For most episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles, the charm of the banter and the excitement of the action enable me to look past any plot holes, directorial missteps, canon inconsistencies, or characters out of character. But every now and then an episode comes along where I find myself unable to just chill and enjoy because I’m too confused by the plot or too agitated by other issues. Alas, “Venganza,” written by Erin Broadhurst and Kyle Harimoto and directed by Yangzom Brauen, fell into the latter category. I’ve helpfully labeled the sections of my review so that you can skip right over the ranting if you’d like.
Let me start with the things I liked about the episode, beginning with two moments involving Sam. I was glad to hear he’s still planning to travel to Carmel with the kids to scatter Michelle’s ashes. It’s nice that the writers haven’t forgotten about his plans. I also liked that bad guy Michael Silva wanted to look out for his autistic brother, and that Sam was going to see to it personally. It was an interesting and creative callback to “Se Murio el Payaso.”
I also loved watching Kensi and Deeks practice shooting. That’s choreography I can get behind. Plus Deeks’ movie confusion, whether it be mixing up Flashdance with Dirting Dancing or not knowing where Butch and Sundance were when they were killed, was quite charming and funny. “I mean, I’ve seen the movie, I think I know.” Yes, Deeks, you may have a concussion.
And while I had some issues with the Densi shoot-out, I loved how Deeks shielded Kensi inside the stable. It reminded me of that scene from the hotel room early in “The Frozen Lake.” Oh, and Harley did a hilarious job as the chef warning the bad guy about parasites. She sold that story well, although Kensi or Deeks could have done the job at least as well, and without making Harley drive all the way to Malibu- uh oh, the ranting has already started!
There were a few things that made this episode tough for me to follow. One was that I barely remembered the counterfeiter story from “Se Murio el Payaso,” other than it was the episode where Densi spent the entire time in the boatshed interrogating Lucila Marca. It may have been my shortest review ever since there was little Deeks to discuss. It did not seem like the kind of story that needed a follow-up.
In addition, the episode just felt a little filled with random moments, maybe kinda sloppy, both in the writing and the directing. There was the continuation of character soup, with different people coming and going so that Callen could split off from the group and so that Harley could have something useful to do. All this mixing of people and places, including recurring guest – and new NCIS agent – Nicole DeChamps should have given the episode an energetic feel, but to me it just felt unfocused. (By the way, they had been casting for a new recurring female NCIS agent. Could it be that DeChamps, with her move to NCIS, is taking the spot instead? Maybe that’s why they decided to return to this story, as a way to reintroduce her.)
I thought Callen never slept, but now he’s sleeping like a rock? The meditation worked so well it put him back to sleep but he still meets Sam at the crack of dawn at the boatshed? He’s now offering to help Sam with the boat? I thought he’d been doing that all year. What was the point of Densi interviewing the prison guard in the boatshed? If Agent DeChamps was undercover, how did the Peruvian bad guys find her? That seems like a big, mole-like problem for NCIS. And what was the meaning of the secret message?
Another complaint- it feels good to get them off my chest!- was in the directing. Unfortunately I had quite a few quibbles with first-timer Brauen. In the cobbler scene with Sam and Callen, the slight movement of the camera from side to side left me feeling like the vehicle behind Sam was moving. It was disorienting and distracting. I know they frequently utilize this technique, but there was something about it this time that didn’t work. Then during their shoot-out, what the heck was in those trash bins that kept DeChamps from being filled with holes? Was the nightclub throwing out trash made of steel or Kevlar? (And why didn’t she run back inside?) Also, how convenient did it seem for Callen to notice the stack of flammable containers that brought an end to said shoot-out?
Then when Deeks and Kensi were taking fire on the hilltop, we never got to see the “sheer cliff” they were discussing jumping off. It communicated to us that the cliff-top scene was shot in a different location from the stunt-people falling scene, which was likely a different location to the Deeks and Kensi stopping scene. Later, the doors of that stable were clearly paper-thin (they needed some of DeChamps’ trash bins!), yet all the bullets went to the side, miraculously missing them. Good thing that Callen could get there from Glendale in about 15 minutes and Sam and DeChamps could arrive from San Pedro (40 miles on the 405 Freeway) in the same amount of time. Maybe they took a helicopter? The addition of the song (Funk #49 by James Gang in case you were wondering) was also problematic- it immediately took away any sense of suspense and communicated that the good guys were about to win.
Finally, in the last scene with Callen, the lighting made me laugh out loud. Was this a government facility or a secret meeting of James Bond villains? I hate to be so critical, but this episode definitely stood out for me as being less well put together than most. It did make me appreciate how consistently well directed the series usually is, especially considering how many different people take the helm.
And then there was Densi. Be warned, there’s still quite a bit of ranting here too. The duo got off to a nice start with the shooting practice. Too bad they didn’t get a chance to incorporate some of their moves in the big shoot-out at the end. But once again we got what felt like the exact same conversation the two have been having since the season began…
Kensi: Choreography’s a beautiful thing.
Deeks: [Sighs] Wow, you are just not gonna let this go, are you?
Kensi: No, I’m not going to let this go. Why can’t we have a choreographer for our wedding?
Deeks: No thank you.
Kensi: Wh- Look, you’ve had salsa class and waltz lessons, why is this any different?
Deeks: Baby this isn’t about my skills, and it certainly is not about your skills. I just, I just want this thing to be…
Kensi: Our wedding.
Deeks: Right, our wedding. I want our wedding to be natural. OK? I want it to be like us, I don’t want it to be too forced or too planned out because the truth of the matter is, baby, it doesn’t have to be perfect because we are perfect together. And that’s what this is all about. That’s all I’m saying.
