Deeks & Sam: NCISLA’s Odd Couple
A shaggy-haired surfing detective from L.A. A bald, ex-Navy SEAL from Brooklyn. Deeks and Sam are the odd couple of NCIS: Los Angeles. Eric Christian Olsen and LL Cool J have fantastic chemistry, and the friction between their characters makes for consistently entertaining interactions. When Sam questioned Deeks’ character in “Descent” (4×24), his words didn’t ring true to some viewers. Had Sam really felt that strongly about Deeks all along? If you look a little closer, maybe re-watch some old episodes, you can see plenty of signs of trouble leading up to that memorable moment. Just what might have contributed to Sam’s dislike and lack of trust? Here are a few theories.
First Impressions Count: Don’t Start a Relationship with a Fist Fight
Their first ever meeting had them sizing each other up for an MMA fight in “Hand to Hand” (1×19). Before they knew it, they were pummeling each other in the ring. That kind of animosity, that jockeying for physical superiority, can’t make it easy to warm up to someone. Deeks compounded the hostility by picking a fight in the alley afterwards, and during their subsequent undercover interaction, Sam seemed to take genuine pleasure in taunting Deeks about the “ass-whooping” he had “cooked up.” In the end, Deeks did save Sam’s life, earning a fist bump of thanks, but it was clear that Sam wasn’t happy to be in his debt when he grudgingly admitted that Deeks was “not a bad operator.”
The Dom Factor Part 1: Don’t Try to Fill a Dead Man’s Shoes
In the very next episode, “Fame” (1×20), Deeks officially joined the team as LAPD Liaison. This was during the time when Dominic Vail, the team’s youngest agent, had been kidnapped and was still missing. At Hetty’s instruction, Deeks took Dom’s desk, which didn’t sit well with Sam. Sam may have felt that Deeks was overstepping, trying to take Dom’s figurative place just as he took his literal seat. Deeks was the presumptuous intruder, coming in from the outside before they had even given up on finding Dom. Sam was quick to pin a “Temp” nickname on Deeks to drive home the fact that he was never going to truly become a part of their team. Even after Dom was eventually killed and Deeks rejoined them in Season Two, those seeds of animosity had already been sewn and Sam may have found it hard to move beyond seeing Deeks as an interloper.
The Dom Factor Part 2: You’re Not Good Enough to Fill a Dead Man’s Shoes
On the other hand, Dom was inexperienced and sometimes shaky in his role as a field agent. Sam and the others mentored him throughout Season One before his disappearance. In “Hunted” (1×22), he and Callen talked about feeling responsible, noting that if he “had trained him better he might not have been abducted.” In Sam’s eyes, LAPD officer Deeks would have had even less training than Dom. Sam may have seen him as unprepared for the job. He said as much in “Personal” (2×17), referring to Deeks’ “bad tradecraft” in getting himself shot and comparing it to having “another Dom situation.” At the end of the episode Hetty instructed him to help Deeks “brush up on his security protocols.” For Sam, Deeks may have represented someone of questionable skills unable to keep himself or the team safe.
The Military Angle Part 1: Joking Around Will Get You Killed
Sam is a Seal. It’s how he defines himself. The military has played a huge part in his life and he is proud of his Navy ties. Needless to say, Deeks doesn’t come from a military background. He was a public defender (“the rebels of the legal profession”) and then an unliked undercover operative- about as different from the Navy as possible. Even worse, Deeks jokes. About everything. Almost all the time. In a combat situation, joking will get you killed. Sure, Sam’s partner is smirky and snarky, but Deeks is the one who tries to ease tense situations with humor. Kensi, who grew up a military brat and is “the most serious person” Deeks has ever met, fits right in in Sam’s world. Even though we see how serious Deeks becomes when the bullets start flying, his irreverence might have made Sam feel like he didn’t take his job seriously, again putting himself and the team at risk.
