Question #5: Why did Deeks go from being a public defender to a police officer?
What We Know
Over various seasons there have been a number of references to Deeks’ career changes. However, they have been brief mentions versus deep-dives. While some of us would prefer to know all the details of our detective’s backstory, it prompts our imaginations to get creative. So Counselor, what are the facts?
Nearly a decade ago(!), way back in Season 2 the aspect of Deeks having previously been a lawyer was offered as part of his character development. This arose again in Season 4 when a past client, Jenny, called Deeks in the middle of the night for help (in “Drive“). We also know Deeks is a “doer” with a strong drive for justice. This is not a man who will simply passively sit along the sidelines.
At some point Deeks offers that he was inspired by television shows TJ Hooker and CHiPs, but that felt more like the utterance of a child or Deeks’ attempt at a customary cover with humor. Since then most of the references have related to mocking and jokes. For example from “Paper Soldiers”:
Deeks: …Everyone knows that public defenders are the rebel of the legal profession.
Kensi: Rebel without a due process clause? Ha!
What We Don’t
The Why. The depth of a person stems not from the what of an action, but rather the why of a decision. Without provided facts from Deeks and the writers, viewers are left to their own presumptions.
It’s a strong guess Deeks’ lifelong career in law enforcement is at least in part related to his traumatic childhood and parental figures. Being a lawyer targets that drive for justice. However, that active drive likely got frustrated with where the lawyer lands in the timeline of events – after a crime has been committed. Time as a lawyer would have shown him the cops were out in the field with the opportunity to stop some of these wrongs before they happened. Also do we really believe Deeks wasn’t restless as we envision the suit, tie, and desk as well as the restrictions of the bar and penal code?
Why It’s Important
Past decisions forecast future actions. How many times have there been references to his (and Kensi’s) life post-NCIS? (And this doesn’t even note the “Will he ever fully leave LAPD and become an official NCIS agent?!” That question could still be its own entire article here….)
We’re often forced to speculate what the detective will do as he grows his family and becomes a father (in some fashion). The simplest option is to go back to being a lawyer. However, Deeks typically doesn’t take the easy route. Add to that there’s a reason he left law in the first place. Plus, can we honestly envision Deeks settling into a hum-drum, structured, nine to five office environment after his days of running and gunning?
What do you think is Deeks’ post-LAPD/NCIS career move?
Good question. and, I don’t have a headcanon for this ATM. but it’s a good question
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I jumped the gun in my answer to the last question and gave my thoughts on this one but briefly, I think he felt he could do MORE as a cop. It wasn’t enough to help people as a public defender because frankly it’s a heartbreaking business on that side. You can twist yourself inside out but can’t always help people the way you want to, not everyone wants to be helped, the recidivism, and there are people a public defender has to defend who are truly despicable, etc. Perhaps he went to visit his dad in prison and there was no love lost particularly if Brandel ragged on Bertie. So perhaps for a second time his father was the impetus for a career choice. Deeks wanted to go after the bad guys so they wouldn’t hurt any more people rather than attempt to clean up their messes afterward as a lawyer.
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I think it was a great call to separate the two main parts of Deeks career. Until now I had just seen it as just his CV, resume or whatever you call it. It seemed the writers slipped in the lawyer element to give Deeks a bit of gravitas. Not that it impressed the team in the early days,
So I still think he almost drifted into being a lawyer. He is hard-wired to protect people so working as a Public Defender makes perfect sense. Career U-turns are not unusual. Didn’t McGee in NCIS meet a friend/colleague from MIT or somewhere working on a rubbish tip? Now that’s a career U-turn. So joining the police wasn’t a huge change, but there is no evidence that he was unhappy as a lawyer. In ‘Drive’ he seemed proud of his work. I think there would have been an incident that made him change his mind. The only scenario I can think of would be Deeks losing a case due to poor police work. An innocent client went to jail because the police messed up and Deeks thought he could do better. If the innocent client was released from jail still blaming Deeks and tried to get revenge on him, it would make a good story. I’m sure other people could come up with better scenarios but I think an event made him change course.
There are plenty of reasons why Deeks would prefer being a cop, not least ‘to make sure the bad guys don’t win’. To stop the bad guys doing bad things rather than picking up the pieces, and he would be able to help more people.
We know Deeks is open to change, isn’t he only staying in the job to stay with Kensi? It is difficult to imagine what he would do next. I like to think he is still committed because it’s a dangerous place if your heart isn’t in it. Private Investigator is one option but I can’t really see that. I’ve always seen the bar as a sideline rather than his job, perhaps he could have a chain of bars, not sure I could see that either. Would he feel happy working without Kensi if she wasn’t doing such a dangerous job? Maybe so, as some sort of counsellor/therapist. He could retrain as a psychologist but they’ve got Nate. Deeks is a talented man who could do anything he wanted. The talent to surprise us makes us use our imaginations.
I’ll stop now, too much rambling, sorry about that.
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I think this is probably the question I would most like to see answered in canon. Maybe it’s only a function of incomplete character development (like Patricia Abbott said, it kind of seems like it was just thrown in his history without really conisdering the time frame) before all the writers got their hands on Deeks, but as it stands now he was not a lawyer for very long at all before he became a cop. Considering how many different types of law there are, even if he knew quickly that being a public defender wasn’t for him, I find it hard to believe Deeks would leave the career altogether before trying something else out first. There are plenty of other fields he could have focused on that help people in a way he would have wanted to.
I do like the theory that he believed he could be more proactive as a cop than a lawyer, but Marty Deeks is clearly not stupid–he would have realized that before spending all that time, energy, and money in law school (not to mention studying for and sitting the bar exam).
As a result, I lean toward the headcanon that he left because of something traumatic. Like maybe a client he was trying to help was murdered in jail because he couldn’t get him/her out on bail. This can also be easily worked into a Deeks, M. episode, with that person’s family member seeking revenge against Deeks for getting their loved one killed. You’re welcome, PTB!
Great article, Gayle. I really liked your observation of Deeks as a “doer.” I think that explains a lot. After all, it was the “doing” of shooting his Dad that really set him on a path to eventually become a cop. But I do think that there are lots of interesting possible stories for what set that final step in motion.
And Patricia, you must never apologize for writing long comments! While I don’t think it’s a safe enough option for Deeks, I’ve long fantasized about him getting fired from LAPD/NCIS for some unjust reason and becoming a PI in his own spin-off series, giving us 42 minutes of Deeks every episode instead of 12 or 15.
This post made me think of a long-ago French interview with ECO where he talked about his character. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0GN1CMFvWc) I remember it as a two part interview (and found evidence of this on the old NCISLA Magazine site), but can’t find the second part. Anyway, my memory may be terribly faulty, but I seem to recall he was asked if he knew why Deeks became a cop and he said yes, and that it was an amazing story. I got the feeling it was something Shane Brennan must have told him. At this point I’d be happy with that original story or a new one.