I have to start this review with a confession. When I learned the episode was penned by a first-time NCIS: Los Angeles writer who was also the executive producer’s daughter, my expectations fell. Well, I couldn’t be happier to have been totally wrong. Anastasia Kousakis jumped into her first NCIS:LA writing assignment by doing everything right. She gave us the most exciting episode of the season even as she kept everyone in character, remembered the past, and sprinkled in some appropriately placed humor. How soon can she write another episode?
A Heap of Trouble, A Load of Suspense
We know that episodes where a member of the team is personally affected by a case are the best ones, and Kousakis proved that big time by having every member of the cast personally affected. The story felt like it must have been fun to write given all the mayhem she got to unleash by isolating and arresting four team members, and trying to kill off several people. Had I heard nothing about this episode beforehand, I think it would have been even more entertaining as it moved from one calamity to the next. It started with a bang, with poor drugged Granger coming to and realizing that he was in big trouble, and it escalated from there.
The way it moved from problem to problem without fixing almost anything gave it a sense of growing suspense throughout. I think this is one of the benefits of a multi-part episode, that you can take your time telling the story instead of trying to pack everything from opening crime to catching the bad guys into 44 minutes. I don’t remember an episode that flew by this quickly, and I didn’t want it to end. Director Dennis Smith deserves a lot of credit too for keeping everything moving along so smoothly.
The Past Comes Back to Haunt
You’d never know a new writer was at work given the plethora of characters making reappearances. It almost felt like the showrunners were trying to respond to a frequent criticism about a lack of recurring characters by bringing back every law enforcement officer who’s ever crossed the team’s path! Internal Affairs Detective Whiting in particular just seemed to pick up where she left off in her dogged pursuit of Deeks for the murder of Francis Boyle. How disturbing was it that the mole had led her to Julie/Tiffany? And how chilling was it that she threatened to subpoena Kensi to force her to reveal what she now knows? This tactic drove home how necessary it had been for Deeks to keep his involvement in Boyle’s death from Kensi and the team for as long as he did. He truly was trying to protect them all. Unfortunately it may also have made clear how smart Hetty’s advice was at the end of “Internal Affairs” to not tell Kensi the truth. On the other hand, maybe this will prompt a quick wedding once Deeks is out of jail, to prevent her from being able to testify against him? (Just kidding, that’s not how I want that to happen!)
The interrogation scene between Whiting and Deeks was particularly well written. You could see Deeks working several angles at once, whining about the coffee to distract her so she’d lower her guard and reveal what new evidence she’d obtained and appealing to her pride in her work to make her see she’s being used. Well played, Deeks. Except that Whiting is a smart adversary (one reason I like her character). She reveals her evidence but also threatens the person he cares about the most in this world. Deeks tries flirting with Whiting to hide how vulnerable Kensi makes him. Kensi’s his kryptonite here, and Whiting senses his weakness. It’s scary and it will be interesting to see how this particular storyline plays out. (Spoiler alert: We know the short-term results based on some behind-the-scenes photos. But what about the long-term?)
Whiting: I ran into your partner earlier.
Deeks: Oh, Kensi is here. Wow good luck with that. Whiting: Is it “fiancée” now too?
Deeks: Is it going to break your heart if I say “Yes”? ‘Cause I should probably tell you I don’t believe in polygamy and Kensi would make a terrible sister wife.
Whiting: That’s probably why she didn’t want to talk to me.
Whiting: I mean, I just mentioned the word “subpoena” and she practically ran out of here.
Deeks: Let me be perfectly clear about this. You leave her out of it.
Whiting: Lucky for you, I may not need her. Although, I guess that makes you unlucky, doesn’t it?
Except for the poor lighting that made it hard to see Deeks’ eyes (maybe my only complaint for the entire episode), this was a well directed scene. The way Deeks looms over Whiting when he tells her to leave Kensi alone shows how forcefully he wants to back up his words, but Whiting knows he has no leverage. She isn’t bothered by his body language; she knows she has him right where she wants him, a fact that’s made quite clear after she leaves and we see how rattled Deeks really is.
The Characters We Know and Love
Kousakis also did a great job at keeping all the characters in character. I would never have guessed this episode hadn’t been written by a long-time contributor. Deeks is still anxiously trying to bond with Sam despite Sam’s apparent lack of enthusiasm to be “in sync” and “simpatico,” even as Sam patiently tries to help him strategize about proposal plans(!). Callen, ever the aloof team leader, refuses to commit to doing much to speed Kensi’s return to the team but is unwilling to share any concerns he may have. Eric actually keeps count of the number of times people have asked him where Hetty is.
Hetty is quick to blame herself, maybe not all that sincerely, for problems that she may or may not have caused (“It was my job to find the mole, and now everyone is paying the price.” Mole theory tangent: I’d say her little show of regret will be perfectly fitting should the mole turn out to be Paul Angelo, since rather than arrest him she set him loose for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. (And since I don’t want to rewatch “Three Hearts” I am unlikely to gain more insight any time soon.)
