NCIS: Los Angeles S09E08 Review

This Is What We Do is a landmark episode for NCIS: Los Angeles as it celebrates the fact that nine seasons and eight episodes in, they have reached their 200th.  This is no mean feat as even during this era of the ‘golden age’ of television, many shows don’t even last a season.  NCISLA drew on the pedigree and following of NCIS and quickly developed in to a show that was distinct from the mothership, yet similar in how they are both very much character focused.  NCISLA has taken this a step further and really dives in to who the characters are, giving them rich back stories and exploring their emotions and relationships, developing them as their lives and experiences progress and sometimes tearing them down to see how they rebuild their lives.  The 200th episode continues in this well established vein by pushing forward Hetty’s story, sees the return of Chegwidden, introduces Nell’s sister.  There are flying visits from Roberta Deeks and her ‘personal trainer’ Guy and some sobering moments (pun intended) for Sam. 

Some of this is pre-empted in the 'previously on NCIS: Los Angeles', serving as a reminder to the causal viewer that Ahmed Han Asakeem’s men were responsible for the helicopter crash that led to Kensi’s coma last season.  Even though Sam’s grief has been ongoing all season, he is still shown cradling his dead wife.  Retired Admiral Chegwidden is re-introduced as Hetty’s close friend along with the gold their crew raised for their Southeast Asian mission, before seguing into Hetty’s current predicament - in a Vietnamese prison where her captor intends to sell her to the highest bidder.  An awful amount of information has been crammed in to the opening minutes and that is without the case of the week being announced. 

A truck containing illegal immigrants is stopped by border patrol officers and gunned down by unknown assailants, masquerading as some of the illegals, and in the great tradition of the show Callen once again challenges why NCIS are involved; the crime took place along the border of Camp Pendleton.  This very tenuous link leads the team to focus on the evidence of the sole surviving immigrant, an eight year old Mexican, Enrique, who’s only clue is that the killers weren’t speaking Spanish.  The team need to identify the foreign killers to ascertain their threat level to the US.  Homeland Security analyst Sydney Jones confirms they are tracking similar groups who are connected to terrorist cells, which ultimately leads to Asakeem, the high value target last seen transported to LA for a deposition by Anna Kolcheck and Callen and tortured by them singing him songs from Grease.  The upshot is the team use Asakeem to draw out the foreign assailants, who either want to kill him or free him.

There is an awful lot of narrative involved in the case of the week and an awful lot of characters to fit in and as a result the plot moves along extremely quickly - in fact too quickly to really keep up.  The best moments are where the quick exposition stops and the characters are allowed to explore their feelings.  This is most notable when Asakeem’s picture is first shown in Ops.  Kensi is shocked to see his image, threatening her repressed emotions.  It was curious that Kensi and Deeks were both surprised to hear he was in LA, particularly as they knew of Callen and Anna’s mission.  Then, Kensi was keen to move on and it was Deeks’ whose temper threatened to overflow should he meet Asakeem again.  Now the feelings are reversed and maybe the thought of being in such close proximity causes Kensi’s anger to surface.  All Deeks can do it try to support Kensi and in typical fashion first distracts her with humour. 

Asakeem’s presence puts a damper on their earlier opening scene when Deeks’ mum Roberta and her trainer/lover Guy join them for breakfast at a diner.  The question arises about their wedding date, which hasn't been thought about, leading Roberta to share the advice that you don't have to be married to have children.  This scene provides more insight in to all characters, particular that Deeks was born out of wedlock, and he clearly inherited his wise-cracking genes from his mother.  Although Kensi seized the moment and proposed to Deeks, there is clearly no shotgun wedding being considered.  Guy is given more of a voice yet Deeks clearly can't accept that his mum has a boyfriend.  Is this him being overprotective?  Currently he comes across as being a little on the rude side.  But given his mother's nature (remember her scenes with the nurses when Kensi is in a coma), maybe it's just the way they are. Kensi may work through her emotions about Asakeem with Deeks but the progression of their engagement through to marriage is not mentioned again.

