This week writer Andrew Bartels teamed up with director Terence Nightingall to give us a quiet, serious, and suspenseful episode that added new layers to several characters and gave us one fantastic scene for Eric Christian Olsen. Its structure provided opportunities to play with our expectations even as it reinforced continuing themes about troubled parent-child relationships and the high costs of the job. All in all, this very strong episode was the first I’ve looked forward to rewatching in a long time.
One Hour Later
It’s a relatively common technique to start an episode part-way through the story, and then jump backwards in time to before everything went to hell. As a matter of fact, it happened just last week in “Sorry for Your Loss.” It’s more unusual to skip over the “everything going to hell” part to the aftermath, which is what we got this week. I found myself worried that we’d been cheated out of the action or that the action would lose its suspense because we knew the outcome, but it didn’t play out that way. Instead, moving backwards and forwards in time through the entire episode held my attention and engrossed me in the story.
It wasn’t just the time jumps that made this episode so engaging, it was the shifting point of view. Having each character relay their own version of how Laura Song (well played by Sandrine Holt) died added another layer of complexity. Whereas we regularly encounter plot holes and discrepancies in the story, here elements that at first felt like a mistake were really Bartels letting each character tell the story as they remembered it, including small differences that helped us understand that maybe we couldn’t trust everything everyone said. It added to the suspense over exactly how Laura had died and how badly our team had screwed up.
Most of those differences were inconsequential, like whether Fatima or Rountree won their magnet game, or as Sam so firmly pointed out when Inspector General Ali questioned whether Laura had been drinking scotch or bourbon. Fatima seemed to do a little less whining in her own version of events than in Rountree’s, but it was nice that she got a chance to talk more about her faith and how it fits into her work, and I did appreciate the genuine remorse she expressed at losing Laura.
Bartels artfully explored the concepts of truth and deception throughout. Each character’s apparently truthful yet inconsistent depiction of the events in question was just the start. We also saw Admiral Kilbride assuring Lily that he he trusted the team with his life, which Kensi had to explain to Deeks was a lie. There was Laura’s apparent long-term deception that had been carried out over decades, impacted her daughter, and continued throughout her interactions with the team. In the lobby she spewed “the truth” at Kilbride, that she’d been working for the Chinese the entire time, making us think about the very nature of a double (triple?) agent who by definition lies for a living. Then the Secretary of the Navy forced poor Ali to lie in his report about Kilbride’s “perjury” because “the truth makes us look weak”, and Kilbride proceeded to lie to the team about his own actions and their perceived failure. In sum it was a pretty bleak picture of human nature (perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much).
The movement back and forth in time also planted questions in my head that then, in an unusually satisfying way, were answered. Questions like, “Are we going to miss out on all the action?” but also, “Why is Laura so reticent to use the panic room and why does she keep asking for a gun?”, “What is going through Deeks’ head as he listens to Lily talk about losing her parents?”, “Why did Laura seal Rountree and Fatima into the elevator shaft?”, “Did they fake her death?” and “How did she end up dying in the lobby- if the bad guys wanted her dead, why didn’t they just shoot her?” Every time I thought a question revealed some sort of plot hole, the hole was filled by new information.
Bartels and Nightingall also made the limited locations and characters really work. The episode was very quiet (except during the shoot-outs of course), and normally the lack of people and the reliance on only a few sets might result in a lack of energy, the feeling that budgets are being cut, and the loss of the show’s signature location shooting style. But here it worked well to focus us in on the characters’ varying tales and somber emotions.
It turns out that Kilbride and our favorite Ghurka Jebediah Thapa have something in common. They both believe that every warrior carries with them an expiration date. As Laura told Sam, “Sometimes we don’t leave so peacefully. But we chose this life and the risks that go with it.” On first watch, Laura seemed to connect with Sam over their similar family situations, both having lost a spouse and feeling guilt over allowing boarding school to raise their daughters in the aftermath. As Sam told Ali, “It’s not easy protecting your family from the dangers of the job, I know from first-hand experience… It can take a toll.” The conversation initially came off as carrying forward a theme of the episode, which introduced the idea of losing a loved one with Kensi’s reminiscing about her dad, “my best friend, my whole world,” in the opening scene, and continued the discussion of losing a loved one in the line of duty with Deeks’ later conversation with Ali.
But once we learned of Laura’s true nature, we could see that conversation with Sam in an entirely different light. If she knew that Callen worked for Hetty, she likely knew all about Sam’s past too. Instead of innocently stumbling into the fact that Michelle had been killed in the “line of duty” (although it was Sam’s line of duty that killed her, not her CIA past), Laura likely was much more calculating than that, using the situation to either earn Sam’s trust or throw him off balance, or maybe both.
Before that conversation, she’d done the same with Callen, earning trust with her familiarity with Hetty, offering him a drink as a way to throw him off his own game, and describing Kilbride’s pulling her into “the world of espionage” much as Hetty did to Callen. As Kilbride said, she was “the best” he’d ever known. It’s hard to know how much of anything she shared was genuine. I do think her repeating, almost to herself, her own line that “Every operative…” in reference to Michelle had to be her thinking about her own expiration date. Or might she have been remembering back to her husband’s death? Might he have been in the same line of work? Operative or not, maybe he discovered who she was really working for. Or perhaps he was an innocent victim, caught in the crossfire of an op gone bad.
