Review: NCISLA “High Value Target” (S8E01) / “Belly of the Beast” (S8E02)
NCIS: Los Angeles Season 8 got off to a fiery start with a double episode pairing of “High Value Target” and “Belly of the Beast.” Given its new Sunday night and time, the two-hour opening was a smart way to attract potential new viewers to the show. New showrunner and long-time writer R. Scott Gemmill penned both installments, which hinged around the dual storylines of terrorists seeking dirty bomb material while the team sought them, and an Under Secretary of Defense commandeering OPS in pursuit of the long-sought mole. Able direction was provided from Tawnia McKiernan in hour 1 and Terrance O’Hara in hour 2.
High Value Targets on a High Stakes New Night
While as usual I found myself distracted by small plot issues or questionable decisions of characterization, overall the two episodes provided an excellent example of the show’s strengths to any new viewers tuning in to check it out. There were impressive stunts in a fast-paced story. Both episodes included some nice action sequences, such as Sam taking down a suspect while crashing through a window while on fire (on fire!). There was enough humor (a Gemmill strength) for four episodes. But while viewers may enjoy the action and the wit, I think they return for more of the show because they fall in love with the characters, and in this two-hour opening, the entire team was given a fine introduction, made better by the fact that they were personally affected by the events of both the mole storyline as well as the helicopter crash. Watching them deal with such particularly intense situations always ups the entertainment value for me.
CBS was smart to launch the series’ new night with a double episode. Without the anticipation of the crash, which anyone who’d seen a promo knew was coming, the first hour might have underwhelmed slightly. As it was, “High Value Target” provided a solid introduction to the show and set up the excitement of “Belly of the Beast.” Moving the premiere up a week also seems like a good idea, since we’ll get to see the outcome of Kensi’s injuries before having to skip a week for a presidential debate.
The Mole Hunt Continues
We met smarmy Under Secretary of Defense Duggan, who appeared out of the blue to put an end to the mole. Or at least to find someone to blame for the mole. I do wish he could have been less cartoonish. It would have been so much more interesting to see a competent, smart investigator determined to actually bring the mole to justice. Instead we got a man who seems driven more by his own ambition and out to bring down Hetty and/or Granger. It all felt a little too reminiscent of the Season 6 arc where the DOJ took over OSP and Hetty was called to Washington to testify. In both cases, it would seem that the writer believes Hetty has nothing to answer for and is being persecuted by arrogant Washington pencil pushers (“Brooks Brothers body snatchers”) who don’t know what it’s like to get things done in the real world.
Just like in Season 6, I find myself unwilling to really root for Hetty. I do look forward to seeing how it plays into what I hope is a master plan to actually catch the mole. In the meantime, she seemed to be feeling overly sorry for herself at a time when her team needed her. Unfortunately this did seem in character, as I’ve come to view Hetty as a pretty dark person who’s survived by focusing on self-preservation. She’s no longer the kind fairy godmother I first thought her to be.
Granger, on the other hand, was awesome. I loved his calling Hetty out for bailing on her team, and keeping everyone focused on what needed to get done, all while issuing a few signature one-liners made all the funnier by the incredibly deadpan manner in which they’re delivered (This is my happy face). He too has changed in my mind from the annoying man I could barely look at (thanks in part to Sweet Lu’s depictions in her fan fics) to one of my favorite characters about whom I actually care.
Nell and Eric were adorable throughout, if a little too silly at very serious times. But what exactly was Nell doing sneaking out on the big meeting to copy/upload/erase some files? Hmmmm. Could she be the mole? She’s plenty smart enough and it would make for great drama (poor Eric’s heart would irreparably break). I’m not so sure the showrunners would do that. My money’s on Nell carrying out some contingency plan of Hetty’s to enable them to continue to operate in a situation like this.
The Next Chapter
How wonderful was it to see Deeks and Kensi taking up right where they left off at the end of last season? Still functioning in a mature adult relationship with real communication skills on display. That discussion about their future plans was great (even if Deeks’ views on having children seem to have evolved slightly since their last discussion on the topic). And how sweet was it that Deeks ticked off all the elements of Kensi’s bucket list even though he hadn’t heard the team’s earlier discussion? He knows his ladybird so well. Kensi’s statement that her job isn’t just what she does also seemed totally in character, and it was almost identical to Deeks’ words to Hetty when she offered him an agent job in “Imposters” (also written by Gemmill).
