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Review: NCISLA “Game of Drones” (S14E01)


NCIS: Los Angeles is back for a 14th season (14th!), and wikiDeeks is back too, celebrating a decade tracking the exploits of our favorite character. The premiere episode, “A Game of Drones,” written by showrunner R. Scott Gemmill and directed by first-time NCIS:LA director Kevin Berlandi, provided updates on the team’s private lives in the midst of a slightly underwhelming case of the week.

New credits and a new case

The cold open ended on an unexpected boom (although seriously, why would I ever be surprised to get a nice explosion with this show?). It was a fitting way to start the new season. And speaking of new, we got updated opening credits. A lot of effort no doubt went into the graphics, and thankfully Surfer Deeks, and the best explosion in TV history, both remain. I also like that they’ve incorporated many recent shots of these characters. Next time around though, an overhaul to the music might be nice.

For some reason, I couldn’t seem to focus on the details of the case. There was a lot of exposition from Shyla and others but I didnʻt absorb it well. While I always want to know more about the team’s private lives, this episode had so much going on that I sometimes lost track of what case-related task everyone was on. It had a COVID-era episode vibe with people were scattered in many different places, which gave it a bit of a chaotic feel. I suppose this is the price to be paid for having actors reduce their schedules, which, if it means another season of our favorite show, I’m willing to take. I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare that managing the shooting schedule must be- kudos to whoever is in charge of that work! Still I missed Sam and Callen together, and Fatima and Rountree for that matter. Hopefully someday the show will be able to go back to the classic bullpen opener. There’s huge potential there to really integrate the newbies with some six-way banter. 

Compliments do go to the set decoration on the still smoking, burned out workplace- very atmospheric. And Berlandi added some visual interest with what I’d describe as an Eric Pot-esque bit of slo-mo when the four teammates assembled to breach the office building, and the quick zoom into Sniper Kensi was quite effective and very cool, adding some excitement to its scene. Overall though, the episode lacked a little energy, but I think that’s less due to the direction and more to an overall lack of suspense.

The case ended with our heroes setting a trap for the bad guys. Yes, we got another nice boom, but since the team had outsmarted said bad guys, they were never in any jeopardy, and in fact outnumbered the last standing villain six to one not counting all the armed military forces backing them up. Gemmill smartly tried to make us care about the victims of the attack, giving us many details about the dead janitor down to his love for fireworks, which in theory should have made us invested in bringing his killers to justice. It might have been more effectively conveyed if his daughter had been more distraught in the boatshed scene when she shared that information with Deeks and Kensi. Plus it’s always easier to be invested in bringing down the bad guys when we actually get to meet them during the course of the episode. But then again, that bad guy face time takes away from personal team time. I really need the basic cable version of this show that can run for an hour and fifteen minutes!

Incompetent Deeks makes an appearance

Gemmill provided us with a hefty dose of Silly Deeks this episode. Some joking was very much in character, and I particularly liked the scene by the car at the janitor’s house. Other silliness was odd or potentially more troubling. For example, why exactly did Deeks and Kensi need to pop into the boatshed while Rountree was questioning the ex-employee? Is Deeks really such a “sensitive flower” that he can’t pee in a public restroom? How is he able to function when they’re out in the field far away from the safe bathrooms of Ops and the boatshed? It seemed odd, as if the scene with just Rountree and Janice Ng was falling too flat, so they improvised a pop-in and some witty repartee courtesy of Densi.

I wanted to enjoy Deeks’ quick stint undercover as an L.A. Fire Department inspector. His glasses were a nice touch and happily reminded me of railroad inspector Matthew Dunkler from “The Livelong Day,” an all-time favorite undercover assignment. Also, who doesn’t love a good Die Hard reference (Nakatomi Plaza)? Trouble began with Deeks bemoaning the warning about booby traps. If you didn’t know Deeks, you might think he sounded weak and cowardly. But we know how he uses humor in tense situations so we could go along with it.

That is until he proceeds to turn his back on the obvious bad guy while putting on noise-canceling headphones. Taken on its face, Deeks appeared to be obliviously allowing the man to come very close to shooting him in the back of the head. It’s so preposterous, in fact, that I have to believe Deeks knew what was happening all along and cleverly managed to put the guy in front of a window so Kensi could take him out. But neither Gemmill nor Berlandi gave us any indication that that was the case. If anything, Deeks seemed surprised, uttering a “What?” to Kensi’s overly cool “Tango down” after she took the man out. A simple reference after the fact to how perfectly Deeks had led him to the right spot, or how well their plan had worked, would have been sufficient to communicate that he was in on the whole (but very risky) plan. I’m sure I’m being overly sensitive- you all know how badly I take it when Deeks is made to look incompetent, so I’m going to give most everyone the benefit of the doubt here and blame the editors.

