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Hawaii Five-0: Action in Paradise Makes a Serious Comeback

While there are many great shows out there, only a few of them have a perfect beginning—the kind that draws you in immediately and leaves you wanting more. In 25YL’s Perfect Pilots series, we will be looking at pilot episodes we think are flawless. This week Kacie Lillejord looks at the pilot of Hawaii Five-0. Got a pilot you think should make the list? Let us know!


Hawaii Five-0 premiered on CBS in 2010. It was the reimagining of the beloved classic series of the same name, which ran from 1968 to 1980. Of course, in 2010 a few things had changed: Kono’s character was cast as a woman and the look was modernized, but that hasn’t stopped viewers from loving it since day one.

For most, Hawaii is paradise. Gory crimes and real-life problems seem like a thing of the mainland, but for the Five-0 team, it’s very real and usually on a daily basis. The show has a way of making paradise into something else for the purpose of its storylines, but it retains the Hawaiian scenery and culture at its core, evening out whatever horror may have befallen the Five-0 team that week.

Hawaii Five-0 has changed cast several times in the last few years, but for the first year and its following six seasons, we had the main characters of Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan), Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim of Lost), and Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park). The pilot episode introduces them all, bringing them together to form what would become Five-0.

The Beginning

Steve holding the phone to his ear as he looks intensely to the left inside a truck

We are first introduced to Steve McGarrett in South Korea. He is a Commander in the Navy, naturally a tough-looking kind of guy, riding in a convoy and being heckled over his childhood home of Hawaii by Anton Hesse (Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead), a terrorist that he has been after for some time.

It’s clear that Anton is up to something, and when Steve receives a phone call from his father, he’s placed in a bad situation. Halfway across the world in Oahu, his father is in peril at the hands of Anton’s brother, Victor, who wants to trade Steve’s father for his brother. Steve passes a note to a team member to get the local police to his father’s house while he remains on the line with Victor, trying to attempt a negotiation.

Steve’s father basically says goodbye, apologizes for lying to him (Steve has no idea what this is in reference to), and tells him that he loves him. Seconds later, Steve’s convoy is under fire thanks to Victor, who had been tracking him through the phone. Steve does his best to prevent Anton’s death but is forced to kill him, thus ruining any chance he had of negotiating with Victor.

Victor calls Steve back, confirming the death of his brother, and Steve hears the kill shot as his father dies on the other end of the line, screaming a grief-stricken “NO!” before the opening credits roll.

The Middle

We’re back in familiar territory as Steve lands in Hawaii, dressed in uniform, and meets with the Governor of Hawaii, Pat Jameson (Jean Smart). As she puts it, the death of Steve’s father was a wake-up call. She wants to create a task force to go after guys like Victor Hesse and asks Steve to lead it. She offers full immunity and means—the opportunity for Steve to take out bad guys his way with her support. Yet, believing her intentions are political, Steve passes on the offer and then runs into Chin Ho Kelly.

It turns out the two knew each other back in the day, as Chin had outstanding football records back in high school up until Steve shattered them all. Not only that, but Chin was a friend of Steve’s father, John. When Chin was let go from the Honolulu Police Department, John stayed his friend despite the fallout. Chin is also the one to inform Steve about the lead in his father’s murder investigation: New Jersey native Danny Williams, whom the camera flashes to next.

Danny is shown on his phone outside of a gated house, requesting a wire to be placed on a man named Doran. A little girl (his daughter) appears as the gates open, and Danny happily greets her with an embrace. It’s clear that Danny’s not from around the area given his wardrobe of basic suit and tie, but he’s a dedicated father with a purpose for being in Hawaii.

We then go back to Steve, who’s sneaking into his father’s home (now a crime scene) to do his own investigating. He flashes back to the moments leading up to his father’s death, as well as the funeral he just attended. He’s struggling and needs answers, and he’ll do anything to get them.

