Secrets are intrinsic to NCIS:LA. After all, these are secret agents undertaking top secret missions to save the world. They may need to keep their missions secret from the fictional world around them, but do they need to keep secrets from the audience? wikiDeeks contributors Gayle (@Densiland) and Karen P. (@anonklp) discussed the pros and cons of a show filled with mysteries.
Gayle: Let’s take a moment to appreciate all we have learned, discovered, and been granted access to over the past five years. That being said, with this incredibly talented cast and crew, we find ourselves with a near endless supply of questions. So the issue at hand is: How are decisions made as to what will and will not be explicitly revealed to the audience? A foundational topic for all of NCIS:LA is “The G”. Why doesn’t Callen know his name? We know Mr. Brennan has specific plans for this storyline and we will likely need to follow the entire series to glean this hidden treasure. It’s clearly an intriguing mystery to the characters and audience; yet, is it a captivating enough subject to weave throughout the show? After five years, has it run its course or does it endure?
Karen: What a great opening question you raise! Although the decision-making about what to share with the audience is often a mystery to me, I understand the showrunners’ long-term plans for Callen. I don’t expect to learn about the “G” until the series finale. It’s the single overriding storyline that trumps all others. It’s a mystery that drives the show’s lead character- an epic quest to understand his past and learn his true identity. That’s a wonderful continuing drama on which to hang the case-of-the-week structure. And since the long-term nature of Callen’s journey has been clear since the show’s inception, it’s important to continue it. There’d be quite a void if it were suddenly resolved.
When it comes to the other characters, however, I am less enthusiastic about long-term mysteries.
Gayle: These “mysteries” are the heart of the show because they directly control character development. There have been revelations about past cases, family history, and personal challenges that have made each character individually compelling. Even after more than four years, there is still much to be discovered about Detective Deeks. Unlike the other primary field agents, it seems a notable amount of Deeks’ personal backstory has been kept in the vault. Was this a purposeful choice, a victim of the “Season 5 storyline shuffle”, a specifically timed decision, or something else altogether? Knowing more about the liaison’s formative years and path to law enforcement may be key to this character’s development – and something many fans have clamored for. What’s at the top of your “Deeks Must Know” list, Karen?
Karen: Consider me part of the clamoring- I want to know it all! There are huge gaps in our knowledge of what makes Deeks Deeks. I love your observation that revealing the unknown backstories of these characters makes them more compelling. Unfortunately this is a show that seems determined to dole out that personal information at a sometimes painfully deliberate pace, and I don’t think we can expect that to change.
The biggest difference between the mystery of Callen’s identity and the mystery of Deeks’ background is who is left in the dark. Since Callen doesn’t know any more than we do about his background, we share his quest, along for the ride as he tries to decipher the puzzle that is his past. With Deeks (and the other characters), the audience is on the outside looking in. Deeks knows what happened after he shot his father; he knows where his mother is and why he became a cop.
For viewers, having that information withheld isn’t entertaining. In fact, it’s rather frustrating. It hinders our understanding of what makes Deeks tick, what drives him, why he responds to people and events in certain ways. Each bit of understanding we gain lets us interpret his current actions and his personality so much more effectively, more deeply. Why not let us do that sooner rather than later?
Gayle: While I want to know it all as well, I appreciate the strategic tempo. It’s that anticipation, the build-up, rising tension that makes the unveiling of such mysteries so worthwhile. You referenced my favorite example of this in the mention of “Blye, K.” Viewers were provided small, well-timed, curious “breadcrumbs” that hinted at Kensi’s issues with men and trust that all directly related to her developing connection to Deeks. The show didn’t directly or blatantly tell the audience that Kensi suffered a damaging past. Instead they carefully provided the pieces for us to craft the bittersweet picture of who this woman has become based on those experiences. Through this, we better understood her hesitancy with her partner, which in turn had us granting Kensi and the Densi ‘ship the patience they needed and deserved.
You made a key point comparing what a character knows versus what the audience is privy to. With Callen, viewers may be more tolerant since we feel as though we are on the journey with him. Whereas with Deeks, it’s obvious the show is purposefully withholding deeply-rooted insights. Like with Kensi’s story, we’ve been provided some notable clues about Deeks’ past, but not yet enough context to derive true meaning, to understand how particular events in his history have shaped him into the man he is. So I say this out of necessity rather than want: it’s time. We, and frankly Kensi, need these insights to advance both the character and the ‘ship.
Karen: You make a great point here that maybe the audience isn’t alone in the dark about Deeks’ past. Kensi, and certainly his other teammates, probably don’t know much more than we do. That actually makes me feel a little better about the situation. When his secrets are finally unveiled, we’ll get to see them all react at the same time.
I do hope that ECO knows Deeks’ full backstory. I remember hearing him mention that he had been told why Deeks became a cop. Ideally he’d know a lot more in order to make the best decisions about his performance. It’s satisfying and fun when we do finally learn something about one of these characters only to realize that there were those little breadcrumbs you mentioned thrown out along the way. When events don’t line up (e.g. Deeks’ “Borderline” story about his dad shooting at him six years prior), we can be left wondering whether Deeks was lying on purpose, or whether maybe the writers hadn’t decided on his real story yet.
