Essential Episodes: NCISLA “Personal” (S2E17)
As we and the team have oriented ourselves to the addition of our detective, everyone looks forward to the lightness and fun Deeks offers. This continues in “Personal”, but it takes a notable backseat in this edition. With this rare, yet foundational Deeks-focused episode, we’re taken to a deeper level – a look at who Deeks is as a man.An unexpected opening
Viewers are accustomed to the introduction of the crime-based plot at the top of the show traditionally followed by the opening credits and some delightful partner or team banter. Not this time. In an unexpected (and quite enjoyable) twist, the show immediately launches with Deeks jogging along his beloved beach. However, before there was time to fully appreciate this casual start, the detective finds himself in the midst of a convenience store robbery and viewers are stunned at the sight of Deeks prone on the floor, struggling with a bullet wound, facing down the barrel of a gun - all before the opening credits. For Deeks-lovers everywhere, it was clear we were in for a serious look into the team’s newest member.
Up to this point, very little is known about the LAPD Detective aside from his jovial nature, joking personality, and often atypical approach to operations. A few breadcrumbs have been dropped along the way regarding his connection to former handler, Jess Traynor and reasoned attachment to his particular service weapon. Oh, and he has a dog. However, even these are all directly tied to his professional persona. We know very little about the man. It is in this episode his protective humorous mask is pulled aside.
It’s no surprise Hetty’s announcement of Deeks having been shot affects his partner most. As if Deeks being shot didn’t force us to deal with our own angst, now we’re prompted to consider how Kensi is responding. Per previous strategic storytelling, our minds – just like Kensi ‘s- flood with memories of her past losses – her father, Dom, her fiancé. Could her current partner be next? However, there’s no time to ponder the worst case outcome. These agents do what they do best – work to solve the mystery of who shot Deeks, why, and to bring them to justice. The detective may be a new addition and not an official NCIS agent, but as Hetty indicated in the premiere, Deeks is one of them. Unlike in “Human Traffic” when the team works to save Deeks more out of obligation, by “Personal”, they rally around him like a family.
Compounding the situation is the revelation of just how much the team doesn’t know about Deeks – including Hetty. Now that is saying something. Something so vital as a next of kin to be unknown to all of them indicates how much personal knowledge is lacking regarding the detective. This provides a wonderful opportunity for deep character development, and serves as a clue that larger issues related to his background are likely lurking in the shadows.
Perfectly healthy funny bone
As Deeks regains consciousness (and his partner works to tamp down her worry), the partners finally engage in their comfortable banter signaling to viewers all will be well. Even wounded and in pain Deeks’ go-to of “defusing tension with humor” is at the peak of health. He simultaneously messes with Kensi while endearing everyone in the repeated utterance of her now-famous nickname. Deeks effortlessly follows that by twisting his partner’s disingenuous threat into something straying far from their professional status while countering with his own suggestion of “tattling”. The genius of Marty Deeks’ multi-tasking mind and expressive words, turning a solemn situation into something to his benefit, is on full display.
Deeks: My name is “Deeks”? Really? (Halting Kensi’s move to call for help.) I’m just kidding. I remember you, Fern.
Kensi: Yeah? You’re a funny guy. I’m gonna punch you in your bullet hole.
Deeks: That sounds vaguely dirty. I think I’m gonna have to tell Hetty.
The heart of the matter
The episode returns two-fold in its gravity in discovering Deeks had been targeted – and that his partner is fishing. In working to solve the next of kin question Kensi quickly stumbles over the term “girlfriend”, but Deeks only deflects it. All humor is gone when even the detective confesses to be at a loss on the next of kin topic. And the plot deepens. What kind of traumatic family situation (and life in general) would leave someone with no one to list at the most critical of times? It is at this moment any cursory interest in Deeks’ background grew to a notable level of significance.
Through Callen and Sam’s investigation it is learned the lengths Deeks has gone for a fellow cop in aiding him with sobriety as well as insight into his work ethic. As many viewers had already long considered and quietly hoped, there is affirmation that beneath Deeks’ comedic cover is a barely-concealed kind, solid, and sensitive soul.