Deeks: OK, fair enough. In all seriousness though, how much longer are you gonna do this?
Kensi: Well in case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t just what I do, this is who I am. I grew up on Marine bases. Protecting people is all I know, and if I wasn’t doing this, I don’t know what I would be doing.
Deeks: I understand everything you’re saying. I’m just saying that you’d also be an amazing mom.
Deeks: And you’re passionate and loving and intelligent and articulate. And how fun would it be to be there in the morning and make frittatas for our kids? To be home and helping them with their homework, and not out all day being shot at?
The lovely Densi talk provided a nice counterpoint in the first hour to the overall pretty silly (if completely charming) Deeks we got. While I was generally very happy with the way the team functioned together, I did think we got a slightly less competent Deeks than usual, first not following along with the discussion of radioactive substances (cesium vs. selenium), then failing in his bicycle pursuit (surely he could have gone faster on foot- I’m not sure that sequence was as well directed as it might have been), and then being ambushed by Rizvi in his house. Of course, Sam and Callen did a poor job of clearing the cover company’s headquarters, resulting in having to jump through fire, so Deeks wasn’t the only one displaying sloppy operational skills.
I’ll just stop the complaining right there though, and simply say Thank You Mr. Gemmill for that gratuitous scene with Rizvi. There was clearly no need for it (wasn’t the guy practically standing steps away from his own closet?), so I look at it as a gift from Gemmill and Eric Christian Olsen straight to us Deeks fans. Now that’s a smart way to encourage new viewers to come back! When that belt flew off, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in flashing (no pun intended) on Deeks’ prior part-time gig as an exotic dancer. Deeks swallowing the ring was quite funny (It’s just, uh, something I ate), and I really hope the subsequent path traveled by said ring will never again be discussed with anyone, particularly Kensi. She should believe her ring came from much romantic planning and safekeeping, not from a seedy parking garage out of the trunk of the car of someone with verrrry questionable feelings for police horses (yuck!), not to mention the later terrain it covered.
Homeless Deeks Means a Contribution Is in Order
Speaking of that bicycle chase, let me make a shameless plug for our Pets of the Homeless charity work. We at wikiDeeks have pledged to contribute $150 each time Homeless Deeks makes an appearance on the show. This latest contribution brings our total to date to $3350. If you’re not familiar with the great work this organization does to help homeless people and the pets who provide them unconditional love, check out our Pets of the Homeless page for more information. Any new donations will be automatically entered into our upcoming drawing for an autographed photo.
When the Jokes Don’t Actually Defuse the Tension
As much as I enjoyed the episode, one element bothered me in a couple of places, and that was the show’s continuing insistence on inserting humor in the midst of serious scenes. Yes, the show’s banter is a key element, but when Callen raises an orange case over his head in a joking reference to Say Anything while Kensi is unconscious and possibly bleeding to death a few steps away, it’s extremely distracting and even a little offensive. It does a disservice to his character that he would take even a few seconds out of a life-threatening situation like that to make a joke. The same could be said of Nell and Eric’s jokes about breaking into Ops without their badges. They come off as uncaring and I know they’re not.
Now Deeks spends a high percentage of his time making jokes, but they almost never feel inappropriate in the same way. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that using humor to defuse tension is Deeks’ primary way of functioning in the world. He does so for others and also at times for himself. It’s such a huge element of his character. But the key to making this work is the very smart way that ECO performs. He can make Deeks full-tilt silly when everyone is safe and relaxed, but when the stakes are high, the tone he uses changes dramatically. We hear the nervousness in his voice, we hear the delivery of the joke change, and it helps us understand that he is in fact making jokes as a way to cope with a stressful situation. Callen’s joke was delivered in the exact same way as if he were standing in the bullpen on a random morning (the background music even shifted to match his light tone). Deeks’ much tinier joke about being cool with dying only served to make us feel for him even all the more because it revealed his vulnerability.
