After what felt like the longest winter hiatus ever, this week we finally had a new episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. Written by R. Scott Gemmill and directed by John Peter Kousakis, “Goodbye, Vietnam” brought us quite a few returning characters (maybe a few too many) and most importantly, the reunion of our team with their fearless leader (yay!).
Familiar Faces Return
We often talk about a lack of recurring characters, but this week’s episode in no way suffered from this problem. We had the return of the Three Amigos: Chegwidden, Langston and Bridges (played by John M. Jackson, Carl Lumbly, and James Remar). We had the return of Rio (Bobby Lee), the crazy CIA agent from “Blame It on Rio.” Plus Nell’s sister Sydney (Ashley Spillers) was back to torment Nell and grill Eric. Oh, and we even got a mention of our favorite shady CIA operative Sabatino, consulted off-camera.
It was nice to see Hetty’s three pals coming to rescue her. It’s a shame we didn’t get more of their banter with the team, something I’d enjoyed in their previous appearances and only got a small taste of here. Sydney and Nell’s storyline was interesting. As an older sister, I could easily see myself in Sydney’s bossy shoes (although I never made my sister play a dog!). Watching Eric standing up to her was enjoyable, and her moment with Nell at the end was touching. Unfortunately all these characters took focus away from the larger goal of the episode, to rescue Hetty.
Nell Saves the Day
While the whole Nell/Sydney storyline was fine, it broke up any suspense that might have been generated overseas. It also took a serious amount of screen time. I didn’t do the math but I’d have guessed that the Ops team had about half of it. Sydney didn’t contribute anything to the case that Hidoko couldn’t have if she hadn’t been so fleeing from Hetty’s Santeria paraphernalia. This decision to focus on drama at the office made it difficult for Gemmill and JPK to do much with the team in Vietnam- they oh so efficiently arrived, tracked down the Three Amigos, and shot the bad guys. They didn’t have any time to share any concerns over what might have become of Hetty, to really talk about anything in depth, to feature much of the amigos, or even to include any additional action.
The best part of the office half of the episode was Nell taking charge of Mosley and forcing her to arrange for satellite imagery. This is what Nell should be doing: using her brain to analyze the problem and working behind the scenes to solve it, not tackling bad guys in the field. I’m not even going to try to make sense of Mosley in this episode- she was so emotional, seeming to care so much, and that felt out of character. I have given up trying to understand what the writers have intended with her character development so far.
An Unsuspenseful Team Rescue
Normally I’d set aside a big portion of the review to discuss the key Deeks or Densi scenes. Alas, there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about this time. And it wasn’t that Deeks or Kensi had less screen time than Sam or Callen. It was just that all the scenes featuring the four main characters felt a little lackluster. They’ve staged so many other foreign rescues that this one just felt like old hat to me, and apparently to them as well. They talked about the danger – of being in the country “off-book”, of taking on 12 bad guys in the jungle – but the action never conveyed the feeling that they were in actual danger.
Normally there’s at least one action-packed scene in the first half of the episode, if not several. Here we got all talking. Beyond that, the appearance of Rio, as cartoonish a character as the show has produced, removed any semblance of reality from the episode. Although I disliked “Blame It on Rio,” I didn’t mind him in that context. That whole episode leaned heavily in the direction of silliness and he made me laugh. This one shouldn’t have.
They took out the bad guys so easily (as far as I could see in the dark – I really have no idea what happened there) that I was never worried for any of them. The four leads underplayed their scenes in a way that- although it did suggest they were keeping calm and cool for the sake of the mission- came off as if they were all just a little bored to be in another foreign country carrying out a secret mission. If they don’t look like they care, or can’t convey that they’re scared, how am I supposed to care or worry?
The most entertaining scenes were the trekking scene with the amigos and the lock-picking scene. Both featured some welcome team banter…
Sam: Any time, G.
Callen: I know, it’s jammed.
Kensi: Alright, give it to me, hand it over.
Callen: Why don’t you be my guest?
Kensi: Thank you.
Deeks: Mmmm hmm.
Kensi: It’s my specialty, boys. Give me a second here… What is happening?
Deeks: How’s that working out for ya? Are you done? Not so much, huh?
Kensi: OK, you know what, smartass? You do it.
Deeks: Well, if you kids are done messing around… The key is to become one with the device. It’s not so much a lock to be opened, it’s a puzzle to be solved, to be understood… There’s something wrong with this lock.
Sam: Oh let me pick the lock.
Deeks: I got it.
Sam kicks in the door.
Deeks: Ah! That works.You get 10 points for efficiency and- screw it!- 10 points for style… Mm-alright.
Hetty’s Back Where She Belongs
The best part of the episode was the reunion of the team with Hetty. Hetty was in a world of hurt, even showing unusual signs of vulnerability. The team arrived just in time to save her and Keane. Her “It’s about bloody time” was exactly what I’d been waiting to hear. I loved seeing her collapsing into Callen’s embrace. It’s the most physical affection I think I’ve ever seen between them. And then again on the helicopter she leans into him to sleep, and the episode ends on a lovely, wordless shot of her and Callen, Kensi and Deeks, and- hah!- Rio and Chegwidden.
Now to see whether she suffers any aftereffects (PTSD?) from her captivity and torture. Is Hetty human enough to suffer them, or is she nearly bullet-proof after all these years and experiences? And more importantly, can she either get Mosley to behave in a consistent and human way, or will she at least give her a hard time on behalf of the team and the audience? Can she restore the balance that’s been sorely missing through the first half of the season? Her long absence has made me appreciate how truly vital she is to the show.
- I’m not a fan of seeing cool shots inserted into a promo when they’re from old episodes or cut scenes. Case in point, the big explosion with Sam yelling “Bomb!” at the end of this episode’s. Boo. If the promo editor felt it needed a boom to look exciting enough, that’s a bad sign for the actual episode.
- Maybe I’ve just watched the show too long, and too many times, but I kept hearing lines come back from past episodes. Did anyone else recognize “Dogs go mad, people get angry” from “Special Delivery,” or the British-accented references to corgis? (The latter is of course from one of R. Scott Gemmill’s best episodes, “Wanted,” although I thought it was improvised by Eric Christian Olsen and Daniela Ruah.)
- As if Hetty shops at Bed Bath & Beyond!
- What the heck was Deeks even saying as he and his “angry girlfriend” distracted the Vietnamese cops? It sounded like he was just putting an “ina” at the end of all his words. Very funny.
- I liked Kensi’s “What is happening?” line when she couldn’t pick the lock. It was a total Deeks thing to say and it shows how much they have rubbed off on one another.
- Glad to see Langston’s feeling well enough to travel half-way around the world and trek through the jungle, seeing how poorly he was doing in his last appearance.
- A pet peeve of mine is the failure to show time zone differences. Why did we get Mosley heading in to watch the rescue in what seemed to be the early evening, as the team simultaneously carried out their nighttime rescue? There’s a 14-hour time difference at work here.
- Wow, I guess deciding on the bad guys’ fate when overseas doesn’t require the team to follow the rule of law? That was quite something to see Hetty unleash the tiger on Dang. While I did enjoy it, and he did deserve it, I’m not sure I condone it.
That’s it from me. What did you think of “Goodbye, Vietnam?” I feel like I had a lot of issues with this one. Was I too hard on it? Do you think Hetty can get the show back on track? While we wait to find out, come back later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log, Kensi’s Journal, and the Drabble of the Week. Meanwhile, tell us your thoughts in the Comments below.