After last week’s dark and intense “Uncaged,” I spent the better part of this week trying to recover and mentally prepare for more drama in this week’s Season 8 finale. Would Sam exact revenge from Khaled? Would the team help him? Might Michelle actually still be alive? And what kind of cliffhanger would we be left with for the summer? After the overwhelming darkness of last week, I wasn’t even expecting to enjoy this episode, just to get through it. I did, helped immensely by some great Deeks and Densi material.
For how could we forget the promised engagement with a twist? I tried not to get my hopes up too high for the Densi, for they did have three previous, consistently excellent, proposals to live up to. Writer R. Scott Gemmill and director John Peter Kousakis managed to exceed my expectations with a final proposal that was perfectly fitting for our favorite couple. The surprise might have been spoiled just a bit, but that didn’t stop me from rewatching the scene like a bajillion times.
In a completely unsurprising development to start the episode, Sam ditched his partner to hunt Khaled on his own. At least Gemmill acknowledged this overused plot point by having Callen tell Sam, “And yeah I do realize the irony of me telling you to drop the lone wolf crap.” I find humor in the fact that the writers and characters all see going rogue as an actual activity these characters do so often that it has a term- “lone wolf crap” is starting to feel pretty accurate at this point. Of course, it might also be summarized by Kensi’s assessment of “Men are stupid that way,” which would sound more convincing if she didn’t have her own history of rogue behavior.
Beyond the lone wolf storytelling device, I’m just not one to support these agents going rogue for the sake of revenge. Going rogue to find out more about one’s past? Sure. Going rogue to escape from jail and try to figure out what’s happening with an IA investigation into your shady past? Why not? Going rogue to bring one’s father’s killer to justice? OK only so long as you try to arrest him. But handing in your badge with the sole mission to kill the man who murdered your wife is not a plan I’m comfortable with, nor one I could really support, let alone enjoy watching.
Despite my doubts about the story, LL Cool J was again really strong throughout the episode. His even more serious than usual demeanor was chilling, his coldblooded determination to end Khaled understandable, and his grief palpable. On the other hand, walking into a gunfight on your own when you’re the only parent your children have left feels kinda irresponsible. It will be interesting to see whether Sam’s attitude about this kind of behavior changes once he takes some time off to be with his kids. Will he become more risk averse in Season 9?
I did enjoy the team’s reactions and all their efforts to help Sam. Deeks in particular seemed particularly motivated and very focused. I really, really like this Take Charge Deeks. Can we please see him back next season? Watching him forcefully point out that the source of the refrigerator unit was likely a trap of some kind, or pull Callen to safety after the sniper hit him, or improvise with a purchased Jesus outfit, was all extremely appealing. Perhaps he was simply filling the void left by Sam’s absence, perhaps he was reacting instinctively to a woman he knew being killed, but he definitely upped his game in a compelling way.
Going Out with a Boom
Khaled went out with a big boom as his suicide vest detonated. While this was an exciting and well directed sequence, it brings up what is probably my main problem with the story. I have to question the very fact that Khaled was wearing that vest in the first place. He was never a person determined to martyr himself for a cause. Nor was he in such desperate straits that he could see no other avenue of escape. He was an egotistical, genocidal war criminal who apparently had enough resources to hire an army of Toyota drivers and tour bus henchmen (and women). I understood his motivation to make Sam suffer, but it didn’t ring true for me that he was so deranged he’d be willing to blow himself up. As Eric pointed out, “If Tahir were smart, he’d get the hell out of Dodge.” I did think he was smart, and just disappearing, fading away where he couldn’t be found until Season 9 would have made more sense.
Of course I never really enjoyed Khaled as a bad guy, so I don’t mind that he’s gone for good. But one question still lingers, which is whether there’s another mole. Did Khaled get his intel from the moles who’ve already been identified? Are we to assume the mole storyline is wrapped up? (Fingers crossed for Yes.)
