It’s no secret that Frank Military is my favorite NCIS: Los Angeles writer. His dark stories full of tension and drama, and even his occasional lighter turns (“SEAL Hunter,” “Crazy Train”), are entertaining- if not riveting- hours of television. Unfortunately with “The Patton Project,” Military took a bit of a wrong turn with a dark hour that somehow lacked his usual drama and missed some great opportunities to provide a more serious Densi than the never-ending-wedding-planning couple we’ve mostly been given this season.
The Deeks and the Densi
Aside from my rant (see below), this was a fine week for Densi and especially for Deeks. Military always gives us a Competent Deeks and this week was no different. Skateboarding Deeks moves with confidence and it sure looked like Eric Christian Olsen was having a ball filming those Venice scenes. Kudos to director Ruba Nadda for how she filmed the sequence; I particularly liked the chase and especially the pursuit up the staircase to the rooftop.
Even better than Competent Deeks is seeing Deeks act as the conscience of the team, just as he did in Military’s “A Line in the Sand.” Of course, we all know that Deeks has majorly crossed such lines on multiple occasions, arguably more severely than any other character. I do think that he’s taken his personal line-crossing seriously, showing remorse for doing the wrong thing maybe more so than a character like Callen, who seems far more comfortable operating in the land of grey. In fact, we’ve seen the toll these actions have taken on Deeks, and heard him warn others from making the same mistakes (like with Eva in “Sacrifice” or with Kensi in “Blye, K. Part 2”).
Here I enjoyed his moral certainty even as I understood how others might feel differently. Like Kensi, who almost directly contradicted Deeks, seeing the importance of putting the bad guys away no matter what the method. While her willingness to go along with Shaked’s plan was disappointing, it felt in keeping with her desire to stop those who had attempted “one of the most dangerous terrorism attacks on the United States.”
Of course, there’s also the fact that this entire group of people sure has come right up to the line and crossed it quite a few times. In fact, kinda regularly. Kensi’s role as sniper has put her into an especially grey area on more than one occasion (the White Ghost, for example). Heck, it’s what her father did for a living. So Deeks’ reaction also felt, in the context of the team’s past, a little more strident than I might have expected. (So did Sam’s “We don’t do torture” at episode’s end. Really, Sam?)
It’s one thing to voluntarily cross a line because you think it’s the right thing to do or you believe it needs to be done, but I think Deeks has had it with being ordered to cross the line. He may even have flashed back to “A Line in the Sand” and his dispute with Mosley. He’s always been more anti-authority than Kensi and I think that’s part of what drove him here. It’s one of the things I admire most about him.
As for the Densi this episode, I guess we’ve been given more proof that deleted scenes cannot be considered canon. The wedding seating discussion illustrated that what we saw deleted from “A Line in the Sand” didn’t actually happen back then (unless Kensi also had a head injury in Mexico that made them both forget their earlier conversation?). At any rate, it was cute but I am so over the wedding discussions in general I can no longer summon any enthusiasm to talk about it.
The Rant of the Week
Since the premiere and aside from some great Deeks-centered scenes in “Pro Se,” Season 10 thus far has given us a Densi almost single-mindedly focused on wedding planning. In other words, a repeat of Season 9 Densi but less interesting or nuanced because there’s no discussion of their post-wedding future. And as we’ve already discussed, they are sorely in need of some follow-up discussions about their future plans. Military, who always gives us great Densi scenes, was perfectly placed to do just that. He’d have been able to follow up from his own Season 9 finale and Season 10 premiere where he set up (and resolved?) their conflict, not to mention “The Seventh Child,” an earlier episode filled with great Densi scenes involving the same discussions.
In “The Patton Project,” he could have easily have inserted a serious Densi talk at several points in the episode. For example, the two could have had revisited the events of “The Silo,” the episode that introduced the Patton Project and showed us how much difficulty Deeks was having dealing with the dangers of the job. They could have done that at any point on the way to or from a location, or Military could have completely exchanged it with the armory banter about identifying Kensi’s mysterious new relatives, costing no additional time.
