Monday night’s NCIS: Los Angeles episode “Internal Affairs” was the most anticipated by Deeks fans in quite some time. For at least two seasons now, we’ve been hearing ever-changing teasers about Deeks getting into trouble and maybe leaving NCIS. Over time my expectations for this storyline had grown quite high. Along with those expectations were a number of worries. Would everything we would learn about Deeks’ backstory fit into established canon? Would Kensi, Sam, and the rest of the team back him up unconditionally? Did he do something illegal, and if so, would his actions be true to his character? To what extent did his dark side play into the events in question?
Chad Mazero, in his very first writing credit, partnered up with R. Scott Gemmill, writer of more NCIS:LA episodes than anyone else, to give us a story that largely exceeded my expectations. In fact, it was an episode that showed us more about the man Deeks is than maybe any episode since “Plan B.” Like “Plan B”, I’d call “Internal Affairs” an Essential Episode. We’ll talk more about why, but first, the plot.
But First, The Plot
And for a change, it’s actually a plot that we all care deeply about. We open with Deeks going through the booking process for his arrest for the murder of his ex-partner Detective Francis Boyle, and beginning his interrogation with IA Detective Whiting. He’s interrupted by Boyle’s previous partner, Detective Steadman, who angrily threatens Deeks before Lieutenant Bates intervenes. As the team starts digging into the past, they discover that Boyle and Steadman were super dirty. Boyle didn’t just beat up prostitutes for fun. He and Steadman stole guns, drugs and money from arrests. Deeks’ partnership with Boyle interrupted their activities. The team also discovers that ex-IA investigator Detective John Quinn (see “The Debt”) has just escaped from prison and may have been involved in their shady dealings; in fact, he might even have killed Boyle and made off with their ill-gotten gains. Oh, and did I mention that there’s an ex-prostitute turned nursery worker named Julie Sanders to whom Deeks’ alias has been sending money each month? That’s a lot of shadiness for one precinct!
In the end, Steadman shows up to threaten Monica Lee, disbarred attorney of arms dealers and probable associate of Quinn (see “The Debt”), but Deeks intervenes. He lures Steadman to the boatshed and cleverly escapes through the trap door with Monica. The team shows up and captures Steadman and all is well. On the other hand, Deeks heads back to Ops for a chat with Hetty, where we discover that- surprise!- Quinn never escaped prison: Hetty relocated him in order to bring the IA investigation to a head. And- surprise?- Deeks did in fact kill Boyle to protect prostitute Tiffany Williams, AKA Julie Sanders.
What if we don’t like what we find?
The episode was extremely well written and everyone was very much in character throughout. It was fantastic to see Kensi so unhesitating in her support for Deeks. Like him, she’s very loyal. You definitely want her on your side in a fight. Her fierceness drove her to unleash her frustrations on Hetty, which made me like her all the more, although her inability to control her desperation made me worry about whether she really should be working as Deeks’ partner in times of great stress (see “The Frozen Lake”). Leading up to this episode, we had seen her doubt Deeks just a bit. For example, in “Active Measures,” when Deeks introduces the story of Boyle, she questions him, saying, “If there’s something that I need to know, then you need to tell me.” Here, she never questions his innocence, moving full speed ahead to rescue him. Boy is Steadman lucky he didn’t end up with a bullet hole in the groin! If looks could kill, well, he wouldn’t have made it through the episode.
Sadly for me, Callen was also very much in character. He’s not slept well when the episode opens, not because he’s been up trying to help Deeks, but because he’s been fighting with Joelle. I didn’t think his priorities seemed quite right. And I also didn’t love that he questioned Hetty about what their investigation might find. On the other hand, that analytical nature is true to his character, even if it makes it hard for me to warm up to him. It also makes him good at his job. He was absolutely right to question what they might find. Sam also disappointed me a little. He backed Deeks up throughout the episode, but I would have liked to see a little more passion and concern rather than the continuing banter between him and Callen. These two just didn’t seem to be on the same page as Kensi when it came to their worry for Deeks’ immediate welfare. Their banter was the only off-note of the whole episode.
Hetty too was very much in character. I’m not sure whether to be angry at her continuing manipulation and obfuscation, or grateful to her for covering for Deeks. I have to say I definitely enjoyed seeing Kensi let her have it. That’s an outburst that was long overdue. “Machiavellian plan”? Kensi knows Hetty’s up to something but her mind would be blown if she knew what. I also loved the quiet scene between Hetty and Deeks that ended the episode. Hetty seems to be the one who knows Deeks the best, maybe even understands what drives him better than Kensi does. I think Kensi (like Sam) sees the world in black and white, while Hetty and Deeks (and Callen) see the world in shades of grey. Hetty can understand Deeks’ motivations and actions, up to and possibly including murder, probably far better than Kensi could. In the end here, I found myself happy with Hetty, for maybe the first time since Season 4’s “sunshine and gunpowder” note.
What happened to me- that is what drives me.