Heart and Drama
The second hour was quite exciting and had me on the edge of my seat. Watching the entire team celebrate the apparent successful end of their mission only to have it literally blown apart was upsetting, even though I knew what was coming. Seeing Sam looking after Deeks warmed my heart. Watching the boys problem solve about how to free Kensi from her predicament as Deeks tried to hold himself together had me sharing in their frustration and worry. ECO was strong throughout, showing us Deeks’ desperation as his world threatened to fall apart.
On the other hand, the whole “Belly of the Beast” episode was a potent reminder of the challenges Deeks and Kensi face as a couple working in such a dangerous job. If the scenario had been a little different- maybe the terrorist needed to be apprehended before he could set off a bomb that would kill hundreds of people- would Deeks’ insistence on staying with Kensi have been the right decision? In such a situation, it seems clear how quickly he’d prioritize his partner over the mission. Or maybe it’s just on my mind because it was at the top of my Top 3 Most Wanted Scenes list (shameless plug #2).
The episode had two moments in particular that really got to me. When Deeks tried to tell Sam and Callen to save themselves and leave him and Kensi, my heart just melted. Of course Deeks would never abandon Kensi (“obviously”), but seeing him ready to die by her side was powerful. I do wish Kensi had been conscious to hear him (and to try to convince him to go), but it was still a very moving moment and for me, an incredibly romantic gesture. I also appreciated Sam and Callen’s loyalty to their teammates, which was also completely expected but lovely to witness.
The other moment was Deeks’ insistence to the medical staff that he needed to stay with Kensi because he was her fiancé, when in the first hour she had made it quite clear that was not the case. Very sweet and very sad. Add to that other small details like the way Sam and Callen looked after Deeks on the ship, how he was so drained he needed to sit down on the floor to wait for news about Kensi, and Sam’s small physical reassurance when he reached out to put his hand on Deeks’ shoulder, and I was fully satisfied with not just the angst, but the whole team/big brother vibe.
- Yes, Tess, the “Sans Voir” explosion is still in the opening credits. May it stay there forever!
- A little more Mary Poppins/Jack Sparrow ventriloquism ventriloquesting please. Deeks’ ineptitude was kind of adorable. I guess that’s how he got the woman at the charity to be so forthcoming about their business. I’m pretty sure it would work on me… Also, did anyone else flash back to the scene in “Parley” where Kensi was sniping at Deeks from the car while he chatted with Monica? The vibe was similar here, although way less tense for “Uncle McFlirtypants”.
- Eric gets seasick in the boatshed? Seriously? He had just been there hours earlier, not to mention many other times in the past. (Nell is the one who actually gets seasick.) Eric is plenty funny without introducing new quirks. His Shakespeare was fantastic, not to mention, “I’m actually THE technical operator and this is MY Ops center.” So smart, yet so Beale.
- I definitely appreciated Eric’s unwillingness to order the deaths of those men, but the scene felt a little too drawn out. I found myself getting angry as his continued hesitation put the team’s life in greater jeopardy.
- You can break into Ops by triggering a fire alarm? That seemed awfully easy.
Come back later this week for Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal, along with the Drabble of the Week. We’ll also have another Classified Preview on Saturday, and a new Top 3 on Sunday. And I cannot wait to see next week’s sure-to-be-angst-filled scenes with Deeks and a comatose Kensi. I hope he makes me cry as much as he did one member of the crew who watched the filming!
Future reviews should arrive by Tuesday morning. Unfortunately I was stuck on an airplane Sunday night so got a late start on this one. Sorry for the wait!
Hello, this is my first comment on your amazing website even if I came around for 2 years now… It’s always a pleasure to read all your posts. I’m a huge fan of Deeks (and of course the amazing Eric Christian Olsen!!!) so it’s great to come on a site who celebrates this wonderful character and actor… Every weeks, i’m looking forward to read the review and all the amazing comments. These almost 5 month of hiatus was awful but it was worth the wait… What an amazing beginning!!! But like you, I didn’t find the Callen attempt of humour (while Kensi was unconscious) adapted… I was feeling uncomfortable. But it was a minor disappointment because everything else was great and beautifully acted… Oh, and like you, I love Granger more and more every year and Hetty less and less…
And I always will be ok with a half naked Deeks!!!
