If you’ve already read our open letter to R. Scott Gemmill, NCIS: Los Angeles showrunner and writer of this week’s “Love Kills,” you can probably guess how I felt about this week’s episode. Ably directed by Dan Liu, it was filled with banter and featured another beautiful Densi conversation, but I struggled to look past the treatment of my favorite character to enjoy the rest of the episode.
Man buns and couples therapy
Let’s start with the positives. This episode felt- if I may use a technical term- less COVIDy than other episodes so far this season. Gemmill and Liu gave us an ongoing mixing of characters – cast members and guest actors alike – in varying combinations that felt organic. For the first time this season, I didn’t even think about the special precautions they’re taking to protect cast and crew.
We also enjoyed the gift of banter. Gemmill has always given us the most consistently wittiest scripts, and here the one-liners flew so fast I could barely keep up. If the Deeks storyline hadn’t been intruding and distracting me from the fun, the whole thing would have been quite enjoyable. The highlights were the dynamic trio of Sam, Callen and Sabatino. Sabatino has always produced more than his share of witty retorts, but I don’t remember him ever being quite so happy-go-lucky as this, going about his day without too much serious investment in catching the bad guys, and instead just enjoying catching up with – and mocking – everyone in sight. Sam and Callen gave as good as they got, though, and it was great to see them paired up for the entire episode.
If it bleeds, we can kill it
In another promising development we learned a little backstory about each of our newbies. Rountree has a sister, and she’s attending UCLA. (Go Bruins!) And Fatima’s dad loves old-school action movies.
Of the two, Rountree’s development is proceeding more smoothly. His wry sense of humor is enjoyable, for instance here when he suggested that Kensi didn’t actually need to share so many details about her fight with Pietra. I also appreciated his concerns about racial justice and public perceptions of law enforcement. It might have felt slightly more forced than his conversation with Sam about similar topics a few episodes ago, but it showed him as sincere and thoughtful, and I hope the show continues to explore these topics.
On the other hand, Fatima doesn’t yet feel like a fully formed character, but more a collection of random traits. She’s right that the rest of the team are big on the “witty repartee and catchphrases,” but practicing her dad’s favorite tough guy quotes again felt forced. I’m not sure if it’s the acting or the writing, but hopefully with time she’ll sort herself out in my eyes.
Competence in short supply
Before we talk about Deeks’ problems at FLETC, I feel the need to point out that a lack of competence was actually a theme throughout the episode. Pietra Rey got the drop on Sam in the house and then on Sabatino in the boatshed (but for some reason, it’s always fun to see him get his butt kicked, isn’t it?). Sam got his fingerprints all over a mystery cell phone. Sabatino and Kensi entered the warehouse without a warrant. Maybe Hetty does need to come back to supervise.
Other than Deeks’ part of the story, my least favorite moment of incompetence was around the discussion of Kensi’s previous lost fight against Pietra. Maybe it was in character for Kensi to grasp at any excuse in front of the new guy, but the idea that being on her period would have impaired her performance felt, if not sexist, then at least annoying. I’d like to think that Kensi wouldn’t come up with such a ridiculous excuse, no matter how much her pride had been wounded by losing the earlier fight.
Misadventures at FLETC
I won’t promise to keep the discussion about Deeks’ storyline short (when have I ever managed that?), but I will try to avoid repeating too much from our just-published letter. Instead let’s just focus on the emotional aspect of watching Deeks suffer unjustifiably. Each scene of failure made me that much sadder, more frustrated, and honestly, a little sick to my stomach. I couldn’t help but feel Deeks’ sense of humiliation, particularly in the sparring scene where his classmates looked on as he struggled. Deeks may have tried to joke all this off, and maybe some fans actually laughed, but I found it painful to watch.
It appeared that Gemmill was trying – to use another technical term – to Bealize Deeks, to make him over the top silly. Gemmill has always seemed to be the most enthusiastic person on staff about turning Beale into someone with a larger than life personality who may provide laughs, but doesn’t feel based in reality. (And speaking of Beale, do we know if he made it through FLETC? I’m pretty sure Nell did.) Overall it was hard to reconcile the thoughtful, sincere Deeks we had in last week’s episode with this version.
