The Top 3 Best Written Episodes
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.
I love your top 3. I think I would pick The Seventh child as the best, keep Descent, and put Personal in the top 3. I think seasons 2 and 3 had the best written episodes, overall. I really liked Christina Kim as a writer, too and wish she were back.
That’s it. I’m not responding on my phone anymore, can’t type on it.
Great list! I would have to make this a Top 4, because I can’t argue with any of yours, but I also can’t leave out Spoils of War.
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I agree great list! And, I agree with the choices and the reasoning behind each. Thank you!
Thank you for doing these Karen, great list. We did think about same episodes, but here is my list and my reasons for choosing them.
1) Seventh Child: I totally agree with what Karen wrote.The story is so heartbreaking , maybe even kind of risky and contoversial subject for an episode, but they managed to really make it work. I really admire the writing in this episode , it could have so easily gone too far, but they managed to keep everything in balance. I loved the Densi scenes (great acting from Daniela and Eric, for example that scene where they watch photos and talk kids, it was just them and they didn’t need anything or anybody to make it a very powerful scene), I loved that Densi+Granger scene, good child actors and I really liked how Callen was written (and how Chris O’Donnell acted, I hope we will see this more “adultlike” Callen more in the future ). Based on spoilers and previews I was kind of hesitant about this episode, but I loved it, there is just something special about this episode that really connected with me and I agree with Karen that it is something more than just those great Densi scenes.
2) Personal: I loved how the story was written and those twists in the plot were amazing (from robbery to Deeks targeted and finally the real target) and I loved the way story progressed. This is the way I like to be surprised and I loved how these twists and surprises felt “natural” and believable part of the story (in my opinion compared for example to Joelle/Beth storyline). Someone (I am sorry but can’t remember who) previously mentioned Agatha Christie in comments section on this site and that discussion made me think about this episode and how these twists and plot conclusion kind of reminded me a little bit of Agatha Christie’s books. It was great that this episode was Deeks-centric and that it included mentions of his past and that Deeks being a hero was just amazing.
3) Command and control. There were many great choices and it was hard to choose. I chose this because I loved the action , loved that “adult” Densi talk and I loved how “smoothly” the story progressed. One thing I loved in these 3 episodes is that they are focused just on main team (that chemistry between them is amazing) and that they focus on one case (writers have time to really focus on that storyline).
This week I was really looking forward to seeing what episode would be your number 1, the best written in NCIS:LA story so far. I’m really glad we share the same choice! This means I’m not the only one slightly “obsessed” with “Descent”.
That season finale was something extraordinary that we rarely see on TV and after so much time, whenever I feel like rewatching it, I still can’t help being overwhelmed by emotions. It’s more than a rollercoaster ride, there’s everything you may want from a plot: action, universal themes like love, passion, jealousy, incredible twists, danger, pathos, mistrust, loyalty, suspense, and the neverending struggle between good and evil. Looking back, I can’t even think how I managed to survive summer 2013!
My number 2 is “Spoils of war”: an action movie in less than an hour and its final Densi scene is probably my personal “Most watched” NCIS:LA scene ever (that would be an interesting Top Three!).
My third place is for “The seventh child”, which proves that even in recent seasons there have been amazing episodes. I think “The seventh hild” was a perfect mix of everything I like in NCIS:LA: a terrific plot, competent team members, emotional moments, beautiful Densi scenes, all masterfully blended together.
I scanned the plots of all the episodes as listed in IMDB. IMHO,the plotting was a lot tighter in the earlier years therefore it is the reason why I think they were written better. More cohesive, more complex, more going on for everyone, more actual investigation, etc.
Human Traffic by Shane Brennan. Re-introduced Deeks from season 1 with follow-through since we’d last seen him and wasn’t just plunked into the team, established his undercover cred, mentioned his past as a lawyer, started a great relationship with Hetty (which they pretty much destroyed but won’t go into), etc.
Personal by Joseph C. Wilson By the length of the description in IMDB alone, a lot was going on. Not only did we get Deeks’ history with his father, we followed a trail that had some dead ends (like real investigations), Deeks going over his history as a cop and the team starting to realize he’s a GOOD cop, and then had the twist of motive/target, and the final scene of more of the neat relationship of Deeks and Hetty that made us think he really was her favorite (wink, wink) until season 5.
Descent by Frank Military. THIS is the way to incorporate storylines/characters from previous episodes (*cough* season 8 *cough*) … the missing nuclear bomb, Sidorov, Janvier, Zhrov, and of course taking Densi to the next level. It began the arc of my favorite storyline of Descent-Ascension-Impact-Omni. Plotting-wise we had some undercover, we had Michelle, we had the beginnings of some character development between Deeks and Sam, and we had the kiss, etc. And then we had a cliff-hanger extraordinaire.
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This is a tough one. I will start with Personal, because it’s the episode that made Deeks into my obsession. And, it’s the one where the team rallies around their newest teammate. The opening is shockingly real and we get the first hint that Kensi might have feelings for this guy. I must admit I have watched it many times, but that first time, when Deeks came to the realization that it was Kensi they were after, we see the panic on his face and that his feelings might go deeper than just as a partner. The scene where he arrives just in time to save her though was one I never anticipated and it was heroic, and even got a wow out of my husband. But it is the ending that solidifies it for me as one of my top three. The revelation that he shot his own father and why was such a revelation and made Deeks a character with depth and someone worth getting to know. It made him interesting.
Descent was so powerful and as others have said, left all of us sweating our way through the summer hiatus, counting the days until we would be relieved of our agony. It was a brave piece of writing, one that took chances with all the characters, and we found out just how much we cared what happens to all of them. Frank Military pushed them all to the very edge and us right along with them, and we were all rewarded with some of the best acting of the series. It made us invest in each one of those characters, and that kind of bravery is what has kept me involved with this show.
I have many favorite episodes, and rewatch some of them again and again, but there is one I find very difficult to watch again and that is Spoils of War. It causes a whirlwind of emotion, and there is no break to give us time to breathe. It gave us ECO’s finest performance, and one terrible to see…so revealing and so heartbreaking and raw. The combination of the unrelenting action and emotional turmoil makes it the best that Frank Military has ever written for the show.