Photo Credit: @alohaspaceman on Twitter and IG
“We don’t get life on our terms Danny. It’s life on life’s terms or not at all.” – Steve McGarrett
I suppose we could say the same thing about pretty much everything in life, including something as trivial and inconsequential as a TV show. We don’t get it on our terms. We get it on the terms of the powers that be, their story, their vision, their road on which we all travel as we enjoy what they offer us.
There are times when their terms are not to our liking. Something we love, we don’t get enough of, to our satisfaction. Things we would rather not see are thrust upon us to endure until they pass. But there are times when all the stars align, and we’re given an episode which somehow manages to outshine even our most imaginative anticipation. This is such an episode.
Photo Credit: CBS
Written by Alex O’Loughlin…… Directed by Alex O’Loughlin…. Produced by Alex O’Loughlin…. Staring Alex O’Loughlin… this episode is a masterpiece.
I could literally stop right there. I was saying to friends on Twitter Friday night, those who were looking forward to my take on the episode, that there was no way in hell I could ever do it justice. Could I just write “incredible” a million times and stop? Because that’s exactly what it was. Absolutely incredible.
How do you highlight something that’s already glowing brightly? I can’t say anything about Alex the Producer since I know precious little about what being a producer really entails. But we can talk about the things that were abundantly clear.
Alex the Writer: From the first moment we heard about this episode, way back in the early summer, pretty much everyone was beside themselves with excitement and anticipation. Those who have followed Alex’s career for many years know that he’s dipped his toe into writing in the far past, but he’s never attempted an H50 episode before. What story would he choose to tell? Would it be something brand new or would he decide to delve into H50 canon?
Photo Credit: Christine Lahti (@officialchristinelahti) on IG
Then word came that Christine Lahti would be returning as Doris and it became clear that canon it would be. The more we heard about the episode, information from Peter Lenkov and interviews with Alex himself, the more the anticipation grew. The man did not disappoint.
Of course, this wasn’t an original plot idea. I remember years ago, in a creative writing class I took in college, the professor citing some (long ago forgotten by me) academic who believed there are only seven basic plots in literature and all stories are based on those plots. I had a similar discussion on this blog a while back and went searching for who that academic might have been. I saved the article I found at that time.
It’s not the originality of the plot that’s important. It’s the way a writer weaves the story. His personal vision of how he wants to tell his story. And, Alex’s story was masterful.
I have been wracking my brain trying to find the best way to describe just how wonderful this story is and found myself, as I suspected I would, lacking. Every time I started to write something I just couldn’t find the appropriate words to do it justice. Then, while taking a break and just browsing Twitter I came across the following thread written by my friend @surfbelle2. She managed to say exactly what I wanted to say, in a way I know I could never improve on. So, I’m going to do something I very rarely do. I’m printing her words here because they are absolutely perfect. Please direct all well-deserved praise to her:
“Ultimately, I think only Alex could have written this episode and done it justice. Not because anyone else would have lacked the skill but it’s clear, through Steve, he’s lived this relationship with Doris. The pain of mourning her “death” then dealing with her resurrection. Only to be abandoned and cast aside again and again while constantly hoping there was some reason, or justification, for her actions. Trying to defend her to others or to save her from the consequences of what she had done. I think for any other writer, especially one with understanding and affection for Steve’s character, it would have been hard to resist the urge to “fix” her for Steve. To let her go out in a blaze of heroic glory sacrificing herself for him.
Instead, we’re treated to Alex’s truth. There could be nothing clean about her end because her life had been gritty and dirty. She never saw what she did as harmful, even as she left a trail of pain and death in her wake, no matter if her victims were enemies or her own family. She insinuated herself into WoFat’s family, then into John McGarrett’s life and finally into Carmen Lucia’s world. She’s left each place a smoldering ruin. There is no redemption for someone so oblivious to the suffering she’s caused, who thinks her “missions” justify anything. Instead Alex gave us a just ending for her. He left intact her professional reputation because her work had always been her driving force. But he also showed that Steve recognized that while it was clear she wanted to love and, to the extent she was capable she did, that she was also one broken toy he could not fix.”
Thank you Belle! There is no way in hell I could have ever said that any better!
Alex the Director: Over the years we’ve been treated to the talents of many, many fine directors. We all have our favorites and it’s very easy to add Alex to the list. This wasn’t his first stint in the director’s chair, but it’s the best yet. If there was any doubt that Alex’s future, if he chooses to leave acting behind, will easily transition into directing, there shouldn’t be any doubt now.