Kensi: So you’re saying we can’t do the overhead lift a la “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”?
Deeks: Listen, at the end of the day, I’m going to do whatever it is that you want me to do. If you want me to do the whatever it is that you just did, I’ll do it. I’m just trying to tell you where I’m coming from.
Kensi: Fine. No overhead lift. Or jazz hands.
Deeks: For as long as we both shall live.
First, yes Deeks, you and Kensi are “perfect together.” Shameless self-promotion alert, but just this past Sunday we posted an essay on that very topic. I definitely got a kick of out of hearing Deeks echo my piece’s title.
But a choreographer so they can do the Dirty Dancing lift? I don’t even know what to say. Is Kensi actually counting their one session with Hetty as “waltz lessons” and Deeks’ one practice with the guy in “From Havana with Love” as “salsa class”? That’s so clearly not a Deeks thing and I hate that they’d give us a Kensi who thinks it could be. I am really hating these wedding discussions more and more, primarily because I don’t see Kensi as being portrayed at all in character. I guess I will be happy next week then, right? Seems like wedding discussions are coming to a head one way or another! Unfortunately the discussion continued…
Deeks: I have the most amazing idea.
Kensi: Does it involve vacation time in Diamondhead?
Deeks: What about here?
Kensi: What do you mean, here? You’ve been talking about surfing in Hawaii for months.
Deeks: What about if we did the wedding here? In Malibu, on the beach. Baby, we talked about doing a beach wedding. Why not do it here, on our beach? Why fly to somebody else’s beach? That’s their beach.
Kensi: You’re right.
Deeks: I’m- I’m sorry, what? I could just, if I could just record that maybe, and use it as my outgoing voice message, just to let everyone know how right I am.
Kensi: I’m just saying that it is a beautiful location, and that patio is huge. It could fit like, what, 150? Easily.
Deeks: Oh, no no. Not so much the restaurant, I was talking about the beach, and 150 people? OK, that’s way too many people. I was thinking like 10 people, just the people that mean the most to us by our side.
Kensi: There are way more than 10 people that mean the most to me.
Deeks: Right, no no, obviously. More than 10. Like fif- fifteen. Twenty?
Kensi: Deeks, I grew up on bases. I was the Agent Afloat for an aircraft carrier. The people that mean the most to me add up. It’s not just the people that mean the most to me right now.
Deeks: And for you that makes sense, and that’s totally right. But for me, I’m a little bit different. You know, when I move on, for better or for worse, I move on. It’s not that I’m keeping track of like, my buddies that I played Little League baseball with.
Kensi: Little League?
Deeks: Not that, but with you it’s different. And these people love you, and you love them, and they should be at your wedding.
Kensi: Our wedding.
Deeks: Our wedding.
Kensi: I love you.
Deeks: I love you too. But just to clarify, that means you’re OK with the reception being here?
Kensi: Yeah, I’m sure they could do a wonderful fixed menu of clam chowder and fish ‘n chips.
Deeks: It sounds like you’re being sarcastic but seriously, like that’s my kind of party.
Kensi: Our kind of party!
Deeks: Our kind of party!
Kensi: Oh, my gosh.
Deeks: It’s gonna be so much fun.
Kensi: I know.
Well that was awkward and uncomfortable! This discussion confused me. For how long have these two been planning their wedding, and they’re still negotiating the number of guests? How can they even search for a venue if they don’t know how many people are coming, let alone decide the color of the tablecloths. More importantly, the idea of Kensi having 150 close friends doesn’t ring true to me. This is same the woman who once faked plans to visit her fake family in Seattle for the holidays, right? I’ll be interested to hear what you all think about that. Does someone who slept on the streets for two years and lies to everyone she knows about her job strike you as someone who has 150 friends and has maintained relationships with people she’s considered friends at different stages of her life? I guess it’s in keeping with the same Kensi who’s buddies with Tiffany, Tiffany, Mindy, Mandy and Kat, another thing that never rang true to me. Maybe I need to actually see her interacting with the Tiffany’s for it finally make sense in my mind.
How can we discuss this week’s episode without considering how it will play into the two-part season finale? That promo sure got my attention! I hadn’t heard that Frank Military was writing it, which put a whole different spin on my expectations and fears. I think it’s fantastic news for Deeks and for Densi, although not necessarily for what it might mean for Eric Christian Olsen’s plans.
You all know that the Prince of Darkness is my favorite NCIS:LA writer. I think he’s the best overall, the best at writing a competent but complicated Deeks, and one of the most romantic in terms of Densi. He wrote two of my top 3 most romantic scenes, and my number one most romantic kiss. Of course, the latter came right before he literally tortured Deeks, so be warned that there’s likely a huge heaping of angst in our near future. I just refuse to believe that Military will leave them in a truly bad place.
In fact, I think it’s still possible for us to have a wedding by the end of the two-parter. A simple, sunset beach wedding like most of us want. Why else would they have spent the season arguing over these ridiculous, over the top plans that are so obviously wrong for them, if not for Kensi to realize in the end that she just wants to seize the day and be married to the man she loves? Life is short, right?
What did you think of “Venganza”? Was I too hard on it? What’s your theory about these repeated wedding discussions? Are you freaked out about the finale or looking forward to it (or both)? Tell us in the Comments below. But FYI, I’m staying away from all social media and possible finale spoilers this week, which unfortunately includes your lovely comments. I can’t wait to read them once the finale airs!