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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