One of the most anticipated episodes of the latest season of “Hawaii Five-0” has to be last week’s special episode directed by series star Alex O’Loughlin. This was the second time O’Loughlin, who also plays Five-0 team leader Steve McGarrett, has taken over the director’s helm for the popular action drama. The episode, “Eʻao luʻau a kualima” (“Offer young taro leaves to …”), was written by David Wolkove and Matt Wheeler, who also wrote O’Loughlin’s season eight directorial debut, “E Hoʻoko Kuleana” (“To Do One’s Duty”).
O’Loughlin’s season nine episode focused on series newcomer Beulah Koale, who plays rookie officer Junior Reigns. Reigns dropped onto Steve McGarrett’s doorstep after completing his tour of duty in the Navy and sought out McGarrett for a spot on the Five-0 team. McGarrett took the young Navy SEAL under his wing, and into his home, to mentor into Five-0. Fans have enjoyed seeing McGarrett act as a father figure to Reigns much like Joe White (Terry O’Quinn) was to him most of his life.
The episode has Reigns in a quandary once he realizes that one of the bank-robbery suspects that Five-0 has been hunting is Tory (J.J. Soria) the lover of his former girlfriend, Layla (Anna Enger). While he understands his role as a member of Five-0 and his loyalty to McGarrett, he also worries that his pursuit of the man who replaced him in Layla’s life — and who gave Layla the family she wanted to have with Reigns — could be compromised by his feelings for her.
As an actor, Koale is fantastic as he tries to convince Tory to turn himself over to Five-0. Koale is always strong whenever he has a dramatic moment, and his performance in this episode is no exception. Under O’Loughlin’s direction, he does not hold back in a climactic scene toward the end of the episode with Soria. Both men are completely believable showing their raw emotions as they face off — Reigns trying to get Tory to surrender and drop his weapon; Tory knowing that if he gives up he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Reigns begs him to think of Layla and their baby Kai, and Tory tells him, “They’re all I ever think about! What I did, man, I did for them.” It’s incredibly sad to realize that both men will lose, no matter what decision they make. Tory makes it for them and raises his gun at Reigns — who shoots him center-mass. It is his Navy SEAL training that takes over, but it seems as if Reigns wonders if it is an act he could have done differently. When Reigns holds Tory as he dies and tells him how sorry he is, we know it is the truth. It is a brilliant and painful scene and one that we know will have lasting repercussions on Reigns’ life.
AN ACTOR’S DIRECTOR
Under O’Loughlin’s direction, the scene seemed to make an even greater impact. While the lines and the plot are a credit to Wolkove and Wheeler’s expert writing, the execution of the episode has to go to O’Loughlin. It is obvious that he is an actor’s director, as he allows his actors to not only do what they need to do but will push them in a direction that plays well on the screen and rings with emotional truth. O’Loughlin is that kind of actor, and his acting strength certainly comes through in his direction.
While O’Loughlin handles his actors on a level that allows them to be their very best, the crafting of the episode shows his directing mastery and his ability to see beyond the lines of the script. While he has a team of people to help him, he is still the one who orchestrates the actors, the camera shots, the action and the editing process. The action — especially the bank robbery and the shoot-out at Thomas Square — was exciting and an excellent set up for the culminating scene between Tory and Reigns.
Add in the overlap of clips of scenes from Tory’s memories, of his last moments with his son and kissing Layla goodbye, just as Reigns’ bullet hits him in slow-motion — helped to heighten the drama of the episode. It was truly artistic what O’Loughlin did with an already action-packed resolution to Five-0’s case. While the team often faces these kinds of challenges, they don’t always have the same emotional backstory as Reigns experienced in this case.
Really the episode was one of the series best, which is a testament to O’Loughlin and his talents as an actor and a director. It would be very beneficial to see him direct more, but as fans tend to want to see McGarrett in the lead actor’s spot in every episode, it could be more of a challenge for the series to put him behind the camera rather than his typical spot in front of it. Still, if the two episodes he has directed are any indication of the kind of quality O’Loughlin can deliver — the next time he directs will be yet another success for “Hawaii Five-0.”