There are episodes in a series that almost everyone agrees on. The Densi fandom, in particular, has typically been like-minded when it comes to how many stars they’ll give an episode. Ask a dozen fans to list their top ten episodes and “Neighborhood Watch” and “The Debt” are in every single one. Ask them to list their least favorites and you’re likely to find several mentions of “Drive” and “Big Brother.” But then there are the episodes that leave us divided- and fervently so. “The Frozen Lake” is one of those episodes. Most fans either love it or hate it, and defend their position with an intensity that only fellow hardcore fans would understand. So what is it about this episode that’s so polarizing? How can we see things so differently? In honor of our current Pets of the Homeless auction of a photo featuring Deeks and the Ghurka, Karen P. and I decided to break it apart and find out.
Allie: As we all sat down to watch “The Frozen Lake” we were coming off “Recovery,” the end of which was the infamous “did they/didn’t they” scene that to this day remains up in the air… which, I’ll admit, I find really frustrating. And maybe that’s part of why this episode never sat well with me. After 82 episodes of build-up, we want the release. We want to see the kiss we’ve been waiting for, to know that there was a resolution. We want to know what that resolution was! This episode clearly establishes that something happened between them, but in order for us to buy into the emotional yo-yo we’re being yanked on, we need to know what that something was. We didn’t, we still don’t, and I don’t think that was good storytelling.
Karen: Oh my, Allie, I don’t know how much of a debate we’re going to have if I one hundred percent agree with everything you say! I know I’m supposed to be taking the pro-Frozen side, but there are certain things I cannot bring myself to support. One is the lack of resolution to “Recovery.” I’ll never forgive the show-runners for allowing what I choose to believe was Densi’s first time going “all in” (no pun intended) to happen off-screen. I know there are many fans who enjoy the mystery [see previous debates on secrets and Densi], but it’s a decision I will never understand or accept. I have always blamed “Recovery” for that ambiguity rather than this episode, in part because “The Frozen Lake” was so well paced that it left me no time to dwell on what was missing.
Another element of “The Frozen Lake” that I can’t support is The Punch, although I do see it as somewhat in character for Kensi. She was more terrified than I’d ever seen her, save possibly for “Ascension”, freaking out that their Thing, and their partnership, were potentially disintegrating in the span of a few hours. She feels on the verge of losing everything. Sure, she shouldn’t have panicked. Absolutely, she should never have hit him. But we all know that when it comes to her feelings, she has poor communication skills, seemingly much more comfortable expressing herself physically (shoulder punches, etc.). I also find it in character for Deeks to let it go, to leave it unaddressed. And I can’t tell you how sad that makes me.
What upsets me more than the actual punch though is the lack of repercussions- no apologies, no acknowledgement that it was wrong. But just as perhaps we shouldn’t blame this episode for what happened before, maybe we shouldn’t hold it totally responsible for what never happened after.
Allie: Right to the punch! Okay, I’ll bite. I don’t read her as being terrified or panicking. She gets angry. She has plenty of time between the departure of the bad guy and when she makes contact to come down, but instead she gets violent. When she walks away from the car and toward Deeks, she isn’t propelled toward him in fear or panic. Instead, she deliberately changes direction and collects her weapons. Once she’s gathered her things, she stands, ignores his attempts at discussion, and walks over to him to strike. The scene was too slow, too mediated for me to see it as anything other than a thought-out, conscious decision by Kensi to ignore any alternative way of expressing herself. She’s mad, I get that. But instead of turning back to him and punching, I want her to continue the silent treatment and take off. He would still be upset, still feel remorse, and still do what he can to address and remedy the issue his failure to take the shot created. He would have done all those things, I’m certain, without her making contact at all. The show could have gone exactly the same- not a single line of the script would have changed if she just walked right by.
As for the repercussions, I don’t think it’s what doesn’t happen after, it’s what doesn’t happen during. We get an apology scene- Deeks apologizing to Kensi. Clearly the opportunity is there, but the writers feel the apology that we need to see is that one. He’s the character who spends the episode on a redemption arc. Nowhere in these 42 minutes do we see remorse from Kensi about punching her partner in the recently-refurbished face. (Without the show establishing that as something that even warrants an apology, it projects a disturbing message to the viewers that I saw time and time again in discussions and comments: when a woman hits a man it’s not only okay, it’s sexy!) Instead, we see her do exactly what she is so upset about: put her partner’s well-being ahead of the mission.
