Hey NCIS:LA fans and welcome to this week’s review of Episode 15 of Season 9, “Liabilities”. This particular offering was directed by Lily Mariye, an actress turned director, and was written by Kyle Harimoto, who has penned gems like “Omni”, Granger, O.”, Chernoff, K.” and “Humbug” among others.
I’m excited about this, so let’s jump right in, shall we?
Okay. I lied. After I was so disappointed in last week’s “Goodbye Vietnam,” I was not too excited about what may lay ahead as I flipped on my DVR. But it is not for us to question why, but to do and… well, maybe not die, but you get the point. So I pressed PLAY and the show was underway. All I had to do was hang on.
I’m glad I did.
The basics of what the preview gave us is that the team has to find an underground agent who has compiled a large supply of bomb-making materials. In a follow up to previous episodes, we have the return of the Keith and Lynn Stiger (“Assets”) and Jennifer Kim (“Granger, O.”), and that means we may finally discover what has become of our wayward Deputy Director. With the clock ticking and the agent nowhere to be found, the team has their work cut out for them.
In the opening scene, we follow along as Callen and Sam approach a cabin on a small pond that explodes almost as soon as they enter. We later discover that Lynn Stiger was found inside the rubble, already dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest. This puts the focus firmly on her husband, who appears to be missing. Now it’s time for a tactical observation: if the place was rigged to blow in order to take out the investigating team, why was the camera placed in the middle of the planter sitting in the middle of the table that was right in front of the entry door? And why not just drop the cellphone trigger between the cushions of the chair as to muffle the vibration so it would remain unnoticed? Or turning off the vibrate option at the very least? The point of setting a trap that is designed to kill a target, is that the target is already dead before they even realize they have stepped into a trap in the first place. I know, I know… why muddle this make believe TV show with a small dose of how things actually go down in the real world?
When we shift back to the Mission, we enjoy a tender moment between Hidoko and Hetty that opened up her apparent tragic past before her transfer to the West Coast. The loss of her husband has affected her deeply and given her an emotional side that has been lacking up to this point. Up in Operations, we are briefed on the reappearance of the Stigers and the mystery continues to deepen. Then we find out that an entire truck full of bomb-making materials is running around LA and the team doesn’t have a clue as to the possible target. Before the team enters the warehouse where the materials have been traced, Sam gives us an impressive toss through the missing window pane. Nice!
After they get no help from Rocky, the security guard who is apparently on the twenty-year diet plan, and nothing much from Stiger’s business partners, the hunt is on for the truck before something goes ‘BOOM!’
Now, for all of us who hoped Hetty’s return would be as seamless as many others have been… well, I guess we will have to wait to see how that all plays out in the end. For her part, I don’t believe that Mosley’s clomping around her office in heels was meant to disturb Hetty downstairs; I think it’s just in the younger woman’s nature to do what she wants (until someone steps up and calls her on her crap – even though she is… technically… the boss). The point should be made that, despite Hetty’s vast experience, her position is that of Operations Manager, not Executive Assistant Director Pacific (whatever that means), which puts her lower on the totem pole than we sometimes imagine. However, as some others have learned, Hetty has connections that make her lower position a moot point when she needs to give someone of greater authority an attitude adjustment. Mosley may find that out the hard way.
After a briefing with Eric and Nell, Sam and Callen are off to visit Jennifer Kim in her off the books rural cabin. I guess she’s a city girl based on her vocal disdain for her current living conditions. She leads them to a North Korean safe house where it is confirmed that Stiger has gone rogue, acting on no orders from higher-ups, which means no one knows what he is up to. Not good. Not good at all.
Kensi and Deeks are sent to the area where the truck was last seen, which is a large area to cover. In this scene, we get an example of why this show can still be great. We get a great conversation about Granger and why he did what he did for his daughter. It also was of note how Deeks was the one to explain the fact that he trusts Kim because Granger trusts her. For all of their animosity over their working relationship, Deeks displayed an immense amount of maturity in explaining why Kim would dishonor her father if she betrayed them.
Kensi: Think Jennifer Kim’s going to help us?
Deeks: Yeah … yeah, I do.
Kensi: She was raised from a young age to harm the U.S., so what makes you think she’s going to help our team now?
Deeks: Cause it’s not really about her. I mean… Granger trusted her, I trust Granger… therefore, through proxy or transitive property… I’m on team ‘Jennifer Kim’ or team ‘JenKim’… you know, that just sounds better, might put it on a t-shirt.
Kensi: Granger really stuck his neck out for her, didn’t he?
Deeks: It seems to me, brokering that deal with the Justice Department and the State Department was pretty much his primary focus right up until… uh… you know… anyway.
Deeks: She doublecrosses us, she disrespects him.
Kensi: She does that… I’ll take her out myself.
Deeks: Fair enough.
We then discover a North Korean special operations operative that has gone rogue with Stiger. The mess just keeps getting deeper and deeper! Kudos for Mosley pointing out the construction site and the access to the LA underground tunnels. Talk about multiple targets and freedom from observation.
It was impressive how seamlessly the four team members split up, especially with Kensi pairing off with Callen while Sam split off with Deeks. Not their normal M.O. but it worked! It did confuse me as to why were the first set of guards looking away from the entrance. I guess there has to be some slack given in the interest of drama.
