The summer hiatus. Four long months. Like trekking through a desert seeking out any drop of news to sustain us until the premiere. During this expanse of time, one consistent mirage eventually becomes reality: the DVD set. It gives us the opportunity to not only relive the past season, but also to enjoy special features and behind-the-scenes insights. Over the past few seasons, deleted scenes have become more frequent additions, and some have provided unexpected depth or alternative conclusions to the network airings. Viewer reaction has varied. Like children on Christmas morning, some have looked at the deleted scenes as extra presents, while others have been left grumbling over what’s perceived as coal in their stocking. In this debate, Karen P. and Gayle consider the pros and cons surrounding deleted scenes and how they may have altered fans’ views of individual episodes, our beloved characters and the show overall.
Karen: Last November I wrote an editorial about why NCIS: Los Angeles’ procedural structure would probably always leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Many of the changes I talked about wishing for the show centered around character development. I was all set to write a follow-up piece, and then the Season 6 DVD was released with its much-discussed deleted scenes. They triggered many of the same feelings for me, wishes that the showrunners might make different decisions that would give us more special moments with our favorite characters.
The deleted “I love you” scene from “Chernoff, K.” is possibly the most egregious example. It’s one minute of Densi delight in an episode that, as aired, gave Deeks a grand total of 13 lines. I’m not arguing that we should have had a second less of Callen’s backstory, or of the Hetty-Arkady show (can these two get a spin-off?), but the Anna character was a big flop for me, and I didn’t get much out of her two minute conversation with Hetty. I also didn’t need a full one minute and twenty seconds to watch Callen’s dad sip espresso in the last scene. On the other hand, the deleted scene was actually important, and not just to throw Densi fans a bone in a Callen-centric
season finale. It helped to explain Kensi’s harsh words in the scene that followed, where she snapped at Deeks for protecting her. It illuminated her character, and their relationship, and that’s the kind of thing I crave from this show.
Gayle: Karen, thank you for the prior piece addressing the overall foundation of the show and the continuing strategy of The Powers That Be (TPTB). The most recent Season 6 DVD offerings are a prime follow-up for these topics. Keeping to that “wideview”, my reaction over the past two seasons has turned to frustration. If you’ve ever seen the movie Clue, you know at the conclusion of the film there are two “bonus” alternate endings. This leaves the audience to wonder how the story actually concludes. Some find this additionally amusing and entertaining. Others (like me) are bewildered, left longing for a definitive answer to all the questions posed throughout the film. While this is simply the result of our varied personality preferences, it relates directly to the “bonus features” from the DVDs versus the network airings.
The anticipation for all of those secret features helped us endure the summer hiatus. However, over the last two seasons, our terms of “unsatisfied” and “frustrated” not only took root, but were overly fertilized and blossomed in unimaginable ways. The simplest description I now have for those deleted scenes is they’ve nearly created an “alternate universe” similar to alternate endings. As we continue to await the Season 7 premiere, my time is now spent pondering 1) the genuine status of the show’s storyline and true intent of the writers, directors, and editors with regard to these snippets that 1) aired, 2) didn’t air but were included on the DVDs, and 3) what else hit the cutting room floor that we’re unaware of?
Karen: I agree that it’s tough to know how to interpret these deleted scenes. Some may have been removed because TPTB decided they weren’t true to the characters, or to the story they wanted to tell. Your fantastic debate last year with Diane about the infamous “Spoils of War” deleted scene speaks to this point really well. Unfortunately I don’t see most (any?) of these as such artistic decisions. I think they’re eliminated because they don’t add enough to the story (like the post-corpse photo conversation between Deeks and Kensi from “Inelegant Heart”) or simply because of time constraints. In fact, I’d argue that the “SOW” deleted scene, which clocked in at one and half minutes, would have been tough to squeeze into that already jam-packed episode.
My issue is with instances where other editing choices could being made. Choices that would give us another 30 or 60 seconds of character development rather than an extra-long action sequence. I get that we can’t cut much exposition (the plots are already tough to follow!), but I do think TPTB have missed opportunities to show us more from these characters.
Take, for example, the deleted hospital scene between Deeks and the nurse in “Ascension.” In a minute and a half, it shows us his struggles with his identity as a cop, the pain he feels at being left alone by his team/family, and that he’s interpreted Kensi’s actions as a rejection of his advances (he tells the nurse he doesn’t have a girlfriend). It beautifully sets up his subsequent conversation with Sam, the distance he keeps from Kensi on the rooftop, and especially his “For whatever it’s worth” line in his closing conversation with her. It’s heartbreaking, and Eric Christian Olsen is so good. Instead we get several uninteresting scenes of the team tracking Janvier’s alleged daughter, and an overly long scene of Callen chasing Janvier around a mall for three entire minutes. Not the editing choices I would have made.
