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Review: NCISLA “Revenge Deferred” (S7E17)


Frank Military brings an element of true excitement to his episodes. He’s willing to push boundaries further than any other NCIS: Los Angeles writer. He explored one of Sam’s darkest experiences as a SEAL in “Little Angels”. He almost set Callen on fire in “Rage”. He nearly let Kensi be gang-raped in “An Unlocked Mind”. He tortured Sam and Deeks in “Descent”/”Ascension”, and let Deeks torture in “Spoils of War”. So going into one of his episodes, I always feel a little nervous, but in a very good way. I love that sense of danger, that sense that these characters might be pushed further than they have been before, for that’s when I feel real suspense. Not about whether our favorites will survive, but about how they’ll be affected by the episode’s events, and what their reactions might tell us about their true natures.

For me the big question heading into “Revenge Deferred” was whether Military and his co-writer Chad Mazero might let Sam, that most honorable of men, torture and/or murder Tahir Khaled in cold blood in order to protect his family. While the episode delivered plenty of intensity (and very able direction from Rick Tunell), I don’t think we really got the full answer to that question. Just as the episode’s title suggests, the answer will have to wait. We’ll talk about all this…

…But First, The Plot

We open onto Sam and Callen in Eritrea with soldiers from the African Standby Force. For years they’ve been tracking a war criminal named Thomas Karume and have recently come across extensive photographic evidence that he’s been surveilling Sam’s entire family. They’ve summoned Sam to show him- and only him- because somehow in this remote foreign land, they’ve heard about an intelligence leak at NCIS OSP. Sam resolves to track down Karume, while back in LA, Kensi and Deeks head out to ask their old friend Alex Elmslie, from the Global Criminal Tribunal, for assistance. Elmslie points them to ex-child soldier Emmanuel Salim, who served under Karume and is now working for a non-profit raising money to aid in Karume’s capture.

African Union drone photos from the previous day show Jada alive and with Khaled, who’s now working for Karume and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Sam and Callen head for Khaled’s old stomping grounds, where they find him on his farm. Sam uses, shall we say, enhanced interrogation methods in an effort to get Khaled to tell him the source of his intel, until Hetty sends in a Special Ops team to take Khaled into custody. In the meantime, Densi and Neric get some help from Elmslie’s CIA contact and uncover the Center for South Sudanese Justice’s nefarious hidden purpose of funneling money and intel straight to Karume. They also track down and rescue Elmslie, whose involvement in the investigation has gotten him kidnapped. Sam and Callen race off to rescue Jada, only to find she doesn’t need their help, having already been saved by her fiancé, a South Sudan Army soldier. The episode ends with Khaled’s escape, and a looming final confrontation between him and Sam that will have to wait for an upcoming episode. Wow, that’s a lot of plot for 42 minutes, and I didn’t even cover it all!

Old Enemies Meet Again

The script had a nice complexity to it, with echoes of past events as well as accurate characterizations. LL Cool J was outstanding throughout. His expression when viewing the photographs of his family on a bulletin board halfway around the world was unlike anything I may have ever seen from him. He looked utterly terrified, maybe even more scared than at the end of “Descent.”

The real question though was how far Sam would go to force Khaled to reveal the source of his information. I couldn’t stop thinking about Deeks with the cleric in “Spoils of War,” for both characters faced similar situations. One difference is that we all know that Deeks has a dark side and “a lot of rage.” Sam, on the other hand, is a man of discipline who comes from a profession where following orders is of utmost importance. Of course, we’ve seen the lengths he’d go to to protect Michelle, including breaking out of jail and suffering through torture. Which side of Sam would emerge here?

