Despite a dearth of Densi and a rather unsatisfying case of the week, writer Andrew Bartels and director John Peter Kousakis more than held my interest in this week’s episode of NCIS: Los Angeles thanks to – of all things – a(nother) story about Callen’s past.
Who isn’t driven by obsession?
The episode may have been titled “Genesis,” due to its focus on Callen’s origin story, but it might as well have been called “Obsession,” given that subject’s use as one of the night’s recurring themes. For too long to measure, the show’s inability to reveal one consistent, coherent backstory for Callen has diminished my overall interest in this particular storyline to a minimal level. Unfortunately for us Deeks fans, showrunner R. Scott Gemmill seems pretty – dare I say – obsessed with telling this story (over and over again).
At this point, Callen’s obsession has gotten so bad that everyone is discussing it, from Kilbride to Anna to Nate. The episode opened with Callen obsessively reviewing Katya’s film from the Institute of Noble Maidens. Kousakis effectively wove a young Callen into the images in a way an obsessed and exhausted/dreaming Callen might actually experience them.
I actually wrote a note while watching that said, “Why does Katya hate Callen so much?” because she’s really seemed to have developed quite the obsession/grudge and I couldn’t remember exactly what Callen had done to make her so angry. Bartels quickly provided answers, including Kilbride’s assessment of her as “a sexually frustrated and psychopathic troll.” The FBI called her “a sadist driven by revenge.” And Nate explains that she’s “driven by obsession. When one plays out, she just hops onboard another one.”
When Nate later notes, “That’s the thing about obsessions… the strongest ones feed off each other,” he may have been referring to Katya, or maybe to both Katya and Callen, but I felt a little like he could have been describing us fangirls and guys. I certainly admit to falling into the “obsessed” category. I just prefer to think of it as being “loyal.”
Falling down a rabbit hole
Bartels did a good job unspooling the Callen developments and mixing in the case and the other characters throughout the hour. Things felt well balanced despite Deeks’ absence through the first half of the episode. The mystery held my interest and Bartels recapping the previous events and players helped me actually follow the episode’s events.
A highlight was Peter Cambor’s return as Nate. He paired up so well with Callen, offering emotional support as well as strategic insights on Katya in a way that Sam wouldn’t have been able to do. It was nice to see Callen actually open up a little, sharing with Nate that Anna had moved out. (I’m assuming we’re all – but Callen especially – forgetting that the last time Nate was in town he waterboarded Callen? I prefer to pretend that out-of-character episode never happened.) Nate also provided some humor here. I was reminded of Deeks’ “rule of threes” from Season 2’s “Absolution”: “Wait for it. Third time’s gonna be hilarious, I promise you.” That time it was “gesundheit,” this time “crazy.” I’m not sure it was totally in character for Nate to resort to such a crass characterization, but it was quite funny to hear him use the clinical term “bat poop crazy town.”
The mystery was interesting. We actually got some payoff with the other Hetty protégé whom Callen had bumped into in a prior episode. And the reveal of the creepy villain, played by an actor (Jere Burns) who’s played at least one other amazing villain (from Justified) was well written, with lots of secondary meanings to their plant discussion (shaping bonsai “ever since they were little saplings”), and well directed in the garden. The final scene was even creepier. I really thought Callen was about to get kidnapped.
This mystery is clearly going to continue for a while. We know the season’s penultimate episode is called “Down the Rabbit Hole,” something to which Kilbride referred here when he told Nate, “[Callen’s] falling down a rabbit hole and instead of pulling him out, you’re leadin’ him in deeper.” The unfortunate situation, over which the showrunners have no control, is that without Linda Hunt being available, it would seem quite challenging to really tie up the whole arc in a fully satisfying manner.
My hope is that, since they didn’t know if they were renewed until all these scripts were written, they decided to finally tie this mystery up and give Callen all the answers he’s been seeking, leaving the field wide open for Season 14 to tell new stories about other characters ([clears throat] Deeks, M.). Hey I can dream, right?
A safe place to go
It was another week where Eric Christian Olsen was apparently unavailable for more than some limited filming on the Paramount lot. What worked though about his few scenes was how he and Kensi continue to provide a real “emotional center” for the show. This episode showed us a lot of what Callen’s been experiencing, but none of his scenes affected me emotionally the way the final Densi scene did.
Before that scene, early on we got this heartwarming moment between Kensi and Sam as they discussed Pilar:
Kensi: I know what it’s like not to have a home or a safe place to go to. I just want to make sure she’s OK.
