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?