The whole premise of the “frozen lake” metaphor is that they’ll screw up everything because they’re so desperate for each other that the world is going to crumble beneath them. But these two have been the most important people in each other’s lives since Season 3. He’s the only person she trusts. The writers want us to buy into the idea that Kensi and Deeks were professional and logical regarding each other’s safety right up until they have mystery sex-not-sex and then everything flies to pieces. It doesn’t work for me. Their investment has for years been more than partners and they have never been able to sit back and watch while the other is in danger. They were emotionally compromised long before this. Way back in “The Debt” Kensi ran toward a car that was about to explode, screaming his name. In “Wanted” she panicked and almost blew the op when Deeks’ comm turned to static. Unless their physical joining blew some fuses, I don’t understand how they suddenly love each other in such a drastically different way that they’re unable to properly function. I struggle to see how them (possibly?) starting to have sex changes anything at all. If anything, I’d think they’d be better at focusing at work because the sexual tension and flirting would be cut down a little!
If anyone on this team has a “frozen lake” it’s Callen. The thing that’s going to shatter the ground, causing chaos and destruction, is Callen’s pursuit of his personal mystery and the way that he shuts out everything else and charges ahead whenever he gets a hint of an answer. His blind, single-minded devotion is a perfect fit for that metaphor. I don’t think Kensi and Deeks’ relationship is.
Karen: I’m going to have to ask you to loosen up and tell me how you really feel, LOL. I have to say that the whole frozen lake metaphor worked for me (in direct contrast to any and all metaphors used later in the season). I would agree completely that these two have been in love forever, and been emotionally compromised for ages, so merely sleeping together should only improve their work performance. But my interpretation is that it’s not about what should happen between two rational, communicating adults. It’s about how these two people, and especially Kensi, perceive it to be happening, and fret about what could happen. And though they absolutely were emotionally compromised long ago, I don’t think either one ever admitted it to themselves. In their heads, they are still “partners” (how often have they fallen back on that term to reinforce the notion?), and it is only crossing that final line that would cause potential problems.
From the whole shirt fiasco, I would surmise that they didn’t have a lot of time to talk things out before they arrived at work. Think about how long they’ve put off that final step, and how much is at risk. At this point they don’t know if they’re getting “sunshine and gunpowder” fairy godmother Hetty or “is Deeks too close to return” manipulative Hetty. For all they know, their partnership could be ended simply by taking that step, and sadly, that’s how it must have felt at the end of the episode. They’ve delayed becoming “official” this long expressly to avoid ruining their work partnership, so to have things go awry the first time they’re in the field must alarm both of them.
The partners I see here are frightened. It’s like their worry about what could happen becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look at how (adorably) awkward they are in the opening scene- the events of the previous night have messed with their heads. Kensi’s use of the metaphor is her roundabout way of communicating what she sees happening that day, that everything they have built together is crumbling before her eyes. That it comes from her martial arts training fits her character; remember that to this point, the closest she has come to expressing her feelings was with her fierce, decidedly unsentimental declaration in “Unwritten Rule” that as his partner, it is her job to keep him safe. It’s also a safe way for her to open up: recounting the allegory allows her to maintain just enough emotional distance that she can avoid falling apart completely at work.
What’s so incredible about it is that she, in so many words, tells Deeks exactly how she feels about him. It would take another season and a half to get an actual, non-deleted “I love you” out of these two, but she tells him almost more than that here, that a relationship with him is what she wants the most in the whole world. That’s a huge admission, especially coming from Kensi, who finally offers Deeks a sentiment worthy of his “Ascension” declaration that she pulled him through his trauma. Can’t we celebrate the fact that she actually opened up to him and told him how much he means to her?
Allie: Yes, we can definitely celebrate the sentiment 😉 I do appreciate that Kensi opened up here, and I see it for the struggle it is. Though she tells him that he’s the one who’s bad at communicating, the series has proven that she’s the one who struggles and Deeks is much more transparent and open. A moment where she actually confesses something like this is one I appreciate.
I think, though, for a show that has a habit of explaining things that need not be explained, expecting us to see that there isn’t a problem with their relationship, only that they perceive there to be one and therefore it becomes one, is a bit of a stretch- especially considering the problems that arise in the episode itself and, again, the way it’s presented as a Deeks redemption arc. He does something wrong and he has to fix it. Not only do we hear that from Kensi, we hear that from Hetty. And then, in the end, Kensi blows in too soon (though her emotionally-triggered response actually saves the day, rather than ruins it- again, Deeks is the only genuine screw-up of the episode) and has to apologize to Callen and Sam (hey, look, she can apologize!). They’re both being emotional humans instead of robot agents and it’s presented as a direct result of them taking the next step. Hetty even asks Callen if he thinks Kensi and Deeks can still work together.
