Throughout Season 9, many of us have felt that things have been a bit off with NCIS: Los Angeles, as if this world we’ve come to know so well is just somehow out of balance. This week’s episode “Các Tù Nhận,” written by R. Scott Gemmill and directed by James Hanlon, wasn’t perfect, but it was a nice reminder of some of my favorite aspects of the show.
A Tale of Two Bosses
Poor Nia Long. For much of this season she’s been asked to fill not just the gaping hole left by the loss of Miguel Ferrer, but also the void left by Linda Hunt’s prolonged absence. In this episode the two women didn’t share any scenes, but the level of gravitas, or lack thereof, shown by their respective performances left me feeling sorry for Nia. How can anyone measure up to Linda Hunt? Mosley comes off as such a one-note character in comparison to the veritable symphony that Hetty brings. She toyed with her captors, pretending to have regressed back to childhood. She was defiant to Dang, daring him to “Pull the trigger, bitch.” She threatened Allen with her final utterance of “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” after he shot Keane. She was regretful that her grand plans for arranging for back-up might not work out, with Keane the first casualty of her bad judgment. (Don’t get me started on Hetty’s long history of poor judgment!) From her focused repetition of a nursery rhyme to biting off the bad guy’s ear, to the episode’s close over her gleeful? desperate? insane? laughing, Linda Hunt gave us plenty to savor in her performance. Gemmill’s script gave her more to work with than she’s had in quite some time.
Everything worked well on the Hetty side of the story, although the tiger seemed like a slightly crazy touch. At least it wasn’t digitally rendered, like the one from The Walking Dead. Was I the only one who kept thinking about Kensi’s desire for a baby tiger that she could train and work with? Also slightly crazy was Hetty’s tormentor Dang, played by Long Nguyen. I loved his off-kilter performance. He has me completely convinced that he’s a nutty but quite evil old adversary of Hetty’s who’s enjoying seeing her get her comeuppance.
I will say that it’s too bad that the team didn’t get to do anything exciting on their end. I was engaged the whole time, largely because of the humor throughout, but Kensi and Deeks didn’t even get to leave the office. It was as if the entire episode’s budget had been expended on the tiger, and therefore the usual amount of location shooting had to be curtailed. For me that’s a huge loss, not just because of the lack of excitement, but because the team getting out of the mission – and off the Paramount lot – and onto actual Los Angeles locations is a key element to the show and something that makes it unique.
Gemmill Brings the Goofy
R. Scott Gemmill is responsible for so many of the show’s funniest moments. I think he’s the most confident writer in terms of bringing the humor. He’s not afraid of straight up silly lines and he doesn’t worry about going too far. Here he sprinkled humor throughout, beginning right from the start with Eric’s crazy dream sequence involving the avocado suit. Eric was pretty hilarious throughout the episode. I loved Nell’s murmur of “Oh, god” after Eric recounted that he’s still afraid of bubbles due to a previous dream involving Hetty, Charles Nelson Reilly and Grimace. And Sam and Callen were definitely on their A game when it came to joking around. Callen in particular appeared to be having more fun than usual. Their entire scene at the warehouse was filled with funny lines. It felt like the entire cast (well, except for Mosley and Hidoko), was a little tipsy while shooting, and didn’t hesitate to inject humor everywhere they could.
Gemmill also let Deeks (and Eric Christian Olsen) show off his sarcastic wit. Deeks wasn’t the butt of jokes here. He was making jokes at others’ expense, or in his trademark manner, using humor to defuse all the tension that Mosley created. The sweetest example was his getting a laugh and a big smile out of a Kensi who’s still mourning the loss of Granger…
Kensi: I don’t want to go through that again.
Deeks: Well, the good news is you’re not gonna have to because Hetty, Hetty’s coming back.
Kensi: You don’t know that Deeks.
Deeks: I do. I positively do. I know that for sure. You wanna know how I know that?
Deeks: ‘Cause there’s no way that she could live her life without this. [picks up clown head figurine]
Kensi: [laughs] What the hell is that?
Deeks: I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure that if we boiled it down in hydrochoric acid we’d find like a note inside.
Kensi: Now you’re just mocking.