The way Khaled confidently assessed Sam’s need to do the right thing set up a fascinating dynamic between them. “It’s just the bark of a dog with no bite,” he tells him, even as Sam hangs him up from the rafters. Khaled’s apparent belief that he still held the power between them must have frustrated Sam all the more. It was a compelling face-off, and suspenseful watching to see how far across the line Sam would go. However, we didn’t really find out whether Khaled was right about Sam. We don’t know what happened in the two hours after Callen told him that Special Ops was on their way, but Khaled looked no worse when they arrived to take him into custody. Did Sam back off? It’s unclear. What I loved about “Spoils of War” was that we saw the repercussions on Deeks for taking the actions he did. We didn’t get that from Sam here, but I’m hopeful that we might see it in episodes to come, when I’m betting Sam may be forced to take things further.

I have to say that I was uncomfortable with how easily Sam resorted to torture, for I’m not sure what else to call beating a prisoner and hanging him from the ceiling. Of course, if I were in his place, I’d likely want to do the same, but that doesn’t make it right. The implication here seemed to be that of course torture is the best course of action. At least both here and in “SOW,” torture didn’t produce results, just as it doesn’t in reality. I wish here that someone had acknowledged that “it’s not what we do,” rather than Callen telling him, “No one’s ever gonna know what happens down here but you and me. You do what you gotta do.” (Granted, that could have been Callen’s attempt to frighten Khaled.)

In the end, the bad guy escaped, and we’ll continue this great storyline between ongoing adversaries that nicely mirrors that of Janvier-Callen. Here, Khaled is “obsessed with” Sam and hell-bent on revenge. He apparently can’t be captured (for very long anyway), and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing him again. I love a good arch enemy! Thinking about it makes me scared for Sam (that’s a good thing in my book).

A Serious Densi

There isn’t much to report on the Deeks and Kensi front. However, unlike “Matryoshka, Part 2,” it never felt as if they were missing from the episode. They contributed to the case and had the episode’s big shoot-out. What I very much appreciated was the serious tone they maintained throughout. We’ve seen in past episodes like “Expiration Date” or “Internal Affairs” where one set of partners has continued their flirty/bromantic banter despite their teammate getting shot or arrested. While I may have enjoyed that banter, particularly in “Expiration Date,” it never seemed appropriate given the situation. Here we got a suitably subdued pair.

Deeks: No one takes this job because they want the white picket fence.

Kensi: Yeah, I know, but at least you and I have somebody to go home to.

And even though Deeks joked throughout, the jokes weren’t made to be playful, but rather to alleviate the greater-than-normal tension. You can see the difference in his delivery because he doesn’t smile.

Obligations and Second Guessing

This was a rare episode where I actually liked Granger and Hetty at the same time. Hetty was simply trying to bring Sam and Callen home safely; her motives made sense to me for a change. Granger too was looking out for Sam, trying to make sure he got closure for a burden he’s carried since Season 3. Sending Sam the photo of Jada, although it did potentially endanger his life, felt to me downright thoughtful. I think Hetty was right, that the old guy was motivated by personal experience, as he implied with his comment that “Obligation can be a powerful emotion.” Oh, and he wouldn’t even tell Hetty the location of the safehouse! Now that’s some solid decision-making I can get behind.

Parting as Good Friends

My favorite scene was Sam’s talk with Jada. What a wonderful arc her character has experienced, from naive young woman head over heels in love with Sam, to homesick and willing to risk her life to return to the familiarities of home and a new love, to the confident woman we saw in this episode (always winningly played by Ella Thomas). I loved the twist that she wasn’t being held against her will, but that she was actually safe and in love again, with hope for her future. Her path to maturity and happiness was something series regulars don’t always get to enjoy.

Even though Sam didn’t share a lot with Jada, I still felt his emotions in this scene. Again, LL Cool J nailed it. They both got the closure they needed, and I was happy for Jada for how far she has come to find happiness, and for Sam because hopefully he’s been relieved of the obligation he’s carried for so long. I found it quite moving. For me, it was a far more satisfying conversation than the similar one between Kensi and Jack a few episodes ago.