Photo Credit: CBS
Alex’s direction is full of originality, creativity and energy. I loved how the story jumped from Mexico, eight weeks earlier in Oahu, then back again. I loved the use of different color tones in the filming. Oahu seemed even more colorful and crisp when compared to the muted, sepia inspired tones used in the South America footage. It made those scenes feel rawer, seedier, more dangerous.
Photo Credits: CBS
Alex’s wonderful use of camera angles and quick cuts really ratcheted up the “edge of your seat” excitement. We’ve had cars explode and flip a zillion times, but somehow, this one was different.. better. Maybe because it came as such a shock because we’ve never had a member of our team in an exploding car before. (If we have, I can’t remember it). It literally made me leap out of my skin. All the action scenes were positively stunning. I saw several people all over social media in the days leading up to Friday say how the episode was going to be like watching a movie. They did not lie. Brilliant direction by Alex and exceptional work by the always exceptional stunt team.
There was also the marvelously shot scene from the interior of the pitch dark plane Steve got into in Panama. What looked like light shining through bullet holes in the fuselage subtlety morphing into the star studded sky of Oahu was ingeniously beautiful.
But I think the best direction of the entire episode was right after Doris dies. Alex has the camera cast everything in a blurry aura, as if Steve, evidently in shock, is seeing everything through a veil of tears. He doesn’t really feel the presence of anyone else with him, even with the SEALs and especially Junior right there, giving him both moral and physical support. Also, other than the extremely haunting and mournful background music, Alex chose to have not a spoken word of dialog heard. We are experiencing everything through Steve’s eyes and through Steve’s consciousness and in those moments where Steve is completely disconnected from what’s going on around him, when his only focus is on the loss of Doris, we’re left adrift along with him. Feeling everything he feels. It was probably the best scene I’ve ever seen in the series to date. If someone doesn’t submit this scene for an Emmy it will be a crime.
Alex the Actor: Absolutely nothing written above would be relevant without Alex’s extraordinary talent as an actor. This is no surprise to any of us, of course. We’ve known it for years. But this episode was the absolute pinnacle. Alex was 100% on point every single second right from the very first scene in the parking garage when he was briefed by the CIA agent. He went from “Oh God, what has she done now” exasperation to angered disbelief and loyalty when told Doris had killed her fellow agent in the blink of an eye.
The range of emotions in Alex’s performance was beautiful to behold. Not only was he literally ripping my heart out in every scene, I was amazed at how he was able to convey so many different emotions seemingly simultaneously. Confronting Doris the first time, shifting from anger at what she had done, to determination to get her out of there, to the hurt of her abandonment and what that had done to his life. “My life was compromised the day your walked out of it”. Ouch!
Photo Credits: CBS
But it was those last scenes that solidified Alex’s performance into what I think should be an Emmy nomination (even though I know it won’t be). Relief that he’d found her…. Shock that she’d hold a gun on him and wondering if she’d actually pull the trigger. Considering that she pistol whipped him earlier that wasn’t much of a stretch. Disbelief that, after all these years and after all she’s done and people she’s hurt along the course of her life, that she’d sell out for a “I have to get out of this life” payday. Helplessness as Carmen held Doris at gunpoint and horror watching as Carmen drove that knife up and in for the kill.
You could see it all play out on Alex’s face and your heart couldn’t help but go out to the man who listened helplessly as his father was brutally murdered, helplessly held Joe in his arms as he breathed his last and, once again, helplessly watching as his mother is murdered before his eyes. You could see every one of those memories on his face as they played out in that moment. Alex was magnificent.
And so was Christine! I have never liked Doris. More times than not I have hated Doris. But I’ve always loved every single time Christine’s been on the show because she and Alex simply light up the screen together. Their chemistry is off the charts and has been from the first time we ever met Doris all the way back at the beginning of Season 3. I’m not sorry Doris is gone but I am sorry that it means, unless we have some flashbacks, we won’t get to see Christine again.
Junior and the SEALs: Even without the CIA’s directive that Steve go on this mission alone, there wasn’t any way he would have allowed anyone from his team to go with him. But I did like how he kept the lifeline open for Junior to have his back if, and only if, he was needed and only when Steve called in his help. After all these years, it was nice to see Steve admit that maybe he might just need someone to have his back even before he took off on his latest solo mission.
I liked how he did check in with the team during the operation and we got to see how being away was affecting the rest of the team. Everyone was beside themselves with worry, especially after that car explosion in Colombia. No one knew if he was alive or dead. The look of incredible relief on everyone faces when they heard his voice was juxtaposed with the still extremely worried look on Danny’s face was very telling. Danny, more than anyone else, knows that just because Steve is safe at that particular moment, he’s not going to be truly safe until he’s back home in Hawaii where he belongs.