Back to the banter, Deeks’ customary curiosity is shining bright with his inquiry about Kensi’s own experience with flesh-piercing bullets. (Note this is a query that still has not been answered.) This woman, wily in her own right, divergently responds to her partner with a fitting sentiment “There’s a lot about ourselves that we haven’t told each other yet, so let’s just… respect the pace. Ok?” Since this episode writers have gifted fans with key pieces to the puzzle that is Kensi Blye, but it seems the scale hasn’t been equally weighted for our dashing detective. Thus, when might we be presented with corresponding details of Deeks’ background? (Season 6, anyone? Please? Surely by now even Deeks is tired of withholding such information, right?)
Up to this point Deeks has been painted by the team and viewers alike as the jokester; it is here in “Personal” that his characteristic demeanor is simply a protective façade. As masterful as he is at infusing humor into serious situations & self-aggrandizing, he is equally skilled at self-berating.
Kensi: You shouldn’t beat yourself up.
Deeks: Can’t help it. It’s one of the things I’m good at.
(So open. So honest. So true. For him to reveal that to her in a serious, non-joking manner while he is so vulnerable – never making eye contact with her & lying in the hospital bed injured – is incredible.)
Making Deeks, Deeks
As we approach the end, the totality of Eric Christian Olsen’s performance demands attention. While a casual viewer might consider it to have been an easy time lounging in bed, from an acting standpoint, it only creates a greater challenge. The physicality of his acting is severely limited. With the exception of his opening and closing scenes, his normal law enforcement habitual actions are notably absent: no chasing down bad guys, no pulling his weapon, no tension-filled shoulder brushes with his partner, no sassy hip-stances, etc. Other than responding to Sam’s warning, he even avoids the nervous tells of scratching his scruff or head. Yet the broad range of emotions is palpable: pain, humor, uncertainty, flirtatiousness, insecurity, guilt. Yet it is the overwhelming sorrow that shocks us in the fact that as just a boy Deeks took aim and shot a man. With no explanation, viewers’ minds whirled with possible circumstances that would elicit such an event.
The ultimate straw that breaks the back of this episode, this character, and our hearts is the final revelation by the eternal secret-keeper that is Hetty Lange: the man Deeks shot in his youth was his very own father. The gravity of this knowledge, considering the reality of this result weighing on Deeks the majority of his life is… disheartening.
As a faithful member of Team Densi, it was a joy (even given the hospitalized circumstance) to watch Deeks purposefully pursue insight of his partner, whether it be for professional distraction or personal gain. Everything that we’ve come to expect from Deeks was delivered in spades with the flirtation (girls on the beach, nurse, Kensi), Jell-O, reference to Kensi’s jeans and butt, the sponge bath comment, and Fern & Wonder Woman. He tries to learn more about Kensi, to help her feel comfortable in opening up to him. (And not to be overlooked by the gloriously captivating storytelling, in the end, our scruffy knight saves his damsel in distress.) Yet, for all the external fluffy goodness from our detective, it severely pales in comparison to discovering the internal qualities that make Deeks a man.
- The stages of Marty Deeks – We see the childlike responses to Jell-O and comic book characters, youthful flirtations and curiosity, and the mature emotions of a man having endured a less than idea life path. Even without detailed examples from his backstory, we’re now able to picture the often-creative cop at virtually any age.
- The Warring Thoughts of Kensi Blye – How much does she tell him? How much does she ask about? Is there a “line” she shouldn’t cross? Kensi continues to battle the need for information to build their professional bond (and trust) versus her own quiet yet self-refuted interest. And in a virtual first, the necessary questioning by his partner, presents a Deeks uncomfortable with sharing, indicated there’s far more to this man than meets the eye.
- Mother Hetty – After the initial direction to ensure Deeks’ safety and keeping the investigation moving forward, Hetty’s attention is purely focused on his hidden personal background. It’s no surprise she volunteers to fill a familial role for him.
