After last week’s strong season opening double episode, NCIS: Los Angeles writer/showrunner R. Scott Gemmill followed up this week with the equally effective “The Queen’s Gambit,” directed by Dennis Smith. The well-written episode hit just the right tone throughout as the team dealt with the aftermath of Kensi’s injuries and the mole investigation, and had me feeling the major angst I simultaneously love and hate so very much.
The Gambit Worked, For Now
Hetty’s ruse to help her team escape and keep their jobs paid off. Sure, she had to go all the way to Washington and put up with arrogant Duggan and ridiculous Chen. But at least she got a good nap in. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate the DC sequence. Was the way Hetty toyed with these people realistic? Nope, not at all. But maybe it was the darkness of the Deeks-Kensi scenes that had me craving something lighter, for I enjoyed watching her fall asleep (or pretend to?) and get Chen drunk. And at least Hetty and the Secretary of Defense took a moment to recognize Duggan for the obviously ambitious idiot he is.
But does anything of consequence ever really happen when Hetty goes to DC? Sure, the resignation letter is back. I’ve lost count of how many times she’s threatened to use it. I’m not worried… [Spoiler alert] With Carl the first mole returning in episode 5, I’m optimistic we’re finally going to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Nellosaurus becomes the Nellverine
I have never found the idea of tiny Nell taking out bad guys particularly believable. Perhaps if they had shown her at some point training in the gym with Kensi, working on her hand-to-hand combat skills, it might ring truer. Having said that, all of Nell’s scenes hit just the right tone. When she expressed her fear of being in the field to Eric, the caring and tenderness between them had me wishing for a public display of affection, but apparently Neric is much better at following workplace rules about such things than Densi.
In past episodes, Nell in the field has come off as either overly confident or totally lacking in confidence. Here she was competent but not obnoxiously so (although jumping on the desk to kick away the bad guy’s gun in that second takedown was a bit too impressive). What I loved the most were her interactions with Deeks. It all made me fall in love with these two as platonic partners. The scene where they rummage through the storage locker was one of the best of the episode. Nell is thoughtful and supportive about Deeks’ worry for Kensi. Deeks is thoughtful and supportive about Nell’s value as a partner. The whole exchange was quite touching. Then later in the boatshed, as they watch an interrogation together, the way they’re seated side by side, Deeks asking about her “paw,” nicely conveyed their comfort together as well as their friendship.
Even in the final takedown, when Deeks encourages Nell to make a joke, it didn’t strike me as out of place. Deeks invoking Kensi’s name helped us interpret it as a way to release a little stress rather than inappropriate use of humor. This, along with his earlier reference to Nell as his “temporary partner” also showed how he is constantly thinking about his one true partner.
Deeks: Say it.
Deeks: You gotta say it.
Nell: Come on, it’s stupid.
Deeks: Nellosaurus, say it for Kens.
Nell: Fine. Special delivery!
Deeks: Ah, look at that- special delivery!
Callen: Don’t let him be a bad influence on you Nell.
Sam: It’s too late.
When Life Doesn’t Work the Way You Plan
There was one more element of this episode I didn’t buy, which was that Deeks would willingly leave Kensi’s side so quickly in order to go work a random case with the team. Nor does it strike me as particularly responsible management- isn’t a sleep-deprived, worried out of his mind Deeks going to be a danger to himself and others? But I realize planting him at the hospital wouldn’t give Eric Christian Olsen much to do for several episodes, so I’m going to go with it.
Instead, let me talk about ECO’s performance because through the entire episode, he didn’t hit a single wrong note. And it killed me to watch. Sad Deeks is the worst Deeks ever. I desperately wanted to comfort him for the entire hour, and probably will for the foreseeable future. Ugh. I read so much into the way he looked at Kensi. It was as if he couldn’t believe that his “fearless” Wonder Woman could possibly be so still. ECO made me feel Deeks’ fear of what the future held without saying a word.
Sad Deeks is also Serious Deeks, and he’s such a contrast to the normal Deeks we get most weeks (see the season premiere “High Value Target” for a prime example). It’s that contrast that really captures our attention. It drives home how abnormal and grave the situation with Kensi is maybe even more than hearing the diagnosis from the doctor.
