NCIS: Los Angeles seems to have entered a new era in terms of its ever-shifting partnerships, and it’s also begun this season with an increased focus on the personal lives of the characters we love. This week continued these dual trends with a fantastic script by Chad Mazero and sensitive direction from Daniela Ruah that highlighted less frequently seen partnerships and gave us two incredible scenes dealing with Deeks’ and Roberta’s past that qualify not just as highlights of the season, but of the entire series.
The Unofficial Family
The episode provided us with a better understanding of how family life is going in the Deeks-Blye-Reyes household. It’s a pretty chaotic place, but one full of life and happiness. As the trio rushed to get out the door, Deeks made a silly comment about a near miss with a backpack, and Rosa played off that comment with a witty one of her own. When Deeks high fived her with a “Wow, now that is a touché. Well played,” it was music to my ears. That line is such a time-honored tradition at this point that seeing Rosa participate in it has to be a sign of just how much of a family unit they already are. It was a small but meaningful moment. Also, Deeks would love his daughter no matter what, but to have a child who can enjoy his sense of humor must be a true gift for him.
The short scenes we got of Deeks and Kensi together showed them both seeming a little frantic, perhaps hyped up on caffeine as a way to deal with the big changes of becoming parents. I agree with those who hope to see them back working together, but I can also appreciate getting to see Deeks interact more with other characters. As I’ve mentioned many (many) times, Eric Christian Olsen is so good, he makes every conversation Deeks has interesting. I’ve found it a real treat this season to see him partner with Sam, Callen and Rountree.
We also learned that Roberta had returned from a six-month Nomadland-inspired road trip. It seemed odd that Deeks and Kensi didn’t know what she’d been up to, but it did explain why she hadn’t yet met Rosa. I could see how they might like one another- Roberta is indeed “very cool.”
What’s less clear is how well Kensi is handling motherhood. She may not “technically” be a parent, but we all know that she is. She definitely seems a little overwhelmed, which tracks with her perfectionism. Still, I was surprised that she didn’t seem to know who Rosa’s friends were, or that Rosa was joining the soccer team, and she seemed way too eager to grant all of Rosa’s wishes. I get the desire to spoil a child who’s been through so much. I’m just thinking she actually should be a little more on top of what’s happening in Rosa’s day-to-day life. I may be fine with Deeks and Kensi not always working together, but I would enjoy more scenes of them talking through this big change in their lives, and supporting one another as they’ve always done.
This week Deeks partnered with Rountree, and the two showed off a wonderfully relaxed vibe. They managed to be funny together almost without trying, like when Rountree repeats Deeks’ “That’s what I’m sayin,” or when Rountree doesn’t follow Deeks’ reference to Alice Morgan coming out of her rental house. They worked together so easily, it felt like they’d been partnered for years. I also loved ECO’s timing on his “I shoulda stretched” line.
The humor offered a striking contrast with what Rountree later learned about Deeks’ past. He looked pretty surprised, and it’s no wonder given Deeks’ heavy reliance on humor to deflect questions and alleviate tension. Mazero showed us (if not Rountree) a little more of where that humor came from in the final scene with Roberta. The whole episode offered a wonderful illustration for those who still might think of Deeks as solely around to be funny that his character is deeper than that, and his humor is just an outer layer around a much more complex man.
But let’s be perfectly clear: this episode was no substitute for a “Deeks, M.” We learned almost nothing new about Deeks’ background. None of our pending questions were answered. What we did see was Deeks talking about his childhood in a way we’ve never gotten before, and it was stunning. One of ECO’s strengths is his ability to handle both comedy and drama, and the way Deeks shifted when interrogating Alice from easy-going inspector rambling about choose-your-own-adventure stories to super serious and a little rattled was impressive.
When he returned to the interrogation room and began telling his story, I was utterly riveted. Knowing the facts of what happened to Deeks as a child is one thing, but hearing him share details and seeing how painful it still is for him to talk about brought those experiences to life in a way that nothing ever has in his thirteen years on the show. I found myself holding my breath, as if I might somehow disturb Deeks if I made a sound, and I found myself shedding a few tears as his pain became so evident. It has to be one of the best Deeks interrogation scenes, right along with “Internal Affairs” (co-written by Mazero) and “The Debt,” which is a better match in terms of seeing Deeks so vulnerable. And I think it’s right up there with the most important Deeks scenes of the series.
Deeks: It’s uh, June 30th, 1990, and my mom decides she wants to take me to watch the Dodgers play the Cardinals. And I will never forget that day.
