Essential Episodes: NCISLA “Drive” (S4E11)
I loved Season 2. I adored Season 3. And as the beginning of Season 4 came out, I watched each new episode with a combination of joy and wonder, thinking only: can it get any better? The plots, okay, maybe they weren’t the best, but that’s not really what I’m into. I’m into Deeks! And Densi! And, boy, were we on a ride. The hesitation and mistrust, the friction that had been so prevalent in the beginning of their relationship had slowly, episode by episode, grown into a friendship that, dared we hope, was verging on something more. In a beautifully crafted, slow-burning relationship arc, their snark became less hurtful and more teasing in nature, their flirting came more frequently and with more intent. A woman doesn’t grab a guy’s backside to get something out of his pocket unless she’s already looking at him with heart eyes, right? Right!
Or so I thought.
The crescendo that built for me as I watched the Deeks/Kensi relationship develop over time came to a screeching halt with this episode, in a way that I was not prepared for and have not yet forgiven. Ultimately there came worse missteps in the writing of Densi – ones that remain for me as much blacker marks on the series, but I will always look back at Drive as where it all began.
The following review is seen through my still-jaded, residually-bitter glasses. You have been warned.
The plot, as CBS describes it, is this:
Jenny Radson, one of Deeks’ former LAPD informants, is kidnapped at gunpoint while trying to relay an important message to him. NCIS:LA joins the case because it appears that Jenny had unearthed information about an international auto smuggling ring. In order to crack the case, Kensi goes undercover, posing as a street smart car thief and cousin to Jaime (from episode #308), who knows the men running the ring. Meanwhile, Callen and Sam track down Jenny’s daughter, Talia, and try to crack a coded document the mother left for her daughter. They manage to unlock the document and discover that it contains all the vehicle identification numbers for the stolen cars, along with the name of the ring leader, Gonzalo Vargas. Vargas had been posing as a landscaper in rich areas of Los Angeles and casing the neighborhoods for cars to steal and sell overseas. After a showdown at an auto yard and tense standoff, the LA team takes down the Vargas and his crew, then locate Jenny and reunite her with her daughter.
Not stellar, and some questionable logistics, but nothing that I wouldn’t have looked past had I had more great character moments to go on. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Things Gets Personal
For an episode that begins with Deeks in bed, it goes downhill rather quickly. I’m pretty sure this team’s war cry has always been “Personal case? HECK YEAH!” But when the case is personally related to Deeks, we get this:
Callen: I take it the victim is a friend of yours?
Deeks: Jenny Radler. Back in the day, I was her public defender for a few misdemeanors– uh, shoplifting, cocaine possession.
Kensi: You keep in touch with all your former clients?
Deeks: No, she’s not exactly on my Christmas card list if that’s what you’re asking, but when I made detective, she tried to be an informant, and I emphasize “tried” because the most she ever got was 20 bucks for ratting out a tagger.
Sam: Sounds like LAPD can handle it.
Thus begins “Drive Kensi” and her return to Season 2. Though not inherent in the text, the delivery of her line above transports us back to the Kensi from Fame – the slightly dubious, mostly annoyed, and clearly unimpressed Kensi that caused so much pleasing friction in the early interactions and is sorely out of place here, seasons later, when their relationship is nothing like it was before.
Sam, who we are fully aware does not like Deeks, jumps immediately to assigning the case to LAPD. Clearly he has already forgotten the case only a handful of episodes earlier, which found Deeks up in the middle of the night after Sam got a call from someone he “didn’t know real well.”
After Sam suggests they dump this case – the one in which Deeks got a phone call from a woman during her abduction – Nell points out that there may be more that ties them to this situation outside of its personal nature.
Nell: Though her descriptions of Southeast Asian acts of terrorism were spot-on.
Kensi: Couldn’t she have just found that out on the Internet?
Drive Kensi makes a Fame Kensi face and tries to dissolve the ties that Nell has established. The lack of support from his teammates here when he has admitted to being at work on the case for hours and obviously has the support of their superior is disheartening to say the least.
In what is the only highlight of this scene (and possibly the entire episode), Hetty appears and mentions the sunrise she watched with Deeks and how glorious it was. They share a small smile and my heart warms for the days when I thought Hetty had an ounce of respect for her team members, and Deeks in particular. Ah, memories.
