It’s hard to believe Season 11 of NCIS: Los Angeles is already over. It felt like it never really got started. Still, such is the world we’re currently living in that this week we ended an abbreviated NCIS:LA season with “Code of Conduct,” written and directed by Frank Military. I always feel like I’m in good hands when I see Mr. Military’s name flashing across the sceen not just as writer, but as director. In this case we got the serious and entertaining hour of television we’ve come to expect from the show’s longtime contributor.
A Welcome Return to Darkness (and Lightness)
The episode functioned almost like a palate cleanser after the prior two episodes, where so much had felt out of character and out of balance. The showrunners made a great decision to end the season by swapping the order of this episode with last week’s “Murder of Crows,” which was originally due to run after “Code of Conduct.”
Military made it look easy with his opening bullpen banter between Sam and Callen. After two really strained and odd weeks, here was a bullpen scene that simply felt right. And that made it so very refreshing. The idea of Callen getting a salad spinner made me laugh out loud. This is the kind of teasing we’ve wanted to see from Sam, giving his partner a hard time about his new domesticated lifestyle, but not in an aggressive, nasty way. We could feel Sam’s love and happiness for his partner’s relationship and it reassured me that these two are gonna be OK.
While the episode entertained throughout, and the plot more than held my interest, I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve seen this story before. Maybe several times before. NCIS:LA, with its heavy military content, has often explored aspects of the military code of conduct, along with what can sometimes be an opposing code of silence.
Unfortunately the theme of Sam reactively wanting to defend a SEAL accused of wrongdoing did not feel like a fresh take. I believe it was even on the old NCIS:LA bingo cards that some used to play with on Tumblr (my favorite square was something like, “Callen looks like he’s swallowed a bee”). Just as in earlier episodes, I’m not sure they were always on the side of truth, as when Callen gave Sam a chance to bury the investigation before they’d even attempted to find out what had really happened, but to Sam’s credit – and to Devin’s – they pushed ahead and did their job. Didn’t one of the earlier episodes along these lines have them letting a whole team off the hook because they had an important mission? (I may be misremembering but I’m sure you all will fill in my faulty memory.)
Argento made for a decent enough bad guy and I wouldn’t mind him coming back for revenge. Military does seem to enjoy a good serial killer, and the idea that one would be operating in the military’s ranks, taking advantage of his war-torn environment – and could be set loose to wreak more havoc later on – made for an interesting set-up. If we do bring back any serial killers next season, I would have to vote to bring back the gang of Frankenstein-making serial killers from “Monster” first to get them off the streets. Seriously, who wants to think about them roaming the country dismantling more people?
More Potential from the Newbie
For me, Devin showed more promise as a character this week. I liked that he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind (“If the truth is what matters…”). His humor was well placed (“Afghanistan, Afghanistan?”) and not over the top, even if he told one too many jokes about paperwork. It felt natural, used as an outlet for the stressful situation, even reminiscent of how Deeks uses humor. And Devin’s heart is in the right place, wanting to make a contribution and unafraid of the unknown. Yeah, he screwed up by chasing after the witness, but hopefully he learned from it. Oh, did I mention that he’s a fast runner? I’m kind of picking up on that as one of his defining characteristics. Don’t know if you noticed? Well, I guess with an aging team, it would be a useful skill.
Where I think the showrunners erred when establishing Devin’s character was making him an undercover FBI agent. I would assume that to do undercover assignments like the one he was on when he met the team, a certain level of experience is required. It’s why his whole newbie vibe feels frustrating, because I’d expect him to be a bit more skilled given his prior experience. If they’d portrayed him as a green, suit-wearing FBI agent, then all his mistakes thus far would make sense (but then they wouldn’t have had reason to recruit him, so I do see Gemmill’s conundrum).
Action and Inaction
Military showed why he’s not just the show’s best writer, but possibly its best director, with his well shot chase scene through the Kandahar streets. But the episode’s showstopping sequence, with a huge shout-out to editor Eric J. Lucas, was the recounting of the killing that set the whole plot in motion. The way multiple characters alternated their way through the story was powerful and showed us how truthful all the witnesses were, as well as how many people had been affected by Argento’s actions.
The other element I appreciated throughout the hour was the seriousness with which Kensi and Deeks approached their less glamorous tasks. Daniela Ruah and Eric Christian Olsen had no opportunity to engage in any of the banter we love, but their somber reactions to unfolding events reinforced the episode’s dramatic aspects well.
And while we got a fair bit of action during the episode, my one quibble was that all the main characters gave off a passive vibe. Kensi and Deeks didn’t have much to do except talk, with the good guys no less, and then worry about their friends thousands of miles away. And Sam, Callen and Devin were literally tied up for a long chunk of the episode. I will say that the Kandahar set and hearing the Pashto(?) being spoken absolutely gave me flashbacks to “Spoils of War.” Just imagine how this episode could have been turned upside down (in a world where Sam and Callen aren’t on the DVD covers) by having Kensi and Deeks return there. Still, it more than held my interest throughout because the story was well told and the performances of the main and guest cast were all excellent.
It’s about Family
How did you like Callen almost claiming ownership of the “nice little bar in L.A.” that “we” have? Deeks would have loved it. That bar has become everything he envisioned, and even if I didn’t think it made sense at the time, I’m happy for the guy. He has a place to bring his family so even if one day he’s not in the field with them, he’ll still be able to stay in touch. Military drove home the idea of family even more with the final conversation between Sam, Callen and Devin, when they offered him a full-time gig but made it clear that he wouldn’t start off as “immediate family.”
Devin’s decision wasn’t made – he doesn’t take “joining a family” too lightly. That uncertainty should give the showrunners lots of flexibility in casting for next season. They now have Devin who’s on the fence, Fatima who’s burned out at a very young age, and even Mac possibly making more appearances next year. Am I psyched about any of those options? Of course I’d rather things stay as they’ve always been, but that’s just not a realistic expectation so I will hope for the best in (fingers crossed) a Season 12.
I’m not gonna pretend that Season 11 was a stand-out, although for many reasons, “Mother” will always be on my list of all-time favorite episodes. There were other highlights as well, but here’s hoping for an improved Season 12 with a better plan for handling cast absences and some good reasons for us to bond with any new team members.
I wanted to say a couple of thank you’s to wrap up the season. First thank you to @typingtess on Tumblr for her wonderful posts tiptoeing through each episode’s guest cast. They’ve been a constant reference that I’ve depended on. And of course a huge thanks to all of you who’ve read these posts over the course of the season, and especially to those who took the time to share your own thoughts. I’ve loved reading your varying opinions on all things Deeks, Densi and NCIS: Los Angeles. Thanks for joining our little wikiDeeks family, and stay safe over the summer.
But before you go, tell us your thoughts on “Code of Conduct,” Season 11, and your hopes for the show’s future!
***A final thank you from The Editor***
Season 11 has come to an end and although we hope there will be a season 12, nothing is certain at this point for many reasons. Even though it was a quiet year, we are grateful to Eric Christian Olsen for sitting down with us for another insightful interview and thank him for his time and support of this website. A shoutout to all the wikiDeeks contributors who make this site a reality. But most of all we want to thank YOU all for your support and love as well. We are here because we love this character and we know you do too. With a little luck and the grace of God there will be a season 12. Until that time, stay positive and please stay well. All the best, Diane