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Thread: 50 for Percentage

  1. #1
    Tonight, CBS aired "Percentage" - S05E21 of Five-O.

    The episode concerns Sam (Milton Selzer) who is running gambling junkets through a travel agency with his partner. The partner, James O'Hara (John Howard) meets a particularly bad end at the beginning. Yoshigo (Kwan Hi Lim) is a rival gangster and is none too pleased the pair is sucking money out of his empire by taking customers away.

    Five-O meets Sam at the airport to break the news. Sam is known to them and he's friendly with McGarrett. However, during the latest trip, a businessman named Bill Howard (Mitch Mitchell) runs up a tab with Kuang (Seth Sakai) in Seoul, which Sam is responsible for to the tune of $120,000!!

    Back in Hawaii, Howard dies after presumably jumping from the balcony. This is just as Danno is going to talk to him.

    Through their investigation, Five-O meets Valerie Sinclair (Carole Kai), a young, beautiful woman married to an old geezer Walter (Douglas Kennedy). Valerie and Howard apparently had a thing going on.

    On top of this, Yoshigo's accountant Stein (Leonard Stone) plots with Sam to get Yoshigo's books by breaking into the safe. Sam's plan is to turn in Yoshigo so Sam can corner the junket market. He also plans to promote Stein who is seeking revenge on his boss because Yoshigo recently demoted him.

    Meanwhile, Che Fong (Harry Endo) is busy determining that Howard was dead when he went over the railing. He also figures out the true cause of death - being hit over the head with a club.

    Turns out, Sam killed Howard in order to pay off Kuang. Walter paid Sam to do it because he wanted to break apart Howard and Valerie permanently.

    The title comes for Sam in a conversation with McGarrett (I think he said it earlier to Stein too) - he was playing the "percentage."

    Mr. Mike does a great job reviewing this episode, here:

    Not one of my favorites and it suffers from being overly confusing when it doesn't need to be. I have to laugh about the location shot being "Seoul, Korea" when it's actually Hong Kong (I think).

    There is a scene where Ben and HPD stop Kuang from leaving Hawaii with the cash Sam gave him. The exchange is pretty entertaining.

    Happy 50th, "Percentage"!!

  2. #2
    Wanted to give my 2 cents on Percentage. Another excellent work by Bobbi in the 50th Anniversary Series. I was happy to watch Milton Selzer earn a meatier role as Sam Green. O'Hara's death is something that I always remember. Poor guy is just beaten to death. It's never a good sign having blinds drawn down. John Howard another 1 of the underrated actors on HFO 🌊 who played different characters over several episodes. I enjoyed the scene where Sam Green and Stein blow Yoshigo's office safe open and take the books and things. I also liked that they used the word "Percentage" a few times in the episode. Sam Green drew a tough hand and tried to play it out the best he could. It was an interesting weapon to kill Bill Howard who refused to pay his $120,000 gambling debt on 1 of the junkets. I thought it was cool how McG examined the suspects hands as they would have a distinct palm crease from holding the weapon. Carole Kai was very attractive in this episode as Valerie. I didn't see what she saw in Howard but presumably he was a good lover. I could see why Walter would fight for his wife even if it meant murder. Sam Green eventually ran out of time and cards to play. As McGarrett stated, "Murder...No Percentage." I would give Percentage a solid 2.5 stars maybe 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐. Love the ending with all the suspects gathered in McG's office as he pieced together Howard's murder and confiscated the $120,000. I wonder if Kuang ever received his $120,000 💰. JC

  3. #3
    I agree with Bobbi that this episode has its fair share of confusion. Odd Lot Caper discussed a bit earlier was another one I thought - primarily in exactly how the fraud worked. We watch some of these shows so intently that when there's a gap in the logical flow we can kind of feel it. It might just be I'm really slow, haha

  4. #4
    I find that I have to pay special close attention when watching these “finance” themed episodes. I tend to find them confusing. Maybe I just don’t have a very financial brain lol. Odd Lot, Percentage, Finishing Touch, etc.

  5. #5
    I liked this episode better than most people did. It might be because I'm a professional gambler myself.

    The early "casino" scene in "Seoul" was laughable. It was clearly on a set in Honolulu, and as Mike/Bobbi already noted, the exterior shot of the city was Hong Kong.

    Sam liked to talk about "percentages", but he was no gambling expert! He rationalized that Howard should take insurance on the dealer's ace because he was playing six hands simultaneously, and had some good hands already dealt. That's a gambler's fallacy. The insurance bet is separate from everything else -- you're basically placing a wager at 2:1, for up to half the total bets you have on the table, that the dealer DOES have blackjack. It's designed to where you get a complete refund for everything (the hand ends in a tie) if a blackjack is drawn. However, it is NOT correlated with the other bets you placed. The only "percentage" factor in placing an insurance bet should be whether there's a disproportionate number of tens left in the deck -- something you'd only know if you were either a card counter, or were carefully observing the deck. It is clear that Howard is just a degenerate gambler, and not a card counter, and Sam was not watching the makeup of the deck (he was too far away from the table). Therefore, Howard's decision to defy Sam's advice and NOT take insurance was actually correct, as it's a negative expectation (house edge) bet! Howard just got unlucky.

    There actually is a second reason to take the insurance bet, but it has nothing to do with percentages. It has to do with risk of ruin. If you do have good hands showing when the dealer has an ace up (let's say you are playing 3 hands, and you hold 19, 20, and 20), you might want to take the insurance bet to decrease variance, to where you tie if the dealer has blackjack, and you're fairly likely to win overall if the dealer doesn't. The problem is that you are reducing how much you can win, as you'd throwing away half the amount bet before the hands even play out, but it does bring down the variance in such a case. That would be the only reason someone like Howard would put down an insurance bet -- so he can likely keep playing and not have to worry about fighting for another marker!

