NCIS: Los Angeles Season Finale Review

From the moment details of the season nine finale were released, there was a lot of fan-hype which increased as the promo and then sneak peeks became available, alongside a worrying quote from show runner Scott Gemmill.  Sam will be shot, Kensi and Deeks seem to be splitting up and Callen will keep his pledge to find Mosley’s son - even if it kills him. Intense season finales are not new to NCIS: Los Angeles.  The end of season four left Sam and Deeks being tortured by Sidorov and of course last season featured the murder of Sam’s wife and the immediate aftermath.  Interestingly most of those episodes were penned by the master of intensity himself, Frank Military.  The first part/episode of this two hour finale is again written and directed by Military, the second part by show runner Scott Gemmill and directed by Executive Producer John Peter Kousakis.  And that means we are once again in for a rough ride.

The latter part of the season has dropped numerous hints that the finale would feature the search for Mosley’s son Derrick.  She’s reluctantly confided in Callen which led to a reduction in the tension between them and has actually caused Mosley to soften somewhat.  She has sought advice from Hetty and begun to trust the team.  Unfortunately this progression becomes unravelled very quickly when a suspect the team has arrested reveals the contact for his arms dealer is Spencer Williams, Mosley’s ex.

The pre-opening credits begin with the team in the middle of a gun fight. Callen is suited so was presumably undercover, the rest in tactical gear.  They are under heavy fire, out gunned and pinned down. Kensi and Callen cover Sam and then Deeks who enters another area of the building.  Individually, Sam and Deeks gradually press forward as the bad guys slowly retreat.  The choreography of the scene sets the tone for the rest of the episode.  The gunfire is relentless with the pressure building.  There is an intensity and seriousness not usually seen (complete with a glimpse of a disembowelled body - yes, you can tell Frank Military wrote this one).   This time the team do not miraculously leave the scene unscathed as Sam is shot in the upper thigh; an omen of what is to come.  Even after this mini-movie of an opening sequence there is a brief interrogation scene during which Spencer Williams’ name is revealed and repeated again, with Mosley observing.  And roll the opening credits.

The season finale bravely follows a path not previously taken. The team dynamics change as they are placed in situations outside their comfort zone. There is insubordination, challenges, stubbornness, arguments and hard conversations. The catalyst for this is Mosley.  The moment she gets a lead on Spencer Williams and by association Derrick, Mosley is purely focused on retrieving him - whatever the cost.  From this moment, it only takes her ten minutes of screen time to beat the suspect, order ops to illegally wiretap a phone (threatening to fire Eric), question the integrity of Callen’s character and fire Deeks. She is blatantly out of control and has already made them complicit in her illegal activities. She is prepared to take the team down with her if it means finding her son.  It’s like a switch has been flipped.  Mosley has changed from a calculating control freak who lives by the book, to an unhinged, desperate woman who is using her power and position for, as Callen rightly said, a custody battle. 

Mosley’s behaviour pushes the characters to react in ways not usually seen.  Callen rarely lays down the law, yet he orders Kensi and Deeks to tail Mosley whilst not revealing reasons why, later asking them to hold the beaten suspect until the bruises heal.  Their reactions reveal the differences in the team members.  They both try to challenge the latter order however when Callen refuses to give reasons why, Kensi relents and states she trusts him. Deeks on the other hand needs to know the reasons and presses the point.  It is usually Callen and Deeks who challenge orders and neither have a military background unlike Sam or Kensi (meaning they are more likely to follow orders regardless).  If Mosley had not been present, Deeks would most likely have lost his temper with Callen.  Deeks has already voiced his displeasure of Mosley’s beating the suspect and every subsequent action now snowballs until he reaches breaking point and loses his temper, the trigger being Mosley questioning Callen’s character.  When he challenges her motives and methods, she fires him.   

Deeks is on such a roll that he cannot be stopped.  Sam tries to warn him and Kensi tries to dissolve the situation but is too late.  It could be their level of discipline as agents, or a realisation that Deeks has been tipped over the edge that prevents them from intervening. Deeks gives an emotional response whereas the agents are all relatively composed.  This is a pattern which has emerged over the seasons.  Deeks tends to respond to certain situations with anger and violence.  Mosley has beaten a suspect to find out where Spencer Williams is.  Deeks water boarded a cleric to find out where Kensi was being held.  Deeks also killed his bent LAPD partner for trying to kill a young prostitute.  But Deeks does not incriminate anyone else.  He also struggles with his conscience - although he has admitted he would do the same again.  His reaction to Mosley’s beating of the suspect could be construed as either double standards or more likely disgust at self-recognition of his own actions.  Something similar could be said of Callen, who may not have demonstrated the same penchant for violence as Deeks but has demonstrated a ruthless streak where his family are concerned.  Callen goes rogue to protect others and he distances himself from his team.  Whether he wants to or not, the team always has his back.  In subsequent scenes Callen repeatedly questions the legality of Mosley’s actions and consequences for the team.  Mosley clearly feels she needs Callen more than Deeks.  The atmosphere created feeds in to other scenes.  Sam has discharged himself from hospital and he and Callen exchange heated words about the Sam's ability to go tactical.    

