The climax of “Hawaii Five-O” for Season 8 has held episodes of such heart and meaning that no faithful fan of the drama centered on the islands’ most elite crime-fighters could dare look away. This week's May 11 Episode 24 for the season, “Ka lala kaukonakona haki 'ole I ka pa a ka makani Kona” (The Tough Branch that Does Not Break in the Kona Gale), is one that will stay in the reserve collection of cherished episodes forever.

Alex O'Loughlin again displays his commitment, multidimensional talent, and involvement with his series, taking the story credit for this episode, written by Zoe Robyn.

The Australian-born leading man already led the “Hawaii Five-O” cast and crew from the director’s chair in Episode 18, this season, but for this episode, his alter ego on camera, McGarrett is hardly in charge.

The leader of “Hawaii Five-O” hitches himself to a SEAL Team secret mission to save his closest friend, father figure, mentor, and the man who connects him with both his father and mother.

Juicy bites and a sudden bolt

Steve and Eddie are savoring tasty steak bites from the grill when Junior (Beulah Koale) comes back with news and photos from his day of apartment-hunting. The news clearly takes the boss by surprise, not being ready to cut strings with the recruit who has become something of a son to him.

They agree that there should be no rush to leave. Junior goes inside to bring back cold beers but seems to vanish. Steve knows that the young Officer Reigns would never dash off, but he has no idea of where he is until a call comes in the evening.

Kimee Balmilero, who portrays medical examiner, Noelani Cunha, has her own charming off-duty day in this storyline, borrowing Eddie to charm a new guy (Stephen Paul Kaplan).

She returns early from their evening date to help Steve locate Junior when finally, a call comes. Junior has been called to support “Reaper Op” under his military duty, and he risks his honor and his entire career by divulging to McGarrett that his beloved friend, Joe White, portrayed by Terry O'Quinn, is possibly being held in the target compound off the Tunisian coast.

He is driven to join the mission, and rescue his mentor.

Meanwhile, old “Hawaii Five-O” friend and former art forger, Gerard Hirsch (Willie Garson), most famous for his crush on Kono, is working a crime scene cleanup with his new business, Crime Clean, and can't help but notice that the artwork in a murdered wife's apartment is authentically from the period of “Monuments Men,” among the pieces stolen by the Nazis in WWII. He tells Captain Grover (Chi McBride) and Tani (Meaghan Rath) and works undercover with a silent partner, Kamekona (Taylor Wily) to solve this one, with fun fantasies of what it would look like to have these guys holding the artillery.

Besieged in camouflage

The mission commander is more than upset about secret information being shared, but Steve intervenes to say that Joe White was the entire reason that he became a seal, because “he was my father when my father couldn't be there.” Initially, Steve is declined for joining the mission, but he assures everyone that “the shadow right behind you” will be him, whether he is on the official mission or not.

The commanding officer concedes saying, “Gear up,” and the next scenes show McGarrett, Junior, and the rest of the team rising from the water to come onshore.

The compound is located, but the plan for the whole team to rush and take their target and Joe White is deemed too risky, due to the possibility of “Reaper” escaping. Steve and Junior have already had to fend off pirates, loaded with American soldier booty, and found the slain bodies of “our guys.” Among the cache of stolen items was Joe White's gun, confirming to Steve that he was within the compound. He devises a plan to go in alone, and his protégé, Junior, refuses to stay back. “Today, you're not my boss, sir. I'm going with you,” he assures the commander.

Throughout these battle scenes, a montage of White's rescue of McGarrett in Afghanistan is shown, with moving glimpses of the elder friend’s counsel on everything from dating Catherine Rollins to making things right with Steve's father, John McGarrett. It's true that years ago, Alex O'Loughlin's hair was fuller than in his cut now, but the appearances don't matter with portrayals so genuine and empathetic as these. Steve tells Joe again and again to leave him, and each time, encouraging words and a shoulder to say “We're not dying today,” are offered. There is also lovely dialogue, in realistic, male bursts, between Junior and Steve.

McGarrett finds that a bolt cutter is more useful than anything that explodes in this operation, and he cuts himself into the cells, where he finds a dazed and very heavily bearded White, who is very glad to see him and Reigns.

Alerts come that aircraft missiles will be dropped within minutes, obliterating the compound. White proposes that they tried to go underground on the site that was a converted mosque, and they are led to a portion of the tunnel just in time. Knowing that every weapon outside will be aimed at them, McGarrett says, “it's been an honor to serve with you” to his allies. White admonishes, “Try not to miss” as they exit.

Gerard Hirsch gets trapped hiding in the closet and under the bed of the murderer/art thief’s bed after breaking in to test the authenticity of the works, which is verified. Nonetheless, Hirsch solves the case when the mistress comes by for a late-night rendezvous. Hirsch brings the sheets to “Hawaii Five-O” headquarters, making it easy for the team to track her to the truth.

Hirsch also hand delivers the artwork back to the rightful owners, who are now having hard times. Grover and the impromptu crime solver share an uncomfortable hug, but a hug, nonetheless.

Steve visits Joe White in the German airbase hospital, and thanks him for the advice even more than for saving his life. He assures his mentor that he asked Catherine out, and saw his dad in the same day. Joe said he was only fulfilling a promise, and Steve knows that promise was to his mother.

The barbecue his back on and Steve teases that Tani has made Eddie get fat from dog treats. Tani is doing her best to keep Adam and Kono's houseplants alive in their absence when she discovers an automatic pistol in a drawer just before the credits roll.

The "Hawaii Five-O" Season 8 finale airs next Friday, May 18.