Steve locates a toolbox labeled “Champ” in the garage, which stands out to him because his father called him that just before he was killed and had never before used the moniker. Inside the box are pieces pertaining to an investigation and John’s recorder. Steve plays the recording, which reveals that John was conducting an investigation outside of the police department as he didn’t trust his co-workers. It screams suspicious, and Steve’s just about to take the toolbox when Danny shows up, gun drawn, believing Steve to be an intruder.

Steve has his back to the camera while pointing his gun at Danny who is also pointing a gun at Steve as they face each other in a garage

In this first meeting, the Hawaii Five-0 pilot perfectly establishes the basis for the relationship that they have to this day. A battle of wills ensues as the two hold their guns at each other, each requesting the other to identify himself. They agree to do so at the same time, on the count of three, neither giving in to the other. The two men are equally stubborn and set in their ways, but it’s amusing how they resolve their quarrels in a childlike manner by using “the count of three.”

Even more hilarious is how Steve handles the situation of Danny preventing him from taking the “Champ” box. He simply dials Governor Jameson and accepts the job, making his father’s case his jurisdiction and sidelining Danny in a matter of moments. Though serious and tough, Steve has his softer moments that are witty and comical.

Steve later shows up at Danny’s home in the midst of a downpour, which is fitting. The calm comes after a storm, and the two are adjusting to one another in the meantime. Steve questions Danny about the wire request on Doran, who turns out to have given a gun to Victor and may know Victor’s whereabouts. Steve takes the opportunity to make Danny his partner, much to Danny’s reluctance, and the two set off for a long day.

The two banter about Danny’s marriage and his dislike of the beach, establishing the first scene for their famous “carguments.” They’re bickering at this point, but it’s yet to be developed into what it is today. Although, this particular instance is where Steve learns about Danny’s nickname, “Danno,” and spends the remainder of the Hawaii Five-0 pilot trying to uncover where it comes from.

Steve leaping in the air holding a gun as two cars collide behind him Hawaii Five-0

The two reluctant partners show up at Doran’s, where the action truly begins. Danny clashes with Steve’s “charge ’em” attitude, especially considering he gets shot and falls backward out of a window on his first day. Anybody would be cranky after an encounter like that.

Steve takes off after Doran, nearly hit by a car in his pursuit. Doran takes a hostage, but Danny kills him before Steve can get any information out of his only lead. Steve finds a young girl locked up in  Doran’s home and connects her to the same smugglers that Victor had to have used to get to the island. As Steve is connecting the dots, Danny is steaming, angry at Steve for being reckless and not giving him a proper “thank you” for saving his life.

This leads to Danny punching Steve, and the two having a very tense argument in the car, with Steve theorizing the downfall of Danny’s marriage and Danny teaching Steve the rules of society. It reassures the audience that there is still hope for the two to get along despite a rocky start.

The two make up for the moment and head over to see Chin Ho, looking for information on potential smugglers. Chin knows someone with ties to the right connections but, after his fallout with Honolulu PD, he is reluctant to become involved in police work again. Steve recruits Chin on the spot, regardless of Chin’s past with Honolulu PD, because according to Steve, if his father trusted Chin, so can he.

With their third member in tow, the makeshift team goes to see Chin’s confidential informant. Steve and Danny have to wear oversized shirts advertising the CI’s shave-ice business, but they get the name they need: Sang Min (Will Yun Lee), who is a figure in the island’s human import and export business. Steve suggests going undercover, to which Chin says they’ll need someone lesser-known, given the island is small and the “bad guys know the good guys.”

Steve looking at Kono in sunglasses, Chin pointing to Danny, Danny pointing straight ahead, Kono standing in front of the three men with her hands on her hips on the beach in Hawaii Five-0

This leads us to the fourth and final member of the original team: surfing legend Kono Kalakaua, who is Chin’s cousin. Formerly a pro surfer, an accident prevented her from ever competing again (though she is surfing leisurely when we first meet her), so she joined the police academy and is set to graduate soon. Concerned she doesn’t have the experience for the undercover stint, Steve quickly eats his words when he, Danny, and Chin watch her punch another surfer for dropping in on her wave. It’s unorthodox that Kono’s first meeting with her future co-workers would be on a beach while she wears a bikini, but hey, it’s Hawaii, so why not? It further proves that the new Hawaii Five-0 will bring the unexpected, include plenty of action, and contain a variety of interesting dynamics among the team members.

