This week’s NCIS: Los Angeles episode, “Perception,” provided us with an interesting case of the week, a continuation of the happy Densi we’ve been seeing of late, and Caleb Castille’s strongest-yet performance. Written by Faythallegrea Claude with her first official writing credit for the show after serving as staff writer this season, and directed by Benny Boom, the episode tackled a difficult topic with sensitivity, and successfully balanced the heaviness with more lighthearted exchanges.
Hamsters on a Wheel
Claude took on a challenging topic for her first script. The issue of police brutality and the dangers inherent in routine traffic stops for people of color could have easily become “a very special episode” of our favorite show. In fact I avoided looking at Twitter because I’m sure there were plenty of comments about the episode being “too political.” For me, the incident Rountree and his sister suffered felt all too possible, too real. Immediately watching Rountree making his hands visible showed us that this wasn’t the first time he’d experienced being pulled over because of his race. His desire to protect his sister, his fear for her safety, came through loud and clear, and the humiliation he must have felt and the unfairness of the situation was gut-wrenching.
Castille was good in this scene, but even better in the boatshed with Whiting, later on when talking down the bad guy, and in the final scene with Sam. The range of emotions he showed really blew me away. He conveyed so much in his voice alone, and showed us a vulnerability we hadn’t yet seen in this character. It made me excited for the possibilities.
The incident’s aftermath was handled particularly well, with every team member’s reactions and next steps in character. Rountree wanted to fix things for his sister. Sam wanted to beat the hell out of the heavy bag. Callen wanted to support his partner, which he did mostly by listening. LL Cool J was very effective here, conveying Sam’s despair, telling Callen, “I feel like a hamster running on a wheel getting nowhere.” Kilbride did what he does best, yell at people.
Deeks and Kensi had a short conversation that felt pretty realistic to me, with neither one offering any specific policy solutions, just expressing their own frustrations. Deeks unexpectedly brought his own father into the conversation, telling Kensi, “…what a sad, sad, scared man he must have been to treat people the way that he did. And that he thought he was superior to anyone is just laughable.” This may have been a stretch to the bullying cops, but I could see why his mind would make the connection. And any time he opens up about his past instantly has my attention. What interested me here was the perspective he seems to have gained on his father, seeing his abusive behavior as coming from a place of insecurity.
Fatima supported her partner with an unexpected hug, which I loved. (She also reached out to physically touch him when he first returned to the mission.) How often have we wanted to see someone hug poor Deeks when he’s had terrible things happen to him, only to see him suffer alone? These people need to hug one another more often. I felt all the emotions tied up in Fatima’s hug, and I would imagine Rountree did too. And while I’m not yet shipping these two, I am starting to appreciate how their relationship is solidly based on mutual respect and friendship.
Rountree’s frustration with Whiting’s disappointing reactions to what had happened were likely shared by everyone watching. This was maybe one of the few missteps in the episode, with Whiting seemingly there to minimize the PR fallout, a job that would not really seem to fall under Internal Affairs’ purview. She sure didn’t sound like the Whiting I’d have expected, the woman whose mission it is to make sure cops don’t break the law. While this might be exactly the reaction LAPD would provide, I think they could have chosen a more likely messenger, even if it had to come from a new character.
The episode’s final scene brought the story to a powerful close. It was a treat to get to watch Rountree and Sam – and these two actors – discuss what had happened. Rountree’s words were those of any parent (for that’s the role he apparently plays in his sister’s life). When Sam told him, “It’s a problem. It’s a real problem,” his response was heartbreaking: “Yeah, one that I hoped my little sister would never have to experience… I protect her, Sam. From hate, the world, struggle. I’ve always been the fixer.” There were no easy solutions offered, just the solidarity and support of his team. (And another hug!)
Private Photos and Nursery Photos
We’ve seen many NCIS:LA episodes over the years with serious storylines where the writer insisted on inserting a heavy dose of the show’s trademark banter to either balance out the darkness, or maybe because they believed that’s what the audience expected. In this episode, the lightheartedness was handled well, timed so that it didn’t offer too stark a contrast with Rountree’s storyline, and never over the top. For example, Sam handled the wacky roller-skating troupe with disgruntled frustration, but the scene didn’t feel forced or overly silly. Callen’s rejoinder to Sam telling him there was honey in a barrel (“I love you too”) was hilarious, but so quick it again didn’t feel insensitive.
Deeks tormented Kensi by threatening to show some apparently risqué photos he’d taken the night before. I choose to believe this really happened. It called to mind their very first meeting, when Kensi’s undercover persona pretended to be at the dead guy’s house to erase some similar photos, as Deeks put it at the time, of “the kind where you’re not wearing anything but a smile.”
But since when does Deeks hate taking pictures? This is a man who had an Instagram account with pictures of Monty, who took a million selfies of himself driving Mosley’s Porsche, and who bored Kensi (and entertained Sam) with a million vacation photos. It’s not a big deal (not like giving Callen three different first meetings with Hetty), and Claude captured what’s more important about Deeks’ character: that no one would have tried to racially profile or otherwise behave badly with him as their LAPD partner. It’s just distracting and a little disappointing.
Kensi and Deeks’ discussion about what happened to Rountree was interrupted when Deeks spotted their suspect, and I laughed out loud at Deeks admonishing the man’s failed escape attempt with, “Come on, dude! We’ve been doin’ this for a while.” Yet the line didn’t feel over the top. And their final scene talking about where to put the photo gifted to them by the gallery owner was more sweet than funny. Not sure if “nursery” is the right word to use for a room that could belong to a teenager, but it’s wonderful to see them talking about it with love and hope rather than pain.
- Kilbride’s mention of the famous war photograph was a reference to The Valley of the Shadow of Death by Roger Fenton, taken during the Crimean War in 1855. It’s a haunting image of an empty valley filled with nothing but cannonballs.
- I have no idea if the after-effects were portayed accurately, but I appreciated that Rountree’s pepper-sprayed eyes recovered about as quickly as Deeks’ did in “Anonymous.”
- The robotic dog was very cool. Can you buy one on eBay?
- Also appreciated were the realistic drive times in L.A. traffic. For a change, Sam and Callen didn’t get back from Indio in time to save the day.
Come back later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal (I wonder if we’ll learn any more about those photos), and Saturday for a preview of next week’s episode.
And don’t forget about our raffle! For every $5 you donate to support the great charity Every Day Action, youʻll receive a raffle ticket to win a Season 10 DVD (the wedding ep!) signed by the cast, and an autographed photo of Eric Christian Olsen, Daniela Ruah, or Chris OʻDonnell. Get your donation in soon- the clock runs out on April 15th.
In the meantime, tell us what you thought of “Perception.” Are Rountree and Fatima slowly winning you over (or had they already)? Did you like how the episode handled the subject matter? Are you feeling like Densi have gotten a bit of a second wind of happiness recently? Tell us all about it in the Comments below.