Memorable Moments

  • Nice choice of music in the opening scene. It helped me feel as if I were actually in a foreign land. I also liked the editing with the quick cuts through all the photos as Sam stared at that board in the tent- intense!
  • Zoinks! I loved Eric’s Scooby reference and think it should be a regular thing.
  • Is the second mole going to be another random office worker we’ve never met? I keep thinking about Hetty’s line in “Traitor” that “The best spies are those you least suspect.”
  • I liked CIA Agent Alfred Mahdi. He seemed bright and capable. Maybe their paths will cross again sometime.
  • It was nice to see Callen finally get a chance to return some of the huge debt he owes Sam for all the times Sam had his back on his personal quests, as recently as the last episode (did they even come back to the States or did they fly straight from Russia to Eritrea?). Callen was every bit as loyal as Sam has always been, willing to follow him all over Africa no matter how dangerous the stakes.
  • I’m not sure if the sunset during the Sam/Jada scene was real, but it was beautiful. Between it and the  wide open, empty location, the scene had a wonderful peacefulness about it.

I’m not sure how soon Khaled will return, but I simultaneously look forward to it and fear it because of what it could mean for Sam and his family. I think that’s a sign that Military and Mazero did a great job of setting up this story arc. Tell us what you thought in the Comments below, and don’t forget to check back later this week for Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal, plus the Edit of the Week.

Title: “Revenge Deferred”
Writer: Frank Military and Chad Mazero
Director: Rick Tunell
Original Air Date: February 29, 2016

About Karen (287 Articles)
wikiDeeks Writer & Assistant Editor. I never wrote for fun before... until my ECO-obsession. Now I love to analyze any and all aspects of the best character on television.

14 Comments on Review: NCISLA “Revenge Deferred” (S7E17)

  1. Thank you for your review Karen.

    You are absolutely right with your thoughts about Deeks / Kensi and Hetty / Granger in this episode and your analysis about Frank Military and his stories. The problem is that he has the darkest and sometimes the most complex stories but overestimates the skills of some actors.
    Here is where I disagree with you. LL has great acting skills in fighting but not in showing desperation and angst. That is not his strength and FM should have considered this (he did a similar mistake at the episode ‘Unlocked mind’). I was really difficult to watch LL in these mentioned scenes because of his lack of acting skills.

    Also the torture issue is something I have a different opinion. People who use torture are mentally deranged and have a low intellect IMO. Why? Because if they would have a clear might and at least an average IQ they would use different techniques to get what they want because they are able to. Torture (and also rape) are used by inhuman beings and is never ever justified. So Deeks did it and it was so sad (especially since the other guy was blind, defenseless and much older) and now also Sam? Sorry but I think SEALs are better than this no matter how high the stakes are.

    I hope Khaled returns soon because the Hanna family is in a safe house right now until they get him. But it also could take years before he returns again like this time (the last time we saw him was S3?). I hope that this storyline will be over soon. The writers sometimes stretch an arch far too long and you don’t care anymore about it.

    This episode could have been a lot better than is was IMO. I was kind of disappointed by the outcome and performance (especially after COD great perfomance in the previous episode).


  2. I totally agree with Beth about LL Cool J’s acting ability. Coming straight off the back of last week’s episode, where COD gave a very emotional and realistic performance both during the one on one chats with Anna & especially at the end with his father, LL does not have the range to do this. As a result he came off very wooden. His strengths lie in action and the buddy scenes.
    Unfortunately I am not overly invested in Sam’s story, which doesn’t help. But wheras I had wondered if Callen’s father would form the season finale, it may be that Tahir returns so they can put this arc to bed.
    I like the second mole and really hope they don’t make it another stranger.

    I’d like to see Callen set up as the mole (with his newly revealed family info), but the real culprit to be someone like Nell.


  3. I have made my opinion of the subject matter of FM’s writing known, so won’t revisit that. I agree that Sam is better at humor and action, not so much with angst. I can’t believe a trained special forces operative would go off like that; he knew that his affair with Jada would blow up in his face and he knew that Khaled is a vindictive warlord (aren’t they all?). Didn’t believe him going directly to cold blooded torture nor Callen not stopping it – unless my perception of Callen as a sociopath is accurate. Neat way to get Jada out of the way… now, how is Sam going to explain to Michelle? And two moles (or more) in one little agency office???