The Military Angle Part 2: Respect the Chain of Command
Another aspect to Sam’s military experience would be a healthy respect for the chain of command. Sam’s own partner doesn’t always follow it, and when Callen goes lone wolf, it causes tension between them. The chain of command at NCIS would put Sam clearly over Deeks, who would probably have even less standing than a junior agent like Kensi. And, while Deeks respects (and sometimes even fears) Sam, he doesn’t back down from him. Right from their first encounter (see First Impressions above), Deeks hasn’t hesitated to take Sam on. At the end of “Fame,” he asked Sam if he wanted to “coddle” him when Sam questioned his eagerness to please his boss. In “Tin Soldiers” (2×15) he sarcastically offered to hug Sam after a disagreement over a nightclub fight the previous evening. Sam told him, “I know you’re trying to rile me, but I won’t be riled.” Deeks is confident in his abilities and refuses to let Sam intimidate him. He also might see Sam’s military bearing as a bit stiff, and be out to loosen him up, just as he has with Kensi. To Sam, the questioning and sarcasm might have felt like Deeks was disrespecting his experience and authority.
The Military Angle Part 3: It’s All About the Team
Sam the Seal is very team-focused. It’s one of the things that makes his partnership with Lone Wolf Callen so interesting. Deeks is not NCIS; Sam may see him as an outsider, not a true team member. Sam might interpret Deeks’ unwillingness to obtain additional training as disrespecting their expertise, and as a rejection of them as a unit. Ironically, Sam might interpret Deeks not applying to become an agent as disloyal, when one of the main reasons Deeks hasn’t yet signed on is because he hasn’t felt that Sam would accept him.
We All Wear Masks: Deeks Is Not an Open Book
Sam may not volunteer many details about his life, but he doesn’t pretend to be anyone he’s not. Deeks, on the other hand, goes out of his way to keep others from seeing the damaged, vulnerable person behind his mask of irreverent humor. Up through Descent Sam didn’t push to get behind Deeks’ walls and only saw the superficial jokester Deeks projected to the world. Not appreciating the substance behind the frivolity might have made it hard for Sam to trust him. He might have interpreted the lack of seriousness as a lack of sincerity. This could have been compounded by Deeks’ fantastic undercover skills. In “Rocket Man” (2×21), he heard Deeks talks about how undercover work was “the best part” of their job, justifying undercover lies as “truth reimagined for the higher good.” In “The Debt” (3×10), Sam saw how well Deeks lied to Kensi. Sam, the straight shooter, may find Deeks’ apparent enjoyment of this aspect of their job somewhat off-putting. He may realize that he doesn’t know the real Deeks, which in turn would make it difficult to trust him.
Season 5 and Beyond
This post-“Descent” season has brought us a changed Sam-Deeks relationship. Sam has developed a more protective and accepting attitude towards Deeks since he saved his and Michelle’s lives. How that relationship will continue to evolve remains to be seen. The hospital room scene in “Ascension” (5×01) showed just how much Deeks values Sam’s opinion of him; he would likely be glad to have Sam as a big brother figure in his life. But the tension between them isn’t completely gone. In “The Frozen Lake” (5×09), when Callen observed that Deeks appeared to know something they didn’t, Deeks responded with a sarcastic “Crazy, right?” and a pointed look at Sam. Perhaps he is still carrying some residual anger over Sam’s lack of trust. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more temporary partnershipping with these two before Kensi returns. And no doubt their fantastic chemistry will continue no matter how close they might eventually become.
What are your theories? Does it really just come down to the hair? And, what do you think we’ll see in their future? Is true bromance a possibility?
Great job on this article and a really good analysis of their relationship! Sam & Deeks are definitely an “odd couple” and I’d love to see them get the chance to partner up again while Kensi is gone. I think you laid out all the reasons why there is tension in their relationship. I just hope they can work through it and get tighter! They certainly are on their way, we shall see how the rest of the season goes.
Karen – Fantastic job on your inaugural submission! I cannot wait to see this pairing. It’s likely to be “awesomely awkward” especially based on Deeks’ undercover role! This relationship has plenty of room and time to develop. It will be intriguing to see who ends up being the true “alpha male” on this one. My guess? It may (& should) ebb and flow based on the given situation; that’s how true partnerships work.
