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.
- 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