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Meta: Kono's Story Arc

When I heard that the producers had recognised that Kono hadn’t really had a character arc of her own in season one but would have a substantial one in season two, I was excited.  Kono’s a great character and played extremely well by Grace Park. 

Unfortunately, a few episodes into the new season and I had serious issues with the way the arc was being written.  Now the arc is over, I still have many issues and have to say I think the producers and writers wasted an opportunity. 

Briefly, the arc was set-up in the finale of last season when Kono was taken in for questioning by IA over a theft from the Asset Forfeiture locker that Five-0 had performed in order to save Chin’s life; money that was later replaced by the late Governor to cover for them.  The season two opener confirmed the IA investigation would continue and Kono would not automatically return to the team.  The second episode had Kono facing off against the IA Captain who she found in her house rifling through her things and apparently losing her badge and facing prosecution. The third episode had her seemingly falling in with a bad guy Delano, pulling away from Chin and using Chin’s ID to get HPD information.  The fourth episode had Chin facing her on the ID issue and her new ‘friends’ but later assuring her he was there for her no matter what.  The fifth episode had the big reveal that she was working undercover for the IA Captain and the big showdown.  The sixth episode saw her back with the Five-0 team with no mention given at all to her previous undercover time.

So what do I think went wrong?

Mistake No 1: Using the IA investigation as the set-up

On the one hand, I can understand that it looked like a good set-up; Kono without her badge providing the opportunity for the IA Captain to use her situation against her to inveigle her into a risky undercover op.

But for me it was the wrong decision for two reasons.

Firstly, characterisation and plot: there was no way given the way the characters and their relationships have been written to date that the team would let Kono alone take the fall for the money theft any more than they would allow Steve alone to take the fall for it.  Not only that but the same video footage that cleared Steve of the Governor’s murder clearly had him and her discussing the theft and cover-up.  Had either of these things been actually addressed in the arc fair enough but they weren’t.  I was left feeling confused by (a) the lack of team outrage and support, and (b) staring at the plot hole which clearly the producers were hoping nobody noticed.

Secondly, choosing an arc that kept Kono out of the team side-lined the character instead of giving her some meaty action.  The main focus of the show is Five-0 and the crimes they investigate.  By having Kono outside of the team on an undercover op, by default she and her arc became a ‘B’ story.  A fix to this would have been to have had at least one of crimes in episode three or four link to the Delano gang and Kono seeing the other side of it, but by keeping them separate, Kono got very little screen time – only enough to seed her meeting and becoming involved with Delano and his crew.

Personally, I think they should have chosen something else; had Kono rejoin the team from the start and then have given her a different storyline removed from the previous first season shenanigans.  This also would have allowed the original team dynamic to have remained front and centre in the early episodes of season two and may have meant the weathering of introducing new characters much better.

Mistake No 2: Deciding to go for the ‘is she going bad?’ red herring

Once again, this is primarily because it side-lined the character even more in terms of screen time.

This whole ‘is she going bad’ red herring drastically cut down the amount of Kono’s storyline that could be shown.  If they showed her with Fryer, the IA Captain, it would give the game away that she was undercover. If they showed too much of her interaction with Delano and his crew it would potentially reveal Kono’s true motivations/feelings about them.  So all they could show was the bare minimum.

This really further eliminated any real meatiness of action or drama; reducing what was a potentially meaty storyline (Kono going undercover) to simply ‘Kono is hanging out with bad guys.’

Mistake No 3: Only showing her interacting with Chin

I love the relationship between Chin and Kono; I do.  And in many ways if there was only going to be one of the Five-0 team interacting with Kono then yes, it should be Chin.  But why was there only one?  In only showing her drawing away from Chin but not from the rest of the team in episodes three and four, it compounded the whole side-lining of the character.

Moreover, as they couldn’t show Kono’s side of it because of mistake no 2, because there are only the scenes with Chin, it then becomes more about him than her; it becomes about his worry about her hanging around bad cops; his worry about her using his ID; his decision to support her no matter what because he knows what she’s going through.   

And remind me: wasn’t this arc meant to be about Kono?

Mistake No 4: Steve vs Fryer

Actually, I have very few complaints about how a Five-0 case gets tangled up with Delano’s criminal gang and Kono’s involvement gets discovered in the reveal episode.  The lead-up to the arrest is solid although hand-waves to why Steve hadn’t checked in with Kono himself; why Steve hasn’t already admitted his part in what happened with the money theft.

But the showdown between Steve and IA Captain Fryer turns the whole thing into a pissing contest between the two men.  Not only that but Fryer’s assertion that Kono’s precarious position is Steve’s fault and Steve’s position that Fryer has taken advantage of Kono diminishes any sense of agency that Kono has in the situation.  It makes her look like nothing more than a pawn.  (And while it’s not my intention to get into the racial aspect here, the fact that this is an ethnic woman being fought over by two white men who both seem to be under the mistaken impression that they own her in some way is frankly disturbing subtext.)

Again, the arc becomes more about Steve’s and Fryer’s reactions than about Kono’s.  This is compounded by Chin’s reveal that Delano was Fryer’s old partner and this is about revenge; that Kono is being used by Fryer not just utilised.

On the other hand, Kono does get to state that she made the choice to protect the rest of the team by taking Fryer’s deal and stands up to Chin when he tells her it wasn’t her choice to make; Kono also gets to show class by putting the fate of Tanya Joyner ahead of the petty issues that Steve and Fryer have.  But is it enough to offset the Steve and Fryer show her storyline has suddenly become?  Well, no.

Mistake No 5: Fryer vs Delano

OK, so we suddenly find out that Fryer had issues because Delano was his partner and Fryer is the one that ultimately takes down Delano.