And not to be forgotten, Sam is the only one on the team who has the experience to advise Deeks on having a personal and professional relationship with his partner….
Gayle- Thanks! I agree about the potentially awkward partnership coming up- I only hope it’s not awkward for the wrong (politically incorrect) reasons. I love your vision for a true partnership between them, where they each take the lead at times. And you’re right about the relationship advice. It would be lovely to see Deeks talk about his thing with Kensi with anyone at all, just to hear what’s going on in his head, but I think it would make perfect sense for him to seek some words of wisdom from Sam.
Wow! Really excellent analysis. I too am hoping that they can work together more closely, even after Kensi returns. Like Kensi, I think that Sam needs someone to loosen him up and not take himself so seriously. Deeks is pretty darn good at that. On the other hand, Deeks is not very well grounded, and he could use a family man like Sam to provide that older brother figure you mention. Also, Sam has been thru the same issues working with and falling in love with Michelle that Deeks is now going thru with Kensi. Sam could provide a lot of guidance and wisdom in that department.
The only thing I disagree with you on is the Frozen Lake scene. This comes right after Sam has reassured Deeks that he’s not alone in this, and in response to Callen’s comment about Deeks knowing something to get them back in the game. If there was any sarcasm in the “crazy, right?” comment it would have been directed not at Sam, but at Callen, who has doubted Deeks ever since his return in Omni. Also, Deeks does a little pat on the arm to Sam, sort of a “okay, I’ve got this” gesture. I see Deeks acknowledging and being grateful for Sam’s support rather than any tension between them.
One other thing: In a couple of interviews I have seen ECO do a pretty good imitation of LLCoolJ. I would LOVE to see that in an episode, where Deeks jokingly imitates Sam. (And vice versa?)
Once again, fantastic analysis! Great job!
Jan- Thanks! I love your thoughts on Sam providing a sense of stability for Deeks. It would be downright heartwarming to see them get close enough to allow that to happen. Seeing Deeks completely embraced and accepted by EVERY member of the team would make me so happy, because I think he looks at them as the family he apparently never had. It might also help him make the decision to jump from cop to agent.
And I really like your comments on that moment from The Frozen Lake. I noticed that little pat on the arm, but since Deeks seemed to pointedly change from looking at Callen to looking at Sam before he spoke, I interpreted his words as being directed at Sam. I think your interpretation is better, since Callen deserves a comment like that about as much as Sam (certainly more based on recent behavior). In addition, it would indicate that Deeks is feeling close enough to Sam to share his sarcastic comment, sort of a “Can you believe how lame Callen is?” I’d like to think that at some point we’ll learn more about whether or not Deeks is carrying any residual anger towards Sam (or anyone else), but in the meantime, thanks for giving me another way to see that scene.
Frozen lake was 5×10 just a fix, this is one of the writings I really appreaciate to read!
Karen, thank you so much for this deep look inside Sam and Deeks’ interesting relationship. I don’t think we’ve seen the depth of the change between them just yet. We all know what has gone before as you have so clearly set it out for us, but we have yet to see how deeply that change has affected them. We have been given a little hint here and there, and a hug, but I hope that they are writing an episode that will pair them in a way that allows us to see just how far they have come as team mates. I wonder if Deeks holds on to any residual anger about Sam questioning his character and I also want to see how committed Sam is to making Deeks aware of the newfound respect he has for him and his abilities. Will there come a time when that respect is put on the line? Will Sam defend him when he needs to be defended? Maybe they will bond, as you suggested, over their shared experience of falling in love with their partner, but I want to see how the change will affect them in the field, on a case. I still believe Callen is the one not accepting that Deeks is back to his former self, and who may be just a little jealous of Sam’s new attitude towards Deeks. Why that would be, is probably worth another look and maybe even an episode…but now I’m just being greedy.
Good stuff, Karen. Keep writing.