If the show had given me a “sunshine and gunpowder” Hetty who supports them and says something like, “You two have been working as partners who love each other for long enough now that you know exactly how to accomplish it. Get out of your heads and get back in the game,” then I would have not only completely bought into your interpretation but I would have refrained from gluing little horns and a tail on my Hetty Lange action figure.
But they don’t. They give us a Hetty who is consistent with what they’d been giving us all season- a Hetty who’s inconsistent. The entire “white ghost” arc starts here, which is hands-down the most inexplicably manipulative and hurtful thing Hetty has ever done. And she’s back to the anti-Densi Hetty of “Impact” who thinks the team may be compromised because of Deeks and Kensi’s emotional connection. Then there’s the final scene where (after she’s sent Kensi away without allowing any communication at all) she fails to act like a supportive and understanding “next of kin” figure she is capable of being. Instead, she acts like she doesn’t know and doesn’t care exactly what Deeks is thinking/feeling. Hetty could easily use her words to help him and ease his worries. She doesn’t. She uses them to further shroud things in mystery and allow him even darker thoughts. I used to think Hetty was manipulating things behind the scenes to do what’s best for her agents, the people she considers family. But more and more we’re seeing her manipulations resulting in exactly the opposite of that- and we’re never given a reason why. More importantly, that malicious manipulation is never acknowledged by those agents and Hetty faces zero repercussions.
Karen: I hope this will be the last time I one hundred percent agree with you in this “debate,” but the Hetty in this episode angered and disappointed me. What frustrates me the most is that not only does Hetty face zero repercussions, but the writers really don’t seem to think she’s done anything wrong. If you haven’t already created some fabulous fan art of Hetty with horns and a tail, I wholeheartedly support your decision to do so now!
The whole ending was so needlessly heartless. Sure, the lack of a chance to say goodbye gave us angst-filled, super sad Deeks, which in a twisted way I kind of enjoy. But it would have been far more romantic to give us a heartbreaking, angst-filled, I-may-never-see-you-again goodbye kiss. Maybe that would have been more clichéd, but it also would have been more realistic. I mean seriously, were things so dire in Afghanistan that Kensi had to drop everything to catch that particular flight?
You mentioned Hetty’s questioning Sam and Callen about Densi’s field readiness. Let’s take a moment to appreciate how incredibly supportive these two are throughout this episode. Whereas Callen has in the past (“Omni”) seemed less than confident in Deeks’ abilities, here he does his best to defend the duo to Hetty and to give them some time apart to get their acts together. When early on, it becomes apparent that there’s been a shift between the two, neither he nor Sam raise a fuss or question Densi’s ability to function. When Deeks “screws up” by letting Thapa escape, they both offer words of encouragement. And when Kensi is shipped away in such an abrupt and cruel manner, they both question Hetty’s decision. This was actually the beginning of a wonderful bromantic arc between the three of them, and especially between Deeks and Sam, that took shape in Kensi’s absence. It opened the door to the more supportive, brotherly banter that I had long wished for, and that we saw in episodes like “Iron Curtain Rising”, “Allegiance”, “Fish Out of Water”, “Between the Lines”, and “Zero Days.” Deeks’ next of kin may have let him down, but the way his team leaders have his back in this episode warms my heart.
Allie: And here I am agreeing with you 🙂 I have, in past episodes (and even a little in future episodes), taken issue with the way Sam and Callen treat Deeks, but those two were certainly a silver lining in this ep.
Here’s something we may disagree on: I dislike the scene outside of wardrobe. Don’t get me wrong, I think the “I have a boyfriend/So does my girlfriend” line is adorable and I may have made screechy noises when I heard those admissions, but the rest of it rubs me the wrong way.
First, because she goes right into him needing to redeem himself which, argh ugh, I just dislike that plot entirely.