The brief moments afterward between Sam and Deeks were delightful. I missed seeing these two together as much as Deeks apparently missed Sam. They both seemed to enjoy the banter as much as I did. The way Deeks eyed Sam up and down like he hadn’t seen him in ages was adorable. And even though Sam made a dig at Deeks’ intelligence, he did so with a small grin so we’d know he didn’t mean it. Also, nice job with the callback to reptile-loving childhood friend Darryl Donkins- or as it was pronounced this time around, Dinkins (sigh). 

First day jitters and the toll of the job

We got to be there when Deeks and Kensi dropped Rosa off for her first day of school. While most parents of teenagers likely approach the day with a little less anxiety, these two just couldn’t help but want to make sure Rosa is fully prepared (including self defense training- of course). It was sweet if not a little over the top but then again, how would we behave with our kids if we had a Kessler stalking us?

The episode’s best scene was Kensi and Deeks reacting to the grief-stricken janitor’s daughter. As much as I love witty banter, it’s also nice to see these characters reacting appropriately to serious situations. Deeks’ effort to make himself and Kensi feel better with a joke was beautifully underplayed by both Eric Christian Olsen and Daniela Ruah, who conveyed the impact of the situation on their characters and believably lightened their own – and our – mood. 

Deeks: …You’re gonna tell me that childbirth is more painful than kidney stones?
Kensi: You’re an idiot!
Deeks: I’m joking.
Kensi: Why?
Deeks: Because if I don’t joke this job is too sad for me to keep doing it.
Kensi: I know… I still think you’re an idiot though… even though you’re a lovable one.
Deeks: I’ll take it.

It was also a rare moment of Kensi asking a direct and probing question that Deeks didn’t respond to with a joke. Him sharing his coping strategy for dealing with their difficult job in such an honest way was striking, well-played by ECO and well-written by Gemmill. After all this time, I would hope that all viewers understand that Deeks is a far deeper and more complex character than he would want them to believe, but I don’t think everyone sees him that way. It’s nice for him to have a chance to be so clear about such a core element of his personality. 

In other developments

There’s a lot going on with our team these days. First of all, Callen is taking an active part in wedding planning. What a great spin on the usual to have Arkady wanting something over the top and Anna not caring. (And how fun would Arkady’s Dr. Zhivago version be? Yes to real snow!) But there’s no way Deeks would be a pixie in a fairytale wedding. A merman would definitely be more appropriate.

Callen is also frustrated at his nephew’s new focus on teenage girls and his diminishing interest in “the world’s coolest uncle.” Of course Callen would see himself that way. He probably figures he’s a veritable James Bond, so of course Jake should be enthralled.

Sam’s dad is grudgingly going to a senior activity center and happily playing on his son’s worries to make him think he’s cavorting with a married woman he just met. I like that his dad is such a jokester- it’s good for Sam to loosen up a little, although it must be hard as he shifts into a caretaker role.

Rountree didn’t have much to do this episode, but Fatima was displaying a growing ease with her work, happy to dole out assignments to the rest of the team and definitely pulling her weight with Callen when they interviewed a suspect. This is all well and good, although I still enjoyed her worries when she thought she’d insulted her team leader. I don’t want her to feel too comfortable just yet. Imperfect is more interesting.

On the serious side, Callen took the news of Hetty’s possible demise with fitting somberness, another example of this episode showing the characters with appropriate reactions to serious things without jumping into inappropriately silly banter, something the show has struggled with from time to time.

Unfortunately anyone who’s read any interviews with Gemmill or the cast teasing Season 14 knew that Hetty wasn’t dead, so it was a second storyline lacking in suspense. Still, it was sweet that Callen would want to accompany Hetty’s remains, but unfortunately Kilbride’s caustic rejection of his request to use personal days to go to her aid felt pretty mean. I thought Kilbride had softened up a little towards this team. Just because he doesn’t have a relationship with his own son doesn’t mean that other team members might not want to help out their families. A more interesting jibe might have pointed out to Callen why his “surrogate mommy” might not be worth so much concern and loyalty. 

