We wouldn’t be here writing and reading about NCIS: Los Angeles if we didn’t love the show. But that doesn’t mean we always love the show. Sometimes the showrunners or writers go in a direction that strikes against what we envision for the characters we love. That results in disappointment or even anger. What’s worse is that sometimes we in the fandom don’t always respect one another’s right to disagree when there are strong opinions. All this combines to make a list of the Top 3 Frustrating Episodes.
My list of nominees were episodes that disappointed me because they failed to fulfill expectations. They were episodes that contained significant canon inconsistencies (you know that drives me crazy!). And they were episodes where I didn’t think the characters behaved as I would have expected. There were also some episodes that I felt were overrated by the general fandom, ones that I just didn’t get.
The Top 3
In the end I went with two episodes that made up my most negative overall experiences as a fan (and in the fandom), plus one episode that could have been an all-time great but for what I saw as poor characterizations. Just as you all refrained from judging my picks for the Top 3 Sexiest Scenes, I trust that you’ll refrain from judging my picks here. In reverse order of importance, my Top 3 is…
After an utterly shattering Season 4 finale with “Descent,” and a powerful Season 5 opener with “Ascension” (thank you Frank Military), R. Scott Gemmill took the follow-up episode. What was good about it was that it did follow up with Sam and Deeks about how they were coping with the after-effects of being tortured. This was actually a rarity for the show, and an indication of just how terrible their ordeal had been. What was truly great was Eric Christian Olsen’s performance. He made us feel Deeks’ suffering. And then there’s the episode’s final scene, which is my all-time favorite scene of the entire series (as it is for Eric Christian Olsen, Daniela Ruah and many other fans).
Unfortunately all this greatness was weighed down by what I saw as some less than ideal characterizations (and a completely uninvolving case of the week where the bad guys get away). I had small quibbles with Nate, who may not have provided the best possible advice to Deeks- what exactly did his relationship with his partner have to treating his PTSD? But really, this could have been forgiven but for Hetty. The curtains. The “I’ll need to know if you’re quitting so I can find a replacement if you can’t cut it.” The “I don’t want him back if he’s not the man he was.” The “Sunshine and gunpowder” note-writer morphed into a “Is Deeks too close to his partner?” Hetty I didn’t recognize. It was the beginning of the end of my love for her, the episode where she transitioned from fairy godmother to cold manipulator. I realize she always had that aspect to her character (just look at how she hid Callen’s past from him), but for me prior to this episode, it had always been outweighed by a degree of fondness and kindness towards her agents.
#2. “Three Hearts”
At the time, this was the worst experience I had had in watching an NCIS:LA episode. I had mistakenly assumed that once Kensi got back from Afghanistan and had a little time to recover, she and Deeks would pick up where they had left off in “The Frozen Lake.” I was totally expecting a different outcome here, and when Deeks returns Kensi’s knife without offering any explanation other than a reference to raccoons, I was shocked and disappointed. The multiple metaphors (The Box, the knife, the raccoons) and it being the third Dave Kalstein episode with a mysterious stranger uttering words of wisdom (Thapa and Tujon being the others) were annoying aspects. But I’d have overlooked them if Deeks and Kensi went home together. This episode was the first time I felt the showrunners pulling back from what seemed like an inevitable Densi coupling. I felt manipulated. It scared me because it felt like they might never put them together at all, that we’d be teased endlessly a la Tiva. And in fact, it was the beginning of a lengthy what-the-heck-is-going-on-with-Densi series of episodes that continued all the way until “Humbug,” an incredibly frustrating time for me as a fan.
#1. “Come Back”
“Come Back” was such an unpleasant experience for me as a fan that I am actually reluctant to discuss it. For me it’s the most overrated episode of the series. I know many of you loved it, which is partly why it frustrated me so much and why I hesitate to talk about it. I saw such a different episode than most people did, and that experience profoundly confused me.
Written by the delightful Erin Broadhurst, this episode had a lot of great Densi aspects: the duo announces plans to move in together, and throughout the episode Deeks is nothing but supportive of Kensi as she deals with the latest Hetty surprise. Throughout, Kensi, Deeks and Jack all talk to each other like grown-ups, which definitely isn’t something I take for granted with NCIS:LA (see #2 above). And the big shoot-out with Kensi taking on multiple bad guys was thrilling.