    I still have a problem with the constant CIA presence in this series… The Congress deliberately made it illegal for the CIA to conduct or participate in operations on American soil. They allowed the CIA powers and authorities not given to other law enforcement organizations and they all remembered the excesses of a just-terminated and still then in existence secret police – the Gestapo and the Russian NKVD/KGB. Yet we are blithely presented with CIA involvement again and again. Should be the FBI.

    On the positive side, I loved the Densi/Neric interactions. While Sam and Callen were chasing through the bushes and breaking all the rules, morals, and ethics they supposedly espouse ( remember Sam’s comment about what Kensi might do to Claremont) the home team was shutting down a major funder of the terror organization. Yes, Densi was serious in this one, but Kensi still got to bring up their domestic arrangements… Eric and Nell figured out how to and did track the money trail, with a little help from the CIA Officer – which is what the CIA really does when a case hits the American shore.

    I thought the Hetty calling out Granger for lying was pure irony given how often shes lies either by commission or omission.

    To be honest, I read a book while this one was on with one eye on the screen for when the action moved back to LA.


  4. What amazes me – in a show that seemed afraid to let two main characters become partners in life besides being partners in the field – is how Deeks and Kensi still work so well together.
    In this episode they were perfect, they protected each other flawlessly, they interacted smoothly, one watched the other’s back and the other shot, they were competent, balanced, focused and serious and at the same time they showed that they cared and were worried for Sam and his family. I don’t know how we could ask for more from their partnership.

    Kensi’s “At least you and I have somebody to come home to” had a very deep meaning, I think.
    For viewers who are not interested in Densi, it could pass unobserved, but for those who have followed Deeks and Kensi’s story from the very beginning, it was priceless. It’s so heartwarming to see Kensi so committed and invested in her relationship with Deeks; Kensi, the best first-date girl in town! It’s awesome how far they have come together.
    I only hope that one day we will see a role reversal mission: Deeks and Kensi who have to go to a faraway country to save the world and Sam and Callen who stay at home to water the plants (Kensi’s cactus?), walk the dog (Monty?), take care of Hetty and Granger and hold the fort 🙂


  5. I thought this episode was much better than last week’s ep. Like others said there was more of a balance, but I do miss when the four team members are bantering in the bullpen.
    I thought LL did great in those scenes! In the past, I have not been convinced with some of his dramatic scenes but I believed him here.
    My last thought: do you think they will make one of the main characters a mole?


    • If it’s a main character it would have to be Deeks or Nell, wouldn’t it? Isn’t after they came when this mess seems to have started? Or I guess it could be Granger? I guess the question I have is why? The only thing that has actually been “done/compromised” is Hetty’s info leak, isn’t it (OK and now Sam’s info)? Have I missed something? The only other thing I can think of is the chess game with Janvier against Callen and “everyone he loves”? But that has taken way too long for it to be him it seems. Interesting speculation. We only have 7 episodes left this season, right?


  6. Loved your review KP. So comprehensive. However I must say something about LL Cool J’s acting skills in this episode. I disagree with those who say he isn’t competent here. While he may not be as expressive as ECO or shows emotion as readily as COD did when it comes to family revelations, I believe his emotional response in this episode was very true to his character. Sam is a tough and stoic character and his reaction to seeing those photos in the first scene was in keeping with that. He was stunned and then his anger built. He is a Navy SEAL, and not a demonstrative man in most situations. He assesses situations as he has been trained to do. He isn’t the type to throw an emotional tantrum and wring his hands. His anger visibly simmers as it did here and his commitment to protecting his family was raw and visceral and it led him to the edge of dark violence. Yes, he resorted to torture and there is a deeper question about how far a person will go to protect the people they love. Deeks faced that and now Sam. All the characters on this show have dark pasts and we shouldn’t forget that in amongst the light and airy banter this show is famous for. They are not weekend warriors and the people threatening Sam’s family are not paper mâché villains. He knows his family won’t be safe until the mole is uncovered and obviously that mole has sold harmful information that threatens Sam’s world. The writers didn’t shy away from what a character like Sam Hanna would do in that situation. And LL gave a solid performance showing he is to be feared when angry and when he went to find Jada to make sure she was safe, he showed how protective he is of all the people he cares about.