Alice: I don’t care about sports.
Deeks: That’s funny because I don’t care about sports either. No, the reason I remember is because it was so hot, like L.A. had been coming off this massive heat wave and I can still see the ice cream cone melting as it’s being passed down the row.
Alice: Now you wanna talk about weather?
Deeks: Actually I do, because that is the other thing that I can still see from that day is my mom, and she was sitting next to me in this 90 degree heat except for the fact that she is wearing… she’s wearing jeans and a long-sleeve turtleneck… And she was covered up like that the whole entire summer. Not that it matters because she couldn’t cover the bruises on her face.
OK, so here’s one tiny new fact we learn, that Deeks didn’t shoot his father until after the summer. (Hmmm, maybe it happened on Labor Day like my Songs of Summer fic suggested?)
Alice: Did he spare you at least?
Deeks: Nah. I mean, but I was a kid right? Kids are supposed to have bruises… I’d just tell the teachers that I got in another fight in the playground… What do you tell people?
Alice: I don’t have anyone left to tell. He made me push everyone away.
Not to overanalyze this, but there was something about the “Nah” that made it the saddest line of the whole conversation. Because it wasn’t a strongly enunciated “No,” it almost felt like Deeks was minimizing what happened to him.
Deeks: Yeah, they do that… How long has your husband been abusing you?
Alice: Physically? Three years. Mentally, who knows?…
Deeks: I gotta ask you this ‘cause it’s my job but I don’t blame you if you did.. Did you kill your husband?
Alice: He was like that when I came home. Can you believe, after all this, I even tried to save him?
Deeks: I can.
Deeks didn’t hesitate to show that he believed Alice here. He’s always had a soft spot for vulnerable women, so it fits perfectly with what we’ve seen from him in the past. The fact that he stayed with her to take her to a “safe location” tracks right along with this. After all, it would take something pretty significant for Deeks to not want to protect his teammates who were off taking down the bad guys, and Alice wasn’t in any actual danger, but he still wanted to personally see that she was taken care of instead of handing her off to Agent Castor.
There was such sensitivity in the writing and the direction here. Mazero and ECO didnʻt go too dramatic, but Deeks shared enough to get Alice to come clean with everything she knew. Daniela kept things simple and let the two actors shine. Marnee Carpenter, who played Alice, held her own with ECO. Even the background music was wonderfully subdued. I can’t imagine anything about this scene being better. Daniela spoke to Parade about directing this scene and said:
“When I have the privilege of working with actors like Marnee and like Eric, who tap into something and are so giving emotionally, I actually don’t have to do a lot,” she admitted. “I think that’s when you say, ‘These actors are so skilled and so truthful and they listen to each other in the scene,’ you almost just put the camera there, like, ‘Where would I want to be sitting if I were a fly on the wall?’ and just let them play the scene.”
It takes a good director to be able to decipher those times and, happily, Ruah got it right.
“I realize I am not saying much about myself as a director, but I do think it’s important for a director to know when they need to step in more intensively, when there’s something more designed that they have in mind for a scene, and there are times when it’s my job to step back and let somebody else do their magic.”
Deeks’ history of abuse is clearly something he never talks about, likely even with Kensi. I don’t know how much shame he still carries from the abuse he suffered, as well as from shooting his father, but I’d like to think that he’s at peace with the shooting at least. Hopefully being able to talk about the abuse with Alice, and sharing the information with Rountree and Kilbride (“Every word of it” being true), might help him ever so slightly to feel less of that shame.
Deeks’ willingness to take Kilbride on about the military’s failure to protect abuse victims in military families was also totally in character. He has never been afraid to confront those in authority when he disagrees, and I loved that small moment with Kilbride.
We also learned a small fact about the timing of Deeks’ dad going to prison two weeks after he’d been shot. That sounds a little unlikely, but perhaps he did move from the hospital to the county jail pending his trial?
If anything, we learned more about Roberta this episode than we did about Deeks, particularly in the scene at day’s end between the two. It’s another stunning scene that ranks right up there in the entire series in terms of beautiful and significant Deeks scenes. Pamela Reed is a joy to watch as Roberta, no matter who she’s working with, but her scenes with ECO are always special. Here we got a Deeks who was determined to understand a little more about that time in his life, no matter how much his mother tried to avoid the topic and deflect it with humor, illustrating how it’s no wonder little Marty turned to humor as a coping mechanism.
Roberta: Ah, my first born.
Deeks: Your only born.