The greatest character insight is again with Sam.  It's a credit to showrunner Scott Gemmill that his grief is still recognised.  Grief can ebb and flow and on occasions such as wedding anniversaries, become totally overwhelming.  Sam called in sick which worries the team and viewers alike.  Callen realises why and drags Sam from his hungover state, forcing him to work.  The sadness around Sam is countered by Callen relishing in his partner's delicate state and somewhat taking advantage with banter throughout.  Callen's tough love was interesting; punching Sam's stomach to make him chunder.  How did he think of that solution?  It also seems Sam (the Navy SEAL) has a pet seal named Otis - a beer drinker!  Despite the humour Callen has to find in Sam's darkness, there are touching moments where Sam reveals how raw his grief still is.  All Callen can do is offer his support and friendship.

There is more tough love, this time for Nell as her overbearing older sister Sydney assists them on the case in Ops.  This was a rather unnecessary ploy as her intelligence could have been disseminated to the team at the boatshed, which is what usually happens.  Sydney does enable Nell's character to have more context, explaining why the confident Nell in Ops doesn't always translate to a confident Nell in the field.  But Nell came good, facing off against escaping bad guys, witnessed by Sydney and the respect is earned.  

Likewise, there is finally a glimpse of a backstory for Assistant Director Shay Mosley,  which begins to explain why she is tough and closed off.  This immediately makes her more interesting, dynamic and mysterious as the field agents witness her connect to Enrique.  It is Sam who later realises, asking Mosley if she has children.  She has an eight year old, Derek who lives with his father but she doesn't know where.  Did he take him away from her?  Did she chose to abandon them?  Or have they been whisked away and given new identities to protect them from danger?  Answers aren't usually forthcoming until further down the track and Mosley's history has yet to be touched.

Mosley responds to Callen's statement that Enrique us not speaking by saying "Well would you, after what he's been through?" Enrique saw his mother and the other immigrants killed and Callen aged four, saw his mother murdered. She either hasn’t read his file (which isn't how Mosley works), or Hetty hasn't added this to his records or Mosley is coldly proving a point - the camera does linger on Callen after the comment is passed...On the plus side, she seems to be more receptive to Callen and Sam's extravagant and sometimes hair-brained schemes.  It was a nice reminder that NCIS pays for the team to shoot up prisoner transport vehicles, has to acquire white Rolls Royce's and find $1,000,000 to tease the bad guys in to making their play.

Hetty's story gets significant progression albeit in two small bite sized chunks. She's been held in a barrel, remains stoic and is adamant she has left enough breadcrumbs for her team to find her.  And she knows this because she trained them. Unfortunately her team are taking their own sweet time, with no sense of urgency.  That  may  begin  to change now as both Chegwidden and Callen decide independently to break in to Hetty's remaining property at the same time.  Both are becoming more worried but neither have any more ideas than the other about what Hetty is doing.  
Back to the case and once again, Sam gets to play dress up with the bad guys which later causes Callen and Hidoko to distract and remove Aimon Shah, a money launderer Sam and Sabatino had a violent encounter with when searching for Tahir Kaled in S8 finale Unleashed.  In a change to the norm, Callen turns him into their inside man and releases Shah back on the street.  Later, the undercover ploy with Asakeem results in the expected gun fight and the unexpected post action scene of Asakeem praying, causing Kensi more conflict and angst.

It is not clear why the bad guys wanted kill Asakeem and in keeping with other episodes of this season, it is a new loose end which may be revisited later.   For the 200th episode, there was a bit of everything for everyone which is great in theory but in practice felt a touch disjointed with the various character exploration, and particularly with such a fast paced plot.  Sometimes less is more.  Nevertheless, this was a roller coaster of emotions with some excellent moments.  And move over Monty, Otis the Seal is now in town!

What did you think of this episode?  Leave a comment on your thoughts...

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