Deeks seems to be in a state of denial about his sacking and when he is escorted from the building, he is not in a good place mentally.  He has already suggested to Kensi that this could be their last case before they leave NICS and the conversation continues in the car park when she realises he is serious.   They are both caught in the heat of the moment and Deeks’ emotional state of mind.  Passion, anger and spur of the moment ultimatums combine to place a spot light on his relationship with Kensi.  For a while, Deeks has been questioning the validity of their jobs compared to the future they could have together.  They had an in depth conversation during the season 8 premiere when Kensi said being an agent is who she is and she doesn’t know when she’d be ready to give it up.  Earlier this season in Assets, Deeks spoke to Kensi about quitting to start a family, at which point he said he would never ask her to give up her job (although that seemed to be where the conversation was leading).  This was picked up again in The Silo, when Kensi risked her life to prevent the launch of nuclear weapons from US soil.  Then, their closing roof top talk hinted it would only be a matter of time before another scenario occurred and their relationship would hit a critical point.  And that point is now.  For all their happy talk of weddings, love and having each other, the deeper topics of career and lifestyle choices have been left hanging and now lead to Deeks’ saying he doesn’t think they should be getting married. 

This of course creates an atmosphere between them during their later scenes and there are several noticeable instances.  Deeks suggests he lures Derrick out with a horse riding lesson which is the best of the bad ideas.  Callen agrees but wants Kensi to go in as the instructor - a female being less threatening and her Spanish is convincing.  Deeks’ facial expression says he’s just sent Kensi to her death.  Later, when Kensi is held captive by Williams, Deeks loses control of his emotions and when Callen doesn’t respond with a plan, he attempts to rush in, eventually heeding Callen’s order to stop. Lastly, the pair see Mosley and Derrick safely board the helicopter and Deeks tells Kensi to take the last place, he’ll return for Callen and Sam.  Gallant though such an action was, Kensi naturally refuses stating they stay together.  She is just as capable as the men and with half the team in trouble, why would she get on the helicopter?

Once again Hetty has some key scenes with Mosley.  They have several one on one conversations where Hetty tries to help her, making her understand she has powerful assets (the team) at her disposal and needs their support to retrieve her son.   Mosley’s actions have made the case personal to them both and Hetty counters Mosley’s statement that she would do anything to get her son back, by revealing her own reasons for trying to keep Callen out of Mosley’s unhinged plans; that he’s as close to a son as she’s ever had.  Hetty also has the most amusing line...

Mosley:      When were you gonna tell me that Deeks was in Mexico with the others?
Hetty:         He is?
Mosley:      Yes.
Hetty:         He's such a rascal.

The second part of the finale does not have the same intensity as the first half, mostly as Mosley has been removed from the equation.  The team have flown to Mexico,  and in LA Mosley has not shown for work, having made her own way across the border and so risks blowing the whole mission.  Mexico is not without its own problems.  Hidoko has also disappeared there under her own steam.  The team find only a pile of ashes where her GPS signal last pinged.  Hetty’s contact Arlo Turk proves to be of little help, decking Callen for his persistence after finding a tracking device on his vehicle although he did save Sam and Callen from an encounter with William’s armed patrol and later came through indirectly, delivering two horses and a trailer to the team.  In keeping with the ‘out of the norm’ aspects, Kensi has a number of the scenes speaking Spanish and Callen’s way to rescue Kensi and access the compound is to cut his forehead, strip down to his t-shirt and boxers and fake being shot in the head. 

Along with the originality, unfortunately there are also a number of clichés which include Callen’s quad bike not starting when they have to make a quick escape and Sam and Callen emerging through the smoke riding horses and wearing gas masks.  In the first half, after a chase scene where Sam is of little use, Callen assumes Sam is now going with him to Mexico, having spent many previous scenes arguing that Sam is not fit to go - the logic behind Callen's change of mind is not explained.  There is also a question mark over how Mosley suddenly appears on the ex-fil helicopter.  How did she know of their extraction plan when she has not been in contact with the team?  Why did Callen agree to Deeks’ riding lesson idea as the guards were bound to double check if it was real?  The biggest question though is how the team will escape after their SUV was hit head on with a rocket launcher. The engine exploded, the vehicle overturned and caught fire - and none of the team were wearing seat belts.  Then there’s Hidoko, who it’s suggested had her tongue cut out and was burnt alive.  She has become part of the team over the season, featuring in most episodes and so the blink and you miss it screen time was noticeable.  Her taking off on her own to Mexico also seemed out of character and can only be interpreted as an act of loyalty to Mosley. 

There are several distinct styles in the finale; as previously mentioned the opening gunfight sequence felt like a movie, and the rescue of Derrick in Mexico had very much a western feel. Two elements of Frank Military’s direction stood out. Firstly the handheld camera during Callen’s chase scene was very jarring, with the effect of seasickness (that may just be personal to me)!  It is not the established look of the show which is why it was noticeable, however it does lend a sense of urgency to the chase in an almost documentary style, coupled by the lack of background music.  Usually such scenes have an abundance of energetic music (sometimes overwhelming) yet this shows that less can definitely be more. The other standout scene is the very low key and subtle background music when team are driving to plane; Kensi in the passenger seat suppressing tears. The skies are grey and the team (at this point without Deeks) is muted and subdued, about to embark on a mission they know is half baked and not their battle.  When Deeks does join them on the plane, the atmosphere could be sliced with a knife.  This follows from another key scene with Hetty and Mosley where the former threatens to ground the plane due to Mosley’s actions.  This time Mosley counters, stating she’s studied the history of the team and knows where the bodies are buried, threatening to call the FBI which would lead to arrests and prison time for some team members.  It has long been referenced that the team operate outside the usual conventions of their agency (initially by Granger, then the DOJ investigation of Hetty and Duggan’s desire to shut down OSP during the mole debacle).  Remember Mosley has stated her official mission is to dissolve the team...

The season finale (with the clichés and questions avoided), was an excellent mixture of action, drama and tension, particularly built up from the opening seconds of the first part.  Characters are placed in situations not previously seen which allows the dynamics to change, yet there is enough consistency for their reactions to be believable, possibly with the exception of Hidoko’s extremely brief appearance and subsequent action.  This is definitely a finale to remember and it will be intriguing to see how this is managed in the season ten premiere.

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