This week’s episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, titled “The Frogman’s Daughter,” had lots to like even though it added up to less than the sum of its parts. Written by Jordana Lewis Jaffe and Indira Gibson Wilson and directed by Tawnia McKiernan, it offered the classic storyline of a team member’s family in jeopardy but somehow managed to feel more like an entertaining case of the week.
The frogman’s daughter
With such a distinctive title and the cliffhanger ending the previous episode, expectations were high for intense Sam-centered drama, and the episode largely delivered on these scenes. When his character wasn’t tearing up Los Angeles looking for his daughter, LL Cool J gave us an emotional and reflective version of Sam, one we rarely get to see. Our knowledge of his past tragedies, even if they were never alluded to save for one comment invoking Michelle, hung a layer of history and sadness over the episode.
For her part, Kam (played by Kayla Smith), the ep’s title character, was every bit her father’s daughter- tough, smart, resourceful, and wanting to make the world a better place. Well, every bit her father’s daughter except maybe for all the lying. (But can you blame her? It can’t be easy growing up in a household with 52 rules!)
Thank goodness Callen rushed back from Santa Cruz to help his partner. While the newbies didn’t seem to fully grasp the seriousness of the situation (is it possible they hadn’t heard about what happened to Michelle and Aiden?), Callen sure did and it was reassuring to see Sam getting emotional support from the person who knows him best. Hearing them discuss checking the morgue evoked such sad memories, as it obviously did for them too, even as it showed how supportive Callen was.
The emotional aspects were the episode’s strength, but they and the plot and pacing failed to combine for a ton of suspense. Partly this was because we could see what was happening to Kam. The nameless, faceless bad guys never truly felt scary. If they were going to kill these protest leaders, they’d probably have done so from the beginning, right? I guess they were planning to let them go after the protests? (I wasn’t clear on their master plans.) The quick confrontation at the end was also somewhat underwhelming after so much determined searching.
Another issue was the repetitive feel of Sam’s quest to save his family member. While LL Cool J was fantastic and brought all the emotion we could ask for to his role, the whole thing couldn’t help but feel a little familiar since we’ve watched him do this twice before. It should have felt like we were watching Sam’s worst fears come to life, like he – and we – were reliving his past trauma, but that didn’t quite happen.
That’s partly due to the lack of suspense and partly because of another familiar pattern that emerged here, which was the contrast between serious and silly. This show seems to require a certain percentage of witty, funny banter, which we normally love, but occasionally, in episodes with a more serious tone, that silliness can feel out of place (e.g. “Internal Affairs”). For example, Callen joking that at least Sam hadn’t killed Zee and his partner may have been his attempt to cut the tension, but it landed oddly because of Sam’s ferocity in the moment.
Overall, Jaffe and Wilson did manage to keep the humor largely toned down, but there was still a difference in the relative senses of urgency displayed by the various characters. Perhaps the newbies didn’t know Sam’s family’s history, but that didn’t explain why Beale wouldn’t be as on alert as Sam at Kam’s disappearance, or why Deeks and Kensi would be calmly moving weapons around in the armory while their friend was freaking out. Having seen first-hand what happened to Aiden and Michelle, I’d have expected them all to be freaking out. It gave the first half of the episode an odd lack of balance, and the tonal shifts made it hard to be drawn into Sam’s fears- they just didn’t carry the same weight.
That didn’t stop Sam from doing whatever he could to find Kam. We’ve seen this before from Sam, as well as from Deeks when Kensi’s gone missing. This time, though, Sam’s marauding brought an odd contrast with the episode’s storyline. His willingness to rough up both Kam’s boyfriend and Zee actually proved Zee’s point about law enforcement officers going rogue. It felt a little like the protesters’ beliefs, which were being imported into the story from real life headlines, were clashing with the show’s very DNA.
How do you corral an angry SEAL?
The most refreshing scenes of the whole episode were Rountree’s. He ably slid into Callen’s role of trying to keep an angry SEAL under control. He stood up to Sam, protected Kam’s boyfriend, defended the protesters to the DHS agent, and helped Sam make progress on the search. He showed appropriate levels of concern over Sam’s anger but didn’t let that stop him from doing his job. And he offered support throughout. He was thoughtful, calm, and principled. Caleb Castille played off of LL Cool J’s intensity well. Overall, I found myself wanting to spend more time with him. (Although, was I a little annoyed at the deference Sam showed to him, compared to some similar early situations with Deeks? Maybe a little bit.)
The episode also offered yet another contrast between Rountree and Fatima that showed, I think, why I still haven’t warmed up to her character. She maintains a fairly chipper attitude most of the time (unless she’s complaining about something)- she doesn’t seem to have the same gravitas that the other characters can bring in a serious situation. And here, she ran away from Ops when Sam and Beale were debating the use of government property for a personal mission, whereas Rountree didn’t just go to check out the problem, he stayed to help make sure it got resolved.