    I almost wish they had made this a two part episode, but I have a feeling it could be the precursor to the season finale.


  7. sassyzazzi // March 2, 2016 at 2:09 PM // Reply

    I really enjoyed reading your review and all of the comments . It is always interesting the way each of us views the same episode . I really enjoyed this episode. It was a good action packed episode, well scripted, well acted and very well balanced. To me it was the model for how you can write Sam and Callen in another country and still have the team in LA that has a storyline that is integral to the episode. I thought this episode made very good use of all the characters. I liked that we had competent Deeks and competent Kensi as well as a mention of Densi.

    I thought LL Cool J delivered a very good performance. I thought he played the part in a very believable way ; it is the way I think a real Navy Seal would carry out a mission if it was personal. I agree with the comment above that all of these characters have dark pasts . All of them and their families are in personal danger if there is a mole in their midst.

    I also really enjoyed Ella Thomas in this episode. She is a good actress, poised, and quite beautiful. I was pleased to finally see a recurring female lead that I was glad to see come back to the screen. I thought the actress and the writers also portrayed the character in a dignified manner and that was a pleasure to watch.


  8. Reader1976 // March 3, 2016 at 12:33 AM // Reply

    Karen, great review! Covered everything I was thinking and then some. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.


  9. Brenda (@bpnp) // March 3, 2016 at 7:17 PM // Reply

    Great review Karen!

    I didn’t get to post last week, but I guess I’m in the minority that liked last week’s episode a bit better than this week’s. I like Ana/Bar Paly and think she’d be a perfect long-term relationship for Callen. I was totally distracted by the dusty quality of the fake snow, but that’s last week’s news, so let me move on.

    I agree with your thoughts on Frank Military’s episodes and they’re not among my favorites (except perhaps SOW). I don’t mind action/suspense but it’s just usually too dark for me.
    That being said, I thought Sam’s emotional range was representative of what one would expect for the situation and I thought it was well-done by LLCoolJ. I have often thought that of all the traumatic experiences the team has had, Sam would be the one I would most worry about for having a final breakdown. Firstly because he himself has spoken about how he copes with torture by leaving his body behind and being afraid one time he wouldn’t find his way back. But his buttoned down Navy SEAL exterior worries me in what it hides or suppresses of what he has previously experienced. I think that sort of emotional overcontrol can belie what lurks beneath the surface. When he started in on Khaled I was really concerned he was finally going to lose it and not be able to reign himself in.

    I also wasn’t convinced about the resolution with Jada. I don’t know why, but I still feel like she might be in on the whole thing and was actually waiting for her to tell Sam that she was Karume and then try to kill him so he would have to kill her to save his own life.

    Those concerns notwithstanding, I thought it was a very well-done, suspenseful episode that I couldn’t take my eyes off of for a second. Kudos to writers/cast/crew for drawing me in, even though the overall style of the episode isn’t really what I normally want/expect from my favorite show.


  10. Thanks for the great comments everyone! It never ceases to fascinate me to hear the incredible diversity of opinions, to learn how differently we can all see the same episode. wikiDeeks fans are the best!


  11. I thought Sam’s emotions were portrayed well. Normally Sam is in control, but when his family is in danger all bets are off. As for special forces operators not using “enhanced” techniques (aka torture) in interrogations, they do if what they said on the latest Criminal Minds is true. Morgan was tortured using what the CIA refers to as “enhanced interrogation” techniques. These techniques were developed & taught by the British SAS, one of the most elite special forces units in the world. I understand Sam’s need to protect his family at all costs. At least Sam or Deeks have never done to people, what Jack Bauer has done on “24”


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