The second episode of NCIS:Los Angeles’ Season 13 brought us a thoughtful look at hate crimes. Written by Kyle Harimoto and directed by Dennis Smith, the episode spent less time than usual on the booms and more on exploring the repercussions of hate for both the victims and our favorite crime-fighting team. It also continued the show’s long-running theme of problematic fathers, in the process revealing a bit more about a few of our newer team members.
If you’re going to spend an episode exploring an important real-world issue, the topic of hate crime would certainly qualify. There were more than 7,000 reported hate crimes in the U.S. in 2019, with a significant rise in crimes against Asians since the COVID pandemic began. Harimoto and the cast’s sincere desire to bring awareness to the problem came through loud and clear, and he wrote several excellent scenes where the team delved more deeply into the topic.
My favorite was the scene between Sam and Fatima in the boatshed. Sam’s advice that she be aware of her biases while also trusting her instincts offered just the sort of mentoring I’ve been hoping to see ever since Sam broached the subject of bringing new agents onto the team (in Harimoto’s “Answers”). Watching him share his wisdom with a less experienced agent provided a natural way to explore the topic, similar to Sam’s scenes discussing racism with Rountree in last season’s “Raising the Dead.” I’d enjoy seeing more of these conversations, not just around race, but around doing their difficult job, even if it means separating Sam and Callen a bit to allow for the new pairings.
Later, Fatima and Rountree’s conversation about their own experiences with racism gave them a small bonding opportunity and ended with a seemingly light moment as Fatima dryly delivered her joke about the human race requiring an alien invasion before we can truly unite across racial lines. Exactly how light a moment it was might depend on your personal outlook on humanity’s ability to overcome its own weaknesses.
The episode’s pacing also reminded me of “Answers” in the way it focused as much on the characters as the plot. That was both a plus and a minus, as it took 16 minutes of the hour-long episode before any clues appeared on the actual case. The extreme initial focus on the characters’ reactions made it feel a bit as if this was the first hate crime the team had ever investigated, which sadly, can’t be true. (In fact, they investigated a possible hate crime against a murdered Japanese man back in Season 3’s “Honor,” where the bad guy coincidentally was named Tanaka.)
I think that’s what made the scene with Deeks and Kensi in the car the most difficult one to pull off. His words, and his sadness and frustration certainly resonated and I’m sure we all can identify with his feelings, and Daniela Ruah and Eric Christian Olsen were great here. It landed slightly off for me though, given the fact that these two law enforcement officers have seen so many terrible acts before. They just sounded a little too surprised by this particular crime.
The choice to have Tanaka’s son Jack take matters into his own hands was a dark one. He decided that turning vigilante himself was the best way to fight back against the onslaught of hate from other vigilantes. It was sad to see him throw away his career and possibly go to prison while doing something his “disciplined” father would be so disappointed to learn about. Not to mention the fact that he likely jeopardized the case against the bad guys. I could feel Harimoto’s anger over hate crimes in Jack’s frustration waiting for the system to protect people. It was sad – tragic really – and affecting. (And it might have been less surprising had I known what the episode’s title translated to: vengeance.)
If you want to learn more, the website noted in the episode’s closing info was StopAAPIHate.org.
Meanwhile, throughout the episode Harimoto gave us a recurring theme we’ve come to know well with NCIS:LA: that of problematic parents and their children. Kilbride told a wonderful story of how his father had protected the home of an interred Japanese family during World War II, agreeing with Rountree that he was “an incredible man.” But by episode’s end, we also heard that “tough fathers don’t always make for the easiest of childhoods.” wikiDeeks contributor Lyssa reminded me that Kilbride has his own issues with his son, with whom he apparently hasn’t spoken for years (see “A Fait Accompli”).
Rountree told Fatima that he’s not close with his dad. His little sister is his family. I look forward to learning more about this increasingly likeable, easygoing character.
