This week’s question concerns one of the most intriguing aspects of Marty Deeks: the origins of his dark alter ego.
What We Know
We first learned about Max Gentry in the great Season 2 NCIS:LA episode “Plan B,” when Deeks talks to Hetty about going undercover with “an alias I did not miss.” Hetty notes that he’s “infamous,” with a “less than stellar” reputation. During the episode, Deeks appears to be ashamed of Max and works to keep Kensi as far from him as possible, and with good reason. Max proceeds to punch a guy who owes him money and creepily offers to let his girlfriend work off the debt. People who have known him for some time, like the punched man and a bartender, clearly fear him, demonstrating how Max’s past actions have established his reputation as a mean and scary thug.
What makes Max Gentry such a fascinating “character” is that Deeks thinks of this mean and scary thug as his “alter ego.” This Freudian slip occurs in Max’s second appearance on the show, in Season 4’s “Parley,” during a conversation with Kensi:
Deeks: [Monica] wasn’t actually involved with me. She was involved with my alter ego, Max Gentry.
Kensi: Hang on a second. Not your undercover legend?
Deeks: Yeah, no, that’s what I meant.
Kensi: No, no, no. You said ‘alter ego’- it’s completely different.
Deeks: Superheroes have alter egos.
Kensi: No, no. Superheroes have secret identities. Schizophrenics have alter egos. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The Jekyll/Hyde analogy seems fitting given Deeks’ hatred of this alias. Many of us interpret Max as being just like the character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, who battles between the good and evil within himself in the form of his two personalities. Of course, in Max’s case, we never get overt confirmation of this battle. Instead, we infer it all from Deeks’ reaction to Max and from what we know of Deeks’ troubled childhood.
We know that Max bears a striking resemblance to the description we have of Deeks’ father, Gordon John Brandel. In “Plan B,” Deeks describes his dad as being “one drink away” from killing him and his mother. Max too is prone to violence and appears to be a hard drinker, at least based on the liquid “lunch” he orders at the bar.
Max may be a violent thug, but he does have a way with the ladies. Both Nicole and Monica are clearly taken with him. His bad boy persona and leather jacket do go a long way, but it also seems that Max is capable of treating women better, at least in private, than his father did. In “Parley,” Deeks tells Kensi, “The truth of the matter is that Max Gentry can be incredibly charming when he wants to be.” And in “Plan B,” Nicole tells Deeks that despite his lies, he “still managed to be the best thing in [her life].” We don’t see much of him interacting with either woman outside of the interrogation room, but what we do shows us a man who definitely resembles kindhearted Deeks far more than he resembles the public-facing, coldhearted Max we see in the “Plan B” bar.
What We Don’t
One basic question is when Max Gentry first appeared. Was he one of Deeks’ primary LAPD undercover roles? In “Plan B,” we find out that Deeks reconnected with Ray five years earlier when he was undercover with an arms ring. We don’t know whether he was undercover as Max at the time, but it’s not a bad guess considering that Deeks and Ray apparently circulated among the criminal underworld for some time while Ray worked as Deeks’ confidential informant. It would have been hard to do so while changing aliases. The bartender also mentions that “it’s been a long time” since he’s seen Max, and we know Nicole met Max three years before the episode at the same time she met Ray, so Max was around for at least that long.
But how early on did Deeks first use Max? Was it undercover with arms dealers, or might Max have developed much earlier, perhaps as a persona that a teenage Deeks took on in his rough neighborhood growing up, or maybe even as an imaginary side of himself as a little boy, one who was better able to stand up to his abusive father?
Related, but even more intriguing, is the question of how Max first emerged. Kensi even asks about it in “Plan B”:
Kensi: So, what’s Max Gentry like?
Deeks: He’s just a guy.
Kensi: OK. Does he have an accent? Is he shy, the life of the party? Wine guy, beer guy? You know what I mean? How’d you come up with him?
Deeks: It’s just an alias I threw together, it’s no big deal.
We know Deeks doesn’t just “throw together” any alias. He even tells Sam in “Backstopped” about how committed to his “craft” he is. Max clearly seems to be based on Deeks’ father, one of the reasons Deeks appears to hate him. But exactly how close to Gordon John Brandel is Max? And was it a conscious choice to model Max’s behavior after his father, or did he emerge out of Deeks’ subconscious at some point when he needed a tough persona to protect him?
Viewers aren’t the only ones curious about the degree to which Max represents either Deeks’ father or some dark aspect of Deeks’ own personality. The show’s characters are too. For example, in “Plan B,” Callen tells him, “The only thing I saw in there that wasn’t real was your alias. And even that I’m not so sure about.” And Nicole tries to separate fact from fiction when she learns Deeks has lied to her, asking him, “How much of it was real?”
Deeks tells Nicole, “I don’t know.” It may be an honest answer, or he may just not want to talk about the commonalities he and Max share. His conflicted feelings are a far cry from his usual glorification of undercover roles. In the episode immediately before “Plan B,” “Rocketman,” Deeks describes undercover work as “Truth, reimagined for the greater good.” Yet when Kensi suggests that Deeks finds it easy to be Max, he tells her, “Some days it’s too easy,” again making it sound like Max is less of an alias than a real part of himself.
Why It’s Important
Max isn’t an ordinary undercover alias. He’s Deeks’ “alter ego,” and that alter ego is chilling. The contrast between him and Deeks fascinates us, especially because we can’t tell how much of Max is invented out of Deeks’ imagination, was inspired by his father, or represents a dark side of Deeks himself.
Learning more about Max’s origins would cast a larger light on his childhood. Max seems so clearly tied to Deeks’ father that we assume he provides us a clear vision of what his childhood was like with a mean alcoholic dad with a hair-trigger temper. Addressing head on Max’s similarities with Gordon Brandel could provide the showrunners with a great opportunity to explore that tumultuous childhood. A good use of flashbacks here (no de-aging of current actors, please) that shows us a Gordon behaving just like Max would be compelling. It would give us a chance to witness first-hand just how terrifying the situation would have been for little Marty, and make the Max we see in “Plan B” all the more disturbing.
Knowing if Max, or some early version of Max, was a creation of Deeks’ childhood or teenage years would again cast light on that time period in his life and provide an opening for us to learn more about what life was like either with Gordon Brandel, or after he was gone from Deeks’ life. And even if Max didn’t appear until Deeks became a cop, his origin story might still provide an opening for Deeks to share how and why he developed Max as a version of his father.
Everything Deeks has ever shared about his past and his wishes for the future shows us just how much he wants to move beyond his father’s legacy, to prove to himself that he’s not his father. It’s the single force that has driven him more than anything else in his life. That’s why watching Deeks channel his father to play Max, to become the very person he has worked his entire life to avoid becoming, is heartbreaking but oh so riveting. A deeper exploration of this dark side could help viewers better understand Deeks himself.
But exploring Max further could also launch events that move Deeks’ character forward. They could set a story in motion that helps him reconcile his dark past, that lets him find peace with it – with his father, his mother, and his own past misdeeds – and lays the groundwork for him to move into the future with the brightest possible prospects for a life that is the true opposite of Max and Gordon Brandel.
The possibilities are huge, both for casting new light on this character we love and for sending him into the future healthier and happier. And wouldn’t that make for a great “Deeks, M.”?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!