Gayle: Every time the topic of “choices” arises I’m reminded of a key fact explained by Chris O’Donnell. In my loose recall he’s commented that what makes a long-running successful show is getting the audience to connect to and relate to the characters; people will watch characters they’ve gotten to know and care about. Yes, NCIS: Los Angeles is a crime-based, procedural drama. However, it’s grown so far beyond that based on the skills and talents of both the cast and the entire behind-the-scenes teams. They’ve obviously succeeded in driving us to care about these characters, even when that emotion is sometimes negative. Regardless, it provokes a want from viewers to know more. Like Dave Kalstein outlined, the case is secondary to the people.
There’s also a difference, I believe, between the casual weekly viewer and “fans”. A typical viewer is excited by all the booms and rogue, off-the-books activities, while a “fan” additionally wants to know the “why” of such actions as well as consider the potential consequences.
You mentioned the cut hospital scene from “Ascension”. I recall reading that scene prior to seeing it and had the same reaction you did about how much more insight it gave into Deeks’ state of mind. As a “fan,” that was much more important than stringing along the case. The challenge of focusing less on the action aspects could potentially decrease widespread viewership (read: ratings, which was a prime concern in moving day and time) that could sadly bring the longevity of the show into jeopardy. So perhaps we need to be careful of what we ask for! Most deleted scenes are interesting, but don’t necessarily add to the episode. That hasn’t been the case with many examples over the past two seasons.
Karen: Yep, you are right that the show is geared for the casual viewer who doesn’t know, or want to know, about the characters’ backstories. It goes right back to what I talked about in my editorial. But I think NCIS:LA is at the far end of the procedural spectrum when it comes to character development. Many such shows include a large focus on their characters’ private lives (Castle, Justified). It feels like the NCIS:LA showrunners have made a conscious choice to limit their content to bromance, banter, and the case of the week, except of course for a few special episodes each season that advance Callen’s story. OK, that’s probably not a fair assessment, but I do think that when they have a choice between action and character, they usually go with action. That may make the many casual viewers happy, but for “fans” like us, it’s hugely frustrating, possibly to the point of not wanting to watch.
I’d also argue that even casual viewers might enjoy seeing more of the characters’ private lives. For example, killing bad guys and getting shot at week after week seems mighty stressful, and wouldn’t everyone, casual viewer or more, be interested in the impact this has on the team? I think TPTB have again, with a few exceptions, chosen to maintain the comic book nature of the action, and a comic book approach to its aftermath.
Here’s a more obscure example from “Reign Fall.” It’s not a deleted scene, but rather, as you alluded to earlier, one that likely was never even written. Deeks and Kensi interrogate a suspected serial killer while Sam and Callen bring his mother to the boatshed. They apparently agree beforehand to make it a rough interrogation in order to scare mom into cooperating (this itself could have used some extra footage to be clearer). Deeks screams at the kid and threatens violence until mom caves. Later, Sam and Callen have another extended three minute scene running around an abandoned high school to capture the brother, the mastermind behind the killings. How fantastic would it have been to have had 30 seconds of Deeks and Kensi expressing anxiety at what they had to do, maybe even with a nod towards Deeks’ abusive father? I’m not arguing to remove the action, just to limit it to maybe two and half minutes- to leverage the case of the week as an opportunity for character development.
Gayle: Isn’t this a core reason why so many people are driven to read and write fan fiction? If the show isn’t going to fill in these gaps, the fans will do it themselves- at least until the gaps get too big.
Karen: Definitely! I know that for some people, fan fiction is the perfect counterbalance to the procedural nature of the show. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for me. I want to see those wonderful fan fics acted out on TV by my favorite actors. Here’s another example… How on earth did we not get a scene delving into Kensi’s past in “Field of Fire”? It could have been related to her Marine father, to her PTSD-suffering ex-fiancé, or to her own post-Afghanistan experience. At least we “fans” understood why she was reluctant to take the shot (plus we probably had a number of lovely post-ep fics to illustrate it). For casual viewers, might they just have assumed she was an overly sensitive girl? Surely a better understanding of her internal conflict would add to anyone’s enjoyment of the episode.
Gayle: You make many good points here, Karen; the best among them is Kensi’s conflict in “Field of Fire”. This is a prime symptom of a larger issue: How do you purposefully put Sam, Deeks, and Kensi through individual PTSD situations only to virtually drop the entire topic for each of them? Learning about these characters, who they are as people, is what made us connect with them in the first place. Why wouldn’t you want to expand that effort?