No Good Deed
Here’s the scene that really spoils the episode beyond repair for me. Let’s break it down:
Deeks: You mind if I take the lead on this?
Kensi: Be my guest.
Deeks: I helped Jenny retain custody when Child Protective Services was trying to take Talia away, so we have a little bit of a history together.
Kensi: She might feel more comfortable with a sympathetic female.
Deeks: I don’t know, I’m pretty in touch with my feminine side.
Kensi: Yeah, see, that’s the problem. If you did have a feminine side, you’d be touching it all the time.
This is an important moment for Deeks. His past work, work that he’s proud of, has come back to the surface and it’s there on display in front of his teammates. From a few moments in the Ops scene and this intro here we can tell that he had a personal connection with this girl and her mother and he looks at their story as one he changed for the better. He’s proud of the work he did with Talia, with the way he kept the family together. He wants to show that off a little, to let Kensi see that even though he doesn’t have a shiny federal agent badge, he still has a resume of important work.
He asks to take the lead, which seems reasonable considering the situation, and Kensi throws it back at him with a little attitude and a line about a woman wanting to connect with a woman- not a woman wanting to connect with someone who played a pivotal role in her childhood. This is what I consider a joke at Deeks’ expense without regard to the effect it has on anyone’s character. Which, if you’ve watched this series at all, you know is a staple move by this team of writers when they’re looking for a quick laugh. They go for the joke about Deeks touching his own boobs and completely undercut what they themselves have set up as a big character moment.
Deeks: Kens, there she is.
Deeks: Talia, hey. Hi. I’m, uh, Marty Deeks.
[Talia’s friend leaves them]
Deeks: I’m sorry. I knew you when you were just a… a little girl. I, um… I was helping with, uh…
Talia: I don’t remember you.
Deeks: Uh, you and your mother were living at the shelter. I was a…a lawyer…
Talia: What’s your name again?
Deeks: Marty Deeks. That’s okay, I’ll just start from the top.
Ouch. Not only does the girl he thought he’d made an impression on not remember him at all, but she makes him look (and feel) like an ass in front of Kensi who turns out to be correct: there was no point in Deeks taking the lead. He has no special connection.
Kensi: Can we talk to you for a sec? It’s about your mother.
Talia: Is my mom back in jail?
Deeks: But we think she’s in trouble.
Talia: She’s always in trouble.
Deeks: This is true, but we really need your help on this.
Talia: Yeah, and I could have used her help for the first 18 years of my life. You ever pee in the back of a minivan, take a bath in the sink at a diner? How about fighting off perverts at a homeless shelter?
Kensi: That sounds horrible.
Deeks: I’m, uh… I’m sorry. When’s the last time you talked to your mom?
Talia: Tuesday, December 21, 2010. It was my birthday. Look, I can’t miss class.
Deeks: Okay, I get it, all right, but this is your mom and she may have been kidnapped.
Talia: Every day, I wake up totally prepared to hear that she’s dead. I’m sorry. I can’t help you.
This part is really, really hard for Deeks. Up until this moment he thought that he’d taken a screwed-up mom and her kid and made a positive impact in their lives. He said in the beginning of this scene that he helped Jenny retain custody when Child Services was trying to take Talia away. So not only does this moment strip him of the belief that he was a force of good, it turns the entire situation on its head. Now he isn’t the guy who saved a family, he’s the guy who kept Child Services at bay when they could have put Talia in a better situation. He’s the guy that sentenced her to a “horrible” life.
The cherry on top of this giant pile of pain and suffering comes immediately after Talia’s departure, in Kensi’s final line:
Kensi: Well done, counselor.
I take back the Fame Kensi comparison because I don’t even think Fame Kensi could have been so cruel. Certainly the Kensi we’ve seen grow since then could not be so heartless as to watch Deeks stand face-to-face with a girl who tells him his so-called “good” work was actually the reason her life was hell and then throw it back in his face. No Kensi I’ve seen previously would have used his professional title as a dig while pointing out his painful failure. This Kensi is a new beast.
Later, in a scene with Callen and Sam in the boatshed, we find out that Talia has lied.
Callen: When did they call?
Talia: It woke me up. 6:00 in the morning.
Sam: Caller I.D.?
Talia: Blocked. They told me to bring my laptop to Hollenbeck Park or they’d kill my mom. And don’t even think about going to the police.