(I’m a french fan of NCISLA so I apologize for all the grammatical or vocabulary mistakes I may have (or may have not) made…… 😉 )
LikeLiked by 2 people
Welcome Jojo! I hope this is just the first of many posts!
Great review Karen. I particularly liked your analysis of why the humor sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
So far as the ring is concerned, I didn’t mind the parking lot scene so much, but the rest… yuk. Wouldn’t it have sufficed to have Deeks put the ring in his mouth and then cough it up once the suspect had left the room? Even the gratuitous shirtlessness (appreciated though it was) did not compensate for the grossness that followed.
Hopefully he will get another ring.
Thanks for your review, I missed reading them so much.
What an explosive Season 8 premiere! It had the right mix of every ingredient I’ve come to like in this show: serious and funny moments, banter, action, drama, competent characters, supportive team, heartbreaking scenes, romance. And did I say shirtless Deeks? No, I didn’t, but I meant it from the bottom of my heart 😉
NCIS LA is an addiction, I can’t help it!
I am so glad the showrunners or CBS, I don’t know who exactly, decided to air a two-hour premiere. These two episodes together made much more sense than with a week in between.
The first was more an introduction, a preparation for the tragic moments that were going to come in the following one. And the second… wow, just wow! I think the writers and all the actors did an amazing job there and this sets my hopes high for a high-quality season.
A minor detail I’m not so sure I have liked so far was the ring sub-plot. I would have many questions about it, especially what it was supposed to mean: that Deeks still has acquaintances from his before-NCIS life? That Deeks can’t afford a two-month-salary-worth ring? I had never pegged him as stingy, more the contrary and I can’t believe he wants to spare money on the ring for the love of his life. Was it just a plot device to create a funny (gross) scene after Deeks swallowed the ring? We’ll see how it is developed in the next episodes.
There is only one more serious thing that I find a little disturbing at the moment, and instead of summing up myself, I quote Gemmill’s words from an interview:
“So, where does the team go from here? First of all, don’t expect Kensi’s recovery – if it happens at all – to be a quick one. According to NCIS: LA showrunner Scott Gemmill, Kensi will be “out of commission for potentially forever, but for an extended period of time at the very least.”
That is my gretaest fear: to allow DR to take her maternity leave, the authors needed a reasonably long “hiatus” for Kensi, so they made her injuries very serious. From that kind of situation, to sound realistic and plausible, you don’t recover in a couple of days/weeks, so that’s why it may take Kensi a long time to be cleared for the field again… And that’s my point: I wouldn’t like her character to be ruined forever after this terrible accident, I like Kensi in the field with Deeks, fighting bad guys together, that was the first reason I fell in love with them to begin with.
I could accept Deeks paired up with other characters, like Nell, Ana (?), or Sam and Callen (that would be interesting to explore more) but only temporarily.
The promo for next week’s episode seems quite intense too. I guess Deeks will propose to Kensi when she can’t hear him because she’s in an induced coma (I think everybody’s thinking this after DR teased she had been so good in that scene) and, who knows, he may slip the ring on her finger too… Or maybe I’m reading too much fanfiction!
LikeLiked by 1 person
– Yes, Tess, the “Sans Voir” explosion is still in the opening credits.
I’m easy to please.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Your review was worth the wait, Karen. This is my second favorite season premier after Ascension, and I agree that running the two episodes back to back made it even more powerful. The only point we disagree on is Hetty. She is a dark character to be sure, which makes her very interesting to me, and even though I agree that she seemed to be feeling sorry for herself, I must say I believe she is playing the long game here. I believe her willingness to sacrifice herself, even in the short term, to give her team time to rescue her agents in the field was admirable…maybe not fairy-god-mother-like, but true to her character.
These two episodes left me with warm feelings for every member of the team, even Granger. Loved Eric Beale especially. He might have hesitated to kill all those men, but that reluctance is so true to who he is. I would love to see the emotional aftermath of his actions in a future episode.
