As we’ve discussed many times, Frank Military is the NCIS: Los Angeles writer to turn to for dark stories. But as has become increasingly clear, he’s also the writer to turn to for prime Deeks, Kensi, and Densi moments. This week’s “Better Angels” was no exception. And it may have been the purest version yet of the Military ethos that it’s in our darkest moments when love shines the brightest. With that, let me go get another tissue…
The entire episode reminded me of some of the things Eric Christian Olsen said about Military in our pre-Season 10 interview: “Even when he goes incredibly dark, I think it’s a reflection on finding the human element in that darkness. So even when it’s kinda too much to handle, it’s usually some sort of reflection of finding love in those places, or hope, or relationships. It’s not dark for dark’s sake… Frank is searching for beauty in there. And I think that’s interesting, because there is enough chaos and pain and suffering in the world, that to find something beautiful in the midst of that is an important story to probably tell.”
Doing Good without a Gun
Guest actor Eyas Younis was outstanding as David, the target of the Military darkness, trapped behind a car that kept him alive only so long as it wasn’t moved. He brought vulnerability, humanity, and strength to the part and made a wonderful scene partner for Daniela Ruah, who was amazing throughout. Seriously, did she basically spend the whole week of filming in tears? Impressive.
Military almost seemed a bit too enthusiastic to motivate Dani. His use of her son’s name River just had to have made the scene where David talks about his son utterly heartbreaking to play. I would certainly assume he cleared that little motivational idea with Dani ahead of time.
No matter how it was accomplished on the writer and actress’ part, it was refreshing to see how vulnerable Kensi allowed herself to be throughout the whole ordeal. She normally tries so hard to be strong, understandably so given her line of work. But here she shared her emotions with David, with Elmslie, and most clearly with Deeks. To me it’s a positive sign of how secure Kensi feels in her role with the team, how confident she is in herself, that she’d let her guard down so thoroughly. It felt like she’s come a long way from “Praesidium,” where she chastised herself for allowing tears to fall, for not being tough enough to stop them. And that was in a private moment with Deeks. She’s showing more maturity and wisdom here.
One of the few slightly false notes of the episode was forcing Kensi be the one to tell David he was going to die. He’d been pinned there for hours and hours- he had to have asked first responders why they weren’t taking him to a hospital long before Kensi even arrived on the scene. Thank goodness we were spared from watching his actual death. I can remember one other television show using a similar plot device, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there are others out there. It was an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets (yes I am old) where a man was trapped between a subway car and the platform. I can still picture some of the more gruesome aspects, and it’s actually the only episode of that program I remember at all.
Being There in Every Way
“Better Angels” had many strong scenes, but the one that stood out for me was the Densi conversation about Kensi’s dilemma:
Kensi: I have a problem.
Deeks: Talk to me.
Kensi: Elmslie wants me to be the one to tell David that he’s going to die.
Deeks: What? Nobody told him?
Kensi: No. I think they’re waiting for his wife to get on the phone with him or something, but… I… don’t know what to do.
Deeks: I mean, deep down inside, he’s gotta know he’s dying. And if he knows that, and his wife can’t be here, then you’re the person he wants to be with. Because you’re his connection to life. Baby, your kindness, your humanity, your beauty.
Kensi: It’s not how I saw my day going when I woke up this morning.
Deeks: Some days we put bad guys in jail, right? And those are the good days.
Deeks: And days like today- the tough days? If you wanna help, if you wanna do some good in this world?
Kensi: I should be the one to tell him.
Deeks: Baby you’re all he’s got. And that means he got pretty lucky today.
I liked Military’s small touch of repeating the idea of connections with others, just as David had mentioned when describing the meaning of River’s name, which meant “…the flow of life. That’s what he was for me and my wife.”
Military also cleverly built this scene off the earlier comedic one where Deeks struggled with his “ordinary” vows (and Beale was spectacularly well prepared!). Deeks’ words of support here to Kensi could obviously serve as a stand-in for those vows. And yet at the same time his amazing and heartfelt words were the very embodiment of his written vow “to always be there for you in every way that you might need.” I love scenes like this because they’re incredibly romantic, giving us such a supportive and loving Densi. Plus they show us how much their communication skills really have improved.
I also have to take a minute to talk about the way Eric delivered that last line, the way his voice broke. He imbued Deeks’ words with so much emotion that it was easy to picture him standing on the beach as the sun set, delivering almost identical lines. Sorry R. Scott Gemmill, but maybe Military should write that wedding episode? Much like the way Dani/Kensi got so emotional over the discussion of little River, here his reaction felt so genuine, it almost felt like it was Eric was responding to how emotional Dani was rather than Deeks responding to Kensi. Or, if Eric just planned that little moment, then I applaud his acting skills even more than usual.
A Budding Bromance?
Then we got a big dose of Arlo Turk (Max Martini), which was fine by me (although in part because all his scenes were with Deeks).
Deeks: So what, no good-byes?
Turk: You wanted a hug? (Anyone else reminded of Deeks harassing Kensi in Hand-to-Hand?)
Deeks: I mean, detectives have feelings too.
Turk: I’ll buy you some flowers later.
Deeks: Great, I love petunias. (Petunias, Deeks, really?)…
Deeks: You don’t have to do this. He’s not worth your career.
Turk: There’s career, and then there’s living with yourself.
Deeks: I get that.
Turk: No you don’t.
Deeks: I do.
Turk: No. You don’t.
