NCIS: Los Angeles S10E05 Review

Pro Se is an episode that has a lot of potential, lives up to some of it and fails in other areas.  Before it even aired there was a sense of confusion as the CBS press release stated NCIS informant Elizabeth Williams was arrested, with the team unable to supply her with an alibi.  In fact it was Tiffany (daughter of Elizabeth) Williams, the former prostitute Deeks saved from being killed by his corrupt former LAPD partner. The promo also promoted Callen’s undercover role as Tiffany’s lawyer and a TV guide article focused on Deeks feeding Callen the lines, with LAPD Internal Affairs detective Whiting pressing Deeks to do right by Tiffany. So in a way it is rather apt that such misleading press releases, articles and promo should pre-empt a rather confusing episode.

On the plus side, there was a lot for Deeks fans to be excited about. Deeks is quite often relegated to the role of comic relief or as “Densi”, rather than being treated as an individual in his own right. Some of his character development has involved his reactions to situations in which Kensi has been placed (White Ghost, Jack’s return, Kensi’s coma/paralysis/recovery, last season’s episode The Silo and of course ‘the argument’ in the finale). Deeks-centric episodes are less frequent and in recent seasons have focused on the internal affairs investigation and Whiting’s subsequent hold over him. His past with LAPD may now have been explored but it is very surprising that it has taken the show almost nine years to utilise Deeks’ qualifications as lawyer (ignoring the time he got Eric Beale released from jail). He directly displays his skills with Tiffany’s original and rather incompetent defence lawyer, and again when he instructs Assistant District Attorney Lopez to drop the charges.    

Deeks brings a laid back and relaxed attitude to the show, contrasting with the focused, self-controlled, tightly-wound intensity that personifies the NCIS field agents for OSP. This episode allows Deeks to demonstrate his intelligence in an area where the agents are incapable. A different type of serious Deeks and Callen played well off him, as the lawyer with Deeks feeding lines in to his ear, scenes which deserved more screen time. Their target was a no-nonsense judge - a delightfully drawn and acted character. Callen revels in his role as lawyer, pausing slightly to hear Deeks’ words and repeating them to the court. It did allow for an element of comic relief which was over way too quickly when Deeks’ flamboyant rhetoric is ignored by Callen, who skips to the more appropriate legalese finish.  This could have been expanded further without detriment to the overall narrative or flow of the episode.

Callen:       I have eyewitness accounts, security camera footage as well as credit card receipts that prove that my client on the night and the hour of the alleged solicitation was, in fact, having dinner with friends in North Hollywood. So I ask, is it likely that Tiffany Williams was in violation of her bail?
Deeks:     Unless she discovered the fifth dimension in the space-time continuum, I would argue not.
Callen:       I'd argue not.
Judge:       All right, then.  [to ADA Lopez] Looks like you've got yourself a fair fight.
Deeks:      Boom! Good work, Callen. Atta-boy.

The reappearance of both Tiffany and Whiting bring angst for Deeks. He has almost a hate / grudging respect relationship with Whiting, who immediately gets under his skin. She can never see the larger picture, is always focused on her IA role and forces Deeks to think intelligently and quickly, to question himself and others. It is not too often that any of the team make mistakes and here, Deeks admits he made a mistake in asking Tiffany to go undercover as a prostitute and cosy up to her former client, Phillip Robbins, and be NCIS’s eyes and ears. The team made a mistake with this scenario but only Deeks makes reference that it was his error of judgement. If Tiffany was undercover for six months as a prostitute with her old client - how did she maintain her cover? There are certainly moral and ethical questions which are very valid but not even mentioned. Neither is there any explanation as to why Tiffany became a teenage hooker. Her mother is clearly very middle class and comfortable. Deeks at one point says there’s no family love, yet Tiffany and her mother seem close. Deeks’ pang of consciousness and internal angst is triggered by Whiting and leads to a scene where he sits with Kensi on the beach where he is open and honest. The pair again have a touching conversation on a bench outside the courthouse at the end. Deeks admits he’s enjoyed being a lawyer again and not being shot at (of course he was, as pointed out by Kensi), and as per recent history, this is the first glimpse this season of a Deeks who is still not one hundred percent happy with his career. Maybe this is a very subtle reminder that although they’re back on track as a couple, they haven’t address the root cause of the season finale argument?

