NCIS: Los Angeles S08E21 Review

The team are called to investigate after a homeless man, later revealed as Retired Navy Captain Charles Langston kidnaps a corrupt VA administrator.  When Hetty contacts her former colleagues Retired Admiral AJ Chegwidden and Admiral Sterling Bridges to request their assistance, it gradually becomes clear to the team that there is more to this case than meets the eye.
Battle Scars is very much the subject of this episode, jointly written by Jordana Lewis Jaffa and Andrew Bartels.  The scars are results of various characters experiences and adventures in the field, extremely very recent and others dating back decades.  The damage is psychological and physical and varies from character to character.  The after effects of the team’s operations have been explored throughout season 8, starting of course with Kensi.  She has struggled with her temporary paralysis and whether she would ever be able to return to the field.  Even when she did visit the mission before being cleared to return, her paranoia and internal fears were realised in her daydream sequence fight with Anna Kolchek.
On the flip side, Deeks struggled with his emotions as he witnessed Kensi in her coma and then offered his unerring support as she fought to return to fitness and was subject to bouts of self doubt and depression.  When you are the person experiencing the trauma and trying to recover, it is easy to forget that your support network and loved ones are also going through a tremendously difficult time.  Kensi broaches this subject with Deeks and unfortunately before this can be explored, they hear and then rescue Bryant.  Deeks’ temperament is very subdued during this episode, which seems to commence when he and Kensi return to the VA hospital as part of the case.  IMG_3793He continues to feel ‘off’ throughout the episode.  He is distracted but whether this is attributed to the VA hospital, uncertainly over the internal affairs confession (not mentioned in Battle Scars) or just because the actor was ill whilst filming – maybe more will be revealed in next week’s episode.  NCISLA has attempted to demonstrate the effects of PTSD in S4 finale and early S5, after Deeks and Sam were tortured by Sidorov , but the consistent references during this season show the longer term effects, which is clearly much more realistic.
Shorter term effects have been shown with the return of Nate and his off screen sessions with Nell and Eric; both have struggled after killing for the first time.  Eric in particular, and he confides in Sam in the opening scenes at the shooting range.  Even Callen has suffered through his betrayal by Joelle.  Instead of zipping up his emotions as usual, he has chain-sawed and thrown out what little furniture he has, and blown hot and cold in his relationship with Anna.  A case of regressing with his trust issues!
The team may be dealing with psychological issues, but it is the older generation who are suffering the physical effects of their past missions.  Granger’s time in Vietnam and exposure to Agent Orange is again referenced in respect of Hetty’s former colleagues, all of whom expect to succumb in the same way.  Langston has already been diagnosed and Chegwidden realistically tells the team that Granger may well be dead now because of it.  As well as being realistic, it also provides a legitimate way to write Hetty out at a (much) later date, should the need arise.
Granger is respectfully mentioned several times outside of Hetty’s pessimistic outlook.  He was the only senior man in Kensi’s life, and the connection to her late father had made her want to ask him to give her away at her wedding.  Sam and Callen reminisce about IMG_3794their first encounter with Granger and how Callen put him down and pulled a gun on him. Cunning, sly, dry sense of humour; the tributes to Granger lead to comparisons with Chegwidden and Bridges, who show they have just as much guile, spotting Sam’s Challenger when the younger pair are waiting to see where they lead the agents.  (And the Challenger is an easy car to spot…Bridges does say that he has eyes, when Sam questions how they were made.)
There are throw away (political) statements about the treatment of the homeless as  an invisible population; no one can provide an accurate description of Langston, who posed as a homeless Vet to kidnap VA bureaucrat Bryant.  Bryant himself is the epitome of this.  He thought homeless people made up their signings reading ‘homeless vet’, ‘single mum’ and ‘incurable blood disease’.  He has complete disdain for not only the homeless but also the vets requiring medical attention, as he is skimming money meant for their treatment.  There are long queues at the VA centre and disgruntled patients are unable to obtain medical appointments for months, despite their needs and having served their country.  This aspect is not really mentioned again.  The narrative progresses with more focus on Langston himself and the hidden antics of Hetty and her former cohorts.
The older generation of Chegwidden, Bridges and Langston are well created and the former in particular have great chemistry and patter.  It was fascinating to see them take on Sam and Callen, referring to them as Hetty’s ‘lap dogs’, in response to Sam calling them ‘Abbott and Costello.’  Each pair took turns at one upping the other and it made a change to see the agents at the mercy of others, including the incredibly annoying FBI Agent Morris.  IMG_3792In fact Chegwidden and Bridges provide a glimpse as to how Sam and Callen may well be in another fifteen to twenty years, still running around causing mayhem and chaos. Unfortunately there was some clumsy storytelling; Kensi and Deeks drove past where they found VA administrator Bryant hanging but failed to spot him from the road.  Several times various characters repeated that Bryant was a corrupt official, just in case it wasn’t understood the first time.  And if Hetty and co had to find all the money for equipment, fuel, bribes – then where did they find $1 million worth of gold bars (now worth $40 million)?  And Sam and Callen blame the FBI collectively, for shooting Undersecretary of Defence, Duggan, yet during the mole trilogy, the blame was firmly placed on the CIA.
Battle Scars is the first of a two-parter and as a result, the narrative does not race along at one hundred miles an hour.  The plot and characters can be explored in more depth, allowing for development of Hetty’s former colleagues and the slow unravelling of their real story.  The exchanges between Chegwidden and Bridges with Sam and Callen provided a light hearted tone to the episode which overall had a slightly sombre feel, particularly with Deeks not dishing out the usual wise cracks, the joke about Kensi finding ‘fresh prints’, and Deeks immediately asking ‘Bel Air’, excepted.  Callen is reminded of Joelle’s lame attempt on Hetty’s life and has clearly been talked about behind his back.  vlcsnap-2017-04-26-21h37m11s568Sam and Bridges are constantly sniping and part two will hopefully continue the gentle antagonism between them.  There was a risk that an episode focusing on characters from Hetty and Granger’s past would detract from the screen time of the main agents however the risk was unfounded.  This was a team episode, the team has temporarily become a little bigger and even with a slightly subdued Deeks, it was again reassuring to see Sam and Callen on form as partners, and Kensi and Deeks sharing some emotional moments.

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