Karen: Exactly! For me, it’s a lot harder to relate to a superhero than to someone who’s vulnerable and flawed.
Gayle: Back to the deleted scenes, how very different might we consider Deeks and Densi with the inclusion of those pieces from “Ascension”, “Spoils of War” (I can’t believe I even mentioned that one), “Beacon”, and “Chernoff, K.”? What would be readily accepted as canon? Are TPTB fearful of advancing Densi too quickly? They can give us character depth without necessarily speeding up their ‘ship’s progress, as evidenced by the light-hearted scene from “Beacon”. I can’t believe all of these deleted scenes were simply cut for time. So what’s the real justification? My hope is they felt they didn’t have enough time to thoroughly tell a particular aspect of a story and made the decision to not short-change it. What are the chances if one of these scenes aired we’d still be ranting that it wasn’t complete enough? We are a tough fandom to please!
As for this season’s “doozy”, the cut Densi forest scene from “Chernoff, K.”, as usual I’ll defend the minority: I’m glad it was cut. Would it have provided somewhat of a Densi cliffhanger? Arguably yes. Did the scene brilliantly have Kensi connect her father to Deeks? Absolutely. In fact that alone would be considered significant progress from our girl. However to almost flippantly toss in Kensi nearly uttering the “L word” deserves far more time and respect than this scene offered. It’s like she digressed from her face-to-face “All In” declaration. Kensi- the (formerly) walled-off, self-protective, emotionally hesitant girl- finally voicing such a deeply meaningful sentiment to Deeks, to me, will at some point mark a cornerstone in their ‘ship. It deserves to be treated as such.
Karen: I agree with you about not considering these deleted scenes as canon (although they still feel more “real” to me than a fan fic, like they’re stuck in some sort of limbo). And I don’t know that you’re in the minority about the “Chernoff, K.” scene. I’d agree with you about not wanting a first “I love you” to happen in that setting if I thought the showrunners deleted it because of the same concerns. But I think they left it out because they thought other scenes were more important. I think they probably really liked the characterization here. After all, it’s consistent with the Takeback Kensi we see in “Omni” (“I missed you”) and “The Frozen Lake” (“Sometimes a knife is just a knife”). In that case, I say to TPTB, take your best shot for these characters, and we will have fun debating about whether it was good enough. For me that’s much preferred over never seeing it at all (except on the DVD).
Gayle: Karen, you note a key aspect here in inquiring about TPTB’s intent. Do they provide these notable deleted scenes as a gift to fans, to give us insight into an additional level of their thinking? Is it an effort to build anticipation for future scenes that may finally express the sentiments not provided in the past? Or is it simply a case of them “tossing us a bone”, to get us off their backs about not including more of these character development moments in the airings? I’d really like to believe the former. This articulates their care for the characters and their respect for the fans. We’re already aware certain writers are drawn more toward certain characters, so it’s comforting to speculate they are even more invested in the storytelling than we are. Can you imagine the pressure by the writers in wordsmithing, the directors in making choices for the characters’ actions and non-verbals, and the actors’ implementing these directions as well as inserting their own personalization? Yikes. While it’s a fun idea to toy with, I doubt any of us would truly volunteer for those weighty responsibilities- especially with such a judgemental fandom that we can often be.
Yet it’s these very instances of celebration (“Humbug”), confusion (“Three Hearts”), anger (“Drive”), sorrow (“Expiration Date”), intrigue (“Fighting Shadows“), frustration (name your own episode!) that evoke our broad spectrum of emotions. Regardless of the specific emotion, it’s the very fact we voice it- often loudly- that indicates our affection. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t take the time to publicly respond. We’ve experienced incredible greatness from these characters and their creators. Whether it be in the airings or DVD features, our standards and expectations are incredibly high, but only because of what’s been presented to us in the past. I think that’s all we’re asking for- to maintain (or in some cases reclaim) that greatness.
Karen: Well said, Gayle. We are a tough bunch to satisfy. I don’t envy the editors and writers, having to take us through an entire case in 42 minutes while keeping us entertained. I’m sure there are many examples of great character-centered scenes they successfully had to fight hard to squeeze into the show despite a complicated plot, scenes that I enjoyed but maybe took for granted as meant to be. I guess I’d just like to see them push a little harder to work even more of those special scenes into the story. I think the writers enjoy writing them, I know the actors enjoy bringing them to life, and I think fans, both casual and obsessed, appreciate them.
So what do you think? Should we appreciate these scenes as extra insight into our beloved characters, or a sometimes confusing canon/non-canon message from TPTB? Are there any particular scenes that you were thrilled to see, or any that frustrated you? If you were in charge, would you do anything differently? Tell us all about it in the Comments below.