Callen: Which is why you lied to Kensi and Deeks. We’re going to help you.
Talia: You showed up dressed like cops. I don’t want her to die.
Sam: They need something off your computer. They don’t have it. Which means she could still be safe.
Talia: People must think I hate her for being homeless. But that’s just how it was. I mean, she did her best, always had me under her wing. I mean, she used to help me with my homework by streetlight if she had to. I wouldn’t have made it without her.
Callen: She sounds like a great mother.
A great mother. One who loved and supported and cherished her daughter. One who got the chance to do all those things because of Counselor Marty Deeks. This information changes what we learned in our first meeting with Talia, but what it doesn’t do is change anything for Deeks. We never get our payoff scene with him and Talia. We don’t get a great character moment where we feel the relief and gratitude and satisfaction and see Deeks (and Kensi) feel it too, understanding and accepting that he was exactly what he thought – a force for good and catalyst for positive change.
Se Habla Ingles
[Not far from a garage entrance, Deeks is waving a big sign up and down]
Deeks: Cell phones, $14.99! Get ’em while they’re hot! Get ’em while they’re… phones. Teléfonocellular-o. Muy barato! Llaman México, gratis.
[Kensi is heading to the garage with Jaime]
Kensi: It’s “llamar a México.” You don’t have to conjugate the verb.
Deeks: Well, excuse me, Dora the Explorer, but my undercover dude failed high school Spanish.
Kensi: Probably not the only thing he failed.
Deeks: Easy, tiger. I’m the one that’s got your back.
The hits just keep on coming in this episode (though, thankfully, not in the face). Deeks is bad at Spanish. Another joke at his expense with no regard for the character. It makes him look stupid in the moment in front of everyone, it gives Kensi another chance to get a nasty dig in, and it takes a previously established skill of Deeks’ and takes it out from under him. Even if we assume that he did intentionally butcher his Spanish, we still are left with a Kensi who believed he could have made that mistake and a few more jabs in his direction.
Kensi: Let’s start the engine.
[Deeks is hidden in a car and points the key at the car-the engine starts]
Esposito: I don’t believe it.
Deeks: Reel him in, Krafty.
Kensi: What are we waiting for?
Esposito: You could do this to any car?
Kensi: Pretty much.
Deeks: May we be of further assistance?
[Kensi takes the wheel]
Esposito: You hungry?
Deeks: Well, I show a Krispy Kreme a mile on the right–I think you need it.
Kensi: Ah, I’m good.
Deeks: Drive safely, ma’am, ’cause we are always here for you.
Here we have Deeks, ever the supportive partner. He does his job, he demonstrates how well he knows her, and he reminds her he’s always got her back. A sharp contrast in this episode and a clear demonstration of the sudden inequality of their partnership.
Later in the episode we see Deeks crashing into a hostile situation, throwing himself in the line of fire without a plan or backup in order to save his partner. Typical Deeks behavior. This is perhaps why Kensi credits the saving of her life not to the guy who created the distraction (Deeks), but to the one who lived long enough because of it to take advantage of it (Jaime).
Which brings us to Birthdaygate.
Deeks: Boy, oh, boy, this year is just flying by, huh?
Kensi: It’s January 8.
Deeks: Special day– ocho de enero, January 8. Just like you blink and… eight days are gone.
In case that was too subtle for you, Deeks also has this to say:
Deeks: Hey. You hear they opened Jenny’s file? Yeah. Password was in a birthday card. Isn’t that amazing? A birthday card.
These are very blatant reminders that today is Deeks’ birthday. Even the audience watching at home could piece that together, and they had no reason to even suspect it was coming.
But apparently they were not blatant enough for Kensi.
In the penultimate scene of the episode, we come to the bullpen as Kensi is finalizing a reservation for dinner for two. Deeks overhears. Being the adorable muffin he is, he assumes this is Kensi’s birthday gift to him and goes to put on a nicer shirt, preparing himself for a date with his partner after the case wrap-up.
Hetty, the sole source of Deeks love this episode, comes to the team with some champagne to toast his birthday. Everyone, including Kensi, is surprised by this information.
Sam: No way.
Kensi: I thought it was on the 18th.
Deeks: Uh, yeah, nice try. Actually, I heard you making dinner reservations, so…
Kensi: That was with somebody else.
Deeks: Yeah, right.
Deeks: What, are you serious?
