NCIS: Los Angeles Season 9 Episode 14 Review

Part one of the two episodes to rescue Hetty aired eight weeks ago and ended with the team leaving the mission for a flight to Vietnam, while Hetty was biting the ear off one of her captors.  The first part was incredibly intense as the team scrambled to uncover and decipher clues to Hetty’s whereabouts, intercut with Hetty's increasingly precarious predicament.  Mosley was fearful of a mutiny and Callen lucky not to be disciplined for insubordination. 

The tension that was so cleverly built has faded away in Goodbye Vietnam.  The field agents are now in the same vicinity as Hetty’s last known location and the sense of urgency has disappeared.  This is partly explained when Deeks reminds the team they’re in an authoritarian police state and underlined by Callen confirming that if caught, NCIS would be forced to disown them and they’d probably never be seen again. The caution means they operate in a low key fashion and most of the episode is spent investigating the limited leads in tandem with the team back in LA.  The agents remain below the radar, reflected by the lack of any huge action sequences.  Additionally, the tension between Callen and Mosley has been removed by the distance between them and allows the team to do what they do best. 

This pace is mirrored by the scenes in LA which are possibly given more air time than the actual investigation on the ground.  A large amount of time is spent talking about issues that are not pertinent to the case, mainly trigger by the return of Nell’s sister Sydney.  Nell and Eric already have additional help in the form of Harley Hidoko who has proven to be more than a capable asset in both ops and in the field, yet Mosley calls in Sydney to further assist.  She does very little for forward the case, instead her presence allows the pair to once again discuss their childhood and Nell’s hang-ups (covered earlier this season in ‘This Is What We Do’).  These scenes are pedestrian and do not even serve the purpose of softening the tension in Vietnam - as there is none.  In an episode  about rescuing Hetty it seems a waste of precious screen time.  The only possible point is to demonstrate that sometimes important personal conversations take place at the most inappropriate of times.  A point that Kensi and Deeks have perfected.  Even with the unrushed narrative pace, there are unnecessary pauses such as when Hodoko enters Mosley’s office to provide her with a ‘sit-rep’, allowing the events so far to be recapped. 

Another character that serves to undermine the severity of Hetty’s predicament is the re-introduction of Rio, the daft prisoner DiNozzo lost in LA during season seven’s comedic cross-over with NCIS (Blame it on Rio).  He appears at a Buddhist retreat and is confirmed as an undercover CIA operative and as borderline insane!  In addition to the return of Rio and Sydney, Hetty’s former team of Chegwidden, Bridges and Langston are also present.  These three have interacted well with Callen, Deeks, Sam and Kensi in previous episodes, playing off each other with banter that lightens scenes, and that continues in this episode.  Unfortunately due to the screen time devoted to Sydney and Rio, the veterans are underused and their presence is almost irrelevant as the agents could have successfully executed the mission without them.  There are some glaring inconsistencies which add to the frustration of what should have been an excellent episode.  For example when Nell asks Sydney if Harley (Hidoko) called her in.  Sydney replies with a ‘who?’, yet moments later she tells Nell that Harley got her up to speed.  Elsewhere, it is pouring with rain in Vietnam when the latest villain arrives, however shots from Hetty looking up at her new buyer show clear blue skies.  There is also a question as to why Callen asks for fly-over/drone support from Subic Bay which closed in the early 1990s. 

Despite the frustrations, there are enjoyable aspects to Goodbye Vietnam.  Eric stands up to Sydney on Nell’s behalf and Nell doesn’t chastise him.  In fact it empowers Nell to do the same.  It also allows her to change gears and crank up the pressure on Mosley, who on one hand wants to bring Hetty back any way she can, yet she’s dragging her heals with Eric’s request for satellite images.  Nell lays it on the line, openly stating that Mosley’s head will roll if the mission fails so she needs to fully support the team to ensure their success. Nell even dials SECNAV for her.  Throughout the episode Mosley struggles between doing what is right and maintaining order, manifesting itself by her enforcement of protocol and etiquette, like making Nell exit and then knock before entering.  Hidoko has a fairly quiet episode and shows an unlikely vulnerability when finding weird voodoo artefacts in one of Hetty’s boxes.  Her sudden desire to wash her hands in holy water is amusing, playing against her tough exterior.

The clues found via ops allow the team to progress in Vietnam.  Callen, Kensi and Deeks fail to pick the lock of a hotel room and caution flies out the window when Sam loses patience and kicks the door open.   The eventual rescue is suitably stealthy, with the extended team using the cover of night, the jungle and the loud music played by a drunk Dang to neutralise the enemy.  They work seamlessly, quietly and quickly.  The only shock element is witnessing the torture of Hetty.  Previous torture has either been psychological, suggestive or off-screen.  Here Hetty is seen tied up and beaten.  In typical Hetty style, she comments ‘it’s about bloody time’ when rescued. 

The revelatory scenes follow shortly after.  With the mad Dang imprisoned in Hetty's former cell, Callen offers Hetty his gun, sanctioning Dang's murder.  Hetty's refusal instead sees her sadistically release the captured tiger to rip Dang apart and send him to hell. Most touching though is the rare display of contact between her and Callen.  Once untied, she leans heavily against Callen who puts his arms around her in support.  Finally when the team are on a helicopter flying back to safety and home, Hetty once again leans against him and closes her eyes.  Callen and Hetty have always maintained a distance, never showing affection through physical contact until now.

Overall this was an episode that promised so much, riding on the coat tails of part one which exuded tension, drama, conflict and a sense of urgency.  Very little of this has continued to the conclusion which is surprising and disappointing as both are penned by showrunner Scott Gemmill.  But regardless of the route taken, Hetty has been saved and is returning to LA, presumably to her rightful home at the NCIS, Office of Special Projects.  Unless Mosley has other ideas..?

Like it, loathe it or indifferent?  Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on the episode.

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