NCIS: Los Angeles Season 5 Review “Spoils of War”

Spoils of War NCIS LA

Hey, it’s that time of year for a heavyweight episode of NCIS: Los Angeles! And this isn’t knocking the other episodes, but NCIS: LA is a show that moves at the pace of a breezy action movie. The heroes are presented with a problem, the world is in grave danger, but it’s always saved. In many ways LA goes in the opposite direction of a spin-off series. The mood is lighter, the problems feel less morose. You know the team is going to get Kensi out of Afghanistan alive. The question then becomes what happens afterwards?

More than plot or writing, the strength of this show rests with the interaction of characters. And Shane Brennan did a smart job of bringing Eric Christian Olsen into the mix. The interplay between him and Daniela Ruah has gotten a lot of mileage yet still feels fresh. Yes, Kensi/Deeks may seem like a Tony/Ziva copy, and yet I’m invested in their relationship more (please don’t hurt me Tiva fans). And that is 100% due to the chemistry between Ruah and Olsen. It’s palpable, real, and really very sweet. It also gives Olsen one of his best moments to date on the show in looking at a picture that could be of Kensi’s dead body. Panic, frustration, rage, and fear all race through Olsen’s eyes and voice as he speaks with Hetty, Nell, and Eric over the phone. Whoa, the guy from Dumb and Dumber: When Harry Met Lloyd and Fired Up can act!

Olsen had more heavy material in trying to extract information from a man who has connections with the group of Taliban that kidnapped Kensi. Unfortunately none of these matched his one on the phone later. There was torture and Deeks was the one dealing it out this time, AND he had a wise ally that reminded me of Shaun Toub’s character in Iron Man, but NCIS: LA isn’t about those moments. It may think it is, but it always comes down to our main characters just being with each other.

It makes the relief of Deeks seeing Kensi alive and well hit that much harder. The feeling of holding her in his arms later when breaks down. And it makes us wonder, oh crap, what is he going to do when he finds out Jack Simon was Kensi’s ex-fiancée (Hetty only told Nell and Eric that little detail)? And on Kensi’s end she now has to process not only her ordeal with the Taliban but also having Jack leave her once again. Ruah was only in the last 5 minutes of the episode and still knocked it out of the park with those beats. Kensi may physically be back home next week but she’s still emotionally elsewhere.

The rest of the episode was more of the usual NCIS: LA fare- our heroes in danger but not really. Callen and Sam headed with Granger, Sabatino, and Sergeant Sajadi tracking the Taliban faction holding Kensi and Jack. Basically all I thought about was the quote in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me about how the English countryside looks nothing like Southern California. Afghanistan is a closer match than England, but I can never get fully invested when I know the show is filming somewhere outside LA. Again the best moments came not from the action or plot but from the character interaction specifically Callen and Sam defying Granger’s orders.

At the end, the status quo was restored. And you know what, I’m okay with that. Right now the writing is at its strongest when it’s between the team. If Shane Brennan can pull a storyline comparable to the Charles Durning episode of NCIS or “Nobody’s Child” of JAG then I’m all for it. Until then, let’s stick with what we’ve got.

Notes:

– So the White Ghost wasn’t real. All just a ploy by the CIA to kill Jack because he learned the names of CIA operatives in the region. What a waste of a cool code name CIA!

– Deeks is a smart cookie: using the father of one of the Taliban as a prisoner trade for Kensi and Jack

– Solid performance by the actress playing the Afghan teenager that delivers information to the Taliban for Sam and Callen (and ends up getting a guardian in Jack). She and Arya from Game of Thrones could be BFFs. Both lost their parents and are seeing the horrors of the world way too young #TrueDetectiveSeason2?

– Nell is becoming more and more a mini (except taller) Hetty. No capes! #HettyisreallifeEdnaMode

– I love LL Cool J. That is all.

– Chris O’Donnell still has it.

– Look up those episodes of NCIS and JAG that I mentioned. Brilliant and heartbreaking pieces of television that show procedurals CAN have something important to say.