Every scene at the crash site was riveting, except for Callen’s untimely bit of humor. Other than that one false step, the scenes resonated with tension and camaraderie as well. Sam’s concern for Deeks was especially heartwarming and something I’ve longed to see for some time. I got the feeling Callen and Sam were surprised that Deeks offered to stay with Kensi and die by her side so they could escape. He had to know they wouldn’t leave him there, but maybe not. ECO played it all so well…never overplaying the emotional turmoil Deeks was going through, but his desperation was obvious and so very touching. Watching how kind and brotherly Callen and Sam were with Deeks on the ship made for the perfect ending to a powerful beginning for my favorite show.
Great stuff NCISLA. Glad to have you all back.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Love reading these reviews – agree with them almost every time. I agree the Callen joke was about the only real issue – if he’d done it running to show Sam what he had found, almost in a desperate “does this really work like the movie” kind of thing it might have been alright. I think just badly directed/shot for me. Coupled with the kinda excessive ring story – it seemed just a bit of forced humor for humor’s sake. I agree, ECO does it so much better in really making it work in so many different situations. I am a little on the fence about Hetty. I want to believe that she was trying to “get the job done” while being overwhelmed by emotions/feelings she couldn’t afford at the moment. It was her relationships crisis – she’s really broken her own rule of never having anyone in her life you have to tell secrets to & I want to think it shook her to her core. She did cover for the team so they could get away (although it kinda looked like they were successfully gone & therefore not a necessary diversion), so I’m thinking/hoping more long term ploy to finally get this solved. And she bargained into keeping the LA OPS in tact, otherwise the whole thing was going to be disbanded, right? I keep holding on to being a Hetty fan. I think the boat shed was a different building, wasn’t it – it wasn’t the normal one? Duggan knew about that one. This one was smaller and we’ve never heard the waves like that before. Hetty said they were going somewhere safe and they wouldn’t have been safe in the usual one. I loved the “stinking badges” reaction – that is a favorite line in our family and several of us have the t-shirt! As soon as Nell & Eric gave each other that look after Granger’s question about their badges not working I KNEW they were going to say it! Can’t wait to see how this all plays out! Great start, in my book!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Kind of a PS – can I ask a probably really dumb question? What has this mole actually “done”? Has there been a mission that wasn’t successful because of “it”. They only thing I can think of myself is the giving up of Hetty’s housing information. I feel like I’ve totally missed something really important, that “it’s” target is Hetty not the operations of NCIS?
Great to have your reviews back. I missed and everyone’s comments. I agree with a lot written all ready. Running the episodes back to back was brilliant. Not enough suspense to make me want to wait another week. I don’t trust Hetty and wonder what the end game is. There is one.
Thanks for great review Karen. I would have hardly survived (last) summer hiatus without this super duper site and fanfiction. The season opening was excellent. Everything has been put in its place for later developments that I can hardy wait to see. I guess Deeks finally got his soul crashing helicopter, instead of shoe now. And nothing will be the same again. At least for some time now.
I was honestly enjoying watching this double treat and I almost agree with all that you so profoundly elaborated above. I also felt that bike chasing scene was made sloppily in a way. I do not know much about directing, but this scene left me wondering what was its purpose apart from confirming to undersecretary how incompetent bunch our heroes are!
But Deeks hasn’t pegged me as incompetent either during the team briefing or in the room with Bassel. The former showed that he was only trying to grasp all that is happening now with the undersecretary taken over their OSP (he looked distracted) and the latter that he was more in control of the situation than Bassel although he was the one disarmed.
For me, one of the best funny scenes with Deeks was the one with his “old acquaintance” dirty Harry in the garage. Only Deeks would find the way to buy obviously expensive ring at much better price, and I am inclined to believe that the ring actually costs much more than his two months salaries (more likely Kip’s two months salaries) and that he indeed paid his two months salaries for it as dirty Harry was really insisting on insuring the ring.
And the last but not the least, I also use this opportunity to thank Mr. Gemmill for letting us see more of Deeks.
Thank you for your great review. You covered almost everything though at some points I have a slightly different opinion.
Yes this was a great premiere almost as good as ‘Endgame’. This premiere had it all. Humor, comedy, drama, banter, love and lots of action.
The first half was more like the good old episodes with lots of Deeks fun (I loved the bicyle chase, I laughed so hard, it was the side of Deeks character that I like most and he delivered it great), Callen and Sam banter and even Nell and Eric were great to watch.