All in all, we got a lot of information on a lot of characters. While I never want to discourage the focus on personal lives, perhaps the episode would have felt slightly less chaotic if we’d just focused on one or two of these storylines in more depth. Being the premiere, though, it made sense to try to cover most everyone to set the stage for the new season.

Memorable moments

  • Was it just me, or did Kensi, and especially Deeks, look super awkward sitting on those little stools in the boatshed? It made the whole scene feel uncomfortable and distracted me from learning more about the victim.
  • Fatima and Deeks both need to leave their vehicles at home if they expect to tail any suspects without being noticed. (But that’s a beautiful car and I am jealous!)
  • I had to take another look at the soldier who was fired upon in the final action sequence. I thought it might be David Paul Olsen. But I don’t think it was?
  • Gemmill almost avoided making any age jokes but couldn’t quite pull it off with the pre-Google reference to the Amazing Kreskin, as well as Kilbride’s longing for younger knees.

I look forward to seeing where Gemmill and the producing team take our favorite characters this year. While we await episode two to find out more, check back later this week for new editions of Kensi’s Journal and Deeks’ Surf Log (maybe they’ll answer my question about whether Deeks was really that clueless while undercover). Plus, Em is reviving an old wikiDeeks feature, the Drabble of the Week, so definitely check it out.

In the meantime, what did you think of “Game of Drones”? Did you enjoy seeing the whole team back in action? How are you liking the mix of personal and case? What are you most interested in seeing next? Tell us all about it in the Comments.

About Karen P (272 Articles)
wikiDeeks Writer & Assistant Editor. I never wrote for fun before... until my ECO-obsession. Now I love to analyze any and all aspects of the best character on television.

11 Comments on Review: NCISLA “Game of Drones” (S14E01)

  1. Agreed with you and glad it wasn’t just me. thanks as always

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An update/correction from Lyssa: Deeks’s childhood friend has been referred to as Darryl Donkins twice (2×03 and 12×12) and Darryl Dinkins twice (6×03 and 14×01).

    Like

  3. Right on, Karen. I like Funny Deeks as much as you, but I thought they went overboard on this episode. I know they’re nervous about Rosa, but I wish that scene had been a little less wordy and high speed. I’m not sure why they couldn’t show concern without sounding like bunny rabbits on meth. I hope we get a couple of scenes between Deeks and Rosa this season that showcase his sensitive nature and not as much nervousness as we’ve seen so far.

    As far as this season premier goes, I’ll give it a 5 out of 10. All in all I’m glad to see all the characters again, especially Deeks. However, the best banter in this ep came from Sam and his dad. They are great together. As for Callen and his wedding planning? Come on. Seriously? Thought he was the aloof one. Not believable to me. I am looking forward to Deeks teasing the heck out of him about it.

    Ready for Episode two and more Deeks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For a premiere opener this one in imho was lacking.And looking at the ratings for this ep people seem to turn it off. I have came to the conclusionn that I hate the way Gemmill writes for Deeks, no respect for the character. Kinda tired of Kensi having to bail out Deeks. Deeks can be funny but still be the confident agent we seen threw the years,Gemmill seem to forget that wnen he writes for Deeks. Do better Scotty G. please.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. amusement345 // October 11, 2022 at 6:18 PM // Reply