Sweet Lu- Thanks! I share your desire to learn more about how Deeks currently feels about Sam’s past transgressions. We’ve seen him be incredibly quick to forgive Kensi for things, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had forgiven Sam too (I think I hold grudges much longer than he does). I do think that Sam’s attitude towards Deeks this season has been pretty consistently improved, but I agree that it would be wonderful to see him go out of his way to stick up for Deeks. I would love to see Sam defer to Deeks during an operation, or suggest that Deeks take the lead on some undercover role, acknowledging that he is the best in those situations. As for Callen, I don’t come close to understanding him- I’ll leave that to you and others to figure out!
So sorry, accidentally hit send. Heh. One of the things I’ve wondered, in Sam calling Deeks on his character based on his hair, so to speak, is that Sam, as a black man, should understand how unfair it is to judge anyone based on appearances. I know it goes deeper than that, but his issues do seem superficial to me in many ways. Such as the fact that Deeks has proven himself. Proven his skills, many times over. He is there for all of them. He didn’t have to go to Romania. He did. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t hesitate to save Sam. I’ve always seen Sam show himself to be someone who doesn’t judge people, at yet he’s gone out of his way to judge Deeks for the very things he would accept in others. Sam accepts people based on them proving themselves by their actions, but not Deeks. I was very angry with Sam until he apologized to Deeks. I was mad again in Big Brother. Of course, I hate that episode because it erased all the eps before and turned Deeks back into the class clown. I’ve tried to erase it’s existence from my mind.
In Human Traffic, Sam was all “Hey, Deeks. Good to see you” And at other times he was warm and seemed to like him and respect him. Only to do an about face. All the while knowing Deeks has always pulled through on the job. That he always has their backs. Kensi’s back. Does his job. Does it well. And do we know for sure he’s never had any training. Hetty made him go to at least one or two. Forgot which ep it was.
Deeks is smart, a great team player. Great shot. Has helped solve cases. Always jumps in and steps up as needed, even if he’s whined a little. He’s proven himself. So what was Sam’s issue? I loved the apology, but it’s not enough. I want Sam to explain why he couldn’t accept Deeks, when he would have accepted anyone else who had proven themselves the way Deeks had. I mean, was/is Sam so petty that he blamed Deeks for Hetty’s choice to bring him in to replace Dom? That just doesn’t seem like Sam.
Over all this season, I love how Sam has supported Deeks. In fact, it seems Callen has some envy issues or jealousy issues with Deeks, I hope we learn about. LOL.
Will be interesting to see what happens in future eps. Thanks again for writing this. Great read and loving all the responses too.
BrevityDC- Thanks! I so enjoyed reading your passionate defense of Deeks. I totally agree that Sam should have been able to see what a good man he is. After all, it’s super clear to all of us! I always assumed, based on the little grins LL Cool J would send in Deek’s direction at the end of a scene, that Sam actually believed what he said in The Debt, that Deeks made the team better. I was so shocked by his harsh words in Descent that I spent part of the summer re-evaluating every interaction they had ever had. Like you, I’ve also very much enjoyed S5 Sam, particularly in Omni with the hug and the way he stuck up for Deeks in the last scene with Callen. I am really hoping that Sam will maintain such positive behavior towards Deeks, which is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to seeing them work together in the field. I think that will be a better test of whether Sam’s attitude has truly changed.
I completely agree with both of you about the way Sam has acted towards Deeks and my anger about it. At times Sam has come off as an arrogant, condescending ass to the point that I disliked the character. I concur that Sam should know better than to judge people by their appearance. Things seem to be improving and I do hope Sam and Deeks get to talk about handling a relationship at work with Sam giving some honest caring advise.
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Great job Karen! You really pulled together all the pieces regarding these two. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out in terms of their relationship.
Excellent analysis, Karen, and I hope the show’s writers read it! They, the writers, need to be reminded about how complex these characters and their relationships have become because of them, the actors, the directors, and the show’s crew. It will enable them to move the show forward in realistic and appropriate ways for everyone’s enjoyment. I would love to see more development in Deeks and Sam’s relationship as it is now and how it might impact their relationships with their partners. Thanks for this piece :)!