And when Deeks observed how “Papa Strauss” had poisoned his son with hate and fear, it was easy to see the wheels turning in his mind, leading straight back to his worries about whether he will be a better father than his own.
But then Kensi was there to reassure Deeks that they’d raise their child with love and acceptance, not fear and anger. And of course she’s right and it’s great to see her encouraging her husband and working to push away the self-doubt he carries.
The duo also talked through their concerns and wishes were they to adopt a child of a different race, and the guiding principle of love shone through in all their thoughts. It offered a wonderful contrast to the crime itself, mapping out a vision of how we want the world to be. It also introduced their continuing adoption storyline – an apparently required subject of discussion each episode – in a natural way that didn’t feel forced.
My favorite moment of the episode had to be Kensi tricking Deeks into a head start in a race up a hill:
Deeks: Then we should probably run up that hill. Shall we?
Kensi: Why do I need to run up the hill?
Deeks: Mm Okay.
Kensi: I’m just saying, running is silly… [Deeks pulls crime tape up as Kensi passes under] ‘Cause you’re a sucker!
Deeks: Oh my god. You’re the world’s biggest fifth grader.
This little moment of lightness reminded me of so many things I love about Densi. It harkened back to the one-upping, competitive Kensi who was so prominent early on in their partnership. It reminded me that Deeks has taught her to lighten up. And it made me smile and laugh at the silliness of it all. Moments like this seemed to be in short supply last season. They bring so much joy and I hope we’re in store for many more of them this year.
In other romantic news, we learned that Callen and Anna were together in Napa. I honestly don’t remember exactly how they left off last season, and don’t get me started on the Callen storyline from last week’s episode. Instead, let’s move on to discuss the happy team-centered moment in “Fushuku.”
We got a fun team opener (yay!) in the gym, where they all seemed to be engaging in some sort of team decathlon. Did you catch the screen shot of their results so far? I loved Kensi’s encouraging everyone by noting their ability to shoot a man center mass. So perfectly in character and really funny. Even Kilbride allowed himself a few moments of levity. It felt so good to see them all relaxed and enjoying their time together.
- There was something about the front-on angle of Kilbride briefing the team from his car that just made the effects less believable than usual.
- Nice little backstory tidbit about Deeks driving across America after he ended his legal career. (I guess little tidbits are all we’re going to get since Gemmill has proclaimed we are unlikely to get a “Deeks, M” this season. And yes, I’m feeling a little bitter about that.)
- It struck me as somewhat out of character that Callen was some kind of carpentry aficionado. It goes back to that memorable bullpen conversation from Season 5’s “Fallout,” where Deeks and Callen proclaimed building things with their hands to be a waste of time when they could hire someone to do it instead and spend their time sipping mojitos.
- I’m not sad to see Fatima up in Ops, and she actually proved herself adept at the job before she joined the team full time. But when Rountree, and then Kilbride of all people, seem to be doing Beale’s job, it kinda makes it seem like they didn’t really need a computer genius all those years. It will be interesting to see if Fatima works from there more often or if anyone new will join the team. I’m rooting for the former- keeping the cast size as is means as much screen time as possible for our favorite character.
- Thank you Mr. Harimoto for such a fine little dose of Competent Deeks. Even though he’s no longer a detective, he’s still detecting, figuring out how Tanaka’s son got the intel on the bad guys and then coming up with a plan to get his accomplice to the boatshed without raising suspicion. Nice!
- I also loved seeing the issue of Fatima and Rountree’s desks being raised. And while I’m sure they could set up quite a nice little exclusive space in wardrobe, I’d really like to see them with the others so they can participate in the team banter, and maybe be integrated more deeply into the team itself.
Thanks to Lyssa for patiently assisting with and fact-checking my trivia and for providing the screen shot from the team competition. Tune in later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal, and come back Saturday for a preview of next Sunday’s intense-looking Frank Military episode “Indentured.” In the meantime, what did you think about “Fushuku”? Tell us all about it in the Comments below!