Sam: You and Deeks watching her back? She’ll be OK. Just like Rosa was.
It’s always satisfying when the writers do remember character backstory and incorporate it into the characters’ current struggles. And I’ll never tire of Sam saying something nice about Deeks.
We later learn that Pilar’s parents had been killed by a gang in Guatemala and had threatened her safety as well. Clearly she could benefit from having a therapist to talk to about such traumatic events, and Kensi mentioning Nate made it feel almost like they’re setting him up to be a more frequently recurring character next year. Provided he’s there to actually work as a psychologist and not a would-be badass operative, he would be a welcome addition.
The Densi discussion also drove home just how much Pilar and Rosa would benefit from having foster or adoptive parents like Deeks and Kensi, who have both suffered more than their own share of trauma as children and as adults. They would be incredibly understanding and supportive, and it would make for emotional, satisfying scenes that would allow them to acknowledge those experiences and show how they’ve overcome them.
The final Densi scene was a short one but overflowing with emotion, most of it thanks to ECO’s expressiveness. He didn’t speak a single word while listening to Kensi talk with Rosa, but I felt so much just watching his face. His love for Kensi was front and center, but it seemed to be mixed in with a touch of wistfulness as well. I could feel how happy he was to see Kensi happy, but maybe also how much he yearns for her to have a daughter of her own that she (and they) can love. ECO’s acting here was impressive, but I also really appreciated the directing choice to shift the focus to Deeks while Kensi was doing all the talking. That decision added a whole extra layer to the scene.
And while I love seeing Deeks happy, it hurt me a little to see him sidelined from the conversation. He always puts Kensi first, so him stepping back was totally in character. I just hope going forward, he’ll get a chance to bond with any new child they bring home, and that the showrunners will explore what fatherhood means to him. His fear of being a terrible father like his own dad, and his desire to do better, is at the core of this character, and (fingers crossed) I look forward to seeing him navigate those hopes and fears next season.
The boomless case of the week
Oh, and there was a case. Something about genetic terrorism and “controllers” from the Office of National Intelligence.” It really felt like it was there primarily as an excuse to introduce a potential love interest for Fatima, and to stir up the Fountree shippers (I think that’s what they call themselves?). Officer Ali was sweetly dorky and clearly trustworthy, so maybe the two will hit it off.
The team’s failure to bring the bad guys down is far from unprecedented, but was also less than satisfying. What’s been more unsatisfying over the course of this season (and going back even more), is the noticeable reduction in action. I’m not even talking about the show’s classic “booms.” I’d just like a shoot-out or two where some bullets go flying. It’s hard to tell if this diminishing action is simply an effort to reduce the show’s budget, is some sort of COVID outcome, or maybe even results from a desire to show fewer people getting killed or show less gun violence. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy all the character-driven scenes – they’re the most important element for me – it’s just that I don’t remember the last time I actually felt like any of these characters was in actual jeopardy. That sense of danger, and excitement, has been lacking for me of late. It may also be a result of almost no Frank Military-penned episodes this year. I’m holding out hope for ECO’s upcoming “freight train” episode to finally provide some real suspense.
- It was sad to see Callen moving out of the bar. I’m still hoping that Beale comes through and Deeks gets to keep it. I just want him to be happy!
- Fatima sure didn’t seem like she was hitting the heavy bag very hard. I’m not sure her form was that great either- her footwork definitely needs work. Maybe some training from Sam would help.
- I like that Rountree has taken over Deeks’ job of not knowing about military topics like ONI collectors and genetic weapons. It makes perfect sense given his FBI background, plus Deeks has now been around long enough to know everything that Sam, Callen and Kensi do.
- It’s also nice to have team members who are genuinely young enough to pass as college students (no offense, Daniela Ruah or ECO!).
- What is up with every beach scene being filmed in Long Beach this season? Did they get bargain rates or something? It’s such a long drive for the cast, and I assume most of the crew.
- I always love Deeks referring to Kensi as a superhero. This week we got a charming, “Riddle me this, Batgirl.”
- I’m not sure whether to be amused or disturbed at Deep Fake Callen propositioning Kilbride.
- Spoiler alert: What terrible thing is going to happen to Rosa’s aunt that will result in Rosa ending up with Kensi and Deeks by season’s end?
That’s it from me. Come back later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal, and a double preview this weekend of next Sunday’s double episodes – yay! In the meantime, what did you think of “Genesis”? Did you get pulled into Callen’s obsession? Are you into the Fatima-Rountree ship? Did you love the Densi scene as much as I did? Tell us all about it in the Comments below.