Review: NCISLA “Work & Family” (S13E20)
The Simpsons, Gunsmoke, Lassie, Dallas, NCIS, Law & Order, Bonanza, ER. These are a few of the longest-running scripted television series in American history. Cracking the top 20 in number of episodes and the top 15 in number of seasons and joining this incredible group is NCIS: Los Angeles, which this week broadcast its 300th episode. They celebrated in grand style, with a truly heartfelt episode from writer and showrunner R. Scott Gemmill and director Dennis Smith that didn’t skimp on the show’s signature booms either.
Much like Kyle Harimoto’s previous “Answers,” this episode felt like a gift to the fans who’ve rooted for these characters since the show’s start. It was a chance to check in on all their personal lives in a more in-depth way than we would normally have time to squeeze in amid the clues and chases and bad guys. The multiple substantive conversations served as a real treat to those of us who are deeply invested in seeing this group of “grown-up Goonies” find happiness and overcome all the trauma they’ve collectively faced over the years.
Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?
We have to start with the Densi, because they had not one special scene in this episode, not two, but five! We began with the duo racing to Rosa’s side to see how they could help when her aunt became very ill. (The poor woman’s fate was doomed from the start, but that’s what she gets for standing between our favorite couple and their happy ending.) Watching Deeks shift into a vaguely lawyerly mode is always appealing, but the highlight here was seeing the couple bring up adoption in unison (“What if we adopt her?”). The whole conversation actually helped me understand better where each girl’s case stood, and where Densi had stood up to this point in terms of their relationships with each. There’s no way these two are going to let anything bad happen to Rosa. I did find myself wishing that the fairy godmother version of Hetty was back so she could help them locate information on Rosa’s parents, but I’m sure they’ll be able to make it happen some other way.
When they got back to the car, the two then discussed their apparent decision:
Deeks: …We could also end up adopting a child.
Kensi: She’s not a child, she’s a young woman.
Deeks: She’s a minor. But even after she turns 18, she’s still legally our daughter. Like a living, breathing, human being that we are responsible for for the rest of our lives.
Kensi: You believe things happen for a reason, right?
Deeks: I do.
Kensi: I think this is our reason.
The beautiful thing about this scene was how calmly they discussed it. Deeks describing the responsibility they’d be taking on wasn’t said in fear. If anything, there was real excitement in his eyes. He’s ready to be a father. Gemmill didn’t portray him as freaking out over the situation. Instead, he was just as ready as Kensi to take action. The small smile that flitted across Deeks’ face at the end of the conversation was a perfect touch from Eric Christian Olsen, as if Deeks was thrilled with the idea but trying not to get ahead of himself. And Daniela Ruah played Kensi’s emotions – her hope and determination – so beautifully that it made the whole scene feel real and unrehearsed.
The duo followed this conversation up with another while on stakeout, looking adorable in their matching hats and vests. This scene was classic Gemmill. It actually reminded me of my all-time favorite scene, the “It’s a love story” scene from “Impact,” in its combination of banter and emotion. It wasn’t played for broad comedy, but the conversation felt so natural and was filled with small comic touches like Kensi’s lack of familiarity with the Oscar-winning documentary or Deeks correcting her characterization of movies he and Pillar liked (werewolves, not vampires). Even better was the tone of the discussion. Again, even though Deeks used the word “panic,” he was never really showing signs of actual panic. And Kensi, even when she questioned Deeks’ commitment to the plan, was really just wanting to get on the same page with him, to be sure they were making the decision together. And her reference to his “mushy, mushy heart” was perfect- Deeks has the mushiest of hearts of anyone on the team and it’s one of the reasons Kensi – and we – love him so much.
The fact that they had this conversation on a stakeout while wearing bulletproof vests was also perfect, very on brand for their “sunshine and gunpowder” nature. In most episodes, we’re lucky to get a single heart-to-heart Densi scene, so getting this second conversation felt like a bonus. Often, we only get to see the aftermath of a deep discussion or decision-making by having a character mention it in passing later. It’s why we’ve needed so many post-ep and missing scene fan fics. Here, Gemmill let us in on all the details of their decision-making process, which was incredibly satisfying. (Of course, then getting held hostage by a bunch of armed militia sure seems like the kind of thing to have Deeks questioning his and Kensi’s career choices, but hey- there’s a Season 14 so I’m going to be happy that they’re happy to continue getting shot at.)
