Monday, 16 December 2013

In my experience when someone has to tell you they're all the way in, you'd better hope their tongue works

One of the things I like about the current incarnation of Hawaii 5-o is its willful stupidity and dogged chasing of the conservative American audience traditionally glued to the likes of Bones or Law & Order: Rape Squad by appearing to be an even glossier version of those shows but with marginally more liberal politics, though I have to admit that even I was baffled by the racial and political commentary of this week's outing (season 4, episode 10: "Hoʻonani Makuakane").  Spoilers ahead, obviously:

While attending the Pearl Harbor memorial, Steve McGarratt prevents a Japanese man from shooting an elderly veteran.  The man claims to be an internee from the 1940s whose father was murdered by the veteran when he was caught in the act of stealing the family's ceremonial katana from the tent where they were interned.  Much is made of the shameful treatment of Japanese Americans and their imprisonment, with characters explicitly mentioning onscreen the kind of things that went on - guards brutalising prisoners, even killing them for doing nothing more than saying no to orders - and no bones are made about their legal status: the Japanese Americans weren't soldiers or criminals, they were citizens who were victims of institutionalised racism.
The plot continues: McGarratt questions the truculent, evasive and outright rude veteran who refuses to help the investigation and McGarratt inplies that perhaps the veteran does not like the Japanese, though he bases this on flimsy clues like the man using terms like "Japs" and "of course I hated them" and his being a guard in an internment camp, though the veteran flips the script all up in McG's grill when the vet's daughter comes in and she's clearly Asian, so the veteran says "HOW CAN I HATE THEM WHEN I MARRIED ONE" without a hint of irony.  The exact circumstances of the death continue to be clouded because the official reports have been altered by soldiers in the camp - a cover up - but with "police work" (running around going PEW PEW) the truth is revealed: the veteran didn't kill anyone, it was the little brother of another camp guard, who broke into the camp and robbed the people in it while his brother covered this up and the veteran is guilty of nothing more than lying and obstructing justice for 70 years.  So, tearfully, the Japanese man apologises to the veteran for thinking that he had anything to do with the murder or subsequent cover-up while Steve McGarratt looks on approvingly.

I have not a fucking clue what to make of this episode of television.  Obviously, the main issue for me would be that there is not enough Dano in it and its present-day procedural elements hinge almost entirely upon the deeply dull McGarratt, but it also culminates with a Japanese man who sought not cynical monetary recompense but recognition of the injustice done to his family (they're shown onscreen having their home invaded by soldiers and federal agents who racially abuse them, beat them, then steal that home and property from them), yeah, that guy is shown apologising to his internment camp guard - a man who we are told was a brutal racist - despite the camp guard being a part of exactly what the Japanese guy was accusing him of.  There's other things in the episode, too, like McGarratt putting the Japanese man under "house arrest" - internment by any other name - and acting like the guy should be grateful at this bizarre insensitivity, or the fact that the show on multiple occasions makes a direct equivalence between soldiers on active duty overseas in World War 2 and soldiers guarding internment camps who brutalised, killed, and robbed innocent American civilians and then participated in a cover-up of events for seven decades, to the point that the main characters salute the latter at the start and end of the episode.  It is bonkers logic and I am convinced that something is going on here that I just can't understand because I had two beers before I started watching and the lack of transforming robots or exploding spaceships means that my attention wandered and I missed massive subtleties in the story that made everything a clever and knowing satire.
Fair play, though, in among all the scenes where Japanese America apologises for the inconvenience it caused, the show just rubs internment in its audience's face: "yes, this is what we did!" it says "and some people still defend it!" it continues.  I recently watched my way through the fifth season of The Twilight Zone and the episode The Encounter stated - erroneously - that there were Japanese traitors in the US citizenry, but H5o does no such thing, it rather bluntly puts that to bed with a character shouting the truth at the tv screen.  There's also some clumsy exposition that points out that the Japanese Americans who were segregated into their own fighting unit went on to become the most highly-decorated unit in the history of the US military which is a fascinating story all on its own, and there's even some interesting Hawaii-specific insights to internment, such as how community leaders, politicians and teachers were targeted for internment because there were so many Japanese Americans on the islands (a third of the population) that the economy would implode if they were all locked up, so martial law was instead declared across Hawaii and those capable of organising the populace were removed from it.
I like it when racism is rubbed in an audience's face because it's something that tends to be swept under the rug these days like it isn't a problem anymore, or in the case of some BBC programming, racism is retroactively erased from period dramas, which I just find deeply disturbing rather than "cosy" which is what I assume they were going for, but this hot mess of an episode mixes up all kinds of odd and conflicting notions on the idea of how far America has or hasn't come and if it got me thinking, it's probably got others thinking, too, so as I say, I don't really understand what's going on in this episode, but it at least stirs the pot a little.

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