Sam: Sorry, Hetty. I don’t mean to be messy.
Deeks: It’s my birthday.
Talk about a kicked puppy. Not only did Kensi forget his birthday, but we had to watch him think she remembered and then think she was joking about forgetting. It’s like the writers were going for maximum damage infliction. The way his face falls is indescribable and I would say that you have to see it to feel the soul-crushing agony, but I certainly don’t recommend subjecting yourself to the torture.
Oh wait – it’s not done. He still thinks she’s joking. After discussion of the champagne and toasts all around, Deeks turns back to Kensi.
Deeks: Hey, uh, I’m the one that’s going to dinner, right?
Here’s why this birthday thing really upsets me. I understand that birthdays can easily be forgotten. I understand that is not a measure of love or affection to have a date committed to memory. I am not faulting Kensi for forgetting. I am faulting Kensi for missing the blatant clues he was dropping all day long. I am faulting Kensi for not making any attempt at remedying the situation once she’s made aware of it. I am faulting the writers for making us watch his heart crumble six times in one scene and never giving us anything like this:
[Deeks is sitting in his apartment when there’s a knock at the door. He gets up and answers, opening it to reveal Kensi holding a cupcake with a single candle. He smiles.]
Kensi: Twelve minutes to spare.
Deeks: Cutting it a little close. Have a good date?
Kensi: Not a date. Not even close to a date.
Deeks: Oh no?
Kensi: Let’s just say I paid my penance.
[Kensi holds the cupcake up to him.]
Kensi: Make a wish?
Deeks: I wish that next year my partner remembers my birthday.
[Kensi hits him in the arm.]
Kensi: You can’t say it out loud or it won’t come true.
Deeks: It wasn’t going to come true anyway.
[He blows out the candle.]
I know that’s the huge shipper in me that needs that type of addition, but as it is when the episode concludes we’re left with Deeks (who found it so implausible she would forget he thought she was joking – twice) realizing that not only did she forget, but she has a date with another man instead. There is zero resolution.
Add this to the weird and hurtful attitude Kensi sported all episode long and it results in a serious beat-down of an episode for Deeks and Densi fans.
Writer: Joe Sachs
Director: Steven DePaul
Original Air Date: January 8, 2013
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Thanks for taking one for the team and rewatching this episode. I don’t think I could’ve done it because I really hate this episode. But your review was perfect.
It was the first time in a while I’d seen it, and hopefully the last. This was like a cleanse! 🙂
Hated this episode more than 3 Cat Vomits. Only watched it the first time it aired. It made Kensi look ugly. I blame the writer and yes, DR for her delivery of those lines.
It really was out of left field, and they never made any attempt to right things again. It’s like the production team doesn’t see the episodes as we see them. How can you leave episodes like Drive, Frozen Lake, and Three Hearts out there like that and never address the giant issues that they created?
This is a perfect summary of everything that was wrong with Drive. When Hetty is the nicest character in an episode, something is seriously freaking wrong.
It made me uncomfortable just acknowledging it. She’s such a monster now that even past good deeds are soured. Thanks, Hdawg 😀
I can see how the writers meant this episode as a tension builder for the evolving relationship between Kensi and Deeks, but it was unbelievable how it was left without any resolution. Even if I bought the entire premise of Kensi forgetting Deeks birthday (thought it was the 18th? Really?), how in the world did they expect us to forgive her for not trying to make it up to him in some way?
It was like it was some type of alternate universe where things happen but have no impact on reality. The singular moment of the misunderstood dinner reservation could have been overlooked if it hadn’t come at the end of a day where Kensi was blatantly cold and, at times. cruel to her partner. The “Well done, Counselor” ranks high on the list of outright mean things that she’s said to him over the years of their partnership and shouldn’t have been forgiven so quickly. It should have caused a serious reflection by Deeks about just how important he really is to his partner.
Well done review and you expressed a lot of the frustrations that a lot of us have felt at the building of a relationship that hasn’t dealt with some of the trust/communication/faith issues that, I fear, may come back to haunt the world of DENSI in seasons to come.
I hadn’t thought of it like that – as a tension builder – maybe because I didn’t feel that was necessary at that point in their arc. I thought the ramp up of flirtation and closeness was building to something really nicely and a wrench in the gears wasn’t necessary, but then I tend to find tv shows throw way too many wrenches into relationship storylines.