Deeks: [in weird clown voice] Kensi, do you want to snuggle? Do you want to spoon?
Mosley: What the hell are you doing?
Deeks: Like, right this moment or in my life?
Deeks’ distress at being unable to save Kensi from an irate Mosley was very much in character. I loved his adorable rambling to Callen’s voicemail about the dog kennel at LAPD. And then he got to put the full Deeksness on display with his “Beam me up Scotty, put my goods on the screen” scene with Eric as they tried to get the girls in the bar to help them out. The two men worked well together here, with Eric’s awkwardness and Deeks’ cockiness both providing lots of charm (“Teach me?”).
Again I think the team so clearly enjoying themselves provided an unfortunate contrast to both Mosley and Hidoko, neither of whom have demonstrated much in the way of a sense of humor. This is possibly the main reason it’s been so hard to warm up to them as new characters. How can people without a sense of humor build a strong working relationship- and any chemistry- with this cast of goofballs? I was completely uninterested in Mosley’s temper tantrum, whether it was deserved or not. She just hasn’t done much to prove to the team that she supports them, so I don’t think she should have been surprised that they’d rather ask forgiveness than permission (not that Callen even apologized).
I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s off about the show. It’s hard not to keep coming back to the new cast members just not fitting in, and to Hetty’s and Granger’s disappearances. One additional smaller problem for me is a lack of Frank Military scripts. In Seasons 2 through 7, he usually wrote 3 or 4 scripts per season. Last year he only wrote two, and through half of Season 9 he’s only written one. I need more of my Military angst to complement the Gemmill humor!
- It’s almost always a good sign when the opening scene involves one of the cast. It tells us that the episode is not going to be a typical case of the week. I’ll leave it to you all to psychoanalyze that dream, particularly the avocado element. (I loved Callen’s worry that the dream might have become “weird” between Eric and Hetty.) But was I the only one a little disappointed that Nell wasn’t sleeping by Eric’s side when he woke up?
- Does Eric live at Hogwarts? I ask because his pile of books all looked like they came from an antique store, not Amazon. One of two nice callbacks this week was Hetty’s gift to Eric of The Red Badge of Courage. In case you’re thinking Eric now has all of Hetty’s cold war secrets embedded in that book as microdots (see “Deliverance”), it’s actually a different copy. The “Deliverance” edition was brown with an embossed eagle on the cover.
- In case you were wondering, Gamera, whose name Eric exclaimed when he awoke, is a fictional Japanese giant turtle-like monster. He got his start in movies but has also appeared in comic books and video games.
- It seemed like a waste of screen time for Nell’s light to be out of batteries. There was no purpose to them having change scenes to get it working. It felt like a curious writing and/or editing decision.
- It surprised me that only Hidoko was aware of the what3words clue, but it’s not governmental or military in origin. It was created by someone from the music industry who wanted to develop a better addressing system after bands and equipment kept getting lost. He got a couple of friends to develop the algorithm and created the website. It’s kinda fun to play around with the map and see what your “address” is. Mine included the words “mats” and “gymnast.” Skin.failed.action does pull up a Ho Chi Minh city location, although it appears to be a park and not a structure.
- This is maybe the third episode this year where Deeks doesn’t appear until more than 10 minutes into the show. Not a good trend.
- Hidoko sure did stick up for the team here. But again, why does she feel the need to walk around the mission with her weapon at the ready? She should relax a little at the office!
- Kensi definitely provided all the moments of heart in this episode, and her scene in the armory with Nell was one such example. It also provided the second nice callback, this time to “Imposters” where Hetty was preparing to leave the country on a suicide mission and gave Kensi the weaponized make-up brush. (She also offered Deeks a permanent job as an agent.) That episode was also written by Gemmill.
So this was a great episode for Linda Hunt, and a set-up episode to get the rest of the team to Vietnam. Too bad we have to wait so long to see the rescue! In the meantime, come back later this week for new entries into Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal, plus the Drabble of the Week. And tell us what you thought of this week’s episode in the comments below. Did you enjoy the funny or was it over the top? Was Mosley right to be so angry or did she deserve to be kept out of the loop? And did you fear for Hetty- or for the tiger?