NCIS: Los Angeles Season 9 Episode 11 Review

All Is Bright is the second seasonal offering from writer Chad Mazero who also penned last year’s Tidings We Bring.  Last season’s episode focused on Christmas traditions, old and new.  This year the focus is on loss, second chances and family, even though there is a notable absence of the latter.  There is no mention at all of Callen’s newly found family. This should be the second Christmas he is spending with his father and the first with his half-sister and nephew.  Likewise Kensi and Deeks’ mothers have been swept aside without a trace.  The mothers were an important element last Christmas so it’s odd there was not even a passing comment about them.  Instead of Sam panicking about presents this year Kensi and Deeks argue over gifts, with Kensi stating they should be frugal to save for their wedding.   If they need to save the chances are there won’t be a wedding this season but it’s progress for this to be mentioned.  In the season of goodwill a compromise was reached although it did not detract from them working seamlessly together, which is great to see. 

It feels like a prime opportunity to glimpse into Callen’s new personal life has been overlooked, particularly with Sam’s loss of family.   Instead it is Nell who brings the team together, persuading Hidoko that with recent heartbreaks and the absence of Hetty and Granger, the family that is the team needs to feel the normality and warmth of Christmas, complete with tree, lights and decorations.  In a great nod to Hetty, Nell recounts to Mosley how she didn’t like a box of specific decorations as they reminded her of when she lost hope...Bob Hope.  Such rich and humorous anecdotes are sorely missed.  Only a few episodes ago Callen broke into her house searching for clues as to her whereabouts and now nothing.  In the end it is Mosley who brings the team together, helping Nell to decorate the mission and lighting up their lives with seasonal joy and eggnog.

Mixed in with family is the bitter pain of loss which Sam is still feeling intensely.  In a rare occurrence he is paired with Eric when they visit Westside Electric after a power blackout affects a large area of L.A.  Eric’s offer of advice is initially scorned and later, Sam explains to Callen why he wants to spend Christmas with his children and with him. Sam is becoming rather insular, keeping family close which means shutting Callen out.  Sam means no ill will although his words could be interpreted as a little harsh.  The team are each other’s family however there’s very much a separateness about them.  Even Hidoko has spent recent Christmas’s with her military family.  The human side of Mosley gets another airing at the end, when in her office she looks longingly at a photo of her and her son.

Well, we don't always get to spend the holidays with our real families. Sometimes we spend them with this family.  And this family has been through a lot lately.  Now, I know the holidays aren't gonna be the same without Hetty and Granger here, and that is exactly why we need to remind them how special it was when they were.  And we need that tree, Hidoko.  I need that tree.

The theme of second chances plays out alongside the case and with a subplot involving Callen.  The power outage was an elaborate plan by Alicia Fuentes to allow her brother, former cartel leader Jose escape prison and spend time with his five year old son.  At the same age Jose witnessed his father’s arrest and both Deeks and Callen work with the son and father respectively to allow them time before discretely re-arresting Jose.  The subplot follows Callen’s pursuit of Finn, the teenager who stole the identity of Callen’s alias Dexter Hughes.  Finn has sublet the apartment and driving a van with hidden electrical goods.  Callen is clearly annoyed and is consistently advised to give Finn a chance.  Listening to others Callen refrains from an angry confrontation although he has still jumped to conclusions, same as Finn, thinking Callen was checking up on him.  Callen wanted to invite Finn to Christmas, Finn was using the rent money to buy gifts for the children in the shelter.  Finn cheekily tells Callen not to punch any hole in the walls of the shelter, a lovely reference to how they originally connected.  Finn has seized the second chance Callen gave him and Callen seems surprised.  He too was given a second chance by Hetty and it’s a fair bet he still mucked up - maybe this shows Finn is a better man than Callen? 

Interspersed with the serious was the over the top comedy, particularly with Eric, Deeks and Kensi.  Eric was ridiculous in saying he lost his NCIS badge in a chase that never happened (as a Tech Operator does he actually have a badge)?  The actual foot chase scene that climaxed with Deeks catching the baby Jesus from a garden nativity scene was so twee as to not be funny and the fur hats on their motorcycle helmets were just weird (didn’t Hetty ban Deeks from owning a bike in S5)?  The mother of the man who caused the blackout was cringe-worthy as was Kensi’s admittance in the boatshed that she had stolen a lamb from the earlier nativity scene.  There were a few genuinely funny moments when Kensi told Deeks he looked like the Elf that had fallen off the shelf (for parents of young children).  When they were looking at the bearded dragons and Deeks said they have matching beards, just like them was a laugh out loud moment.  Comedy is of course very subjective and this time the humour was too much.  This seems to be an increasing trend over recent seasons, possibly linked to the departure of Aussie showrunner Shane Brennan (Australians have a different sense of humour to Americans).  There was also the unbelievable, with traffic gridlocked and the team making comments on this, yet Callen still managed trips across town looking for Finn and back to the office.  He was lucky Mosley didn’t realise he was using work time and resources (via Nell) to search for his identity hacker.

Overall this was a disappointing episode.  Sure there was some Christmas spirit, great

Kensi and Deeks interactions and Hidoko had an excellent episode with lines that cut up the banter / bickering between partners.  Even Mosley with all her posturing was relatable. Despite the overriding themes of family, the closing bullpen scene was quite poignant.  There was no toasting to absent friends, Sam gently pushed Callen away while he cares for his children and Callen walks away from his work family, before turning back to observe them together.  Even the closing scene with Finn fell a little flat.  Finn reminded Callen that he was also one of those kids over looked every year at Christmas.  This season it seems that once again Callen is being over looked.  Let’s hope the New Year brings some NCISLA joy and the successful rescue of Hetty.

What did you think of this episode?  

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

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