Last week’s “Hawaii Five-0” Friday repeat was an episode that was highly anticipated, even though it brought along the death of a beloved character, Aunt Deb McGarrett, played by the incomparable Carol Burnett. Usually during the summer hiatus, I tend to write about the amazing actors who guest starred during the previous season, picking the best five guests, writing about their characters, why viewers enjoyed their performances, and perhaps why they should return in the next season. But this year, I just want to write about Burnett, as the death of her character in “Ua ola loko i ke aloha” (“Love Gives Life Within”) touched me, and the Five-0 fandom, in so many ways. And it’s not that there weren’t other stars who were great and enjoyable — it’s just that this star is so very special.
Burnett’s character, Deb McGarrett, is the sister of Steve (Alex O’Loughlin) and Mary’s (Taryn Manning) father, John McGarrett (William Sadler). After John’s wife, Doris (Christine Lahti), was killed, John sent Mary to live with Deb, while Steve was sent to the Army-Navy Academy for his last two years of high school. Deb raised Mary, and as Steve’s school was only a few hours away from his Aunt’s home, Deb became the only mother-figure in their lives.
Deb returned to Hawaii for a surprise visit in the season four Thanksgiving episode, “Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi” (“Happy Thanksgiving”). She tells Steve and Mary that she has a brain tumor, and has basically come to say goodbye to her niece and nephew. But we all get a treat when she comes back to Hawaii to marry Leonard Cassano (Frankie Valli) in season five’s “Ka Hana Malū” (“Inside Job”). She and Leonard met during cancer treatment, as they both had stage four cancer, and decided to live out the rest of their lives together — whatever time they had left.
So in season six, when Deb returns to scatter Leonard’s ashes along the same beach where they married the year before — we all thought that perhaps we’d have another year with Deb. I mean, she was suppose to die two years before — and like Steve and Mary — we love her. But this was the last episode for Burnett — who thankfully, is not dying of stage four cancer — and so that meant it was a real goodbye for Aunt Deb.
Deb came armed with a list — a bucket list of things she wanted to do before she died. It was a list she started with Leonard, and now she wants to finish it with Steve, Mary, and little Joan’s (Mary’s daughter) help. Part of the list she had already checked off with Leonard — seeing the Pyramids and the sunrise from the Eiffel Tower, learning to ski, witnessing the Northern Lights, and getting a tattoo (of a D and L in a heart on her forearm). So after showing Steve her new ink, she has him fulfill another wish — to drive a police car really fast — with lights and sirens as well. Steve reluctantly gives in and we got to watch him uncomfortably relinquish the driver’s seat for his aunt. He is always the gentleman.
She takes Mary and Joan on an epic shopping spree, and enlists her friend Nicky DeMarco (Larry Manetti) to help her through a fried food binge. But she has to break our hearts when she has to turn down Nicky’s offer to perform with him in his club. She may have ticked off another item on her list, but she really kicked good pal Nicky, and all of us, in the heart when she said “Thereʻs not going to be a next time, Nicky.”
When she said that, I thought — well, you said goodbye two seasons ago, and you look great for someone who has a brain tumor and just lost a husband. You’ll be back next season, for sure.
Alas, I suppose I wasn’t really paying attention. Deb’s last two items on her list were to make sure Mary and Joan were provided for, and to climb a really tall mountain. She makes sure after the epic shopping spree that she transfers all her assets to Mary, and then I’m sure she made plans to climb that really tall mountain with Steve.
So when Steve goes to wake her one morning for a pancake feast prepared by Mary, and she gives him a little wave and then passes away, I think I was more stunned than anything else. I felt horrible that Deb died, but even more so — very sad for Steve. He listened to his father be executed, he had to leave his best friend behind during a mission knowing he would be killed, and now he watched his beloved aunt pass away in front of his eyes.
It was lovely watching the next scene, Mary and Steve, with baby Joan on his back, carrying Deb’s ashes up a really tall mountain to scatter her to the wind. Steve had read Deb’s list and said “Okay, Deb” meaning he would help her finish her list. And that he did.
It was really kind of sweet watching Deb die — it was really peaceful and gentle. A change for an action show like “Hawaii Five-0.” But a fitting one for someone as beloved as Aunt Deb.
Burnett was fabulous in the role. She fit in with O’Loughlin and Manning, was sweet to the little girls who played Joan, and was a perfect match with Manetti. Burnett’s singing was the probably the best part of her performance, and I wished they had built in a moment for her to sing in her last episode. But alas, the episode was about her character getting to say goodbye for the last time and making all of her wishes come true.
In the fan favorite survey, many fans commented about how much they loved Deb, and equally loved Carol Burnett in the role. German fan Barbara Rudzky said, “Deb was more of a mother to Steve than Doris” as the main reason why she choose Deb as one of her favorites. And Philadelphia fan Joey Keagy said that there was “no explanation needed, it’s Carol” as the rationale behind why he liked Deb as a recurring character on the show.
For me, and fans alike, it was hard not to like the character of Deb, knowing that Carol Burnett would be playing her. Many of us grew up watching her, or perhaps have seen her show in syndication and have always enjoyed her comedic timing, her singing, her amazing laugh.
And as Aunt Deb, Burnett will always be remembered as a part of the McGarrett ʻohana that left a lasting impression, even if she left a bit too soon.
REDUX SIDE NOTE
The Five-0 Redux sends their heartfelt prayers and condolences to the fans in France and Europe who have suffered so much this last year. “Hawaii 5-0 France,” led by Christophe and Sandra Riot, were instrumental in making a connection with the Five-0 fandom in Hawaii and the JCCH (Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii) after the Pearl Harbor episode, “Hoʻonani Makua Kāne” (“Honor Thy Father”).
The season four episode, which included the storyline about the Japanese being interned at Honouliuli during World War II, spoke to the French fans as they had never learned about what happened to the Japanese in America during the war. They sent their love and condolences to Hawaii via Dennis Chun in 2014 with a tribute to the JCCH in honor of those interned at Honouliuli.
Now, our aloha goes out to them in their time of need.