NCIS: Los Angeles S10E08 Review

Written by the master of darkness Frank Military, this week’s episode revisits the secret right wing extremist faction within the military, whose end game is to violently rid the world of Muslims.  This group is known as the Patton Project and was introduced last season in The Silo. This week, the team is farmed out to contact Tobin Shaked (the ex-Mossad agent - the team saved him and his daughter’s life in Home Is Where The Heart Is, S8).  Their mission is to stake out Venice Beach for any one of over one hundred potential senior members of the Patton Project.  Undertaking their own investigations into Shaked and which Government agency he is working for, the wonder twins discover he was part of an elite group responsible for wet work in the Middle East.  The agents then have to decide if and how they will assist in an operation in which they could become complicit to assassinations on US soil, sanctioned by their own Government.

Instead of delivering a darkly intense and dramatic episode centring around the emotional complexity of one of the field agents, Military thwarts expectations.  The darkness is something discussed by the team who demonstrate they have moral standards, discussing them with emotion and also objectively. This allows them to arrive at intelligent solutions, enabling them to circumvent the dubious actions they’re possibly expected to perform.  This follows on nicely from last week, where vigilantism is a core theme, a topic which has its own moral debates.  Due to the nature of the storyline, there is not an emphasis on action or on keeping the viewer on the edge of the seat. There is ongoing drama which centres mostly on how the team try to stay true to their oath as law enforcers.  This allows for active debates at various points, ranging from outright refusals, challenges to authority and consideration of whether they could actually be doing the right thing to safeguard the innocent.

As in part one of the season finale (also penned by Military), Deeks takes the moral high road and becomes the voice of conscience.  This time there is no abrasive authority figure who has broken the law and Deeks’ impassioned words challenge the rest of the team.  In this scene in Ops, it is once again very apparent that Deeks is LAPD and not an agent.  Recurring character Arlo Turk has been summoned to join them on the case and as he says, if the team backs away, they’ll just find someone else.  A practical standpoint.  Kensi is the one who considers whether the right thing is for them to assist in the mission.  She was on-site in The Silo to prevent the launch of a number of nuclear missiles.  That episode also prompted an even more emotional reaction from Deeks as Kensi voluntarily placed her life on the line for the sake of the mission.  Harking back to The Silo, Kensi and Deeks had a very serious conversation on the rooftop, when Deeks admitted that he cannot lose Kensi like Sam lost Michelle.  It would have been a suitable episode for Kensi and Deeks to have that serious conversation about their future - post wedding.  That conversation seems to have been swept under the carpet as they are clearly focusing on the now and their immediate future with their continuing wedding talk.

There are also missed opportunities to really thrash out and explore how far over the line the team might go.  Mexico is somewhat tame in comparison to other examples. Kensi was sent to Afghanistan as a sniper to assassinate the White Ghost, leading to Deeks water boarding the cleric after Kensi went missing. Callen is former CIA and even if covert and black ops were not part of his remit, he would have been aware of such activities. And with Sam, Navy SEALS run special ops, and possibly some black ones. On a personal level, Callen's rogue activities are essentially black ops, most recently attempting to kidnap Kirkin and swap him for his father, knowing Kirkin would be tortured to death. He followed Hetty to Romania (S2/3) and after experiencing traumatic childhood flashbacks, impassively ordered the team to ‘kill them all’ (the Comescus). Sam too is not above reproach, tying up Tahir Kaled on his farmstead and threatening torture after they found his family under surveillance and Jada missing (S7).

The beauty of this episode is it lays down the fact the team are more than capable of running black operations. The Wikipedia definition quite accurately sums up many of the team’s missions.  A black op is a covert operation by a government agency that is secret and not attributable to the organisation carrying it out. The main difference between a black and secret op is the significant level of deception and concealing who is conducting it. At several points the team state they draw the line at torture and assassinations - or operations that make them complicit.  Ochoa and Turk both openly acknowledge the team does indeed have an aptitude for operations that go outside the lines.  And they do.  They just do not torture or assassinate people. 

Deputy Director Ochoa has so far been portrayed as a bureaucrat from Washington who is human with a sense of humour.  Now in no uncertain terms, he confirms to Callen and Sam that he sold the team to the devil (black ops) to save them from the legal and professional ramifications of Mexico.  His actions may have saved the team but he and other alphabet agencies will now potentially use the team’s reputation and abilities for more nefarious missions. However the OSP team prove that assassination is not the answer.  By running their own covert op, they arrest the suspect which eventually leads them to preventing a suicide bombing on a domestic flight that would have been blamed on Muslim extremists.  Maybe that was Ochoa’s play. He realises the team know how to walk the moral tightrope and where possible they will not cross the line but do actively operate in the darker shade of grey. 

The return of NCIS Special Agent Arlo Turk adds an intriguing dynamic to the team mix. In the finale he was non-committal, antagonistic, self-preserving and yet he risked his life to save theirs.  He assisted Mosley a few episodes ago and so is generally a good guy.  He has a dry sense of humour and a solid presence in terms of his physical size as well as the intensity he brings.  As in part one of the finale, he butts heads with Callen a little, as though there is an underlying power struggle.  It was revealing that at two separate points, Callen talks to Ochoa about his team, and later Turk stops Shaked assassinating the suspect whilst he’s being arrested, referring to the agents as ‘my team’.  He is certainly chummy with Ochoa as the two walk out together at the end of the day. The running joke is how Turk saved their lives, talking to Callen in particular (technically that was Sam...) and the closing line, spoken by Turk when the screen turns black, is very amusing.  He even gets the team’s banter, effortlessly joining in during the stakeout scene until the outsider Shaked, tells them all to stop talking.  And on an offbeat note, there seems to be a new trend this season of Eric wearing long trousers...

Although the guest characters were well drawn, there was not the emotional connection that Military usually creates. The wanna-be suicide bomber is a mentally ill and vulnerable woman with a baby, manipulated into fulfilling her suicidal desires with a big bang.  There is no development of any one character and the focus instead is on the team’s morals and the space in which they operate, which allows for many other facets to be investigated.  The story of the Patton Project seems very much in its infancy. The Silo only touched on three members, and this episode focused on one individual although over a hundred others had been identified.  This is a storyline that can be re-visited at any time, bringing with it the possibility of the team having to operate further just inside the shadows.  

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