I loved how Junior wasn’t just going to stand by and wait around for news. Pulling all-nighters to find Steve is just what Steve would do if their positions were reversed. Remember when Junior was re-activated, (when they went to rescue Joe) and Steve called everyone he knew to find out what was going on? They are SEALs. They leave no one behind. They are brothers and Steve is his beloved mentor. I would expect nothing less of Junior. Bringing in the SEALs who were on that mission with them when they rescued Joe was inspired.
Photo Credits: CBS
Absolutely everyone in the cast brought their A-game to this episode. Even when they had very limited screen time, there wasn’t a wasted millisecond. Everyone did a phenomenal job.
McDanno Rules: Alex obviously had very definite ideas of how he wanted the Doris McGarrett story to end and he obviously has very definite ideas of who should be there with Steve when it ended. Alex has said repeatedly in interviews over the years that the most important relationship in Steve’s life is Danny. So, of course, who else would be knocking at his hotel room door, five thousand miles from Oahu, but Danny?
But even before that. He was so worried about Steve when he first heard of the mission he needed to remove himself from the discussion. He knew if he allowed himself to stay part of that discussion, he’d end up in a rant born of his deep concern for Steve. He’d go on and on about the stupidity of the mission, the idiocy of thinking he could do it alone and the inadvisability of trusting anyone associated with the CIA, in particular, Doris. Danny removed himself so Steve wouldn’t find it necessary to spend needless minutes trying to convince Danny or reassure Danny; precious minutes Steve would need to prepare for what was ahead. The last thing Steve needed was distraction, so Danny made sure he wasn’t one. Scott played those few minutes perfectly.
Photo Credit: CBS
The last scene in the hotel room was gut-wrenching. The utter despondency of Steve was palpable. It was literally jumping off the screen. Alone…. so utterly alone. The emotion was so raw. He was a broken man.
When he was on the tarmac with Doris’s body and all the cars drove up with the CIA contingent, my first thought was “I hope that’s the team and Danny coming. Steve is going to need so much support”. When it turned out to be just the CIA, I was disappointed, although Alex made it fantastic with Steve’s reaction to the guys who dared touch her coffin. But it wasn’t the team. It wasn’t Danny.
As soon as I heard the knock on that hotel door, I was saying out loud “please be Danny…. please be Danny”. So ridiculous! Of course, it was Danny. Who else could it have possibly been? Danny has always been there for Steve. Oh, there have been others who have periodically been there along the way. They come and they mostly go, but it’s always Danny who’s there when Steve needs him. In his darkest hours, Danny has always been there.
I loved Alex’s ability to weave canon into Steve’s heartbreaking monologue. A monologue that left me feeling as broken as Steve himself. I have to admit, when he was saying how Five-0 stared with him burying John, then losing Joe and now Doris, I feared his next words were going to be “but here is where it ends”. Even though I knew that wasn’t going to happen, Alex’s portrayal was so absorbing, it really felt like that’s where he was headed. I couldn’t have been happier that Danny was there to be his support once again.
And leave it to Danny to inject just a touch of levity into a morose atmosphere. The silly smile on his face when he asked if the bed was big enough for two was wonderful. And you could immediately see it did exactly what Danny hoped it do. It didn’t lift Steve’s grief. It didn’t make him laugh. But when Steve looked at Danny and told him he could sleep on the couch, you could see a teeny bit of lightness in his tone, in his face. Once again, the acting brilliance of Alex, because the change was ever so subtle, but it was there. It was there. Just like Danny. For Steve…. He’s always there.
Doris told Steve that the government had sucked everything good out of her life. That may or may not have been true. Doris had a choice. She lived the life she chose to live. She chose the government life over her husband and over her children. She could say, in the beginning that she “didn’t have any choice” but as the decades went by she had all the choice in the world. As Steve said, all she had to do was get on a plane and go home.
She chose not to and once again, she’s left her children bereft of their mother. Her choice. Please, for the love of God, let Steve also make a choice. Please let this be the last time he has to deal with the CIA or any other agent of any alphabet agency on a personal level. They always make their choices for their own ends, never for his.
I have no doubt there will be discussions about this episode for weeks, of not months. I can already imagine Fan Fiction writers running to their keyboards to bang out coda after coda. This is not the best episode ever of this series. That distinction still goes to the Pilot episode. But I’m hard pressed right now to think of another, beside the Pilot, that could top this.
Well done Alex. You did exactly what I thought you’d do. You hit it out of every ballpark in existence. I pray this is not the last time we’re blessed with an episode from your vision and your pen.
Aloha. Malama Pono
Screen caps are mine unless otherwise noted