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!