Deeks:      You know, you do this job long enough, you forget there’s a reason NCIS has a psychologist on staff.

Bad guy Robbins steals navy software and is planning a heist in LA with corrupt ex-LAPD officers.  Unfortunately this element of the case is just not interesting.  There is a cut to Sam, Kensi, Nell and Eric in the weapons room, prepping heavy duty weapons and developing plans to infiltrate an extremely secure company - all to steal the technology before Robbins does.  Sam’s plan is unusually hair brained and dangerous (for Kensi). The scene made little sense and was out of character for Sam. Perhaps there was a cut scene?  Robbins is not developed as a character which means there is little to engage the audience. The only time he interacts with any other character is when Callen stands in front of him and blocks him at the courthouse entrance. He does not come across as evil, menacing or threatening. Next time he’s seen, Callen has him in handcuffs, presumably without a struggle. This is inconsistent with Tiffany’s depiction of Robbins, who had badly beaten her friend and left them both scared for their lives.    

Apart from some inconsistencies and frustrations, the main element of confusion surrounds the post credit scene with Callen and Anna.  Anna was last seen advising Callen to tell the truth about the Sokolov shooting and kissing him goodbye. This was after Callen had kept his distance from her both before and after the shooting. Now Callen has called to meet Anna, who is acting rather erratically. Maybe it’s worry and fear about her future? She accuses Callen of saying whatever makes him sleep better at night, believing his statement caused her suspension and will lead to an arraignment. Maybe the team NCIS are too used to playing fast and loose as Callen scorns Anna, saying no one thinks it will get that far. The most interesting aspect of their argument is when Anna questioned what Callen would have done if it has been his father kidnapped by a deranged man like Sokolov. Could this be foreshadowing a confrontation between Callen and his father’s enemy, Pavel Vokoff? Remember Callen was prepared to exchange Kirkin for his father, knowing that Kirkin would be killed. The episode's closing scene shows Anna in handcuffs, being led past Callen and Sam to the courthouse and throwing her ex a look of contempt.

The lack of senior leadership means it’s a case of ‘while the cat’s away...’ and with Callen in charge, the team walk a rather dubious line between legal and illegal methods and his ‘legal adjacent’ plan is questioned, particularly by Kensi.  She is the voice of reason, challenging the wiseness of such an operation in light of the subpoenas the DOJ has issued. Callen argues Hetty would bless the op and that Mosley is loyal. Maybe he thinks that because Mosley crossed the line and took the team with her, she’ll back them when they need her support? It doesn’t quite make sense that someone who struggles to trust others, particularly those in authority, suddenly has blind faith and uncharacteristic trust in Mosley. 

It is a relief there were no over the top characters, which is a common trait in episode penned by Jordanna Lewis Jaffa. Instead there were under developed characters and established ones that weren’t quite true to form in places (Anna, Callen, Sam). There is some notable repetitive dialogue about magical fairy dust and fairy tales, starting with Anna’s talk with Callen and later, Whiting tells Deeks to stop believing in fairy tales. Deeks takes that reality check and repeats that to Kensi. There are also two separate instances when the judge and later Whiting complain about events interrupting their lunch breaks.  Nell and Eric were mainly used this week to provide exposition as the case progressed, and it was a nice touch when Nell channelled Hetty, correcting Callen by saying it was his alias who was officially a member of the California Bar, not him. The lack of leadership again means more screen time for the main cast and even with the partner swaps and a focus on Deeks, this felt more like a team episode which could have been developed further. It was a case that remains unsolved as the team failed to recover the stolen software but this merely seems like a side note as again, it was the human aspect of the episode which was more important and most interesting.

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