This week’s episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, “War Crimes,” continued the new season with an even quieter episode than the season opener last week. Written by Jordana Lewis Jaffe and directed by Yangzom Brauen, the episode continued the storyline from last season’s impromptu season finale “Code of Conduct.” Only this time, we were boom-free.
As we all know, the cast, crew and showrunners are working under extremely challenging conditions and needing to be approach writing and shooting more creatively than ever. This week, the end result gave us a show that felt like a shadow of its usual self. In fact, I wondered if I was watching NCIS:LA at all, or if I was viewing a new courtroom drama. The opening prison sequence had an intensity that had me hoping I was watching a Frank Military episode. After the opening credits, though, they took their time setting the stage for the “case” that followed, giving us scenes from the earlier episode, multiple scenes of the characters talking about the trial, and then a lengthy courtroom scene. I thought that perhaps the writer had gone the way of “Answers,” and was giving us a totally different show from normal.
While the court case did eventually turn into a case case for our NCIS team, there was so little action that I never felt anyone was in real jeopardy. There was some suspense around whether Argento’s scheme would succeed in getting him released, but otherwise we got children playing in a house to force Densi to bring out the guns (so to speak, see image above), a half-hearted chase from Rountree where he didn’t even need a weapon, and a short standoff with Sam. Deeks and Kensi captured the episode’s tone better than I could with this exchange:
Kensi: Quiet neighborhood.
Deeks: Too quiet. Like 28 Days Later quiet. Like zombies quiet. I don’t like this.”
Characters in Balance
One positive element about the episode, just as with last week’s premiere, was how every character got a share of the story. Our favorite duos were largely (Sam and Callen) or completely (Kensi and Deeks) together throughout. We got another cute Densi scene in the armory, and overall more of the pair than I was expecting given Eric Christian Olsen’s latest (adorable) Instagram post. I liked Deeks musing about the use of humor as a coping mechanism (“Without humor there is only pain”), and joking about taking down his first war criminal (“You always remember your first”).
However, I have to take issue with JLJ, who more than any other writer, has often made Deeks the butt of her jokes. Here no one was mocking him, but would it have been too hard to let him show off his ability to assemble his firearm blindfolded? A Competent Deeks could have given the scene a whole different feel, with Kensi finding his skill with a gun attractive, or maybe with a discussion of how Deeks has been mentoring Fatima or Rountree on this very topic. (And for the record, I actually didn’t catch the writer as the credits rolled and didn’t know until after the episode ended. I was pretty certain though, that it wasn’t Military.)
Still, I was impressed with the balance Jaffe achieved, giving every character a contribution. No small task with a growing cast, although since we’re down two at the moment (Beale and Hetty), I suppose it’s less challenging than it will be. Fatima and Nell worked well together. Rountree ventured out on his own. Sam, as always, found the whole case of a SEAL gone bad unsettling (although I’d love to hear stories about his father, as he offered). Plus it was nice – if a bit distracting – to see Astrid’s father from “The Fifth Man” return as a whole different character.
I’m afraid that’s it from me this week, short and sweet (or not so sweet?) for a change. Tell us what you thought about “War Crimes” in the comments below!