But wait, there’s more! In a lovely moment of unspoken communication, Kensi and Deeks decided to run their idea past Rosa, who was quite enthusiastic about the plan. She reacted by giving Kensi a big hug, but more important for me was seeing her reach across the table to hold Deeks’ hand. I can’t begin to imagine what that meant to him (although Em’s great recent “Genesis” post-ep will give you some idea). I will admit to more than a few spontaneous tears of joy at the sight of them all so happy. The joy continued with a bonus final scene of the trio playing cards, relaxed and having fun, a burgeoning family unit.
Since the promo pics for the finale came out last week, I’ve been bursting with happiness for these two characters, who appear to be finally getting what they’ve longed for. Kensi’s been thinking about becoming a parent at least since back in Season 7’s “The Seventh Child,” when she brought a Mommy and Me magazine to work. For me, the wedding planning storyline was so drawn out that it was almost a relief when the wedding finally came and we could move onto new stories for the two. This fertility/adoption storyline has taken a long time as well, but somehow I’m feeling only joy now at their happiness. Because this current storyline has shown them so disheartened at times, finally getting a happy outcome feels that much, well, happier.
When we first interviewed Eric Christian Olsen, we asked him what he most wanted for Deeks. He told us:
This is a cheat answer, but I just hope he finds peace, you know what I mean? I hope that that character finds whatever it is that he’s looking for. ‘Cause I’m not sure if he even knows. I think he has this idea that he wants to, you know, maybe go back to being a lawyer, but I know he wants kids. I think that’s probably the thing that’s most important to him, which ironically is the same thing for me, I think that I found the best version of myself, you know, as a father. I hope that he finds peace ‘cause the amount of stuff that that character has gone through in the last whatever years of this life… I hope he finds home, which I think is with Kensi and probably with kids.
In “Mother,” Deeks’ conversation with Kensi when he thought he was about to get blown up showed us that Kensi had brought him peace. Now, it appears that he’s getting a home with Kensi and with kids. What more could we hope for him? Since we’ve been lucky enough to get another season, it means that we’ll get to see Deeks navigate parenthood. It’s something he’s wanted even longer than Kensi has. We can go back to the end of Season 2’s “Plan B” to know how strong his desire was. To be a better father than his own dad, to be “the best version” of himself. There’s not a doubt in the world that he’ll succeed, although I think Deeks himself worries he won’t. I can’t wait to watch him realize that he really is stronger and better than his own father.
The Warrior Monk and the Thermometer Head
Gemmill didn’t just cover all the Densi developments, but he also kept us up to date on the latest for the other team members, starting with Sam, who was moving into a new house with his father, well played by Richard Gant. We could really see how each man struggled to adapt to the reality of their new situation. They seem to have pretty different personalities, but they can’t be all that different if Raymond had 52 house rules when Sam was young. It certainly explains a lot about the disciplined “warrior monk” Sam became. I’m sure many of us can identify with the challenges of caring for an aging parent, and the inevitable role reversal that occurs. By episode’s end, they seemed to have reached a new equilibrium; hopefully it will last as long as possible.
Callen, on the other hand, hit a roadblock with his would-be father in law Arkady (the great Vyto Ruginis). We already knew from Callen’s last attempt to broach the subject that Arkady isn’t a fan of Callen and Anna getting married. But what’s at the source of his strong reaction? Is it marriage in general he’s against? Or is it Callen? Threatening to curse the whole thing does seem to indicate some deep-seated issues.
At least Sam and Callen had each other to lean on. Callen had to have felt a little better just by seeing Sam’s excitement over his plans to propose to Anna. (“It’s Arkady, he’s half crazy.” “Just half?”) I wonder what Callen will say when he sees Sam’s furniture-free house. That would be a fun conversation to witness.
Meditating and Martial Arts
The newest team members also got some personal time. First Rountree got some friendly nudging from Fatima about seeing Nate, all sensitively handled on Fatima’s part. Then Fatima got to play hero and push Rountree out of the way of the show’s big boom. I mean, it’s episode 300. We needed a big explosion, and this one was very nice. They’ve blown up quite a few RV’s over the years, but I liked this one for its slow motion shots of the two just barely escaping the flames, and for the sweet post-explosion moment where Fatima starting picking shards of debris out of Rountree’s hair.
The duo also got to ride to the rescue when Kensi and Deeks were being held prisoner, and we got some more nice slow motion of Rountree shooting out of the skidding car. They ended their eventful day with a movie – at the boatshed? Fatima’s taste in movies is helping to win me over (a good kung fu movie is always entertaining). Still, it would have been great to get a glimpse of one of their apartments/houses.
These two characters have gotten moved around, partnering with whomever was alone in a given episode, or working solo or together in ops. It’s been a good way for the show to handle the regular disappearances of the core four. But over time, watching their unique partnership develop and seeing their friendship deepen has really helped to develop their individual characters in ways they couldn’t have without that pairing. My feelings about both characters have definitely evolved over time and I’m developing a fondness for them both, and for watching them together. (But no, I’m not shipping them, at least not yet.)