I thought this scene where Turk revealed his motivation for revenge was beautifully underplayed by both actors. Turk was intense, set on his mission, but not out of control. And even here, Military wove through the same themes of love and heartbreak as Turk described his friend’s wife’s suffering. Deeks tried to connect with him, tried to talk him down, but again without being overly emotional. In the end, it seemed that his words maybe did eventually connect with Turk, seeing as he did the right thing. Of course, it nearly came at the expense of Deeks’ life (grrrrr). I would love a follow-up fan fic between these two where Turk can apologize and Deeks can explain why he understood Turk’s intentions.
Deeks: Yo what up?
Turk: Hey is that you?
Deeks: Yeah it’s me, Raggedy Ann. You mind telling them to stop firing so we can have a nice little conversation?
Turk: I don’t think they’ll listen.
Deeks: Then we should shut them up.
Turk: I’d love to…
Deeks: What’s up there Carrot Top? Looks like that lifesaving’s officially paid back.
Turk: You got this?
Deeks: What do you mean, do I got this? What’re you talking about?
Turk: You’re doing great. Confidence is high. [Runs away]
Deeks: Wait! Turk!
The shoot-out from director Diana C. Valentine was nicely done (although Turk’s fight scene was a little dark). That look on Deeks face when he was out of ammo was so upsetting, I just wanted to punch Arlo for causing it. And I thought that Arlo’s beatdown of the bad guy went on for a bit too long. It painted him in a much more negative light since he was clearly in no hurry to help Deeks despite the continued gunfire in the background. Had it been edited into a shorter confrontation, I think it would have made me feel in a lot more forgiving mood about this character’s actions.
Turk seems to be well positioned as a back-up/potential new regular should any of the current regulars depart, with Agent DeChamps similarly available. I suppose that’s not a bad strategy. Even though he deserved a punch in the nose from Deeks for abandoning him to die (thank goodness for more world record driving times from Pasadena to Inglewood from Callen and Sam- seriously, could LAPD not have been called in for back-up?), I still find him intriguing. And I could easily see Deeks and Turk teaming up in their own buddy movie. It’s just example number 994 of how Eric Christian Olsen has great chemistry with everyone he works with. I wanted more of this pair.
All that Matters
Deeks: Is he-? Hey, you OK?
Deeks: Oh, baby. Kens, look at me. You did good today. You did good.
Kensi: I love you.
Deeks: I love you too.
Kensi: It’s all that matters.
I’d like to be mad at Military for not giving us a surprise wedding, or even a clear advance in thinking over the last time these two had a heart to heart at the end of “To Live and Die in Mexico.” Nothing new was communicated. And yes that was disappointing. I so wanted to hear Kensi express some change in her overall outlook on what her future should hold. But alas, we are left to infer what changes may have occurred, what realizations she may have made. What do we think her “Love is all that matters” reference really means to her? I’d like to hope we’ll actually get a real conversation about the future from these two, but I’m no longer holding my breath that it will happen. I’m just gonna look forward to the wedding (and try to keep my expectations low).
And yet I can’t be angry for such a beautiful ending, and a beautiful episode. I think “Better Angels” is likely to stay with me for some time, mostly for the powerful message it contained. David’s words about love spoken about his son, to his wife, and especially later to Kensi, rang so true and felt so universal. They felt almost too obvious, except that I don’t think we take enough time from our crazy everyday chaos to step back and appreciate the sentiment they expressed.
And clearly Kensi needed to hear them. Seeing someone who had gone through something she seems to fear- being unable to protect her child- and to still leave the world feeling blessed to have experienced that love, even if for only a short time, hopefully provided Kensi with a fresh perspective on her choices. Seeing someone who could have taken solace in his apparent accomplishments, thinking that he had saved so many lives and ended a war, but instead just holding in his heart the love he’d experienced over the course of his life, again hopefully gave her some things to think about. I would have liked to think she’d have learned this lesson after almost losing Deeks in the season premiere, but it would appear that she’s a slow learner on such matters.
And then there’s the fact that Kensi “did good” without shooting any bad guys. Instead she offered emotional support to someone in pain. It must have been horribly traumatic, but could the fact that Elmslie and Deeks both pointed it out be a sign that Kensi could see herself “doing good” in a less dangerous job than one where her fiancé had to go one-on-five against automatic weapon-wielding bad guys? We’ll see what kind of re-evaluation this triggers (if any).
Eric also talked about “Better Angels” in his #askECO video of the week. He said, “In true Frank Military fashion, he rips open your chest and takes our hearts into his hands and he seduces it with something that can only be referred to as the human element, which is just struggling to find identity in our actions and what it is that we do, and what it is we commit our life to doing. And in true Frank Military fashion, it’s not about our failures, it’s not about our accomplishments, at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is love.” Well said Eric! Here’s hoping that Kensi gets the message.
The Best Version
In our pre-Season 10 interview, Eric had described the season premiere as “the best version of our show.” In many ways, this week’s episode played out like my fantasy version of the show, the one where Eric Christian Olsen and Daniela Ruah are the stars on the DVD cover, and where everyone else is a supporting player.
Despite the disappointment at not getting the ending I wanted, this episode gave me my money’s worth overall. It felt so Deeks heavy, and with so many varieties too. We got a little of Counselor Deeks during the video statement, Action! Deeks in the shoot-out, Funny Deeks with Beale and the vows, and Romantic Deeks in his support of Kensi. I can’t really ask for more than that. I can just say thank you, yet again, Frank Military, for showing us how great this show can be.
I can’t wait to hear what you all thought. Am I being too enthusiastic? Does my love for Frank Military color my thinking? How did you feel about Turk’s actions? And the big question- what did you make of the ending?