Thinking of how Deeks’ self-esteem will drop even lower because of these events reminded me of Kensi’s one-upping him early on when she bragged about acing all sorts of classes, and it just made me sad and feeling a little defensive of my favorite character. It wasn’t necessary. There are plenty of other ways to have introduced tension at FLETC, or – here’s a crazy idea – why not just let Deeks succeed at something? I wouldn’t even have minded if they’d skipped over the whole storyline and just given us a cute phone call with Kensi at the end of the episode.
I look forward to hearing what you all thought, but I have to share that for me, this episode falls into the pantheon of all-time most upsetting episodes. It upset me as much as “Three Hearts” and “Come back” (I know, most people liked that one… What can I say? I’m a stickler for canon consistency). It’s probably right there with “Drive” in its disservice to Deeks. We’ll forever have to see Deeks as a man who couldn’t pass basic physical training at FLETC, and that simply doesn’t gibe with my overall picture of the character. His killing Boyle, even if he did so under questionable circumstances, is far more in keeping with all that we know about him than what we saw here. And that it came directly from R. Scott Gemmill was in itself disheartening, since we want the showrunner to share our vision of the character. Right now I don’t think we’re on the same page at all. It makes me worry about how much I’m going to like Deeks’ future.
The bus out of nowhere
The final Densi scene was absolutely beautifully written and acted. It’s amazing to think that they had to have filmed each half of the conversation separately, but still gave us the same sense of intimacy as in similar past conversations. As always in scenes like this, Eric Christian Olsen crushed it. We could so easily hear Deeks’ world falling apart around him. Daniela Ruah was great too, showing us Kensi’s worry and struggles about what to say to help her husband.
Deeks: [Groaning] How’s it going?
Kensi: Good. How are you?
Deeks: I, uh, crushed it on the range today, which is awesome.
Kensi: Of course you did.
Deeks: Yeah but that’s about it. I’m telling you, these kids are machines.
Kensi: So what. You’ve got all this experience.
Deeks: That’s a good way of putting it although I don’t think it’s helping much. I’m not gonna lie, baby, I’m, I’m actually struggling.
Kensi: Well, honestly I remember those days and they were really really long and you’re probably just tired.
Deeks: No, I’m definitely tired, and I’m feeling that for the first time in my life. It’s like this bus that suddenly comes outta nowhere and just slams into you. It takes your energy and your youth and your job and your bar and… virility.
Kensi: Well you know there’s no crying in FLETC, right?
Deeks: Yeah, actually, I saw that in the bylaws.
Kensi: OK well then, suck it up, and you go show those snowflakes how Party Marty bangs it.
Deeks: Oh my god, Party Marty. Baby, Party Marty’s been dead for twenty years… He’s so long gone… You know how much I love you, yeah?
Kensi: I love you too, baby. Hey, I gotta go get some bad guys.
Deeks: Yeah you do. Go get ‘em girl. Hey, will you do me a favor, you just be careful, alright?
Deeks’ sad laugh over Party Marty’s demise was perhaps the most effective moment. Seeing him confront the fact that he’s not a young man anymore, acknowledging this universally human inevitability, was impactful and will be hard to forget. It’s difficult to imagine Sam or Callen showing this much vulnerability, even though they’re both quite a bit older than Deeks.
- Oh, yeah, there was a plot here. I was too distracted by Deeks’ storyline to follow it, but then again I never found the earlier episodes about counterfeiting as interesting as I guess the writers have.
- I was happy that Lance Hamilton from DOJ was out of the country- I’m not a huge fan. I’d have thought this might be a good opportunity to call in DeChamps instead, with her Secret Service background.
- When we learned that Pietra trained as a “jungle guerilla” in Brazil, I could just imagine Deeks hearing it as “jungle gorilla” and talking about himself the “jungle cat.”
- I was shocked to learn that neither Sam nor Callen speak Portuguese?
- Episode highlight? I do love the haircut.
At this point you all have heard more than enough from me, but please return later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal. In the meantime, what did you think of “Love Kills”? Tell us in the Comments below!