I also have to say that Khaled’s plot of stealing Michelle’s body to taunt Sam, and then threatening to dismember her, was pretty revolting, and felt disrespectful of this great character. It’s one of the reasons that I still kept thinking Michelle had to be alive and be The Mole. I couldn’t believe this was the actual plot. The tight shots of Khaled’s face as he spoke on the phone just made me wonder what was going on around him- I pictured Michelle sitting right next to him listening in. It’s hard to imagine they would have written something similar had they decided to kill off one of the main cast members. I think if I had found any of it more believable, if it had ever made sense to me that Khaled would have done it, then I would have been more angry. Instead, I just tried to ignore the whole thing and focus on the upcoming proposal.
Popping the Question with a Bang
I don’t think anyone was surprised to see Kensi propose to Deeks. The only suspense here was really whether Gemmill could pull off a few moments of actual happiness in the midst of all the darkness. When I saw that Kensi was going to do it right there at the scene of the explosion, I was momentarily unhappy. But really, as much as I wanted “the beach and the sunset with the ring,” this was much more appropriate to both the recent events and to them as a couple.
Nothing has ever been easy for these two, and the way Kensi seized the moment, not wanting to waste another second without being engaged to the man she loves, just felt right. Her improvisation with the flashbang pull ring might have been partly inspired by Sam’s pulling Michelle’s ring off of the suicide vest wiring, but it was totally Kensi. For as Deeks reminded us, she’s full of “sunshine and gunpowder,” more “bang than bling.” Plus, hasn’t she always been the stereotypical man in their relationship? Why shouldn’t she be the one to put a ring on it? It is 2017 after all. Unlike Kensi’s previous effort to move things forward in “Humbug,” where I was surprised and confused about what had prompted her actions, here I appreciated how her motivation and thought process clearly came from the day’s events and her discussion with Nell.
Kensi: Deeks can I talk to you for a sec?
Deeks: Yeah. [referring to the flashbang detonation] What the hell was that?
Kensi: [kneeling] Um, I um… [reaching for his hand] Sorry, could you just give me a hand.
Deeks: What? [Kensi slides the ring on his finger] Whoa. No.
Kensi: Martin Deeks will you marry me?
Deeks: No, no, come on baby, you gotta stand up. You gotta stand up.
Kensi: [yanking him down] No! Deeks!
Deeks: Listen, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t do this.
Kensi: I think I just did.
Deeks: No but you can’t because the guy, the guy has to… the guy has to propose.
Kensi: Oh, really? ‘Cause I think it’s 2017. And you kinda had your shot.
Deeks: Not to be a stickler for detail, but I’ve actually proposed three times if you count the very romantic version I did while you were in a coma.
Having Kensi take the lead here seemed only fair after Deeks had tried three previous times, and more importantly has got to make Deeks feel loved in a way I don’t think he often allows himself to be. He’s much too quick to assume he’s not worthy of happiness, that “the universe balancing, reality checking, soul crushing shoe is going to drop” at any moment. Kensi has worked very hard in the last half of this season to make him see how much she loves and appreciates him, yet every time, we’ve seen him brush off her words and make light of the challenges he faced when she was injured. In all the previous proposals, Deeks was the one reaching out to Kensi and telling her how much he loved her; I am so happy he got to hear the same thing back from her this time. His “Did that just happen?” shows how surprised he was by her actions. I hope he enjoys an entire summer of having it sink in that yes, it did indeed.
Deeks: Baby what are you doin?
Kensi: Life is really short, Deeks. I mean we saw that today, we see it every day. And I don’t know how much time either one of us has left, but I do know this – I wanna spend the rest of what I have with you. So what’s it gonna be?
Deeks: I mean, I don’t know. I mean this is, it’s a lot for a girl to process.
Kensi: [laughing] You’re such an idiot!
Deeks: I love you.
Kensi: I love you.
Deeks: Yes. Absolutely, what the hell, yes! [they hug] My god, did that just happen?
Kensi: [laughing, gives an OK sign to Nell]
The way Kensi’s voice shook with emotion as she told him she wanted to spend “the rest of what I have” with him brought tears to my eyes, and clearly touched Deeks too. Daniela Ruah was fantastic here. Seeing them momentarily so happy was a wonderful relief after nearly two hours of unrelenting grimness. The absolute joy on Kensi’s face as she looked over to Nell made me so happy, and felt like a preview of her expression on her wedding day. I’ll just try not to worry too much that their celebration later that night wasn’t completely overshadowed by grieving for Michelle. I do feel that’s going to make it a tougher assignment for all you fan fic writers who now have the whole summer to gift us with lovely post-ep fics.