Unfortunately there were some elements that I just couldn’t manage to overlook. Anyone who visits this website regularly will know that canon inconsistency is one of my pet peeves. Here Kensi’s backstory with Jack seemed to be recast in a completely different light (they broke up? I thought he disappeared from her life on Christmas day). That abandonment I thought Kensi had suffered was always something that defined her to me, that was fundamental to her character. The casual way they mentioned their break-up totally threw me.
The other aspect threw me is Kensi’s one-on-one conversation with Jack. She and Deeks have a wonderful rooftop conversation where he encourages her to get things off her chest, to say what she needs to say to Jack. But what she needs to say isn’t what I had long expected: “When you disappeared on me, it broke me but I’m finally happy no thanks to you.” It was, “I’m sorry I didn’t call you after “Spoils of War.” Seriously, she apologizes to him? That’s what she needed to get off her chest?
Then there’s Hetty pulling her usual tricks and being secretive in ways that put peoples’ lives in danger. I’m not referring to springing Jack on Kensi- that was just super annoying. But not letting Jack know she had his family protected leads to the bad guys nearly killing Kensi (unfortunately par for the course Hetty behavior). Plus I was stunned that Jack knew all about Deeks torturing the cleric- did they chat about that before Jack left the base in “Spoils of War”? It didn’t strike me as something Deeks would have been sharing all that freely with his girlfriend’s ex-fiancé he’d just met. And to see him joking about it with Jack also didn’t ring true to me. Also, Kensi and Deeks have been sleeping together regularly- why are they both worried the other will learn about their nightmares? Surely they’ve already seen them.
But what really made this episode #1 was my experiences talking to other fans. I was flat-out told I was wrong to dislike the episode and that my standards were just too high. I got a much better understanding of why people sometimes decide to leave a fandom. I’ve tried to remember it whenever I (hopefully) respectfully disagree with others. So let me end this rant by saying that for most of you who loved this episode, I’m genuinely happy for you. I just wish I could feel the same!
Also in the Running
Unfortunately there were quite a few other episodes that were in the running for this Top 3:
- “Drive” (Joe Sachs): wingsofnight’s fantastic Essential Episodes review sums up all the reasons beautifully
- “Ascension” (Frank Military): Too many scenes of Deeks being abandoned, not enough scenes of Deeks being comforted
- “Recovery” (Gil Grant): What the heck happened next?
- “Parley” (Cheo Hodari Coker): A bitterly jealous Kensi fails to support her undercover partner
- “The Frozen Lake” (Dave Kalstein): What the heck happened the night before? Plus The Punch, Deeks gets blamed for Thapa escaping (and Deeks blames himself), Hetty is horrible, and Deeks is abandoned and so sad at the end
- “Tidings We Bring” (Chad Mazero): No Densi Christmas this year
- “Unwritten Rule” (Joseph C. Wilson, Jordana Lewis Jaffe): Don’t take away that gorgeous motorcycle!
- “Big Brother” (Jordana Lewis Jaffe): Another groin kick, really?
- Every Season 5 episode post-“Three Hearts” through to Season 6 “Humbug”: What the heck was going on with Densi?
- “Blaze of Glory” (Joe Sachs): Incompetent undercover Densi (plus awful, weird Eric)
- “Resurrection” (Dave Kalstein, Gil Grant): Sam’s distrust of Deeks’ babysitting skills was not cool
- “Chernoff, K” (Kyle Harimoto): Deeks gets 13 lines- literally- in 42 minutes, which is better than…
- “The Gold Standard” (Joseph C. Wilson): No Deeks at all!
I feel better getting all that off my chest- thanks for listening! Got a Top 3 list of your own frustrating episodes? Please share in the Comments below. You’ll feel better too! As always, no judging- we’re all entitled to our feelings.
Next week let’s talk about something much more fun- The Top 3 Guilty Pleasure Episodes. You know, the ones you’re not necessarily “supposed to” like, but you find yourself rewatching again and again? As always, I promise not to judge your list if you don’t judge mine!