I have to point out that we had none of the distracting banter we had in last week’s episode. Sam made no comments about Deeks being able to see with his hair in his eyes and Callen didn’t ask Kensi if she and Deeks had picked out China patterns. They remained professional and intense throughout the entire mission which translated into a dramatic showdown. With some seriously fancy hand-to-hand from Deeks and impressive bomb skills from Sam, the bad guys were taken down and the LAPD headquarters saved.
And was that a Dr. Seuss reference by Deeks?
Deeks: I don’t like knives, I do not like them at all.
Pulled a What?
The final shootout gave us some impressive moves, especially by our favorite detective. Did you guys catch his combat transition from his primary weapon, the M4, when it ran dry to his sidearm with no hesitation whatsoever? It was smooth as silk and revealed a high skill level in firearms manipulation. Then, when the danger was over, we got a slice of perfect team banter.
Callen: Well, those are the first bombs you have correctly disarmed in quite a while. Congratulations.
Deeks: What’d you do?
Callen: What did you do?
Deeks: You know… got in a… got in a knife fight…
Kensi: Pulled a hammy.
Deeks: Pulled a hammy.
Now that I’ve given you the rundown, let me give my opinion on “Liabilities”.
This episode is one of the reasons that I adore this show! Now, it has had it misfires (“Goodbye Vietnam” being one of them), but there is still life to be found and we had a wonderful taste of it this week. The intensity built from the opening scene with an exploding cabin, through the hunt for the bad guys and the explosives, all the way to the finale with gun play and another last minute save by this great team. The banter was kept mild and the comic relief perfectly timed and subtle, not heavy handed and constant. I salute the director and writers who masterfully wove a tense story that grew and grew until the conclusion, aided by great acting from the leads and emotional support from the supporting castmates.
There were no ill-timed jokes or silly banter and, thank the heavens, no loud whistling or pee breaks in the jungle while trying to remain undetected. Sorry. I will stop slamming last week’s horrible let-down of a great story arc that seemed to be headed in a good direction only to fall apart when a totally out of place Rio walked up and… sorry… sorry… leaving it alone. I’m done. Really. Letting it go… going to my happy place.
This is why I watch. The story builds, each scene adding to the one before until you are on the edge of your seat, and when the conclusion occurs, you let out the breath you didn’t realize you were holding. I know I may be overdramatizing my reaction, but this was the first episode that I have really enjoyed in a long time. It sounds funny to say that the case becomes secondary to the character development that is occurring while the mystery is solved. Explosions, gunfights, and bad guys are great and all, but if the characters are flat, stale or downright empty… why watch? If you aren’t emotionally invested in the people presented on the screen, you won’t care if they win or lose, get shot, or ride off into the sunset.
For my part, “Liabilities” gave us all of that while tying up some storylines that had been left hanging from earlier episodes. Way to go guys and gals!
One of the things that keeps drawing me back into the storylines is the way they feel like a family, and that component is now a target. It is becoming apparent that one of Mosley’s objectives is to possibly break up the dynamic between the teammates. While this has been attempted before (even Granger gave it a shot), I fear that the powers-that-be may be on the hunt for a dramatic change to give sagging ratings a boast as we head toward the end of the season. To me, it seemed like Mosley specifically mentioned ‘relationships’ between the team members and that may be a portent for Densi and maybe even Neric.
There were some moments worthy of mention:
· One of them was between Eric (Barrett Foa) and Sam (LL Cool J). At the beginning of their briefing up in OPS when Sam finished listing out the bomb ingredients, cutting Eric off in the process, Eric mumbles under his breath and Sam asks what he just said. While Nell takes over before the boys can really start to argue, watch Barrett’s interaction with a slightly out-of-frame LL. There was a little ‘extra’ humor added to the tail-end of the shot and I think Barrett was tickled by the expression on LL’s face because it looked like he broke character for an instant before catching himself. Go back and see if you catch it.
· We saw an emotional response from Hidoko when her husband’s death was brought up and the show ended with a graciously beautiful farewell for Owen Granger. Jennifer’s tearful confession about Granger’s regret at not being the father he should have been to the burial site under the oak tree, looking out over the valley along with the song at the end tugged at my heart. “If I give you all I got… would you give me all that you have to give?” Wow. Well done. Fair winds and following seas, Owen Granger.
· It was telling that Hetty did not knock before she entered her boss’s office and did not wait to be dismissed before she left. And who was giving the instructions and who was saying “Yes ma’am.”? Yeah, Mosley, you’re in charge. Keep telling yourself that and let us know how all of that works out as you continue to mess with Hetty’s familia.
· Cool tech-toy with the throwable camera. Neat.
· Is it me or is Deeks friendly with all the ‘background’ agents? He stops to shake hands with the agent holding Stiger’s business partners at the boatshed and I seem to remember other episodes where he interacts in the same way.
· I wasn’t really happy with Jennifer Kim’s attitude toward the ‘rural’ lifestyle (one that I wouldn’t trade for all of the restaurants, malls and theaters in the world) or the implication that only ‘smarter’ people live in cities or urban areas. No thanks. Got everything I need right here. Thanks Jennifer, but you can have your smog, high crime rates, traffic, and anything else that makes city life so much fun.
Well, that’s it for me and we hope you drop a review of the review to let us know about your thoughts on “Liabilities”. Tune in next week for another episode that looks to be heavy on Callen and his newly discovered family. Also, check back on wikiDeeks for updates to Deeks’ Surf Log, Kensi’s Journal, the Drabble of the Week, and all the other really cool stuff that the crew adds during the week.
And just like always … Semper Fidelis.