Which brings me to the long-teased proposal scene. While I would have liked a longer monologue from Deeks, it was still a heartbreaking scene, one that seems to get sadder each time I rewatch it. Listening to him talk about the beach proposal he had planned and seeing him pause as it hits him that it might never happen was truly awful. These few seconds, where he stops to think about what he might have lost, were devastating to watch. And they fit right in with the low expectations he has for his own happiness and how he’s been waiting for that “other shoe” to drop. I also can’t help but wonder if he was so anxious to get that ring on her finger just in case the worst happened, so he’d be able to think of Kensi forever as his fiancée. Yikes- I think the angst is getting to me!
Deeks: So I got you something. I kind of was waiting for the right time to do it, I really wanted to find that sunset that we talked about, on the beach, a bottle of champagne… Sometimes life doesn’t work the way that you planned it… so we adapt… Kensi Marie Blye, will you please wake up and marry me?
Watching Deeks’ excitement when he thought Kensi might be waking up, only to find out she was merely exhibiting signs of brain or spinal injury, was one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve seen on the show. For a few seconds he allows himself to think that maybe his proposal has actually had the magical power to bring her back (I did too), but instead the involuntary movement of her left hand away from his feels like fate mocking him for such a naïve idea. Deeks seems so pained in that moment, and the final few seconds of him backing away and blowing out his breath in a signature Deeks reaction to stress left us all feeling his pain.
Even though we have every reason to believe Kensi will recover, Gemmill and ECO did a wonderful job of making us feel Deeks’ gut-wrenching worry and sadness. ECO managed to convey how overwhelmed Deeks is without overplaying a single second of the episode; in fact, the more understated he played things, the more powerful they became. It all took me back to many angst-filled scenes of Season 5, particularly Deeks’ pained expression at the end of “The Frozen Lake.” I do love that angst (even as I yearn to see him happy), and I got plenty of it here. It may take me the next two weeks to recover. It would probably help if I stopped rewatching that scene, but I can’t seem to tear myself away. I really need Kensi to show some signs of improvement soon- I’m not sure how many weeks of heartbroken Deeks I can take!
- I appreciated how thoughtful Sam and Callen were right from the start. Rather than opening with banter in the bullpen, we got them soberly discussing the costs of their job. Sure, there were some funny lines during the episode, but they never struck me as insensitive.
- OK, I guess I can get on board with Nell in the field, but Eric? Nope, that doesn’t work for me at all. And although I liked his zombie targets, rather than having him joke about Taxi Driver, I’d have preferred to hear him talk about the ramifications of ordering that drone strike in “Belly of the Beast.” Granger was his typical hilarious self though, assuring Eric he’d be the first person to call when the zombie apocalypse hits.
- I totally agree with Chen: Richard Harris was clearly the best Dumbledore.
- Summer the cleaning lady was an odd character. She was kind of interesting, but kind of creepy. Not sure exactly what the actress was going for in her portrayal.
- When Sam and Callen were in the fancy rug store, I kept waiting for a reference to Sven, but I guess that utter silliness was too far removed from this episode’s more serious tone.
- Yay, a nice moment for Competent Deeks, knowing the law for revoking someone’s citizenship.
- To any medical personnel out there, just curious- does the fact that Kensi moved her left hand and foot mean she’s less likely to be paralyzed on her left side like the first doctor explained to Deeks?
- I don’t watch the sneak peeks. Did they include one of Deeks in the hospital? I would not have wanted to see any of that in advance. I have taken to removing myself from social media by Thursday in order to avoid spoilers.
I’m afraid Kensi isn’t quite up for making any new entries in her journal, but come back later this week for what are sure to be angst-filled entries of Deeks’ Surf Log and the Drabble and Edit of the Week. This weekend we’ll have a new Top 3 list (on a much cheerier topic!). Next week stay tuned for an announcement about our latest drawing to support Pets of the Homeless, a new Drabble of the Week, and we’ll have the first in a series of articles about the effects of Deeks’ childhood on the man we see today.
The next episode airs in two weeks, and I’m a little worried since neither of the show’s two most reliable writers (Gemmill and Frank Military) have penned it. I will try to remain optimistic that Jordana Lewis Jaffe will knock it out of the park and give us either some continued high quality Densi angst, or some signs of hope for a happy ending in their future. In the meantime, what did you think of “The Queen’s Gambit”?