Let me start this letter by thanking you for your great work over the years in bringing us Martin Atticus Deeks, the best character on television. He’s the best in no small part due to his complexity. He’s no paper cut-out, but an incredibly layered personality. Unfortunately, sometimes the writers lose track of all his different characteristics, and one in particular, whom we like to call Competent Deeks, occasionally goes missing. Competent Deeks’ complete absence from this week’s episode has prompted us to write this letter. We wanted to share with you why we think this version of Deeks sometimes disappears, and why it’s so important that he always finds his way into the show.
Marty Deeks is a complex guy. I once wrote a year-long series about Deeks and Densi fan fiction that explored the different aspects of his character. For example, we all know Funny Deeks and Sexy Deeks, but there’s also Dark Deeks (AKA Max Gentry), Direct Deeks (the one who ever so occasionally says what he means), Mysterious Deeks (the reason we need “Deeks, M.”) and even Surfer Deeks. Each writer gravitates toward one or more of his qualities, and the way they see him – their own personal mix – creates their unique version of the character.
My personal Deeks is represented in the pie graph here, but each fan – and each of the show’s writers – has his or her own special formula. Regardless of any one person’s mix, it’s safe to say that Competent Deeks is a man who’s pretty universally beloved by Deeks fans.
Competent Deeks is canon. Deeks may be “just a cop,” but we know he’s great at his job. He can shoot- he’s no sniper like Kensi, but he holds his own at the range and always takes out his share of bad guys in a real firefight. He can fight- just watch him fend off eight men single-handedly in “An Unlocked Mind.” He’s highly intelligent, “remembers things,” has a law degree and passed the most difficult bar exam in the country. And he can play the widest variety of undercover characters of anyone on the team.
Sure, when he first started working as the LAPD Liaison, he lacked familiarity with military subjects. He doesn’t speak ten different languages like everyone else on the team or know how to hotwire a car. He’s had to do some catch-up with federal law enforcement level classwork. But his lack of knowledge doesn’t mean he’s not capable; if anything, it should drive home how strong his innate talents must have been to allow him to keep up with the team.
Competent Deeks takes his work seriously. Very seriously. Yes, Funny Deeks is great at making wisecracks to cut the tension in a dangerous situation, but when the actual shooting starts, he’s deadly serious. Does anyone really think that Hetty, Sam and Callen would have allowed him to continue working with them if they didn’t think he was good at his job, and know that he could keep his partner and everyone else safe?
Competent Deeks can disappear. Unfortunately, Competent Deeks sometimes fades into the background in favor of a Deeks who’s less than good at his job. Of course, we all make mistakes. No one is perfect, certainly not Deeks. It’s one of the things that makes him the most real of all the show’s characters. So a Deeks who can’t take Sam in a fight (“Hand-to-Hand”), or fails to take the shot in “The Frozen Lake” or “Omni,” or puts a witness in danger (“Pro Se”), or lets Rountree nearly get himself blown up (“Fortune Favors the Brave”), is nothing if not human.
The problems come when Deeks’ mistakes are used in the pursuit of humor. We’re talking about getting kicked in the nom de plumes not once (“History), but twice (“Big Brother”), and possibly even a third time (during a fight in “Provenance”). Or not being able to assemble his weapon blindfolded (“War Crimes”). Or shouting “Serpentine!” as he slowly weaves his bike after a suspect before crashing into a truck (“High Value Target”). Or trying on a bathrobe and raiding a hotel minibar while Kensi focuses on the case (“Hail Mary“). We’ve heard that in “Black Budget,” Deeks was actually scripted to chow down on some chips from a crime scene, but the NCIS advisor on-set wouldn’t allow such unprofessional behavior. We’re glad someone was looking out for Competent Deeks.
His incompetence may also happen outside of the job, like losing the box that held everything he always wanted (“The Heist”). Or it may come not from something he does but from the way he’s treated by others, like Bates sending him to sit in the dog pound at LAPD (“Party Crashers”). I could go on.
Actually, I will go on, because the most recent episode, “Love Kills,” contained a plethora of examples. Deeks is out of breath on a run through the woods? This is the guy who regularly jogs miles at a time along the beach with Kensi. He gets pummeled sparring, really? Deeks has more than a decade of time fighting bad guys when his life depended on it, and he trains with Sam and Kensi every day to learn to better protect himself. We’ve seen him handle himself in a fight. In fact, we were introduced to him that way (“Hand-to-Hand”), and he managed to hold his own, and use quite a few nifty MMA moves on his larger opponent. Falling asleep, really? I don’t think Deeks could have looked less competent, though at least he completed his assignment. This is a man who can spend hours awake on a stake-out or a stressful overseas mission, and we’re to believe he couldn’t hold it together long enough to complete a day of training? The inept Deeks of “Love Kills” appears to be a danger to himself and others in the field; he might need to consider a desk job somewhere.