I’d have also appreciated a discussion about torturing suspects once they found out about the most recently killed Patton Project member. This could have occurred between Kensi and Deeks with references to “Descent” and/or “Spoils of War” (both Military classics), although a talk between Deeks and Sam would also have been fantastic.
And the ending absolutely begged for a closing scene with Densi discussing children. This was the second time this season (at least?) where Kensi was affected by a child in jeopardy. It was a perfect segue into bringing the future ninja assassins back up. And there was time to do it- that 3-minute opening scene with Lawford and Ally could have been shortened by half, and the closing with Sam, Callen, Turk and Ochoa could have been eliminated altogether.
I’m almost to the point of giving up on the showrunners ever revisiting Densi’s future. I mean, if Military didn’t go there, then I’m not confident anyone else will be interested in doing so either. I think they may simply use the “life is short” sentiment from Kensi’s proposal to prompt them to abandon their elaborate plans in lieu of something more impromptu, giving us the wedding we’ve always wanted but without any of the adult conversations leading up to it that we – and the characters – also deserve. I don’t understand why the writers don’t jump at the chance to explore these topics- they seem way more interesting to me than the endless wedding planning. Perhaps the showrunners are too single-mindedly focused on communicating to casual viewers that there’s a big wedding coming up?
Only Frank Military threatens children so blatantly, and while he got away with it beautifully in “The Seventh Child,” here it felt manipulative, even as it lacked any real tension. One of the reasons the episode never felt like it had a true ticking clock was because it diverted away from the suicide bomber almost entirely until the end of the episode. The team didn’t know about her, so they couldn’t race to find her until the last minute and by then, it was too late to generate any momentum. Several scenes fell flat, seemingly lacking any sense of pacing that director Nadda or the editors might have injected. Yet another issue was that racist bad guy Lawford felt like a repeat of similar Military bad guys such as those from “Rage” and especially “The Silo.”
I also had some issues with Shaked’s role. It’s unclear why his assignment would be to take out Patton Project members one by one when it would seem far more effective to apprehend them alive, put them in prison, and extract as much intelligence out of them as possible, something that torture- and certainly assassination- wouldn’t accomplish. Unless… maybe he’s secretly working for a Patton Project member who’s out to undermine the investigation into the Patton Project? Yeah, I’m sure that’s it!
What I did like was that Callen took the lead in making sure the team didn’t choose the wrong path, and that Sam, with support from Eric and Nell, outsmarted Lawford to figure out his plot, making torture unnecessary. It would have been nice to see Ochoa acknowledge that torture is ineffective rather than implying that if Sam failed in his two minutes with the suspect, they’d use it as their Plan B.
The most disappointing part of the episode aside from the lack of serious Densi was the lack of great team moments. In a usual Military episode, each team member gets ample time to shine, to show their individual strengths. For some reason in this episode, that never happened. We saw Sam outsmarting Lawford and Deeks offering a strong moral voice, but otherwise no one really got to excel. I mean, Kensi got to chase and lose a suspect and that was pretty much it for her the entire hour. (This may be a future rant but other than the premiere, Daniela Ruah has been sorely underutilized so far this season.) It felt like Military traded in what should have been a strong team episode for extra banter with Arlo. Don’t get me wrong, I like Arlo and would enjoy finding out more about him. I just don’t want to do that at the expense of the core team.
And speaking of Arlo, did you know that he saved the team’s life in Mexico? I did laugh at that, but by the end of the episode, his presence was serving only to remind me that he’s there as a potential replacement for any one of the cast members who might decide to depart after this season. It had me most worried about LL Cool J, given that Turk was partnered with Callen for no apparent reason. Combined with the job offer Sam got last week, it made for a sad thought and a downbeat way to end the episode.
What did you think of “The Patton Project”? What did you make of Deeks’ strong reaction to his orders? Did he and the team protest too much or was this assignment really a proverbial bridge too far? Did you enjoy the wedding banter more than I did? Do you have more faith than I that we’ll see more meaningful Densi conversations? How do you compare this ep to what you’ve come to expect from Frank Military? Oh, and did you know that Turk saved the team in Mexico? Tell us all about it in the Comments!