With this week’s NCIS: Los Angeles episode “Battle Scars,” we’ve headed into the Season 8 home stretch. And with it, writers Jordana Lewis Jaffe and Andrew Bartels and director James Whitmore, Jr. have given us a strong team episode filled with wisecracks and emotion.
A Case from the Past, A Glimpse of the Future
The case of the week was an involving one featuring “one of their own,” a former team member of Hetty and Chegwidden’s who helped rescue Granger in Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War. What worked well about the story was that it personally involved a few characters (always a plus), but at the same time remained a full team effort. Everyone got at least a moment or two to show some humor or drama.
All the guest actors were strong, from Carl Lumbly as Langston, John M. Jackson as Chegwidden, and James Remar as Dexter’s dad Bridges, to the ridiculously perky FBI agent played by Erin Way. She spoke like someone from an R. Scott Gemmill banter-heavy script (that’s a compliment) and I loved her. The wisecracks flying everywhere from all these folks were so entertaining!
I could have listened to Jackson and Bridges take on Sam and Callen for the entire hour. In fact, watching them occasionally get the upper hand and watching Agent Morris do the same to everyone she came across was somewhat unusual- our beloved cast usually gets the last word. It was fun to see the tables turned. I don’t think Sam and Callen recognized it, but Chegwidden and Bridges just might have offered them a preview of what they’ll be like if they’re still working together in 25 years. It reminded me of the con artist couple in “Old Tricks” who offered Densi a glimpse into their future.
To counteract all the hilarious dialog, we also had moments of genuine emotion such as when the team learns more about Granger’s fate. While I did find it odd that they hadn’t already been filled in on some of the details, I was moved by their reactions, and really just at the mention of the character. Sam’s description of “sly fox” Granger’s “dry sense of humor” – along with his many skills and “cunning” – compared to Chegwidden and Bridges made me smile in remembrance of Granger’s downright hilarity.
Making this episode part one of a two-parter was key to its success. It allowed the writers to take their time with every scene so that we could sit back and enjoy the banter, as well as take in the emotion evident in many scenes. Knowing they have another episode to get all the plot details covered let Jaffe and Bartels slightly alter the usual proportion of plot to banter and character development. And they did it not on a season finale, or on a big Callen backstory episode, but rather on a rather random story, showing that two parters don’t need to be saved for such “special” stories. In fact, I’ve long wished for more stories to be told this way.
Love and Support, Trauma and Regret
Sam and Callen had the hilarious banter well covered this episode, which allowed Kensi and Deeks to provide a few more emotional moments. It started with a Deeks who’s mysteriously less laid back than normal. At first I thought it was the writers setting up something really dramatic in part two, like either Deeks being nervous about an upcoming proposal or planning on telling Kensi about his confession to Detective Whiting. But then I realized the reason on a second viewing, when I finally recognized the hospital courtyard, the scene of so much heartbreak earlier in the season.
The duo also have a wonderful talk in the cemetery, unfortunately interrupted (what’s new) by the discovery of their victim. Here, as in “767” and even “Queen Pin,” Kensi expresses gratitude for Deeks’ support and concern for his emotional well-being. I love this Kensi, who says what she means and shares her feelings so freely. I also appreciate her persistence in trying to get Deeks to talk about his experience. He’s blown her off twice now, completely minimizing the difficulties he faced (the other time was in “767” when he said he had just been “along for the ride”). It would make for a great scene if Kensi succeeds in getting him to open up- I know Eric Christian Olsen would crush the emotions there, and I think Deeks deserves a chance to express to Kensi how incredibly hard it was (traumatic even) for him to stay strong and positive when he wasn’t sure if Kensi would ever recover, or even survive. If we’re proposal-less in next week’s episode, let’s hope we at least get this kind of juicy emotional scene for Deeks.
Kensi: It was kind of weird being back at the VA Hospital, huh?
Deeks: Uh, yeah, I don’t, I don’t know. Are you, are you OK?
Kensi: Yeah. As long as I’m not goin’ in as a patient, I’m good… Are you OK?
Deeks: What do you mean?
Kensi: Um, well, you have a lot of memories from there too, probably more than me. I was in that coma for weeks but you were awake for all of it.
Deeks: Please, I’m good. You know, my part was, my part was easy, I just showed up, ate the Jello, and proposed to a girl in a coma.
Kensi: Yeah, I’m serious. You were there for me the entire time and I wasn’t there for you. I couldn’t be.
But Jaffe and Bartels weren’t done with Densi. They also provided that wonderful little pawn shop scene. It was a bittersweet moment seeing Kensi bring up Granger. She had clearly been affected by the news in the boatshed, maybe even surreptitiously wiping at her eyes. It’s so satisfyingto see something that we fans, and you fan fic writers, assume to be the case (that Granger would be the natural to walk her down the aisle) and have it made canon. Love it. Daniela Ruah and Eric Christian Olsen were both fantastic in the scene. Deeks’ shifting thoughts were so evident on his face, he really didn’t need to say a thing.
Deeks: I know that boyfriends are not supposed to weigh in on this sort of thing, but I saw it and thought that you would look, you know, absolutely beautiful wearing it, so…
Kensi: Um… That’s really pretty, that’s beautiful.
Deeks: What just happened? Did I just say something idiotic?
Kensi: No. No, I’m fine.
Deeks: What’s goin’ on?… Baby?
Kensi: Um… Since I lost my dad I was um, I was hoping to ask Granger to walk me down the aisle.
Deeks: Yeah. And he would’ve, he would’ve loved that.
- The opening scene gave us the version of Eric who’s having a tough time as a field agent, this time grappling with killing someone. The heart-to-heart with Sam was nicely written. I appreciated Sam’s reassurance that it’s alright if Eric decides fieldwork isn’t for him- it’s true but also, it might be nice for at least one of these people to be happy staying in Ops to provide support! (I’m going to overlook the fact that right after he blew up the car, Eric was so unrattled that he turned around and kissed Nell. I’m also going to overlook the fact that Eric has killed people before this, just from farther away via drone strike.) I much prefer Sensitive Eric to Guns Blazing Eric.
- Nice touch having Deeks be the one who understands that people treat the homeless as if they’re invisible- he should know from personal experience with his many undercover assignments.
- I gotta admit to being a little confused about how Chegwidden and Bridges showed up at Langston’s house so quickly. I get that Hetty called them, but were they already in town? I thought Chegwidden lived elsewhere, “3000 miles away” according to Sam. Also, why was Hetty surprised they showed up there when she called them?
- We also had a bit more canon reinforcement on the cooking front, with Kensi acknowledging that she can’t cook- but she can bake. Who doesn’t want cookies for dinner?
- Kensi was way more prepared for the bad guys to start shooting, walking down that hallway with her hand on her weapon. I’ll chalk Deeks’ relative nonchalance up to ECO’s fever the day they filmed this. I did like the small detail of Deeks going to clear the rest of the house after all the bad guys were apparently dead or escaped.
- It was a little hard to believe that this group of smart people couldn’t figure out a better way to either give away or hide their $40 million in gold. Was hiding it in a container safe really the best they could do?
We’ll see how this story plays out next week. In the meantime, what did you think of “Battle Scars”? Did you enjoy the Densi scenes? What are you expecting from the conclusion?