanting love and happiness. It’s what makes a man a true hero, and like McGarrett, I believe all SEALs have that within themselves, and more.

Redux Side Note:

Bad news friends, next week there’s no repeat of “Hawaii Five-0,” as CBS will air “AMC Presents Tim McGraw’s Superstar Summer Night.” But don’t miss Aug. 2 when the season three opener “Lā o nā mākuahine” will air and Aug. 9 is a repeat of “Kānalua.”
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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  • I could not agree more Wendie! Five-0 does a really good job in portraying a SEAL in a very believable way. Most of us will never know a SEAL on a personal level so the impression we get about them is from what we see on the news (which, considering what they do is really very little) and what we see portrayed in TV shows. I love the BAMF Steve can be, the type of man you do not want to mess with. But it’s his softer, emotional side, that we so rarely see but is not completely hidden that makes him the type of man you want to know.

    The Steve McGarrett we met in the back of that armored vehicle with Anton Hess in the pilot is not the Steve McGarrett we have today. His return to Oahu, his friendship with his team, especially with Danny, have opened up the side of him he fought for years to conceal. A protective armor, if you will, from when his mother “died” and his father sent him away. If he’d never gone home, if he’d never met Danny, Chin & Kono, he’d probably still be the same. He is a fascinating character and I hope there is still more about him to learn!

    • Hi Linda:) Thanks for reading and always commenting:) I agree with you- he wears his SEAL training like an armor- nice way of putting it. It definitely makes him a very complex and interesting character. Thanks for always supporting and thanks for your insightful comments! Aloha, Wendie

  • Excellent read and fascinating take on the SEAL training and mentality we see portrayed by McGarrett in H5-0! The average viewer (of which I admit to being) is not obviously aware that Alex O’Loughlin is portraying the character we see as Steve McGarrett, as an honest representation of a highly trained Navy SEAL! But as the course of this series progresses, we are beginning to understand a lot more about who the characters are, where they have been, and how that has affected their response to events both physically and more importantly, emotionally! We are all a product of our history.

    Steve was not stepping outside that SEAL training and experience by planting the grenade under Freddie’s mutilator or by walking away from Danny’s interrogation style. But he was showing the development of his human side by displaying his anguish over Freddie’s mutilation and his determination but remorse for having to take such tactics in order to find the little girl before she died. Not saying highly trained Navy SEALs don’t have a human side, don’t get me wrong! Just agreeing with you, Wendie, that McGarrett is developing and beginning to display a side to his personality that was held in check for so long due to necessity. This is a side of him that has been forming because of his relationship with his non-military trained team – he’s experiencing first hand, the unconditional love of a father for his daughter, a daughter’s devotion to her father, a man’s love for his wife and his grief over the untimely death of that same wife, and a woman’s willingness to stand by the man she love’s even if she has to give up everything she’s always known. MCGarrett hasn’t really had these experiences before in his rigid upbringing since Mom took off out of his life, but his Ohana is providing the opportunities for him to feel and express his emotions.

    Hmmm….did I read too much in to what you wrote, Wendie? Sorry!

    • Hey Lynnette- read into it as much as you like! Nicely said! 🙂 Love how you analyzed my writing as well as Alex’s creation and execution of his character. Nice! Thanks for always reading and commenting and I’m glad that I get as much out of your comments as you do out of my post:) Mahalo! Wendie

  • An absolute great read. Thank you so much for your take on this great character Peter Lenkov and Alex O’Loughlin created. Yes, I think Alex O’Loughlin has a huge part in the final ‘product’. His portrayal of this character is nothing short of brilliant.

    It could have been a pretty one dimensional character, but his acting gives depth to McGarrett.

    As you said we love the other side of the SuperSEAL, and Alex brings that to live. Of course it also helps that he is very believable from the physical point of view.

    I think you paid AOL a great compliment, and I thank you for that also, because frankly, he rarely gets any recognition for the great work he’s doing.

    • HI Sam-
      Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it:) I really think Alex is the key to how great McGarrett is– heʻs fantastic in the role. Iʻm sorry that he doesn’t get as much recognition as he deserves, but he definitely should be proud of his work on H50. Thanks for commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • Very interesting read Wendie. Alex is a great actor who brings an extra special dimension to the role of McGarrett. McGarrett’s not the same guy from s1 – he’s grown in ways we couldn’t have imagined. When I think of a SEAL, I automatically think of Alex/Steve. I had an opportunity to be w/real SEALs recently and was super impressed with their demeanor and their dealing with the job at hand (even w/an 11 mo. old stealing their gear at every turn!) and knew that PL and his team had done an excellent job of creating a believable and complex character in Steve McGarrett thru Alex’s portrayal of him!! I can’t wait to see what s4 offers and how much more our super SEAL will grow!

    • Hi Karen:) Thanks so much for reading:) I agree with you- heʻs really changed from Season 1 to now- he really is less “cool and calculating”- itʻs awesome how much emotion and compassion he shows– which is a bit of a contrast to the mythology that surrounds the SEALs. I think Lenkov and the writers have done a great job- but itʻs Alex who really puts the heart and soul behind McG– which makes it all work! And it is why we watch right? 😀 Thanks for commenting! Aloha, Wendie

  • Wendie,
    As always another great post and a good read.
    You should add a countdown clock in your new post so we can see the number of days and hours. Thank you for your “summer break” comments.

  • Thank you so much for this article, Wendie. Alex has worked so hard to make Steve McGarrett authentic, and that’s due to his dedication as an actor. Additionally though, he’s added so much heart and emotion. Alex was simply wonderful in last nights’ repeat episode.

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I think Alex has done an amazing job and I know it’s why we watch:) I really enjoyed ʻŌlelo Paʻa- I think it was one of the stronger episodes this season:) Mahalo for your thoughts, Aloha, Wendie

  • Great article. Nailed it on the head. Alex portrays a SEAL with authenticity and compassion. Good job, Wendie. See you at SOTB again this year.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it. And I agree- Alex really acts like a few of the SEALs I’ve met when he is McGarrett. I really like how they have incorporated a lot of military elements into the show as well. Thanks for reading! Glad you’ll be at SOTB:) Aloha, Wendie

  • Wendie – Old habits die hard. I need to remember that Friday is Five-0 night (and an hour earlier to boot) and your column is on Saturday. I do eventually remember though. Great column again as ususal.

  • So often movies and shows use Special Forces or SEAL training and experience as shorthand for “stoic badass superhero” without ever really learning what goes into, and what it means to be, a SEAL. In the wrong hands, Steve McGarrett could’ve very easily been little more than a cardboard cutout bordering on parody; thankfully, both Alex O’Loughlin and Peter Lenkov have always striven to show us the strength of character, the dedication, the heart and soul that goes into a successful SEAL.

    As you point out, they’ve also been careful to balance that characteristic competence, confidence and can-do badassery with the very real, very human guy who’s found a new family in the team he put together with Five-0. While the SEAL is someone we all admire and respect for his service, it’s the sometimes clueless, sorta’ goofy, laid back, loyal to a fault, compassionate friend, brother, and son who grabbed and holds our affection. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    • Hey Bert:) Thanks for your insightful comment. I know that H50 utilizes former at least one former SEAL as a military advisor and from talking with Jeff Cadiente- he works hard to keep it as accurate as television allows. And youʻre right- McGarrett could be really cardboard- and OʻLoughlin really does an excellent job giving McG a lot of soul. Nicely said, Bert:) Mahalo for reading and commenting! Aloha, Wendie

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