An episode highlight was Deeks’ conversation with Ali. ECO just crushed the scene. He had already shown us the wheels turning in Deeks’ head as Lily told them about her dad dying in a car crash. But was he thinking about Kensi’s dad dying when she was young? About his own dad dying in a car crash? About being without a father at age 11? I couldn’t tell and I was very curious.
It turned out he’d been thinking about a parent continuing to risk their life for the job even after their spouse had been killed. He’d been thinking about what would happen if he and Kensi experienced the same scenario, specifically, if Kensi died and he was left to raise their child.
As you may already know based on your fancy file you have in front of you, Agent Blye and I are trying to adopt a child. As hopeful parents and law enforcement officers, getting killed in the line of duty has obviously crossed our mind once or twice. And I fully recognize everyone deals with trauma differently, but if Kensi… if Kensi, um, died, I don’t… I just can’t imagine remaining operational with an 11-year-old. And yet that’s exactly what Laura Song chose to do… So I just thought that information should be relayed to Sam.
We saw so much flash across Deeks’ face: utter seriousness that we don’t often see from this character, long pauses that let us watch his mind in action, the struggle to even say the word “died” in relation to Kensi as if he was actually seeing it happen in front of him, the look of genuine puzzlement over Laura’s decision, and the way he looked away at the end, maybe feeling like he’d revealed too much of himself. The only word I could use to describe it all was gravitas. The lines were well written but ECO wrung every possible ounce of meaning and emotion out of them. Nightingall deserves credit as well, planting the camera on his face and leaving it there, without any dramatic movements, letting us fully focus on the performance.
It would appear that apparently Deeks has shifted from wanting them both out of danger before they have kids to just hoping to keep one of them alive to care for their child, likely the compromise he’s made in order to keep Kensi happy. Like Laura, it’s actually easy to imagine Kensi returning to work if the situation were reversed and Deeks were to be killed. Their work gives both their lives purpose. A child would obviously provide a new purpose, but I’m not convinced it would be enough for her. It made me think about their rooftop conversation at the end of “The Silo,” about how devastated Deeks would be if he lost her.
Deeks’ strong need to let Sam know that Laura’s husband had died confused me a little. After all, Sam continued working after his own wife had been killed, so it shouldn’t have seemed like a red flag. Yet had he gotten a small inkling that everything wasn’t as it seemed? Or maybe he’d just wanted them to know to drive home how important it was to protect her?
Layers to Make You Cry
Much like Deeks’ assessment of Kilbride as an onion with layers, “And every single one of ‘em will make you cry,” this episode had its own layers. We spent the hour peeling them back to get at the truth (although thankfully, no tears were involved). The biggest surprise was of course Laura’s duplicity, but that surprise was amplified by learning that Kilbride had been the one to kill her. He “pulled her into the world of espionage,” and then “pulled her out.” I fell for the whole thing (despite all those lingering questions that had popped into my head), and really enjoyed the twist. It was the third episode in the row with a good twist, an impressive streak.
We are absolutely heading for some sort of story about Kilbride’s son, given this is not the first time he’s been mentioned. Laura telling Kilbride he was, “The perfect mark. The man with the broken family looking for a second chance,” showed us that he’s been suffering over something pretty big for quite awhile, two decades in fact. But if we get a “Kilbride, H.” episode before a “Deeks, M.” I think my head might explode.
It would appear that Kilbride had the choice of telling the team about Laura’s true nature, and chose to keep it from them so they’d play their parts to the end. It reminded me of “The Debt,” only Kensi’s life was never in danger in her dealings with Bates. Here, the whole team could have been killed, sacrificing themselves to save their “protectee.” I think he owed them the truth but I see the grey here and understand the difficult choice he made.
Sadly, the team’s perceived failure hit them hard. It was initially so exciting to see the core four in the bullpen together, but there was no joy to be had. Kilbride might have tried to make them feel better by at least reassuring them that they’d done everything they could, that it wasn’t their fault. But unfortunately, he was too busy “wallowing” in his own angst to take a minute to reach out to them. He seems to suffer from some of the same self-centeredness as Fatima.
- Densi provided a few moments of lightness with their “useless commentary” about how Kilbride was spending his weekend, and later in the boatshed as Deeks realized Kensi might be right about Kilbride’s “compliment.” I also liked Rountree and Fatima discussing L.A. vegans.
- Was that entire apartment building a safehouse? Or were there other residents who all stayed behind closed doors?
- I do have to question whether bringing books or playing games is the best way to monitor a wall full of cameras.
- So Fatima, at least in her own mind, refers to Rountree as “Tree.” That’s kinda cute.
- The duo also handled their share of the action well. The shoot-outs were well directed, with a fantastic shot of the bad guy coming through the skylight, and an interesting turn of events in the elevator shaft.
That’s it from me. What did you think of “Divided We Fall”? Did the time jumps and twists work as well for you? What’s your take on Kilbride? And have you rewound the scene with Deeks and Ali as much as I have (OK, probably not)? Tell us all about it in the Comments below.
And be sure to return later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal. Then Lyssa will be back a week from Saturday with a preview of “Sundown.”