Speaking of Deeks’ motivations, we got an incredibly clear window into what led him to become a police officer. In a moving and intense scene with his mom, they discuss their shared past. I have always assumed that Deeks still carries a lot of guilt over shooting his father. But here when he tells her that neither of them are to blame, it sounds like he has forgiven himself. That makes me happy and hopeful for him.
And of course we already knew that his childhood experiences shaped him and drove him to do what he does, to protect people from experiencing what he and his mom did. It really is almost as simple as what he explained to Kensi back in Season 2’s “Overwatch”, that he became a cop because, “I wanted to protect people. You know? I wanted to do something that really made a difference in peoples’ lives.” But hearing him explain it in such a direct and honest way here just shows how pure-hearted that motivation is, and it makes him all the more lovable and admirable, because he’s followed through on his plans to do good. It also might explain why he was so reluctant to join NCIS when he told Hetty (in “Imposters”) that being a cop wasn’t what he did, it was who he was. For it was something that grew inside of him from when he was 11 years old, and he probably felt it was his destiny. It actually made me understand a little better why he still hasn’t made the change.
Deeks: The only person to blame for what happened to Dad… is Dad. And I can’t tell you how long it took me to realize that.
Roberta: I should have protected you.
Deeks: You did.
Roberta: No son should ever be forced to shoot his own father.
Deeks: What happened to me, that is what drives me. That is what makes me get up every single day and do what I do to make sure the bad guys don’t win… And if I have one regret it’s that I didn’t do it sooner, because after he was gone, this- you and me- that’s what makes me who I am.
You could have lost all of this.
We can take these motivations a step further, and see how they shaped Deeks’ behavior as a police officer. He’s always shown an inclination to look out for prostitutes, whose positions in society would make them easy prey for violent men and would likely trigger Deeks’ protective nature with reminders of his mom’s victimization. We see this in “War Cries” when he covers for a store clerk/prostitute (also written by Gemmill), and with Heidi the gym manager/ex-prostitute in “SEAL Hunter”, who reminds him that he gave her $50 during a drug bust rather than arresting her, and told her she was too good to be a sex worker. It’s totally in keeping with his character that he would have acted to protect Julie/Tiffany, even before she tells Sam and Callen how good Deeks was to all the working girls.
But exactly how far did he go? I’m not sure we really got the full story here. Julie claims that she left the hotel room before Boyle was killed. She may have been covering for Deeks, but is it possible that he killed Boyle afterwards, triggered by anger and driven to protect not just Tiffany, but all the girls Boyle was going to hurt in the future? I don’t want to see Deeks as guilty of cold-blooded murder, but I feel like the door to that was left open. His hesitation when he told Hetty why he killed Boyle introduced doubt in my mind, just as did his comments to Kensi in “Unspoken” about killing someone for the “right reasons.” Plus there’s the fact that he was ready to confess to a lesser charge- what was his strategy there? Or was it his guilty conscience talking?
I appreciate just how dark a Deeks Mazero and Gemmill gave us. Gemmill has a strong history of showing us Deeks’ darker side, with “Impact” and even “Deep Trouble Pt. 2” when Deeks uses physical pain to try to get a burned suspect to talk. And I think Eric Christian Olsen alluded to the ambiguous nature of the ending when, in an interview with E! News, he compared the story to a podcast called Serial about a suspect who may or may not have actually committed murder (Eric thinks he did). He also described the Deeks of this episode this way: “There’s obviously things that you share with the people that you love, and then there are things that are so dark and so deep that you can’t even share them with yourself. I think that’s what Deeks is dealing with right now.” If Deeks had intervened right as Boyle attempted to harm Tiffany, would he sound so ashamed of his actions? Would a cover-up of self-defense warrant so much sadness from him in that final scene?
Secrets are much easier to keep when you have no one to share them with.
Hetty’s final line seemed like one of her classic mysterious words of wisdom/confusion. I think I interpreted it as her advising Deeks to share his secret with Kensi, but I think the exact opposite could also be understood. At any rate, will Deeks share with Kensi? Time will tell. Like Kensi (in “The Grey Man”), I think Deeks only ever wants her to see the best part of him. Plus, he lied to her face about Boyle in “Active Measures,” so coming clean is bound to anger her. They’ve had so many issues with trust since they met. For me it’s been the defining theme of their relationship. Kensi displayed complete trust in Deeks this episode. Will Deeks trust Kensi to understand his actions? Or will he be too afraid that it will break the trust she has in him?
I think Deeks is frequently driven by the fear of losing the things he loves, as if it’s only a matter of time before his past catches up to him, like he’s living on borrowed time in his happiness with Kensi. ECO talked about this briefly on the S6 DVD commentary. I’m not sure I see Doubting Deeks telling Kensi, although in the long run keeping secrets is bound to come back to haunt him. If I were going to offer him advice, I’d quote his words from “Praesidum”: I always find that it helps me when I talk about things that are bothering me… Come on, partners don’t keep secrets… You just gotta let it out. You gotta make peace with it.