How to make this story suddenly all about Fryer!

Kono is taken completely out of the actual take-down because she gets shot by Delano.  How to side-line the character even more completely in her own storyline in one easy swoop.  Yes, she saves Tanya; yes, she gets to kick-out a bad guy but seriously?  She doesn’t even turn up right at the end to surround Delano from the back and take him out herself?

Mistake No 6: Steve vs Fryer, the rematch

Steve punches Fryer and tells him nobody messes with his team.  Wow.  How to make this story all about Steve again! 

Personally I would have been happier if Kono had been the one to punch out Fryer – or at least been the one to tell him to go to hell.

Mistake No 7: No recognition of Kono’s return and tough undercover gig

The latest episode had Kono appearing really late into the episode with no explanation and then no mention was made at all of Kono’s return or whether she was suffering any emotional/stress effects from her time undercover, lying to her team, trying to protect them, etc.

A story arc is only a good thing if it gives the character development and has lasting consequences (like Steve with his investigation on Wo Fat/his father, like Danny and his struggle with divorced parenthood, like Chin and his own time as an ex-cop with a dirty reputation).  Fair enough it was only the episode immediately after and maybe there will be other scenes down the road that show it has had a lasting effect but not to have addressed it in this episode once again undermines the dramatic punch of the arc and episode six side-lined Kono as a character to background exposition pretty much.

What I would have done differently:

Well, let’s ignore that I wouldn’t have gone down this IA storyline to begin with but here’s what I would have done:

1. Not done the Bad Girl red herring and showcased the whole ‘She’s Undercover’ element

Namely by closing episode two with a full scene with Fryer telling her he knows what went down with the money situation, that he could send the whole team to jail if he pursues it.  That she argues he may think he knows what went down but being able to prove it is a different matter.  Fryer agreeing with her but noting that it would still be highly embarrassing for Five-0, that they might still lose their jobs and reputations, but if she helps him take down Delano and his gang, he’ll forget it.  He maybe describes Delano’s criminal activities.  Closing with him asking if she’s in or out.

2. Kept the entire team involved with her storyline

In episode three, I’d have included short scenes with each of the team members trying to reach out and getting turned away; Steve wanting to take responsibility with the Governor and Kono making him promise he won’t because Five-0 remaining in business is the right thing; Danny checking in on her and asking for more surfing lessons and being told to leave her be for a while; the actual scene of Chin noting she’s hanging out with the bad guys and questioning her pushing everyone away.

3. Revealed Fryer’s personal angle earlier and made Kono aware of it

This would be the other scene I would have added to episode three; instead of Kono deciding to use Chin’s ID I would have had a have a call with Fryer to get the information, to check in and for Kono to have revealed to Fryer that she had done her homework and she knows of his connection to Delano; that’s she’s aware he’s using her but that she’s going to continue because taking down Delano is the right thing to do.

4. Had episode four tie in with the Delano criminal gang in some way

Possibly this would have been one of Delano’s men going off and doing something on his own with Delano trying to catch said criminal before Five-0 so said criminal can’t roll on him.  This would have enabled two threads: one, the team dealing with the crime and dramatic tension as the audience wonders if Kono’s undercover position is going to be revealed (probably the criminal ends up dead with Five-0 hitting a literal dead end in their investigation); and two, Kono seeing enough to make her feel icky and horrible about being involved with Delano but not having enough evidence to bring him down.

5. Changed the story in episode five to make it more Kono-centric

I would have:
  • Had Five-0 tie a murder to someone in Delano’s gang
  • Have Kono realise that she needs back-up when Delano threatens someone innocent (like Tanya) and go to Five-0, argue her choices and ask for their help
  • Kono goes back undercover to protect the innocent
  • Take down happens with Five-0 as the back-up – Kono gets Delano
  • Fryer turns up at the end, congratulates her and offers her a position in IA; Kono turns him down: she’s going back to where she belongs in Five-0
6. And finally…shown the consequences in the following episode

The episode should have had Kono settling back in, showing her readjusting to her team-mates again.


Overall, I think the key decisions they made and the way they wrote Kono’s arc was a missed opportunity to give the character great development and Grace some meaty stuff to act.  They side-lined the character and made the story more about the men around her than about Kono herself.

It’s a shame because the producers can clearly write some great stuff for Kono’s general kick-ass and can-do attitude; in the season two opener they had her not only face down Wo Fat, but rescue herself so she could alert the guys and take out a bomber.  That entire episode did more to showcase Kono’s character than the entire undercover arc.     

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
skydiver119
Oct. 26th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)

Yep. Yep and yep. :)
The H50 writers are a 'me man, woman in bikini' group it seems. One reason I've not gotten really into or attached. Even with this supposed arc, It still comes down to the white male action hero being the center of attention.

The whole how has such potential but it's often cliche after cliche, even down to how Kono is written/showed.

rachel500
Oct. 27th, 2011 05:16 am (UTC)
I have to admit that I love the show. It kind of reminds me of early SG1 with the banter and team feel among the characters (although S2 is suffering from the SG1S9/S10 'we have shiny new toys' phenomenon with the introduction of new characters at the moment - hopefully it'll settle down).

And normally, I handwave a lot of stuff around plotting because it's the kind of show which isn't really meant to be taken too seriously, but this storyline was just such an example of how not to write an arc for a character, I had to rant a little. :)

I think gender wise they didn't do too bad a job in S1 with Kono overall despite the lack of a substantial individual arc; they made her smart, sassy and kick-ass (albeit in a probably formularic way) and didn't go down the big cliche route of making her fall for one of the main male leads. But still, they could do better - this storyline just failed to showcase her and I'm not going to even start on the intro of the new female character Lori as that's probably another piece of meta on its own!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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