The most painful thing about watching these scenes is how they were played for humor, with Deeks seeming to take it all in good fun by making jokes. We know deep down, he was likely upset, but he didn’t appear to be, to the instructor, or probably to some segments of the audience. And while Deeks does make jokes when he’s nervous, the idea that he’d be unable to behave with more self-control, that he’d be unable to project a high level of professionalism in front of his instructor and fellow students, is in itself a form of incompetence. He was unrecognizable from the somber, serious man of the previous episode who earned his spot at FLETC with his performance at his interview and by the content of his character.
Competence matters. A lot. There are two reasons these small moments have a large impact. First, they feel disrespectful to the character (and honestly, maybe a little lazy). They send fans the message that Deeks isn’t really fit for his job, that he actually doesn’t take it seriously. For example, Deeks would never fail a bomb disposal class (“Spiral”); he’d want to learn how to protect his team and innocent civilians, he’d want to be able to contribute more to the team, and he would never want to let them down. Particularly when Sam, Callen and Kensi rarely make mistakes, and never do so for laughs, it singles Deeks out as the only one who isn’t qualified to be there, who’s only permitted to stay because of the charity of his teammates who put up with him. No wonder there are some fans of the show who dislike Deeks for not being serious enough.
The second reason competence matters has to do with another Deeks: Doubting Deeks. This is the Deeks who has low self-esteem, thanks in no small part to his abusive father. He’s always waiting for the other shoe to drop and never expects anything in his life to have a happy ending. He doesn’t see himself the way we do, as strong and capable, but instead as the worthless person his father told him he was, the one who’s responsible when things go wrong. Doubting Deeks will likely never feel as good about himself as he should- that’s just a part of who he is. We may need to accept his doubting nature, but those doubts shouldn’t be made worse by incompetence.
Yet in “Love Kills,” the scene where he shares with Kensi all that he’s lost is Doubting Deeks being made to feel totally incompetent. It remains to be seen how his situation is resolved, but even if Hetty swoops in like the fairy godmother she is and makes this problem go away, Deeks will always believe he didn’t earn his spot. He’ll always assume Kensi must be disappointed in him. And if the team finds out, he’ll be humiliated, even if for a change they’re kind enough not to mock him for it. Deeks may be the most human of characters, and the scene is amazing for the vulnerability he shows, but building it off of earlier ones that don’t ring true isn’t fair to him.
Funny Deeks is still Competent Deeks. Eric Christian Olsen is a great actor and a skilled comedian. He – and you – brought impressive levels of humor to his role as Deeks, and we wouldn’t want him any other way. Listen to how Eric described the development of his character when we interviewed him at the start of Season 10:
…they didn’t know, I think, what the future held for Deeks… But I think that is – and this is what’s great about our writers – as they realized that so much of my sensibilities were comical, especially for defusing situations, and as we did more research about guys in this situation, and my brother was a former SEAL, and when things go dreadfully wrong a lot time these guys go to that place to defuse the tension. So we used that as a tactic for sure with Deeks. And you need that in a show with this, it has to have that balance. I think that humor disarms, and as you look at these episodes, you can’t just have things blowing up and people being serious. There has to be a) the human element, there has to be comedy, and we want to invite these people into our homes every week. So they realized that that was kind of a strong point for me, so they just really kind of doubled down on the comedy into the second and third season… Even that though, if we look at the evolution of the character, it was more that he was kind of the butt of the joke. He was more of a clown for like two or three seasons, ‘cause they didn’t know kind of what that looked like. And then it’s a small and slow evolution to kind of where it is now… That took a lot of work, to kind of be like, ‘Why- you know, we have to find the balance of being a great agent [see, ECO loves Competent Deeks too!] but also being able to carry these comedy runners and all the stuff they were doing in Seasons 2 and 3.
I think it’s true that Competent Deeks went missing more frequently earlier on, and as a result Deeks experienced more – and harder-edged – mocking from the team about his abilities. Over time, he’s elevated his skills and has definitely earned his teammates’ respect. Just listen to Sam’s words to him before his FLETC interview in “Overdue” for recent evidence.
The thing is, Deeks can still be plenty hilarious while doing as great a job as everyone else. As ECO described, he jokes to cut tension. His doubting nature leads to adorable rambles. He’s prone to dabbling in fringe ideas that do deserve some mocking from the team, as do embarrassing details from his earlier years. And best of all, he wittily teases and banters and usually gets the better of his partner/wife. In other words, he can still supply more than his share of humor without being made to look inept. Funny Deeks and Competent Deeks should be able to co-exist.
The best character on TV. We wanted to write this letter because we obviously care about this character. We want to see him treated well. We want to see him get his happily ever after. There’s one more Deeks I haven’t mentioned, and that’s Underdog Deeks. This is the Deeks who brings humanity to the show. He’s the real, flawed man on a team of near-superheroes. He’s vulnerable. He’s overcome a great deal of trauma to achieve so much. He makes us root for him. And there’s no reason he can’t be happy, learn to believe in himself just a little bit more, and do a great job taking down the bad guys in the process.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Diane and psyched1328 for editing, and to psyched1328, Mashmaiden/Phnxgirl, and Sweet Lu for their assistance with research. Their opinions are their own and may or may not be reflected here.
Don’t be shy, everyone! Tell us your thoughts about Competent Deeks in the Comments below.