Probably technically the box was supposed to be the resolution? Episodes later and never actually opened, however, does absolutely nothing to counter the severe damage this episode did. In fact, I think the box was such a hot mess that at this point it’s added more damage on its own.
“Well done, Counselor” was so cruel that I just can’t fathom how it was never acknowledged. It’s darkened my view of Kensi more than most things – maybe only the punch was more harmful to her character. It’s probably better for my fannish experience that I don’t sit down and try to make a list 😉
I do hope that the trust/communication/faith issues come back, but I don’t have much faith in the writers that they’re even aware there are any left unresolved.
Well done, review! I’ve re-watched these episodes and I admit that I fast forward through the scenes that bother me. I’ve never really dwelled on them until after reading this. I don’t fault the actors..I do fault the writers and the directors. From interviews and BTS’s of the show, I hear that lines are delivered in multiple ways and from directions given by the directors. What ends up onscreen is the vision of the director. My biggest pet peeve is the lack of continuity for moments that flash onscreen never to be addressed again. Or perhaps they will in the upcoming season. One can only hope.
And I agree, I have not forgiven birthdaygate.
Yeah, that’s my biggest pet peeve as well. Continuity! I have volunteered time and time again to be a consultant for them in that regard, but they’ve yet to take me up on it 😉
Rude, awkward, harsh, painful, and seriously sad…all of these words apply to Drive. I felt so bad for Deeks during this episode I wanted to kick everyone in Ops and punch Kensi in the jaw and shake the daylights out of that little twerp of a college student Deeks had fought so hard to keep with her mother. I think the writer and Shane Brennan became so enamored of the Jaime character after the first episode he was in that they just sort of fell all over themselves trying to write a bigger part for him than was necessary. By the end I was sick of him and then to have Kensi blow Deeks off on his birthday to go out with the guy was really beyond belief…literally. Shall we count how many times Deeks has saved Kensi’ life? That final scene when no one except Hetty remembered his birthday was so painful to watch. It’s only redeeming value is that incredible puppy dog look on Deeks face when he realizes she isn’t taking him to dinner. Made me want to reach through the screen and hug him. By the end I was mad at everyone, including Jaime. The next time he’s stuck under a car, I hope he never gets out from under it. Who, me bitter?
The whole thing was painful – that’s definitely the word for it. I didn’t like watching him suffer and get kicked to absolutely no end. Maybe if there were a point? Maybe if it was a catalyst for something? But as it stands, this was a stand-alone beat-down with no redeeming qualities.
Makes your realise how much patience Deeks has had over the years with Kensi. He has loved her forever and he certainly has gone through so much to win her love (even though I think she has loved him forever as well but never wanted to admit it) Just love Eric Christian Olsen. He is so perfect in this role
Agree! He’s long been devoted and put up with a lot. At least they’ve finally found a place where they’re happy – I just wish they would have repaired some of the damage first instead of completely ignoring it.
And yes, ECO is perfection.
Wow, this review was tough to read. I found myself getting more and more agitated as you listed off all the horrible things in the episode. Nicely done! For me, the two most outrageous elements were the bitingly sarcastic “Well done, Counselor” line and the fact that she didn’t acknowledge that he helped keep her alive by creating a diversion that stalled for time for back-up to arrive. But it was all upsetting. I think the whole episode is evidence that the showrunners and writers can be super lazy and way to quick to rely on Deeks for humor. And to be more specific, humor at Deeks’ expense. I find it disrespectful to his character.
By the way, these comments were filled with things that made me laugh out loud, so thanks everyone for that!
Haha. I love that you followed up the “this was tough to read” and “it made me agitated” with “nicely done!” 😀 I see how you are… 😉
Hee hee. I do like the angst. But seriously, you did a fantastic job of enumerating every horrible thing about this episode. I’m pretty sure you made me hate it even more than I did before. It makes me sad that the showrunners and writer could ever come up with this. They seriously need some better supervision. I bet Team wikiDeeks would give them a really good deal (and do a really good job).
And now almost a month later, I get to read this article. Nice overview of the episode that had me cursing when it came to the end. Poor Deeks, he was hit so many times in this episode (not actual physical blows, but with words and deeds) that I lost count. You revived this episode in my mind, since it’s been good solid 7 months since I watched it. And you must like Hetty’s remark about Deeks “Long may he run”.