Whatever he decides, I’m happy with this reveal about his backstory. The episode was great to watch in part because I found myself wanting to believe in his innocence like Kensi, when all the while the little voice in the back of my head kept bringing up the previous hints about his possible guilt. ECO played it so well too, with Deeks seemingly resigned to his fate, and maybe not fighting quite hard enough to assert his innocence. I think this messy backstory fits with the man we know, particularly his dark side. And that darkness gives him a wonderful complexity that makes him so fun to talk about.
- Eric Christian Olsen was fantastic throughout. He always nails Deeks’ use of humor to lighten tension or to hide his fear and vulnerability. But here he also got to have two beautifully honest conversations with the two maternal influences in his life. He played both scenes perfectly. Passionate and slightly exasperated with his mom, and relieved and exhausted and finally being at least partly honest during his talk with Hetty.
- The episode was very nicely directed by Eric Pot. The opening scene was riveting, with a whirlwind of activity including Detective Steadman breaking into the interrogation and roughing up Deeks. The whole thing immediately placed Deeks as the underdog against both Internal Affairs and the dirty cop, and made me root for him (and worry about him) all the more.
- I also liked the initial discussion with IA Detective Whiting where they sized one another up. She knew why Deeks hadn’t lawyered up, just as he knew what she was hoping to hear. It was well written and well acted by both of them. I could hear the “Touché” in Deeks’ head when she called him on having something to hide.
- Mama Deeks has a first name! (Although I’m not sure why Kensi isn’t using it.) Roberta wasn’t exactly what I imagined. She struck me as a little daffy. Based on some comments ECO made a while ago, I expected her to be a bit stronger minded. But I liked how she used humor just as her son does. It was delightful to see exactly where that trait of his comes from. And I think her possible lack of strength was more in keeping with her character’s history. The fact that she seems to be the exact opposite of Kensi totally fits with my theories about why Deeks is so attracted to strong women.
- On the other hand, did Roberta just happen to be stopping by his house when IA showed up, or is she living with him? I’m confused. Maybe she swings by to walk the mysterious, never-seen Monty? And I’m still waiting to hear all about how Deeks is so close to this woman who’s not his next of kin and seemingly never spent any holidays with him. At least we’ve gotten nothing that contradicts canon here, but it sure would be nice to fill in this mysterious hole in their backstory. In reading into Deeks’ comments to her, I am assuming that they led a better life once his father went away, and that she didn’t turn on him like I’ve read in many fan fics. That at least makes me happy for him.
- I’m also curious about the whole timeline… When was Boyle killed? Before Deeks came to NCIS? Was Deeks’ stay at the motel for termite tenting the same as his Season 3 sleeping on the bullpen sofa in “Lone Wolf”? I’m thinking that they mentioned Tiffany was his informant seven years ago because that’s when Boyle was killed, which means it happened before he ever ran into NCIS. But Callen mentions their arrest of Quinn before he could get away with the stash as if it all happened around the same time. Also, how did Deeks seem to know Monica Lee so well? She apparently knew Boyle (she compared Steadman to him), but exactly how did she and Deeks cross paths? What a tangled web of corruption Deeks was in the middle of with these people!
- Only Hetty could get sealed juvenile court documents when she was researching Deeks prior to offering him his liaison job. Impressive. But does having sealed documents imply that 11-year-old Deeks was arrested for shooting his dad?
- I’m pretty sure Kensi called in her marker with Hetty during the “Blye, K” episodes, but it goes without saying that Hetty owes her big-time for her previous “Machiavellian master plan” in Afghanistan.
- Wasn’t there a BTS shot of Granger and Kensi at prison (with men in orange jumpsuits)? Did we miss a scene? If it was cut in favor of more Deeks, I am super happy with that decision.
- Deeks’ escape from jail (Running Deeks is very appealing) and his escape in the boatshed (I was worried about the dive into the water while handcuffed) were both very exciting (and again, really well directed). And how about Lieutenant Bates, protecting Deeks in the opening scene and then springing him towards the end? In fan fiction he’s often written as kind of a trouble-maker, a bit of a rascal, and here he definitely played that role. I liked him a lot.
- I also liked that the story ran over multiple days. So often with this show, they cram the entire plot into about 10 hours of a single day, making things seem all the more unrealistic. Giving this story time to play out, even though it was still told in 42 minutes, didn’t detract from the suspense, it added to the believability (although of course, it’s NCIS:LA, so it’s never going to be mistaken for a documentary).
- But is the story over? They have no hard evidence to convict Steadman or Quinn of Boyle’s murder. Might this not be the last we see from Detective Whiting? Or has Hetty done enough to frame Steadman so that Deeks never has to face the legal consequences of his actions?
Congratulations to Chad Mazero on his first writing credit, and to R. Scott Gemmill, for giving us an episode that so well tied up all the previously dropped hints, and gave us so much excitement and drama for the characters we love. Come back later this week for the post-jail return of Deeks’ Surf Log, plus Kensi’s Journal and the Edit of the Week. In the meantime, I can’t wait to hear what you all thought! Share your opinion in the Comments below.
Title: “Internal Affairs”
Writer: Chad Mazero and R. Scott Gemmill
Director: Eric Pot
Original Air Date: December 7, 2015