Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Season 3 Hawaii Five-O episode discussed in Episode 34 of Book ’em, Danno. Do not read this post if you haven’t seen the episode and don’t want to be spoiled for a fifty year old show.
Trigger Warning: This post also contains mentions of suicide, so please take care of yourself accordingly.
In the third season Hawaii Five-O episode “To Kill or Be Killed”, the death of a soldier just returned from Vietnam sparks a search for his draft-dodging brother in an attempt to find out the truth about the soldier’s death. It seems draft-dodger Michael had gone to talk to his brother Jack just before Jack either jumped or was pushed from his apartment balcony.
According to their General father, Jack was the perfect son who’d sacrificed friends and his girl to enlist in the military and serve is country. Meanwhile, in the initial interview with McGarrett, he doesn’t even mention Michael, something Steve asks him about later. Though the General says he didn’t think it was relevant even though he knew Michael had gone to see Jack just before he died, it’s pretty clear by his demeanor in his son’s anti-war pad that’s he’s not exactly proud of the kid.
In Five-O’s efforts to solve the mystery of Jack’s death, they discover that someone had Jack under surveillance. Turns out that it was the army. The General pulls ranks to hear the tapes they made, but even he is stonewalled. The officer in charge can only assure him that Michael didn’t kill Jack. It’s a heartbreaking scene, watching the General as he begs to hear the surveillance tape so he can finally know what happened to his son.
The final scene in the office with everyone listening to the tapes is devastating. And the very end…infuriating.
We knew that Michael was going to talk to his brother about being drafted. He was struggling with it and needed advice. The tape revealed that he found Jack in his apartment about to kill himself with a gun. They struggled for it and after Michael got it away from him, Jack explained that he was involved in a terrible incident in Vietnam in which his squad wiped out a bunch of innocent villagers (hence the army surveillance once he got back). Jack was overcome with guilt about it. Michael thought he’d talked him out of suicide, but after Michael left, Jack jumped from the balcony.
The war destroyed him.
And what is General Dad’s reaction to hearing the tape?
He tells Michael that an incident like what Jack was involved in was a rare mistake and that he should still serve his country like his brother. But Michael chooses to go to jail instead and General Dad declares he’s lost both of his sons.
Yes. He disowns his son for not serving after his other son died as a direct result of his service.
I very nearly broke my no-spoilers-without-Dan rule on the podcast because I so wanted to discuss the final scene. The ending of this episode makes me viscerally angry. You’re not a real fan of the General because he lauds one son over the other, but his heartbreak is so genuine that you can’t help but feel for him. And you think he just might have a change of heart after what he’s heard on that tape.
I think what pisses me off the most is that it’s such a believable reaction. The denial of a man who has dedicated his life to the military being confronted with the brutal reality of how his blind service contributed to the death of his son. He can’t accept it. He can’t accept that he has in anyway participated in a bad thing, that war is not the glorious, brave mission to keep the world safe like he’s been told and like he’s told his sons. War is brutal and ugly and destructive and takes more peace than it gives. Vietnam in particular stripped away all of the spit shine that made war look like a valiant act.
The General can’t handle any of that.
He’d rather have a dead son.
It’s a crushing final blow to Michael who ends up losing his whole family to not only do what he feels is right, but to also avoid the same fate as his brother.
Not every episode is guaranteed to have a happy ending, but when it comes to those unhappy endings, this one is certainly one of the most effective.