The second part of this episode had lots of drama and action and Granger at his best! Also this part highlighted what will come in the next couple of episodes, the brotherly interaction between Callen, Sam and Deeks. I really hope they will minimized the Deeks / Kensi hospital scenes since I don’t like the weak Deeks and the romantic relationship the try to bring into this show.
And the helicopter crash scene when Deeks said to Callen and Sam they could leave… well it was a bit too pathetic but I blame it on Deeks shock situation. He usually knows that Callen and Sam would never ever left Kensi and him alone somewhere unsafe.
IMO the writer did a fantastic job. He knows what the actors are good at and he wrote those scenes for these characters e.g. lots of fun and comedy for Deeks, lots of banter and action for Callen and Sam and great one-liners for Granger. Thank you Scott Gemmill.
Hi guys, i love ncis los angeles, and I’ve just been reading what you’ll have been talking about and i can’t wait to see it, I’m in the uk and have only just finished season 7.
I’m late; having personal family issues (death) to deal with. I loved these two episodes; especially E02 — Golden. I agree putting these two together for a two hour was a great decision; a great night of television and I thank you very much!! Needed and love the distraction from my life.
Thank you WikiDeeks for this site; love the previews, reviews, discussions, etc. Good job and I’m truly grateful!!!
First of all its great to have this site back in action. I have missed it!! I really enjoyed the episodes and of course the best scene, shirtless Deeks!! I was a little dissaponted in the way the writers wrote how Deeks bought the ring. But I will be happy when they are engaged. I was also happy with the support that Callen and Sam gave Deeks. This is something I have been waiting for. I am sure that Eric Christian Olsen’s amazing acting will have me crying for Deeks in the upcoming episodes.
Thanks for the comments everyone! It’s so wonderful to hear from new posters (welcome Jojo and Debbie!) and equally lovely to hear from so many familiar names. Yay Season 8!
Jan and danielaz, at this point I think it would be smart for Deeks to exchange that ring for another one of equal value. Surely he could do so, and then when we finally see it on Kensi’s finger, we wouldn’t have to be picturing it in the other places it’s been, LOL.
Cladani, I’m confident that as soon as DR’s maternity leave is up, Kensi will be back in the field at Deeks’ side. She may have some revelation that will make her more open to a future career change, but I can’t see the showrunners breaking up these two in the field long-term. As for the next few episodes, my biggest concern is that they’ll send Deeks back to work (with Nell or anyone else) rather than pinning him to Kensi’s bedside, which is where I see him needing to be.
Tess, I totally share your love for that “Sans Voir” explosion. It’s the best television explosion I’ve ever seen, with spectacular stuntwork. They’ll never top it.
Lindy, I agree it would be great to see Eric’s emotional aftermath from ordering the deaths of those men. I’m not optimistic we’ll get it, but it would be interesting. Maybe we’ll see him turn away from violent videogames that remind him of the drone strike?
Laura Ann, that’s an interesting observation about a back-up boatshed. That does sound like something Hetty would arrange! As far as your question about the mole, first- I don’t believe in dumb questions. Second, I’m not sure myself- my memory is muddled on the topic. I do know the mole’s accomplice who was arrested in “Traitor” killed the poor HR lady and almost killed Granger and Eric. Did one of them also reveal the location of Ops to Matthias? In my defense, Season 6 was my least favorite season ever.
Maria, thanks for the reminder about the sole-crushing shoe discussion. It is so relevant to what’s happening now (although when it was written, did the showrunners even know DR was pregnant?).
Olapa53, so sorry to hear about your loss. I think many of us can relate to the wonderful distraction talking about NCIS:LA can be.
Thanks for making me think much more deeply about some of these aspects (even if I’m now a week late)! No time to read all the other comments, so sorry if this is repetitive. Appreciate being forced to analyze silly joking Deeks vs breaking tension with jokes Deeks. And yes, having Kensi in his ear, just like in Parley, is always a good time. (I wonder if the “Uncle McFlirtyPants came from a real-life conversation???)
The whole finance/ring situation is giving me some ideas. Stay tuned!
Gayle, I totally see that nickname coming from real life. It sounds like something Daniela would call him, doesn’t it? Looking forward to whatever it is you’ve been inspired to create!