We also got more of a glimpse of Shyla and Kilbride’s relationship. Her meditation advice might have been sound, but wasn’t likely to work for Kilbride. (I have to wonder if L.A. is rubbing off on him though.) These two are clearly very fond of one another. The last moment of her watching over him meditating/dozing felt very much like a father/daughter dynamic. It’s nice to see that they too have a support system at OSP.
- You know you’re in for a special episode when almost every character’s personal life is included in the Previously On.
- Spoiler alert: Why Kilbride, “just shut down for the day for one great big family picnic” sounds like such a good idea I think it just might happen in an upcoming episode.
- How unusual to hear Kensi introduce herself as being from “Naval Criminal Investigative Service.” That’s a mouthful.
- I enjoyed seeing the attorney tell the Sam and Callen, “You guys are the detectives, right? So detect!” It felt like Deeks was somehow there mocking them.
- What a nice change to see Densi in “dire straights,” as Gemmill described it. I did wonder during that hillside conversation if they were maybe a bit too exposed. I guess that’ll teach them not to be so focused on personal matters. I also enjoyed seeing Deeks throw out some random home improvement show fact about wood in an effort to describe his surroundings on comms.
- Is this the second Postmates reference? I feel like this came up last week too. Not a huge fan of the paid product placements, but they’re usually more subtle because they don’t announce the brand of tablet they’re using out loud.
Scott Gemmill is easily the funniest of the show’s writers. He’s capable of delightful over the top silliness that can provide a perfect counterpart to the darkness of a Frank Military. Some of the show’s funnest episodes have been his; among my favorites are “Borderline,” “Free Ride,” and “Till Death Do Us Part.” But my favorite Gemmill moments are those that show emotion and sweetness amid the banter. Moments that require no explanation, like “Sunshine and gunpowder” (“Wanted“), “It’s a love story” (“Impact“), “I got more moments” (“Praesidium“), and “Sometimes life doesn’t work the way that you plan it, so we adapt” (“The Queen’s Gambit“). This episode will be remembered for that same level of sweetness, emotion, and gentle humor and it just might be among my favorite team episodes ever.
Well I need to stop talking and open up the floor to hear from you all. Did you enjoy “Work & Family” as much as I did? Is your heart melting at the happy Densi family scenes? Or were you less impressed by all the personal drama? Tell us all about it in the Comments below. And don’t forget to come back later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log and Kensi’s Journal , and a preview of next week’s penultimate Season 13 episode.
As usual, thanks to Lyssa for helping me with some fact-checking. She really should be in charge of the show’s canon bible.
As always, great review and you are a favorite of mine along with Diane!
Keep up the good work and can’t wait until Season 14.
The best of Season 13 IMHO.
I have been waiting on the Densi family to finally come to fruition and I’m glad it will occur soon.
As far as Sam and his father, I would not expect anything less from him than to take care of his Dad during the challenges that occur in caring for older parents. I myself already went through the same scenario with both of my parents, although not as serious as his father is dealing with now.
It’s what children do for their parents.
The Callen and Anna story line needs to quickly come to an end and have them get married, already!
I don’t know if anyone else saw this, but on twitter somebody was complaining to ECO about him not including COD in his episode. He explained to them that each actor was required to miss two episodes this season and that it was COD’s turn that week. I remember before the season started Gemmill saying that CBS had ordered 18 episodes which was going to finish the season (and at that point he had to think maybe the series) just short of 300 and he planned to ask them for more episodes. I guess they negotiated for four more bringing it to 22 with each actor only getting paid for 20 which actually was more than the original 18. I guess the numbers worked in everyone’s favor. And with Chris and LL having the new show and Eric and Dani writing and directing it probably worked for them. This of course is just my theory, but according to what I read it could track, and it definitely explains all the absences this year.
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Oh, and by the way loved your review and the episode. It gave us a little bit of everything – personal relationships, a shoot out, and an explosion. What more could we ask for? 🙂
All I can say is that the script writing on the last three episodes has been outstanding. I feel as if they have read the reviews and our comments and have taken them to heart. The characters were at their best, as was the action, the light heartedness, and the poignant endings. I am so glad they are continuing with Season 14 and wish them many more to come thereafter.
As an afterthought – At first, I found it difficult to accept Fatima and Roundtree. Maybe because as a die hard fan to the fabulous four, they would disrupt or take time away from our heroes. During the last half of this season they have definitely been an integral part of the stories and have fit in very comfortably with the rest of the team. It has worked out well for everyone.