Karen P. (anonkp) | Gayle H. (Densiland)
In this installment of Debating Deeks our focus shifts to the team’s stalwart Operations Manager, Miss Henrietta Lange. Karen P. (@anonklp) is definitely displeased with the fearless guru, while Gayle (@DensiLand) is understanding of Hetty’s agency responsibilities (albeit sadly). How has her leadership of the team evolved over the years? Did we see a notable change in season 5 or simply the revelation of what has always been lurking in the shadows? And of course, always the center of our focus: How have Hetty’s words and actions affected our now-leery Liaison?
Karen: Thanks Gayle for agreeing to discuss this topic. I have a lot of pent-up anger (OK, maybe not that pent up) about Hetty’s Season 5 behavior and I’m hoping you’ll help me see it in a different light. For me, Hetty has always acted as a generally benevolent boss. Sure, she can be manipulative and single-mindedly focused on accomplishing her mission, but rarely has she shown the type of openly destructive behavior towards her agents as I saw in Season 5.
Let me start with an example from the season’s first episode, “Ascension.” Hetty sends Kensi into that garage to tell Deeks he cannot escape his nightmare, but doesn’t make Callen do the same for Sam. That single act on Kensi’s part could have completely destroyed the trust between them, along with their work partnership and their personal “thing.” Back in Season 4’s “Wanted,” Hetty leaves Sam in jail to stop him from interfering with the case involving Michelle and Sidorov. She doesn’t make Callen break the news because she knows it would be detrimental to their partnership- she does it herself. It seems cruel to make Kensi tell Deeks he has to stay tied to that chair. I mean, are there no other field agents working at NCIS?
Gayle: Oh Hetty. Whenever I think of her my mind always focuses on the exchange between Sam and Callen from “Cyber Threat”:
SAM: Even her ulterior motives have ulterior motives.
CALLEN: Hetty’s a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma clutching a hand grenade.
Both guys have her perfectly pegged here. Yet, do their statements stem from intrigue, respect, or scorn? Long before Season 5, I questioned most everything Hetty has done or said, not out of judgment, but rather keen interest.
So picking up your “Ascension” example, yes it’s cruel (to both of them) to make Kensi be the bearer of bad news to Deeks. However, at least it’s Deeks’ partner. Sam only gets Granger. And it’s Granger’s words from “Descent” that aptly apply here, “Agents’ welfare is secondary to the mission. Always has been and always will be.” Hetty, however likely pained by it, is doing her job in directing the mission. The potential damage to Densi highlights a significant challenge they must overcome for their ship to progress: defining and setting limits between their professional obligations and personal desires.
Karen: I don’t disagree that Hetty’s job is to complete that mission at any cost, including her agents’ lives. I just think she could have handled that moment in a less harmful way for Deeks and Kensi.
You are totally right that these two need to figure out boundaries for handling their personal relationship, and that’s another area where Season 5 Hetty could have been more helpful. The ending of Season 4’s “Wanted” shows us a “sunshine and gunpowder” Hetty apparently fully on-board the Densi ‘ship. That seems to change in Season 5. She questions Nate about them in “Impact,” and worries over them with Granger in “Reznikov, N.” (“Partnerships are tricky at the best of times”). Even worse, she allows Deeks to blame himself for Kensi being sent to Afghanistan, even when he directly questions her about it in “Iron Curtain Rising.” Again this seems to me unnecessarily cruel. And I hate that that word, “cruel,” keeps popping into my head when I describe Hetty.
Gayle: Cruel is a new, but fitting term used to describe Season 5 Hetty, which shows just how over the top and to some, out of character, she seems to be recently written. It may be unlikely Hetty even knows how to support Densi’s personal relationship.
It appears the romantic in Hetty is inherently pro-Densi, but I doubt even she could foresee the problematic result. Sure Deeks is sensitive and Kensi near stoic, but that has somehow worked for them so far. As the season moves into the Afghanistan storyline, Hetty’s not only keeping issues hidden from the team, but also actually pushing them away. Is she condemning herself for how the Siderov and Jack missions affect her team? Is she passively allowing Deeks to punish himself as a test? Hetty sees the negative fallout from his emotions around Kensi, but what about her absence? If he can’t work with her and he can’t work without her, how can he have any future with the team? Hetty may be caught unprepared for this shift in her people and just isn’t reacting to it very well. Yet her faith in them resurfaces as all the partners are reunited by season’s end.
Karen: It sure wouldn’t hurt if Hetty at least communicated to Densi her official position about workplace romance. But I’m not even asking her to be actively constructive when it comes to Densi, just not destructive. Letting Deeks feel responsible for Kensi’s assignment harms not just the Densi ‘ship, but Deeks’ mental health.
Speaking of Deeks’ well-being, let’s address Hetty’s behavior in “Impact.” Rather than encourage him to take his time recovering, she makes him feel guilty about leaving Kensi “without a partner,” and pressures him for a decision about whether he’s returning to NCIS. This is a man who was injured on the job, nearly gave his life for the mission, and saved Sam, Michelle, and thousands of innocent lives in the process. In other words, a hero who deserves to be treated with great respect. The callous way she spoke to Deeks about finding “a replacement” (as if Deeks could ever be replaced!) and to Nate (“I don’t want him back if he’s not the man he was”) was disappointing, to me and I’d also imagine to Deeks. She must look out for the team’s safety, but give the guy a break. (Plus, jumping out from behind the curtains can only cause further trauma!)