Next she becomes Fern, which is very cute, and should have led him to becoming Tim. Instead, he says his name is Max. Max. Max Gentry, the worst alias he’s ever had- the one that he despises inhabiting, that makes him go all angsty-face in front of that very same full-length mirror, the one that seduced and manipulated (and I’d argue slept with) Monica during an op that Deeks had to keep a secret from Kensi for most of Season 4 and caused them great unrest- that Max? Why in the world would his pretend playdate persona be Max? Max wouldn’t ask her out for ice cream, he’d take her to the pool hall and let her watch while he drunkenly beat up on some lowlifes. I can only assume the writer thought, “Hmm, what’s an alias Deeks has that people remember?” and then moved on before asking, “Why do they remember it?” Cute sentiment negated.
Then, to close it out, she makes a gesture of giving him her knife, which he asks for clarification on. He wants to know if it means they’re official (which I thought they made clear about twenty seconds ago with the boyfriend/girlfriend thing, but I guess not) and she says, “Sometimes a knife is just a knife.” And here’s where I just get confused. Fandom seems to be a huge fan of this bit, whereas to me it seems like rejection. “A knife is just a knife” means no, right? So this bit is her offering something important and personal to him, him asking if he should read into it, and her saying, “Eh, not really.” Is there another way to interpret that? Maybe just chalk it up to Kensi being the takeback queen of “I missed you” (“Omni”) and “I love you” (“Chernoff, K” deleted scene) and not being able to admit anything (even when it’s frustratingly apparent)? That seems so out of place in this episode where she’s been unusually upfront and especially this scene where she’s gone all-in with him. I just don’t see the positive here.
Karen: While I actually don’t disagree with anything you just said, I still managed to enjoy the good parts of this scene. Like you, I dislike the way Deeks is blamed for everything that went wrong in this episode, but he (sadly but characteristically) accepts that blame. So I take Kensi’s words here as being entirely supportive and protective. She isn’t telling him he screwed up, she’s trying to get him to see the dangers in his plan, dangers he (and Hetty!) are hellbent on ignoring in an effort to make up for his perceived mistakes.
Like you, I find the use of “Max” completely appalling. In “Plan B,” he wanted to keep Kensi far away from Max, and I don’t think he’d ever want to subject her to spending extended time with him. But perhaps we could interpret it as more of a Freudian slip? Deeks is trying to communicate, albeit in a typically roundabout way, about their relationship. He’s trying to be honest, to get her to see where he’s coming from. Max isn’t just an alias, he’s an alter ego. He’s part of Deeks. So maybe Max just slips out without him thinking about it.
And the knife. First, I love that she gives it to him, for clearly it holds great meaning to her. You actually explained her rejection (I agree with that interpretation) quite well, with Takeback Kensi. I think I just tend to accept that characterization of her more easily than you. As you pointed out, it is a bit of a pattern for her. For me it felt about right at this point in the episode, and in their relationship. For almost a year, Kensi has felt conflicted over what she has wanted with Deeks, pushing him to make all the moves. And if you buy the deleted “Spoils of War” scene as canon, even when she did end up at his place, she still felt great conflict. She carries that through into the morning’s events.
So while in this scene, she’s at least retreated from her frozen lake hopelessness, I think she still hasn’t worked out all her thoughts and emotions. That’s why Deeks’ approach, couching the discussion in more generic terms of “a boy and a girl,” is so smart. Just as the frozen lake metaphor allows Kensi to keep a little emotional distance while sharing her feelings, having this discussion using aliases does the same. To me it feels rather sweet, quite romantic even. And again, even though it’s done in a roundabout way, these two are communicating about their feelings. Their feelings! That’s a gigantic step for them after years of failing to address those feelings entirely.
That’s also why I love the scene by the ambulance. Throughout the day, with each conversation, they grow more and more direct with one another. They are finding their way through the tumult, figuring out what they need to do to make things work. By the ambulance, Kensi actually starts communicating like a grown-up (well, almost anyway), acknowledging their Thing, and asking Deeks to be patient with her. She is ready to fight for them, and not in her usual physical manner, but by talking things through. I see this as a big, courageous step for her. And the look Deeks gives her when she acknowledges their Thing was my favorite moment of the whole episode. You can see all the love he has for her, and feel his gratitude that she’s not going to give up on him like she had threatened to do earlier. (It’s also yet another example of Eric Christian Olsen’s incredible expressiveness, needing no words to convey Deeks’ emotions.)
Allie: To me, her line about him redeeming himself doesn’t come off as supportive. Distressed, yes, but any issue she takes with the op seems to be for his safety and not for the motivation behind his ill-advised plan.