I’d say the same about all the other characters (and actors). For example, did LL Cool J always know that Sam was a family man? Did knowing (or not) affect how he played scenes where a beautiful woman was involved? Hetty is the only exception. She is, to borrow your quote from our last debate, “a riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma clutching a hand grenade.” Although ironically I think we probably know more about her than any other character, the mysteries about her own past are part of her charm. (On the other hand, as we’ve previously debated, keeping fewer secrets from her team would do them all a world of good.)
Gayle: Another prime mystery demanding attention is the perceived “pause” Deeks seems to have taken in his personal relationship with Kensi at the end of “Three Hearts”. Is he selflessly doing this out of concern for her post-torture recovery, something he’s intimately familiar with? Had he never fully considered the potential complications and consequences of Kensi finally conceding to his efforts, the impact it would have on their professional partnership? Could it be self-punishment for and/or an attempt to protect Kensi from the damaged being he realizes exists (and works to hide) stemming from unspeakable actions he took against the cleric? That memory is surely a haunting reminder of his own torture. Do those actions he took with the cleric indicate he isn’t truly healed from his own PTSD? Perhaps it serves to remind Deeks of his abusive childhood and compound troubling thoughts that he’s simply the embodiment of his violent father? On that note, could some unknown issue from Deeks’ past have resurfaced that presents a notable obstacle to him (and Kensi)?
The justification for Deeks’ shift related to Kensi is of prime importance; it will convey much about the inner workings of Deeks and the future of Densi. Related to the theme of this article, will the show provide answers to these questions? If so, when and in what form? Begrudgingly, this is a great example of what has us tuning in each week!
Karen: I’m afraid I see these types of secrets a bit differently from you. I don’t find it intriguing to wait to find out why these characters make the choices they do. Sure, in a stand-alone episode that’s set up to trick us, like “Endgame” or “The Debt”, I’m happy to go along for the ride because by the end of the hour I’ll get my answers. But when the questions stretch over the course of a season (or longer), I get frustrated.
We had multiple examples of these lingering mysteries in Season 5… How much PTSD did Deeks suffer and for exactly how long? What exactly happened at the end of “Recovery”? These secrets happen within the show’s timeline. They’re not the result of us not knowing these characters’ distant pasts; instead they’re a function of the writers choosing not to let us in on what’s really happening.
To me it’s a huge wasted opportunity for great drama and character development. In the case of Deeks’ PTSD, was his motorcycle a sign of trouble or did he really just want to feel the wind in his hair? If they had let us in a little more on his recovery, we’d have spent our time empathizing with him rather than trying to decipher random clues. In the case of “Recovery,” we’d have felt a part of one of the most significant Densi scenes ever, rather than feeling left out of whatever happened between them.
It’s not clear to me if this is because the writers are purposely trying to tantalize (taunt?) us with these mysteries, or because they’ve just made different choices with what story they want to tell. I worry that we may never get the answers to some of these questions, a potentially huge missed opportunity to allow us to fully understand and care more deeply about the characters.
Gayle: Oh, I’ll admit to enduring some of the frustrations you mentioned, especially during Season 5. Instead of relishing in our weekly offering from the team, too often my mind was wandering to those issues of when, how, and if we’d be granted clarity, to have key questions at least addressed, if not completely answered. This was particularly targeted on Deeks’ return as you referenced. Early episodes gave us clues as to possible symptoms he was dealing with, but they were glossed over, each simplistically ending with Hetty revoking something – the motorcycle, the train, his partner! Even with vivid imaginations, we weren’t made privy to Deeks’ demons and how he was battling them – and now the opportunity for a much-anticipated, deeply compelling plotline may have been missed. It’s a fine-line in granting immediate gratification versus saving some “golden nuggets” for a well-planned and stunning future plotline.
We know this is a dramatic, action-oriented, crime-procedural show, but no one can argue it’s evolved far beyond that. While I enjoy and appreciate the car chases and “booms” as much as anyone, the heart of this show has become these characters. Having recently reviewed all of Season 4, much of it feels like a different show – in a good way. To be so bold, some might consider it (or other past seasons) the “glory years” in character history and development, growing partnerships, season-long story arcs, and some particularly nasty villains! They succeeded in developing such a high quality show that it made fans raise our standards for what we expect, which in the end is a positive outcome for all of us. We fans voice our opinions so loudly because we care, and it’s comforting to know the powers that be at least hear us. Likewise, we should appreciate them holding true to their strategic direction since it’s provided us such brilliance in the past. It’s why my faith remains firm: we’ve seen the spectacular work of the past, so why shouldn’t we believe it will return in the future?
Karen: I share your faith in the writers and I agree that they are super talented. I just want them to have faith in themselves. They don’t need to rely on mysteries to give us something to talk about on social media; a simple heartfelt scene between two of these characters we’ve come to care so much about will more than accomplish that. They don’t need to rely on gimmicks (box I’m looking at you) to leave us wondering; a scene of intense emotions (“Spoils of War” for example) will leave us in wonder. Too many secrets leaves me developing my own backstory like the one I had at the end of Season 5, that Deeks and Kensi had actually been inseparable since her return from Afghanistan and were just keeping their relationship a secret from the team. I don’t want that to have to rely on my imagination and fan fiction, I just want what’s actually happening to be clear! (OK, I’d also like Densi together.) Real communication, real emotions. That’s satisfying television.
As Season 6 gets underway (woo hoo!), we can all hope for the unveiling of a few secrets, although it wouldn’t be NCIS:LA without a few new ones. In the meantime, take our poll, and tell us your thoughts in the Comments.