Gayle: Yes! I love digging into “Impact” (my favorite ECO episode. Ever.) I concur Hetty’s curtain trick and some of Nate’s words were notably counterproductive (and unprofessional). But pressure? Between episodes 1 and 2 is traditionally the team’s “vacation”; because of this issue, the exact length of time he’s been away is unclear. Hetty surely provided Deeks ample time to physically heal and work toward mental recovery; the indicator of “43 missed calls” hints at this. Hetty’s professional responsibility (burden) needs him to make a decision for the team, but more importantly, her personal concern wants him to make a choice for himself.
Interesting. I saw Hetty’s efforts quite differently. Hetty knows Deeks; first she applies the prime factor of his partner to motivate & encourage his return. Then Hetty employs reverse psychology: in forcing Deeks to consider his life without NCIS (and his partner), she speculates (and hopes) such contemplation will provoke his desire and action to return. She doesn’t coddle him or present an ultimatum; she walks the very fine line in summarizing his options and leaving the man to determine his own future.
Karen: Ah, where I see manipulation, you see tough love. I so want to see the Hetty you see! But then she does something like sending Deeks the photo of dead Kensi in “Spoils of War.” She’s deliberately let him believe he’s responsible for Kensi’s assignment, which here escalates into him believing he’s actually responsible for her death. What an again, cruel, burden to place on him. What is her justification for sending Deeks the photo? She had to have known that he would react violently. In fact, the last thing she says to him once it’s sent is, “Have you gotten any information from the cleric?” In essence, she’s triggering him like a bomb to go off and pointing him in the direction of the cleric. I’d like to think that Hetty, with all her experience, would understand that torture isn’t a productive means to gather accurate intelligence, but we really don’t have time to debate that. I’ll just say again, the coldness with which she approaches this mission, and her willingness to manipulate in order to achieve it, is disappointing.
Gayle: You hit on a key point. When it comes to Hetty it seems manipulation and tough love are two sides of the same coin- and in any given toss, you never know which you might get. I’ll definitely give you this: sending him Kensi’s photo was, for Deeks, worse than the physical torture he’d endured just months earlier. Even more so, if Hetty believed the photo was a lie, using it as her form of “motivation” to keep Deeks focused on finding Kensi was inexcusable. Thank you for the reminder of her query to him about the cleric; in this sense she brutally plants the seed for how he should proceed, while avoiding giving him an illegal and immoral order. The only semi-justification for this is her placing Kensi’s life as the priority in this most time-sensitive operation. This would be an almost “saving grace” for Hetty, but what if her focus is actually Jack (the mission)? Regardless, we know Hetty is filled with ulterior motives, so waiting to see how all of the details presumably unfold (and trying to withhold judgment) until Season 6 is a concept I hope the fandom can embrace.
Karen: Good point. I will do my best to wait for Season 6 Hetty to fully explain her behavior. But can that explanation also include the way Hetty withheld information from the entire team? She could have told Kensi about Jack before she left for Afghanistan, better preparing her to handle the mission and less at risk of making the rash decision she did. She could have told Nell and Eric about Jack so they’d focus on helping Sam and Callen instead of researching Jack’s background. Likewise, including the White Ghost’s real identity in their briefing materials might have helped Sam and Callen mount the smartest possible rescue mission.
My biggest question is why Hetty never told Kensi about Jack for all the years she knew about them. Did Hetty know him before he was engaged to Kensi? Is that how she popped up on Hetty’s radar? Did Hetty send Jack on some horrible mission in Iraq that caused his PTSD, thereby leading her to feel responsible for him (and by extension Kensi)? Why wouldn’t she have wanted to help Kensi gain some closure? You asked before how Hetty could have helped the Densi ‘ship, and letting Kensi know about Jack might have done just that.
Gayle: Was Hetty trying to cover her… tracks? Perhaps. She may have considered the issue of Jack more of a complication and distraction to the mission. If Hetty reveals the confidential nature of Jack to Sam and Callen, it’s yet another aspect they have to factor into the mission- and hide from Deeks. Taking the emotionally damaged Deeks along was already a risk. The entire team witnessed Deeks’ powerful feelings for Kensi override his training in “The Frozen Lake”. With Kensi’s life again in jeopardy, compounded by the “Jack factor”, things could have actually played out far worse (for all of them).
Speaking of emotionally damaged, what if Kensi had known about Jack? Everyone remembers the Kensi who was resolutely laser-focused on hunting down her father’s killer! To have her carry out a foreign operation targeting her ex-fiance (key to many unresolved personal issues) without her customary back-up, would be an incendiary device set ablaze. Yet, Hetty had to predict Kensi would discover Jack at some point. While Kensi is known for commitment to her professional responsibilities, it’s no secret rare personal matters knock the girl off her game.
So in the end (and I almost can’t believe I’m writing this), perhaps Hetty was helping the Densi ‘ship. If Hetty had told Kensi about Jack long ago, Kensi’s hunt for him could have ruined her personally and professionally- and most importantly for Densi fans- prevented her from being physically and mentally (if not emotionally) available to connect with Deeks. By withholding the truth about Jack, Hetty was attempting to individually protect both Deeks and Kensi from themselves.
One thing we quickly learned about Hetty from the outset is even a single answer related to her mysteriousness usually only results in an explosion of more questions. So many uncertainties stem from not only the Afghanistan storyline, but also all of Season 5- and we’re sure those discussed above are just the tip of the iceberg from the enthusiastic NCIS:LA fandom! Now the real question is which, if any, may actually get answered? Only the writers know as our patience and faith continue to be tested – and hopefully rewarded!