Sorry, I digress. The character I was happiest to see back to herself was Kensi. OK, she and Deeks again shared no screen time, but it sure felt good to see her kicking butt in the field and interrogating a suspect. How long has it been since she’s kicked someone in the “nom de plumes”? That had to feel so good. Not necessarily the kicking, but the getting out into the field and taking action to save her team. (Although who am I kidding? It’s Kensi. Of course she enjoyed taking down the poor hospital security guy and feeling like she still has what it takes to get the job done.) When she was trying to get answers from the LAPD officer at the precinct, it almost felt like she was having fun. She seemed so much more at ease finally being freed to do the work that means
everything so much to her.
I know some fans may be frustrated that again we got no Densi scenes even as we are apparently to assume that things have improved with the couple to the point that Deeks feels it’s time to move forward with the proposal (number four!) and Kensi is ready to say “yes.” I share your disappointment in the lack of Densi, but in this case I acknowledge that there was clearly no time. I am going to take Deeks’ planning, along with what I saw of Kensi this episode, as a good sign that she and they are doing much better. Would I like to have seen more of that shown on screen? Of course. But I’m going to patiently wait and hope for more Densi in our (near) future.
Flugelhorns and Coma Jokes
And while often I find that bits of humor inserted into what should be a serious episode just rub me the wrong way, the humor we got in this episode worked well. It felt appropriate, as if the characters were joking as a way to ease their own tension, not because they didn’t care what was happening. We had Eric with his precise question count and his coma joke (“Too soon, Eric.”) The expressionless LAPD officer who seemed completely uninterested in anything Deeks and then Kensi tried to get her cooperation. Callen chatting it up with his adorable neighbor Mrs. Ramirez behind a row of potted plants in order to surveil his own house. Hetty (and Kensi) toying with Duggan about Granger’s whereabouts. Deeks flirting with Detective Whiting as a defense mechanism. And Sam and Deeks with a hilarious rundown of the elements of Eric’s usual call up to Ops.
Sam: So you’re looking for the unexpected?
Deeks: You see, that’s what I’m talking about. You and I? Simpatico.
Sam: We are so not simpatico.
Deeks: We are simpatico.
Sam: We are not simpatico at all-
Eric: Guys. Needed up in Ops, ASAP.
Deeks: That’s it? No quips?
Sam: No soliloquies?
Deeks: No nerd trivia?
Sam: No show tunes?
Deeks: No flugelhorn?
Eric: Not today.
Now that’s a list written by someone who’s watched the show!
- It’s always a good sign when the “Previously on NCIS: Los Angeles” includes major scenes from “Internal Affairs” and “Cancel Christmas.” It had me literally sitting up straighter and paying attention.
- I liked the “Granger-cam” shaky camera work in the opening scene. It was very effective at conveying his disorientation.
- Nice left-handed shooting, Blye!
- As the author of a series in the “listicle” format, I will assume that Sam Hanna and the writer and showrunners just haven’t seen my “Top 3” articles, or maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to disparage the genre. But hey, at least Deeks defended them- “They’re so fun and digestible.”
- I was a bit confused as to why Deeks couldn’t just walk from the waiting room and into the LAPD offices to find Granger himself? Why the need to ask for permission and act like a visitor?
- Poor Granger! Are serious health problems not enough? You need to roofie him and then stab him in the back? This poor guy has gone through a lot. I also seem to recall him being shot and in a car accident in “Reznikov, N.” and being poisoned and in another car crash in “Traitor.” If he lives through this, he seriously needs to consider retirement. Sadly, I could also see his scenes as evidence that Miguel Ferrer has some actual health problems that have affected his speech. He had no lines of dialog at all in this episode.
- Were you as relieved as I was that just when it seemed that every law enforcement officer the team has ever met was going to show up, we found out that Talia was unavailable? Yay to an episode without her or Anna! On the other hand, I’d have enjoyed a return appearance for Lieutenant Bates.
- That was some seriously observant security at the hospital!
- I was kind of excited when Eric whipped off that ski mask, thinking for a moment that he was the mole before it became clear that they were setting up Heather.
- Is that the first time Hetty’s had to use the “emergency exit” in the boatshed? Bugger. This is a brand new suit! I’d have loved to have seen her jump.
Apologies for ever doubting you, Ms. Kousakis. I look forward to your next contribution to the show.
The worst part about the cliff-hanger ending is that we have to wait two weeks to find out what happens (and three weeks after that for the conclusion!). The pitfalls of a Sunday show on CBS. At least we know that showrunner R. Scott Gemmill has written the next episode, which has the challenge of beginning to pull together all these story threads. While we’re waiting, what did you think of “Hot Water”? Were you as riveted as I was?