Afterward, Steve and Danny finally have a sincere bonding moment at the beach behind Steve’s father’s house (now Steve’s house) over what the “Champ” box means and how Danny feels about how his job affects his daughter. The two seem to have overcome their rough beginnings and are on their way to friendship.

The End

The next day, Kono goes undercover under the guise of wanting Sang Min to smuggle her family to Hawaii, hoping to find out how Sang Min smuggled Victor to the island. Things get tense as Sang Min suspects Kono of being a cop and takes a picture of her to send to a contact (who turns out to be in Danny’s former precinct at Honolulu PD). She’s identified as a cop but is shown to be more than capable of handling herself in hand-to-hand combat before Steve drives the surveillance truck into the facility, resulting in a gunfight between the team and Sang Min’s men.

They manage to capture Sang Min and free a number of people inside a ship container, reuniting the girl at Doran’s with her parents in the process. Steve and Chin then interrogate Sang Min, with Steve threatening to deport Sang Min’s wife and son unless he cooperates. Sang Min acquiesces, and this leads Steve and Danny to board a container ship by car and engage in a gunfight (right after Danny finally tells Steve the story behind the origin of “Danno,” of course).

Steve goes after Victor, and the two have a brutal showdown atop the ship containers, leading to Steve declaring, “There’s something you should know about your brother…he died the same way you did,” before shooting Hesse, who goes over the side and disappears into the water. Yeah, Steve McGarrett is definitely classified as one of the world’s best badasses.

Steve looking down with a half smile, his face covered in blood

Steve then gives his very first “Book ’em, Danno” before the scene switches to the team moving into their new headquarters. Steve gives Danny a weekend at a hotel so he can have time with his daughter in a place better than Danny’s tiny apartment. It’s Steve’s way of appreciating all Danny has done to help him with his father’s case, as well as a show of friendship.

The Hawaii Five-0 pilot ends with Kono suggesting they need a name, and each member pitches in random names until Steve throws in that they need to keep searching for the right one, which as we all know turns into “Five-0” (the team lands on this decision a few episodes after the pilot).

The Perfect Plot for a Perfect Pilot

Hawaii Five-0 has journeyed a long way since its very first episode, but it laid the essential groundwork of what was to come. It provided plenty of storylines, some of which were solved in the first episode and some of which were solved later that same season (and even in seasons beyond the first). It offered insight into the personalities of each of the characters, giving audiences an idea of what to expect.

Steve is a tough, no-nonsense Navy SEAL with a complicated background. Danny is a stubborn New Jersey native that detests Hawaii but loves his daughter and his work. Chin is a laidback but recently disgraced officer looking to get back in the game. Kono is a gifted surfer but law enforcement newbie with everything to prove.

Steve would later have to solve the mystery of the “Champ” box. Its vital introduction was flawless, introduced to at least explain the possible reasoning behind why his father apologized to Steve for lying to him just before his untimely death. The “mole” in Danny’s precinct, who Sang Min was using for information, would also become the plot of a later episode in Season 1.

The reimagined Hawaii Five-0 has lasted to this very day, currently airing its tenth season. Its longevity is due to its action, its characters, and its setting. It has crossed over with other CBS shows in the past, and in the near future, we are looking forward to a crossover with another Hawaiian-based show: the reimagined Magnum P.I. Should Five-0‘s success continue (there certainly aren’t any signs of the show ending anytime soon), it could even surpass the original show’s run of 12 years.

“Book ’em, Danno!” never gets old.


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Written by Kacie Lillejord

Kacie is a freelance writer versed in various forms. She loves pop culture, screenwriting, novels, and poetry. She has previously written for The Daily Wildcat, Harness Magazine, Cultured Vultures, and Screen Rant, with 25YL being her newest writing venture.

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