|McGARRETT (JACK LORD) AND WILLIAMS (JAMES MacARTHUR): THE LEADERSHIP OF HAWAII FIVE-O|
I've long argued that Steve McGarrett should not be viewed as a "realistic" character. Yes, it's true that when he's shot he (usually) bleeds, and I've even seen a couple of instances when his hair moves. But, all joking aside, Hawaii's top cop is best appreciated when you think of him as an archetype, a metaphor for law enforcement, rather than a flesh-and-blood cop. I first came to this conclusion while watching an episode in which some fool criminal trying to evade the long arm of the law splashed McGarrett in the face with gasoline as he raced past as gas pump. McGarrett was slowed, but only for a minute, continuing his hot pursuit as he wiped his face. There was no burning skin, no long-term eye damage; McGarrett barely missed a beat as he closed in and eventually captured the killer.
Rather than rendering this scene laughable, however, I chose to look at it differently. If you accept the idea of the metaphorical McGarrett, then you see him as the indestructible, incorruptible lawman, one who takes even the thought of crime on the islands as a personal affront. It's symbolic not only of blind justice in that McGarrett is just as determined to right wrongs as he is to apprehend suspects, but also the inexorable beat of the law, which criminals may be able to evade for a time but from which they can never escape. It doesn't really make McGarrett that much different from other lawmen of the time - think of Matt Dillon, for example - but as we seem to demand more and more "realism" in television*, it makes watching a series like Five-O easier if you manage your expectations. Besides, why let those kinds of small details get in the way of what are usually pretty good stories?
*That is, assuming combat-scale shootouts and exploding vehicles are part of daily life in Honolulu, or any other city outside of Baghdad.
And that brings me to the real focus of this piece - McGarrett's number-two man, Danny Williams. Danno for short. Played by James MacArthur - in real life, son of playwright Charles MacArthur (The Front Page), adopted son of Oscar winner Helen Hayes, godson of legendary actress Lillian Gish, It is a testament to Danno's effectiveness as a sidekick that it's taken me four full paragraphs to get around to mentioning him. Even in the "TV Sidekick Blogathon," a blogathon dedicated to role players like him, he's overshadowed by his boss.
That, however, is what makes him a good sidekick. He has all the necessary qualities:
- He doesn't overshadow his boss. You won't see him making any mistakes because he's dreaming of his name in the headlines.
- He's dependable and reliable; Five-O isn't going to fall apart on those days when Steve's out of the office.
- And yet, he's no threat to Steve. McGarrett can go about his business knowing he's not about to star in a remake of All About Eve, or see the point of a knife sticking out of his chest - the knife that Danny plunged in his back when he wasn't looking.
- Best of all, he's motivated and highly competent, but not so ambitious that he has a lean and hungry look about him.
- He doesn't eat much and doesn't take up much room. By that, I mean his life is largely void of drama. Oh sure, there are a couple of times when he's falsely accused of murder, and then there's the time when he becomes obsessed with revenging the death of his girlfriend, but that's to be expected. No, Steve doesn't have to worry about him showing up late after an all-night bender, or sneaking out of the office to meet his pusher, or dealing with a half-dozen accusations that he failed to read someone their rights before booking him.
All these things mean that Danny is not just good, but the perfect sidekick. Perhaps he'd like a number one job himself, but he has no illusions about being as good as McGarrett, and for eleven seasons he was perfectly content to be the number two man in one of the best police forces anywhere.
There's another role he plays, however, and that's where I come back to the foundation I laid at the start. Because, in my opinion, if Steve McGarrett is the archetype, Danny Williams is the human face that allows the viewer to identify with the series. It is Danny who has the perspective that Steve sometimes lacks, not only in the crimefighting world, but as a connection to the larger world around them.
|Filer (Hume Cronyn) and his infamous phone|
For all of his competence though, the viewer is never tempted to see Williams as a replacement for McGarrett. Every once in a while star Jack Lord will be virtually missing from an episode - usually this means McGarrett is "in Washington" attending hearings or meeting with top Justice Department leaders. At times such as this, it's up to Williams to take charge of the week's case. He doesn't always solve it himself, though - Steve might be just as apt to fly back for the episode's conclusion, taking the investigation Danny has headed and seeing it through to a successful end. Danny's work has been perfectly good, at times even brilliant, but we're never tempted to forget McGarrett's importance to Five-O. Just as Star Trek's Spock could never undermine Kirk's authority, Danny Williams will never suggest to us that Steve McGarrett is replaceable.
Storywise, he also takes the burden off of McGarrett. As is the case with most sidekicks, Danno gets his own episode every once in awhile, one that allows the plotline to be about him. He may face allegations about his honesty, or he may be struggling with having possibly shot an innocent young man. It might be that he's lost his true love (see: Cartwrights, sons of Ben, for further examples), or it could be the aforementioned holding down the fort while McGarrett is away. On these occasions, Danny's more that up to the task, even if it's Steve who often solves the case. In real life, when James MacArthur leaves Hawaii Five-O after eleven seasons, it's not because he wanted more money, top billing in his own show, or even a movie career: it was because he felt the show had lost its edge, had become boring. Right to the end, he was the perfect second banana.
The TV Sidekick Blogathon is hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Please check out the rest of wonderful entries by clicking here.