Every time these two reach a new milestone, it’s so enjoyable to look back at how far they’ve come. Thinking back to one of Kensi’s first reactions to Deeks (“Is that the best they could do?”) and their ever so slow progress to become friends and then more (even the “sunshine and gunpowder” was a lovely reminder of their journey) is what makes this engagement oh so satisfying. There may have been a few unpleasant detours along the way (“Three Hearts” I’m looking at you), but all in all, to have been given eight plus seasons of an ever evolving relationship that is now so very strong makes me tremendously happy and grateful to the showrunners. It’s a real accomplishment and all involved should be proud of their work. It just might be enough to inspire a summer marathon!
Deeks: Let’s take a look at this thing. Well, I gotta be honest, I thought that, uh, I thought it’d have a little more bling to it.
Kensi: Oh no. You know me. I’m more bang than bling.
Deeks: That’s right. Sunshine and gunpowder.
Kensi: [laughing, they kiss]
Ending the Season on a Dark Note
The proposal was an elegant bookend to the final scene at the morgue, which reminded us exactly why Kensi was moved to action. The parallel use of the rings elevated both scenes, tying them together in a way that made it easy to envision a possible sad future for Densi, just as the proposal gave us a possible glimpse of the happiness Sam and Michelle must have enjoyed earlier in their relationship. It brought to mind Sam’s “Rude Awakenings” description of that time, when he and Michelle fell in love while working together on an NCIS – CIA joint task force. Let’s just hope that our NCIS – LAPD pairing never meets such a tragic end. The dual scenes certainly could be read as foreshadowing a grim future for Densi, but hopefully they weren’t intended in that way.
It was a shame Gemmill and Kousakis didn’t flip the order of the final two scenes. It would have been so much sweeter to end on the moment of hope (literally coming out of the ashes) rather than the grim sadness at the morgue. Unfortunately, as Tess would say, we all know who is on the cover of the DVD’s, so instead we had to end Season 8 on a down note. It’s clear that Sam’s life has changed radically. Will LL Cool J’s role be changing as a result? With apologies to those of you who like Anna, I fear there’s more of her to be seen in our future. For me, exactly how much is the actual cliffhanger here.
- Sam, it’s not cool to tell your daughter her mother’s been killed over the phone. I get it with Aiden, who’s away at school, but Kamran needed her dad to be there for her in person.
- I wasn’t surprised at Sam’s garage arsenal, but I had to laugh as he continued to pile the weapons into his bag. Just how many guns does one rogue agent need?
- Even Nell realized the error of not using Overwatch on Sam. I still maintain there’s no way Khaled should have been released without it.
- I do enjoy scenes with Nell and Callen, like the one in the ambulance where Nell is tossing out the wisecracks (“I just dewormed him”). But shouldn’t she maybe keep a pair of pants around in her go bag so if she gets pulled into the field, she’ll feel a little more ready to take on the bad guys?
- Deeks is the perfect person to try to keep someone on the phone long enough to trace a call. His ramblings about live hand grenades didn’t even sound like he was going out of this way to keep Khaled on the line, more like it was just his usual stream of consciousness.
- Sabatino was more likable than I’ve ever seen him. Seeing him handcuffed – again – definitely made me laugh. I particularly liked how Kensi and Nell were completely unconcerned that he might still be stuck in that alley.
- It was nice that Nell could witness the proposal and share a moment of relief and happiness after being so upset throughout the episode. And bonus points for refraining from interrupting!
- And throughout the episode Gemmill sprinkled in small bits of humor to help lighten the darkness just enough. Nell had the funniest line of the episode with “Jesus is my co-pilot.” Hilarious. While none of the humor felt out of place, it made the episode less intense than it otherwise would have been. After last week, I kind of appreciated that.
It’s been quite a roller coaster of a season. It may not have been perfect, but I find myself looking forward to a fresh start for R. Scott Gemmill with Season 9. Thanks for joining us each week, and special thanks to those of you who join our weekly discussions of all things Deeks and Densi. Be sure to come back later this week for the last Surf Log, Journal, Drabble, and Top 3 of the season. And have a wonderful summer! Before you go, let us hear your thoughts on “Unleashed”!