Roberta: Like I said, I’ve never cared much for math. Come on, sit down…How was work today? You get all the cats out of the trees?
Deeks: [Laughs] Yeah, I did my best… Can I ask you a question?
Deeks: I wanted to ask you a question about Dad.
Roberta: Oh, honey, you know I don’t like to dwell on my past.
Deeks: See, that’s not fair because it’s our past.
Roberta: Mmm mmm.
Deeks: I just wanna know how you made it through.
Roberta: Vicodin. And Sally Jessy Raphael.
Roberta: Oh how the hell do I know, honey? That son of a bitch sure didn’t make it easy on us… He took everything from us, kid. Including the person I was. But because of you, I got her back. And I told myself I would never ever lose her again… Is the life I’ve made for myself since then perfect? No. But it’s mine.
Deeks: I’ll drink to that.
Roberta: You bet.
Somehow the way these two interacted almost made me feel like I was seeing a glimpse of little Marty sitting beside his mother. And Roberta actually revealing so much of herself helped us to see how what can appear as an unorthodox, or even a little nutty, lifestyle has its origins in her determination to regain the sense of self that her husband took from her. It makes her nuttiness understandable in a way that hadn’t been as clear to me before. She enjoys being outrageous because she was prevented from expressing herself when she was with Gordon Brandel, and she’s damn sure not going to let that happen again.
It was another absolutely beautifully written scene with perfectly simple direction set in warm, late afternoon light. It was another example, to paraphrase Daniela, of letting ECO and Reed do their magic.
- The cold open was quite effective, with disorienting handheld camerawork used to good effect to communicate Alice’s desperation, and to keep us from seeing the blood on her shirt until she wheeled around to face a mirror. And didn’t you just know that when she had trouble opening the front door, it was because there was a body in the way? A clever way to introduce the events that would set our case in motion.
- A couple of wardrobe notes… Have we ever seen Callen in shorts before? And I know Los Angeles is an incredibly casual place, but I still wouldn’t recommend wearing jeans and white t-shirt to a job interview.
- Callen and Anna seem to be developing a more healthy relationship with honest conversations. One of the reasons I’ve always found it hard to warm up to him is that I haven’t seen him change all that much, but he has come a long way. I do think it remains to be seen just how honest he continues to be with Anna.
- It’s also frustrating to see Callen continue to cling to what feels like an idea of what he wants Hetty to be, as opposed to seeing her for what she really is. Since it sounds like everyone (including me) wants Linda Hunt to return for the wedding, I am doubtful that will ever change.
- As much as I miss the opening bullpen scenes, I do enjoy the morning scenes from home. If that’s going to be the new tradition because of the revolving cast from week to week, it’s a trade I can live with.
- Some of the timing in this episode confused me. Was Rosa home on a lunch break to meet Roberta? Because she asked if Kensi would take her and her friend to the mall after school.
- Callen’s line about being an orphan, and therefore unable to intervene between Kensi and Deeks about Roberta’s return, was hilarious.
- Commander Burns’ line about the boatshed being a Bubba Gump’s was also hilarious. He and Kilbride should absolutely be friends so they can sit around and complain about the state of the world.
- Ella, the sassy storage unit manager played by Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, was far more entertaining than average for such quirky guest characters.
- Roberta only had one disastrous marriage? I believe she was married a second time? Perhaps that one ended amicably.
- Whoa Rountree! I’m beginning to feel like Rountree’s “thing” might be nearly getting blown up. Although, I guess that could be said about the whole team. On the other hand, the bad guys supposedly had enough explosives to take down an entire city block, so I have to assume that they were trying to escape with only a fraction of their supply given the relatively small explosion.
- Overall Mazero captured every character very well, and even wrote a version of Kilbride I liked, one whose anger with the world wasn’t at the “seething” level.
That’s it from me this week, although I have to reiterate how much heart Deeks can bring to the show when he’s written well. Mazero outdid himself, and Daniela Ruah made smart choices every step of the way. She’s become a skilled director and I look forward to her next episode. This may not have provided the backstory we want in a “Deeks, M.” episode, but it showed just how powerful such an episode could be.
Tune in later this week for new editions of Deeks’ Surf Log, Kensi’s Journal, and the Drabble of the Week. And come back on Saturday for a preview of next week’s new episode. In the meantime, tell us what you thought of “Flesh & Blood.” Did those scenes resonate with you? Where do you rank them in a long list of wonderful Deeks scenes? Tell us all your thoughts in the Comments below!