Throughout this series, I’ve tried to give credit to the writers of NCIS: Los Angeles for all the examples of their great work that have made a Top 3 list. So it’s high time to have a Top 3 list celebrating the episodes that feature the absolute best writing of the series.
Of course we want to focus on episodes with great scenes involving Deeks and Densi, but I did take the overall plot into account, as well as the writing of scenes focused on the other characters.
The Top 3
In considering which episodes to include, I found myself drawn to both the very serious side of the show as well as the lighter, sillier side. It seemed to me that both are challenging to do well. In reverse order of importance, my Top 3 is…
Written by R. Scott Gemmill, this episode was recently featured as the #1 Funniest Episode. In a tough race for the #3 spot in this list, I went back and forth between “Wanted” and “Neighborhood Watch.” “Neighborhood Watch” is a spectacular example of a fun, silly episode, and it will come up again on a future Top 3 list. But in the end I chose “Wanted” because, while some of the great lines were improv, we know that much of the wittiness really was Gemmill’s. Plus I think Gemmill had to work harder to fit the events of the episode into a longer-running arc involving Kirkin, Sidorov, and missing nuclear weapons. For degree of difficulty, and for the ending scene, I chose “Wanted.”
It’s not on the list for its humor alone. The episode brings back Sam’s wife Michelle and the plot sets up the events of “Descent,” which comes two episodes later. Every scene is well done. (I did find it ridiculous that Sam could break out of jail- it wasn’t until “Internal Affairs” I realized how apparently easy it is!) The Densi scenes are the highlight, as Kensi and Deeks are separately pushed to think about their relationship by their interactions with Sabatino and Snyder. And that final scene is a huge step towards actual communication about their feelings. It reminds me of the final scene of “Impact” in the way it combines all that is wonderful about Densi- the emotion, the humor, the teasing, the love. And the “sunshine and gunpowder” line is one of the most memorable of the entire series.
#2. “The Seventh Child”
The episodes that kept coming to mind as I pondered this category tended to be the big, iconic Deeks or Densi episodes. And while “The Seventh Child,” written by Frank Military, fits that bill because of the proposal scene, I tend to think of it more as a stand-alone episode. Everything about it is fantastic, not just the Densi. This was an incredibly serious episode- I think the single laugh comes from Granger when Deeks brings up circumcision. Military opening the episode by blowing up a child, and then jeopardizing other children through the rest of the episode, was risky. It could easily feel manipulative, but it doesn’t. Instead, it’s completely involving and suspenseful. Each of the four leads has a chance to shine, and there is so much emotion, so much heart, from all of them throughout. Sam the parent quoting Allah and risking his life for other people’s kids. Callen bonding with little Nadir, making him feel safe. A child at the center of the show who feels smart without being overly precocious. The most interesting, complicated, and suspenseful bomb disarming situation ever on the show. An absolutely perfectly imperfect (and surprise!) Densi proposal. There aren’t many episodes that have made me cry, but this one gets me every time I watch it.
Every single scene is successful. Military weaves the personal, especially with Densi discussing parenthood, seamlessly with the case. No one does this better. But what really moves me about the episode is how love triumphs over hate. Sam says it best to the would-be child suicide bombers: Imagine Allah in your heart. What does he feel like? Is he loving? Does he care for you? Does he want us to take care of one another? Or does he want us to destroy one another? Feel with the heart that Allah gave you. In the end the darkness doesn’t win. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and the single best written stand-alone NCIS:LA episode ever.
I chose “Descent,” written by Frank Military, as my #1 Best Written Episode for a variety of reasons. First of all, just like #2 “The Seventh Child,” it seamlessly weaves the personal with the case. Deeks and Kensi are grappling with their communication problems. Deeks and Sam are grappling with a long history of animosity and apparently, distrust. Speaking of long histories, the episode is also the culmination of multiple storylines. It’s not just that Densi’s relationship reaches a climactic moment (in a Top 3 Sexiest Scene). It’s that Deeks and Sam’s does too (in a Top 3 Deeks and Sam Scene), as does Callen’s with his long-running nemesis Janvier. It’s the climax of a long-running series of episodes featuring either Janvier or Sidorov. All this culminating is really the work of the showrunners, but Military is the one who makes it all happen in a suspenseful, believable way. That can’t have been easy to accomplish.
But accomplish it he does, with great skill. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and there’s tremendous suspense built into this episode. Sure, the bad guys might get nuclear weapons that will kill thousands of people, giving the episode a Gotta Save The World energy. But its power comes from everything these characters experience. They are left hanging (some literally) at the end in the best season-ending cliffhanger I’ve ever seen in any television show. Would Kensi and Deeks be able to continue what Deeks started on that hillside? Would Deeks even be in one piece? Would Deeks show he wasn’t “the weak one”? (That I never doubted.) Rewatching this episode now is just as intense an experience because I know how awful that ending is, and how much Densi and Deeks would suffer in the following season as a result. This episode was almost single-handedly responsible for dialing up my interest in the show to obsession-level, and it spurred a summer filled with post-ep fan fics that showed I wasn’t the only one strongly affected by it.
Also in the Running
There are so many well written episodes, I’m quite sure I didn’t even consider all the possibilities for my Top 3. Among those I did think about were:
- “Neighborhood Watch” (Christina M. Kim)
- “Personal” (Joseph C. Wilson)
- “Borderline” (R. Scott Gemmill)
- “Plan B” (Dave Kalstein, Joseph C. Wilson)
- “Spoils of War” (Frank Military)
- “Blye K., Pt. 2” (Dave Kalstein)
- “The Debt” (Dave Kalstein)
- “The Queen’s Gambit” (R. Scott Gemmill)
- “Empty Quiver” (Dave Kalstein)
- “Free Ride” (Tim Clemente, R. Scott Gemmill)
- “Active Measures” (R. Scott Gemmill)
- “Command & Control” (Kyle Harimoto)
- “Internal Affairs” (Chad Mazero, R. Scott Gemmill)
We’re definitely in the homestretch now, with important topics every week. Next week we’ll cover the Top 3 Episodes for a New Deeks Fan. How the heck does one choose?
In the meantime, what make your Top 3 best written episodes? Tell us about them in the Comments below.
Or, return to the last Top 3, the Top 3 Densi Kisses.