    Great review, Karen. This was the first time in a long time that I’ve watched an episode close to the time it aired, and I’m glad I did. It had a bit of the feel of the early seasons, because of the Deeks/Sam exchange, the Deeks/Kensi talk and Callen’s concern for Hetty. Poor Rosa—-her adoptive parents are going to drive her crazy. It was definitely over the top. I didn’t understand the bit with Deeks undercover. How did they know he wouldn’t be dead long before he passed in front of the window? And, considering they were worried about state-sponsored terrorism, wouldn’t they have wanted to interrogate the guy instead of kill him? They lost me at the end there. It felt like the episode was built more around spreading screen time equally, and less around plot coherence. I missed a conversation between Callen and Sam about Hetty, and a wrap up with Deeks/Kensi/Rosa at the end of their day. I do enjoy Sam’s dad and his banter with Sam, but I look forward to more Sam/Callen interaction, especially if Sam gets to tease Callen about the preparations for his upcoming wedding. This begs for a traditional opening scene among the four principals. Hope we get it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I entirely agree with you on this one. It was disjointed – to be kind! The beginning of the show should have read ” previously on NCIS LA” with just a brief review of Callen’s engagement, Rosa settling in,and Sam living with his Dad. Instead each of these stories from the past was played out too long and it added to the congestion of following a sound plot. I too very much miss the bantering and the fabulous four interacting like the old days. Deeks was just too silly – like he is trying too hard. I liked him better with his toned down version – somewhat more reserved, quieter, and a bit shy. It made his character more appealing and made him more tenderhearted when in a softer style. He is getting a bit too brash and that seems a bit too much out of his nature. I know he is now a married man with responsibilities but he is over doing his confidence level. For a premier of things to come it was far from one of Mr. Gemmill’s best.Last season’s finale was one of the best he ever wrote – the characters were in form, caring, and just enough of a plot to move things along. It was very touching! Hope things get better as the season moves forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for the great review, Karen! I agree that Kensi and Deeks (especially) had super straight posture, which seemed kind of unnatural, IMO. Give them chairs with backs and the whole thing is solved. Loved loved LOVED the scene at the end between Sam and his dad. I can only imagine the Colonel didn’t demonstrate this sense of humor as Sam was growing up, otherwise I think he would have taken to Deeks a lot quicker when he started working with the team. I’m pretty sure that was NOT DPO in the guard booth, if that’s the soldier you were referring to.

    Finally, I really enjoyed the Densi scenes. Yes, they were overboard with Rosa, but not out-of -character, IMO. Plus I was so glad to learn that they’ve been teaching Rosa self-defense (uh, you’d need it, with them as your parents!) and practicing active-shooter drills with her, and everything else Sam probably did with his kids as they became old enough. I also appreciated the conversation at the car, and didn’t realize until you pointed it out that Kensi asking a direct question about something emotional and Deeks answering honestly is a bit of a rarity.

    I for one, believe that Deeks HAD to have known that guy had (or was likely to have) a gun on him. As for what Kensi might think and/or write about in her Journal, who knows? 😉

    Like

    • Hey Donna, I’ve been thinking about Sam’s dad’s humor since the episode aired. I saw someone on Tumblr make the observation that Alzheimer’s can change your personality, so that’s one possibility. Or he could have loosened up over the course of his life. Another scenario I was thinking about was that maybe he was always a jokester but his son was decidedly not. Maybe Sam’s mother was the serious one and he took after her. And so maybe, Sam’s annoyance over his dad’s silliness actually contributed to his aggravation with Deeks when he joined the team; he reminded him of his father in a way he didn’t enjoy.

      Like

  8. Amen to all of the above! And just to set the record straight – Deeks owned a home in the past. Remember when they were going to sell the house, live in a van and pick berries in the episode “ Mother”? Deeks supposedly had the plumbers working at his home when in fact his mother was there making lasagna. When Deeks was out of work he was leaning against his red truck telling Kensi that the 3 bedroom 2 bath home they just bought would be so much cheaper if it was not in LA. He told Callen when he was selling the bar that it was a 2 bedroom home. My point is that if the writers really want to understand these characters then they must go back and get the facts straight. All along there are too many discrepancies in the story lines.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I completely agree with your review, Karen. My following thoughts will probably duplicate others already stated, but I have to get them out before I explode.
    1. Deeks being unaware of a gun pointed at him. Deeks was a child that grew up in an abusive home, an undercover cop and an agent. His whole life was based on being aware of his surroundings in order to survive. He would not put himself in that situation. If you want to still make it funny, then have him drop something and bend down to pick it up and take the guy out.
    They are making Deeks into Eric Beal.
    They forget how smart Deeks is. Deeks has always been the fool until his smarts and courage are required.
    2. NCIS-LA explosions are great, but they are dragged out. I feel like ( which may not be correct if I watch the episode again) the explosions are shown from every angle and in slow motion.
    3. I agree that Kensi and Deeks looked awkward in the boat shed chairs. It was odd.
    4. I was taken aback when Fatima gave out assignments, even tho’ she covered it by saying no one else was around. It still felt out of place to me.
    5. I agree with everyone else that the dialogue between Sam and his dad was great.
    6. I watch the show for Deeks, but I really miss the banter between Sam and Callen.
    7. One other thing that has nothing to do with the episode. CBS seems to be promoting all their other shows on Sunday night and the other NCIS shows, but not NCIS LA. All our show gets is that it is on Sunday night. Has CBS given up on our show?
    My apologies if this ends up being posted twice.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You are sooooo right Joleej!!!

    Like

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