Two 9/11/01 Episodes

Posted on November 14, 2012

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I’m going to break with format this week to talk about two specific episodes of TV shows that we watch. Both Bones (Sunday night, 11/11/12) and Hawaii Five-O (Monday night, 11/12/12) aired episodes related to September 11th, 2001 within 24-hours of each other.

Each took a different approach, and each had a different degree of emotional impact. I will give away spoilers, because you should watch (if you’re going to) for the acting and storytelling, not for the “reveals.”

Hawaii Five-O

This episode unfolds in a non-linear fashion. In the present, Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan) has a date. He’s going to a Father-Daughter Dance with his eleven-year-old daughter Grace.

He is also working with the team to track down a terrorist bomber. Over the course of the episode, he tells Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) a story about a big day as a Newark, New Jersey police detective back in 2001, the day he found out his wife was pregnant with their daughter.

This episode had two small reveals and a big reveal.

Small reveal #1: Grace, Danny’s daughter, is named for his partner (guest appearance by Sydney Tamiia Poitier). I thought this was pretty effective. They handled the timing of this realization well, because they didn’t bother to hang a lantern on it.

Small reveal #2: Danny talks about his daughter, and all the kids her age and younger, growing up in an age of terrorism. He talks about how much he hates that, and how terrible it is. This just did not work for me. Scott Caan is a fine actor, and getting better all the time. It’s not his delivery that’s the problem. It’s my age.

I, like everyone else roughly my age, grew up during the Cold War. We never did Stop Drop and Cover drills in school, that I can remember, but as a boy, I always knew where the nearest Fallout Shelter was. The truth is, if you grew up in the very brief period between the end of the Cold War and the dawn of the Global War on Terror, then you are the exception. The rest of us have lived with random inescapable death hanging over our heads all our lives. Life sucks. Get a helmet.

Big reveal: In the 2001 story, Danny and his partner go to the site of a big drug buy and get caught. The drug dealer (scenery chewing guest appearance by Terrence Howard) tortures them to find out who else knows about the drug buy. The drug dealer decides that Danny is acting tough in front of his partner, so he kills Grace.

They hear sirens outside. While the bad guys are distracted, Danny busts loose and kills them. He staggers outside to flag down help for himself and for Grace, and no one will stop. He looks around, and the camera follows.

We see smoke billowing over the skyline. Caan’s face simultaneously expresses hopelessness, because he knows he’s on his own, bewilderment at what’s going on, and shock.

Then the writers have McGarrett hang a lantern on what we already know by pointing out that Danny’s story happened on 9/11/01.

Except for the lantern part, the big reveal works well, because of the way it happens and because of Caan’s acting.

Overall, it’s a sub-par episode for the show, and only pretty good as a 9/11 remembrance.

Bones

This episode begins pretty typically, in the Jeffersonian. Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel) left instructions for all her “squinterns” to wait for her together.

Turns out that FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) has gotten her to watch basketball and she’s picked up some of Phil Jackson’s coaching techniques. That, however, is just a framing device. She’s barely in the rest of the episode.

This episode was filmed during Season 7, so it doesn’t quite match the current continuity. That said, Bones is evaluating her interns for a potential permanent position by having them work in the Hall of Lost Causes – unidentified remains – using the Jeffersonian’s new digital database of missing persons.

The competition gets hot early, except for Mr. Aristoo (Pej Vahdat). His first case is a homeless man, and Mr. Aristoo just can’t let it go. Unlike the other cases, this one seems to be someone who is not in the database, because he was never reported missing.

Early on, the team realizes that Mr. Aristoo’s unidentified person was at the Pentagon on 9/11/01.

Over the course of the episode, the characters explicitly deal with how that day affected their lives.

  • Bones searched for survivors in the rubble.
  • Dr. Saroyan (Tamara Taylor) identified the dead, and notified the families
  • Dr. Hodgins (T.J. Thyne) looked into every 9/11 conspiracy, only to conclude that the truth was far too terrible to muddle up with conspiracy theories
  • Dr. Edison (Eugene Byrd) was working his way through college in a diner. Everyone gathered in silence to watch the news. He still remembers the smell of food burning on the grill, forgotten.
  • Mr. Bray (Michael Grant Terry) was staying with his aunt and uncle. His uncle was a New York firefighter. He died in the towers.
  • Mr. Fisher (Joel David Moore) was stealing a test from a high school teacher’s desk, when the teacher walked in, crying. Test in hand, Fisher sat down with the teacher, heard the news, and they cried together.
  • Mr. Abernathy (Luke Kleintank) had been stabbed by his abusive father, with scissors. His mother wanted to take him to the emergency room, and then the news broke. Suddenly he didn’t feel like his pain was a big deal.

There is no reveal for Booth. We already know he served his country as an Army Ranger. Instead, we see Master Sergeant Seeley Booth rise to the surface and take over the FBI special agent. Part of the Ranger Creed says, “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.” Once the team realizes that Aristoo’s subject was a Desert Storm vet, the team comes together to work solely on finding that man’s identity and family.

I cried during the storytelling. I teared up when Booth got on a tear about not leaving a man behind. But I was slightly ahead of the team in realizing how the homeless man died, and I just broke down and wept as they approached the reveal.

Now, granted, I’d been up since 4:15 that morning because of my work schedule, so I was a little loopy and emotional. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I led a tank platoon in Desert Storm. However, the story is deeply moving and well acted. The big reveal could have been better. I felt like they walked right up to it, then wandered off for a bit, and then came back, and then danced around it, and so when they made it explicit, you already wanted it be over.

Well worth watching, though.

Thoughts?

It’s got to be tough to deal with a huge, real-life, event in 42 minutes, particularly with an ensemble cast. What other shows tried to incorporate 9/11? What other real events do you remember being a big part of the TV landscape?

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Posted in: Military, television