- Young Deeks – While it’s wonderful to see Hetty’s softer side, such scenes are made even sweeter by the concealed vulnerable aspect of Deeks. Every time there is a Hetty/Deeks offering, it’s as if Deeks reverts to the nervous child/teenage version of himself, which is very endearing.
In the initial presentation of “Personal”, it may be considered a notable piece in Densi’s developing ‘ship and useful addition to the knowledge base concerning the newly-minted team member. However, in subsequent viewings, it wasn’t really about those things at all; it went much deeper. Deeks was so in his own head, this time his partner was mostly a distant (if delightful) distraction. Viewers were gifted with expertly expressed thoughts, emotions, and insights into how Martin A. Deeks deals with, stores away, is haunted by, and overcomes adverse life experiences. It’s a rare and essential look into the soul of our favorite detective, and one this fan hopes is the first of many.
Writers: Joseph C. Wilson
Director: Kate Woods
Original Air Date: February 22, 2011
Gayle H. is a contributor at wikiDeeks.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DensiLand
Excellent take on this episode which is still my favorite even though he has done some great ones since then. He was so darned vulnerable yet stoical and brave.
If the Job made me believe there would be a Densi, then Personal cemented that relationship in my mind. One of my favorite Deeks’ scene is that opening run along the beach. It’s just so Deeks. I always smile every time I see it.
Great review! This is one of my favorite and most re-watched episodes during S2. I agree with all of your comments😊😊😊. Thanks for the trip back down memory lane. Thoroughly enjoyed!
Great review! One of my favorite episodes for sure – for all the reasons you mention, and… because we learn that Deeks loves nurses 🙂 I actually know a number of nurses who are married to police officers (our jobs often bring us into proximity) so I thought that was fitting. And a nice shoutout to my profession – despite the “sponge bath” inaccuracy – that’s not a nursing job these days. Anyway, thanks for the review!
Great review Gayle! You highlighted the moments of the episode that hinted at so much more, brought hidden depth to the surface, and gave the actors a chance to shine and show how great these characters are together and separately. And as the episode that probably revealed the most about Deeks since he began, it certainly is a landmark episode for Deeks. Awesome job with the review!
I loved how he came out of coma like state and still teased Kensi.
Wow, Gayle, that’s a really wonderful review. This is a special episode for me. I have to admit that I really paid no attention to NCIS:LA until Personal aired. I just let it play in the background while I did other things and looked up mostly when they utilized an LA location well. But there’s something about the vulnerable, sad, whumped Deeks here that got my full and complete attention. After this episode aired, I went back and re-watched every episode, and even started watching other ECO work. In short, this episode marked the start of my ECO-obsession.
I agree with everything you wrote, especially about how good ECO was. The final scene with Hetty is one of my all-time favorites. The way his eyes water up and his lips quiver as he shares what has to be the most painful memory of his life is hard to watch. We get just the tiniest glimpse of what Deeks’ childhood was like, and a sense of the pain that he still carries with him now. The first time I watched this, it was surprising. Now, it’s just heartbreaking.
I just watched this episode again when it was repeated on television ( I am in Australia). and always love any episode that is focused on Deeks. Loved the way the came out of the hospital at the end and shot the bad guys to protect Kensi. And the ending when he asked Hetty who he should put down as his next of kin. Just one question if someone can answer it for me, where is Deek’s mother?
Also on a side note, the episode after Personal I noticed that even Sam must have had concerns for Deeks safety as he said at the beginning of the episode that he had been following Deeks to check on him. Just love Eric Christian Olsen. He defintely makes the show worth watching!
Eric Christian Olsen definitely makes the show worth watching! As for Deeks’ mom, at some point (pre-Season 5?) they teased that we would get to meet her, but so far there’s been no sign of her. We don’t know what happened to her after Deeks shot his dad.
Thanks for answering that for me. Waiting for Season 7 to return and more of Deeks!!
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