You’re right, I have a hard time with the Takeback Kensi characterization. It just frustrates me that after all the time and closeness, the trust and support and companionship, she struggles to voice the most basic emotions. The first time (“Omni”) drove me nuts, and now that it’s become a pattern I just throw my hands up. It’s become an established part of her character, and as illogical and unbelievable as I find it, I’m going to have to come around and accept it. (As an aside, I’m assuming that’s what they’re doing with Kensi’s violence, as well, by adding that headbutt to Talia. I can no longer say the punch is not in character because they’re making it a part of her character to have random outbursts of abuse. Well played, writers.)
The scene outside the ambulance is cute and I’m glad she instigates a clear, direct conversation. It shows how committed she is and it assuages any concerns Deeks (or the viewers) might have that she’s going to give up and get out. Which, at that point in the episode, I admit was a concern I had. They could have gone the “they try it and they fail, so now they have to work together” route and I’m incredibly glad they didn’t.
They moved forward, thank goodness, but after four seasons of UST, Thapa’s advice to “go slowly” made me thunk my head on the table. How much more slowly can they go? Wasn’t “slowly” the pace we’d already been experiencing? Little did I know that they were capable of going at an even more glacial pace. Separate continents for a few months, Kensi coming back to a completely unresolved relationship status, not even addressing it again until more than a year after this episode, at which point they finally get to kiss. They certainly took the Gurkha’s words to heart.
Karen: Hah! I can picture your head actually thunking. Here’s where I feel for the showrunners. Given Daniela Ruah’s pregnancy, they had no choice but to separate these two. That Dave Kalstein tried to work that change into Thapa’s wise words is for me, given the looming separation, kind of sweet. It’s an optimistic sentiment that lets Deeks know that his patience and loyalty in waiting for Kensi to return will be rewarded.
And let me say a few words about said Gurkha. I enjoyed his character very much. He is the only one of Kalstein’s Season 5 Three Wise Men (the others being Tuhon and Angelo) who feels like a real person when he shares his wisdom with Deeks. I liked seeing them quickly develop a sense of respect and camaraderie. When Deeks tells him about Kensi in their initial conversation, it’s no surprise that he considers her to be “the bravest,” but it always warms my heart to see how much he loves her strength and courage.
But mostly, I was just happy to see Deeks get a confidant, someone he immediately feels at ease with to the point that he shares details about himself and his current struggles. Deeks seems like such a loner (although who knows- maybe he has lots of friends like Kip?), and the team at this point has largely treated him as an outsider. Thapa here, dispensing relationship advice, is filling a role that should have already been filled by Sam. It’s one of the reasons I was so bummed when they kill him off in “Expiration Date.”
Allie: Me too! I did like Thapa, and liked him even more in his second appearance, when he played two sides for Deeks and Kensi. It made him really endearing. Too bad they can’t continue to utilize such a fun, unique character.
I’d love to know what storylines were scrapped and what plans had to be altered or postponed when Daniela’s pregnancy came into the picture. Were they always going to get them together there, or was it “rushed” to make it happen before she had to depart? Would it have been worse? Better?
Overall, I do appreciate that this is a very Deeks/Kensi heavy episode, and that they finally address the “Thing” and commit to something. I’m sure a percentage of my dissatisfaction with the episode stems from the seasons of spectacular buildup leading to what I feel was not a worthy climax. I know some of that falls directly on “Recovery,” but it’s as if that episode set up the shot and “The Frozen Lake” totally whiffed it. The punch is inexcusable, the premise of the episode-long “now they’re worse partners!” was an eye-roller, and Hetty was in full evil mode. The episode just doesn’t add up to a success for me.
Karen: Once again, I don’t disagree with anything you just said, but for me the episode has enough good to outweigh the bad. The emotional arc we watch Kensi take over the course of the episode, the way Deeks navigates her doubts and fears, the support from Callen and Sam, the camaraderie offered by Thapa, and just the fact that the episode’s entire emotional weight is so focused on Densi, all make it for me an important, and yes, even enjoyable, episode. Deeks and Kensi express their feelings to each other in a way that we had yet to see on the show. And talking this all through with you has actually made me value these things more than I did before, even as it has made it clearer to me where the episode falls short.
If anything is clear from this (very lengthy!) discussion, it’s just how important “The Frozen Lake” is to the story of Densi. How does it work for you? Did you love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between? Does it move their story forward successfully, or could things have been handled differently? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
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