Finding missing families and starting new ones
Just as LL Cool J delivered a powerful performance in all his scenes, Eric Christian Olsen and Daniela Ruah made the most of theirs. They provided a window into their characters’ ongoing fertility challenges, and Kensi not wanting to talk about it at work made perfect sense to me. She’s clearly feeling inadequate, like she’s failed, and Kensi Blye doesn’t fail at anything she sets her mind to. Daniela made us feel Kensi’s pain and frustration, and how near to breaking down she was. Of course she’d want to push those feelings down in order to get through her day.
Kensi: Penny for your thoughts.
Deeks: You know, just investigating disgraced officers who are the poster boys for brutality and corruption because they may have kidnapped Sam’s daughter for daring to stand up for civil rights and social justice issues.
Kensi: I hear you.
Deeks: And also considering the rule that DHS and LAPD and hell, let’s be honest, NCIS play in this bigger picture.
Kensi: I hear you.
Deeks: And then reflecting on our desire and struggles trying to have a child and start a family in what is obviously a incredibly complex and cruel, cruel world.
Deeks: And I know that- I’m not saying this because I want to talk about it because I know that you don’t wanna talk about this so I’m not even bringing it up-
Kensi: No, you’re right. I don’t.
Deeks: OK so I’ll stop.
Kensi: But I do wanna say this… I am frustrated, OK? I am frustrated that my body.
Kensi: Deeks please let me just finish-
Deeks: No you’re right.
Kensi: But even though I’m feeling this way, it doesn’t take away from the fact that I am elated to start a family with you.
Deeks: I hear you.
I know COVID has these actors working in smaller groups, but the Densi scenes felt so disconnected from the rest of the story, they might as well have been written for a totally different episode. In fact, I’d be curious how Jaffe and Wilson split the writing duties here. Deeks and Kensi were so focused on their problems that they didn’t really become involved with finding Kam until well into the episode, and even then they kept bringing the topic of conversation back to themselves. For example, while it seemed like an obvious tie-in to have Deeks imagine how worried he’d be about his own hypothetical missing child, I think it would have been far more effective to hear him empathize with Sam and talk about losing Michelle, and almost losing Aiden, and how both things affected Sam and him and Kensi. Otherwise it felt self-indulgent for them to be taking time to focus so much on themselves when the clock was ticking on finding Kam and really, every second could have mattered.
I’m not sure why sometimes the personal discussions make sense, and other times they feel forced or disconnected. For example, take “The Seventh Child.” Frank Military mixed an ongoing Densi discussion about having children into his ticking clock story, but somehow those discussions felt natural and not inappropriate. Perhaps it was because Kensi and Deeks didn’t have to race around LA to help with that case, so they had time to reflect on its meaning for them?
A new but nagging worry is that, while yes, hormone treatments are a new development, the efforts to become pregnant are starting to feel a bit repetitive in the same way that the endless wedding planning discussions did. Only this time, the writers seem to have painted themselves into a corner since it doesn’t look like they’ve figured out a way for Densi to be parents and NCIS agents/investigators.
- I will celebrate the fact that we had no examples of Incompetent Deeks, so that’s a win.
- You know when Kensi lets Deeks drive, something’s really off. A nice, telling detail.
- Unfortunately we got more of the show’s (and JLJ’s) running element of people making fun of the team’s age, this time with the multiple “Did you text her?” questions to Sam and the organizer telling Densi they were “a bunch of 40-year-olds.”
- We also got another continuing JLJ specialty: a small, sassy female character who makes life harder than it needs to be for the team. Here it was that same organizer. (In past episodes, see the high school student in “Big Brother,” FBI Agent Morris from “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” and Nell’s sister Sydney in “Born to Run.”)
- Making the meta joke about Megan Markle by naming the actress who looked like her Megan Merkel didn’t seem worth the effort it took to cast the woman in the first place.
- What was up with Fatima “fixing” the parking garage’s security cameras by hitting the monitor?
- Yay for another MINI Cooper driver! And boo to Sam for dissing it. Just ‘cause he could probably pick one up in his two hands doesn’t mean it’s not super fun to drive.
- Yay for seeing Deeks back at his desk where he belongs.
- I enjoyed Deeks’ “I love it when you talk pretty” response to Kensi wanting to take down the bad guys.
- It’s nice to learn a little more backstory on both Sam, with his 52 rules, and Deeks, with his teenage protest.
- It’s still odd that no one has even mentioned Nell’s whereabouts.
Next week we’ll be hearing lots about Russia, with a Callen-centric storyline in an episode directed by Daniela Ruah. Be sure to check out our new episode preview on Saturday featuring the cast list and all the social media posts related to filming. In the meantime, come back later this week for new entries in Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal.
Now, tell us what you thought of “The Frogman’s Daughter” in the Comments below. Did you enjoy the emotional aspects of Sam’s search? What did you think of the newbies? And how did you feel about Deeks and Kensi’s scenes?