    The "percentages" Sam keeps referring to are now discussed as "positive expectation" or "+EV" in modern gambling culture. When something is said to be "+EV", it means the odds are that you're making the right move. It can also apply to situations unrelated to gambling. For example, if you've noticed airline prices for certain July flights to typically fall in April, it could be considered a +EV move to not book them in March, even though you're taking a chance that the plane might sell out or that the prices will continue to rise.

    It can also refer to areas of life which have nothing to do with money. I had to make such a decision in early 2021 regarding the COVID vaccine, at age 49. While I realized the vaccine was new, lightly tested, and carried some risks, I felt it was +EV to take it, because COVID at the time was killing people my age. Therefore, while both vaccinating and not vaccinating had potential downsides, I felt that it was +EV to get the vaccine. I currently feel that it is -EV to continue getting shots, as the present COVID variant is rarely killing anyone under 65, thus the risks are not worth the reward.

    Sam seems to apply this sort of "gambler's thinking" to all of his actions, but as McGarrett said at the end, he "overplayed his hand" and ended up committing murder and getting caught.

    I'll discuss the episode itself in the next post.

  6. #6
    As I said, I liked this episode, but I will agree with the rest of you that it was confusing.

    It helped for me that I was familiar with the "gambling junket" business, which still exists today. For the viewer not understanding junkets, that just adds another level of complexity to an already confusing story.

    Junkets are trips where a "gambling travel agency" books people on trips to casinos, often covering all or most of their expenses. It is attractive to the gamblers because they can go to far-flung locations to gamble, and automatically get things comped without having to establish a history at those casinos. It is attractive to the casinos, because the junket operator brings in compulsive gamblers who are likely to lose a lot of money. The junket operator actually gets paid by the casino, usually in the form of commission of either a percentage of total losses or a percentage of "expected loss", which is calculated based upon the total amount bet and house edge.

    Hawaii is one of just two states in 2023 with no legal gambling. The other one is Utah. However, in 1973, it was a different story. Gambling was also illegal back then, but there was only one state where you could gamble at the time -- Nevada! There wasn't even gambling in Atlantic City yet. That showed up in 1978.

    Sam's junket business was not illegal, nor are any junkets. Sam was simply arranging trips for gamblers on the island, whose choices to illegally gamble involved either flying thousands of miles, or to gamble in an illegal operation like Yoshigo's. Yoshigo seemed upset that Sam had his junket business, but in reality it's not that likely this would dip into Yoshigo's earnings. Even those taking Sam's junket trips would also have a desire to gamble without flying thousands of miles to do so. I also wonder how lucrative Sam's junket business would be, given that there was substantial expense to take these long flights in 1973. Therefore, Hawaii's fairly low population probably would not have produced many high stakes gamblers who would have been necessary for the casinos to cover their travel expenses. The average low-stakes gambler is not going to get a free junket trip from someone like Sam -- not from Hawaii! (There are cheaper junkets in the mainland, especially nowadays, where you are slapped onto a charter flight and flown 600 miles to some crappy casino.)

    But if we put aside that junkets weren't doing brisk business in 1973 Hawaii, the story itself here was interesting, and the episode was a whodunit, rather than one where we see the perpetrator at the beginning. Sure, we knew Yoshigo had that old guy murdered at the beginning, but the real mystery was who killed Howard, and why. The answer we got at the end wasn't all that obvious, and it wasn't all that far fetched, either. From that standpoint, I really enjoyed "Percentage".

    Where the episode got needlessly complex was the whole side story with Yoshigo's accountant Stein. Not only was Stein's role with Yoshigo not clearly explained, but the entire "demotion' he received for blackmailing Yoshigo was awkward and somewhat ridiculous. Stein was nervous throughout the entire episode, and really didn't serve much of a purpose in the story, other than to complicate things. Milton Selzer's Sam character and Leonard Stone's Stein character seemed to play to the tropes of older Jewish men of the era, with Sam being the shifty operator, and Stein being the ne'er-do-well schnook. The actors playing them were both Jewish, by the way.

    When Valerie Sinclair is disgusted with her much older husband Walter for having paid Sam to murder her lover Howard, she yells at him, "You murdered him. And we both know why. Because he gave me what you never could, you old, old man."

    Presumably Walter was impotent, and she was having the affair with Howard because he was able to have sex with her. The "you old, old man" line was a bit awkward, though, and in real life would have been something like "you impotent old man"!

    But how old was Walter? The actor (Douglas Kennedy) actually was only 57 -- just 6 years older than I am today. His last acting roles were appearances in three late-Season-5 episodes -- "Here Today... Gone Tonight", "Percentage", and "Jury of One". He was not from Hawaii, but he died there of cancer in August 1973. Apparently he got sick enough after being done shooting to where he was not healthy enough to return to the mainland, and chose to be treated in Honolulu. It's unclear if he knew he had cancer before shooting these episodes. Many people in those days did not visit the doctor when feeling lousy, and just toughed it out until things got really bad.

    Carole Kai, who played Valerie, was 29 years younger than Kennedy. She was born in 1944, and was 28 or 29 when the episode was shot. She's still alive today, and is the only person from that episode who hasn't passed yet.

    Howard was Valerie's virile alternative to her "old" husband, but in reality the two men were just six years apart. It would have made more sense if Valerie was cheating on her husband with a man closer to her own age, as this is what commonly occurs when an older man marries a young woman, and infidelity occurs.

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