NCIS: Los Angeles S10E14 Review


When an episode opens with the team in the middle of action scene, it is usually a positive indicator for what will follow. The last time this happened was A Line in The Sand (S9 finale, part 1), when the gang was under intense gun fire, and with Sam shot in the thigh. This time there are no casualties - but only just - and the drama literally goes down to the wire. In addition to this, the opening features the team working together, albeit with a bit of a partner switch. Deeks is driving Sam’s Hellcat(!), with Callen on the roof, about to pounce on a trailer, inside which Sam is defusing a bomb while Kensi is fighting a bad guy. Episode writer Andrew Bartels creates great character driven episodes and Smokescreen is no exception.

There is a self-referential nod to the art of the over-dramatic (prevalent in many shows including NCISLA). Deeks cannot believe the bomb was defused with the timer down to one second; Kensi is very nonchalant about the whole affair. Back in the weapons room, the team banter and gently tease Sam about his timing. Yet again the seeds are sown for the remainder of the episode and there is comfort in realising this, however it is a shame that the lead up to the opening action sequence remains unknown. It is revealed that the team have been working two days straight and the case is re-opened after Nell discovers more information.

Another delight is the small amount of downtime Deputy Director Ochoa allows them (whilst the FBI takes point on apprehending Jalal, a person of interest).  This allows the characters to be seen outside the work environment which does involve relaxing in the evening at Deeks’ bar. Instead Kensi and Deeks are seen in bed together, quietly reflecting on their relationship. There is a throwback to the last episode with Kensi talking about David Sarraf and most importantly, the pair talk about their future. To date, their car park argument in the season 9 finale has not been addressed. Here, Kensi admits she can’t continue being an agent forever. Deeks now respects Kensi’s decisions and it seems they can finally put to bed the elephant which was previously in the room. Both realise their deep seated need to help people, which becomes an important theme as the episode progresses.  

In contrast, Callen’s downtime is anything but relaxing. Sam catches him in Deeks’ (closed) bar, having smashed his phone after speaking Russian in anger. He looks slightly guilty when Sam catches him. He is then a touch confrontational and defensive towards Sam, showing a rare defeatist streak.  Sam asks if he’s slept (he’s in the same clothes as the previous day), with Callen replying he can sleep on their fishing trip. He has been investigating both Hetty and his father’s whereabouts but to no avail, reluctantly admitting Hetty doesn’t want to be found and he isn’t going to like what he finds in Russia. With Callen planning a trip to Russia, is this a precursor that he will disappear and go rogue?  It is certainly a thread which will be picked up later and a predictable trait.

Again this is something which writer Bartels does well. He links back to previous episodes, sometimes in an overt manner, such as with David Sarraf and Callen’s father. There are also come curved ball references, such as when the NCIS expert on the Mashriq Army, Fatema Namazi praises Nell on her Comescu paper - now there’s a name not heard since probably season five. But there is also more subtly. Kensi and Deeks stake out the abode of a homeless person, with Kensi referring to the inhabitant as a ‘her’, and Deeks giving her a look, but not verbalising his thoughts. This is a throwback to Kensi living on the streets after her father died, something explored in another Bartels’ penned episode, The Grey Man (S6). There is even a throw-away comment that maybe when Washington is briefed about the team’s success in preventing the museum navy ship bombing, they will be out of the dog house.

Character development is not limited to the main agents.  Nell is given some more substance (counteracting the general oddness of her and particularly Eric). She doubts her ability after failing to identify another Mashriq Army member, Abbas Jalal. He later escapes FBI custody resulting in the death of two FBI agents. It is a reminder the team are fallible which in this case has repercussions.  Nell’s self-doubts are put to rest by NCIS Agent Fatema Namazi who hero-worships Nell and the tables are later turned when Fatema fails to predict the bombing of a soft target - a cinema. Evidence was leading them to look for shooters, picking off members of the public.

The shock factor is the explosion that takes place inside the cinema as it's being evacuated. Sam and Callen have guns trained on Jalal when the bomb explodes, presumably from his suicide vest. When the dust clears it seems the explosion occurred behind them and Jalal is still standing - until the second explosion. What follows is a small period of quiet then confusion, panic, and dead and injured people, inside and outside. All the agents automatically change gear as they deal with the injured, providing first aid and comfort in the wake of the bombing. This is keeping with the theme of helping people, although people doing good deeds doesn’t always pan out. Jalal was given a job at a currency exchange by an Iraqi couple, Rana and Omar Azim, out of the goodness of their hearts and he repaid them by siphoning money to fund the terrorist group. 

There are several frustrations about the episode, mostly around the cinema bombing.  It was quite miraculous how Sam and Callen were virtually unscathed from Jalal’s suicide vest exploding when they were so close to him. There is still a question mark around the first explosion. Was there another bomber or did the bomb at the exit malfunction?  The bomb squad confirmed all the exits were rigged to explode and everyone is trapped inside. What about windows? First responders could climb in..?

The beauty of Smokescreen is that it's a two-parter. This allows the pacing to be smooth and consistent. There is only one narrative running throughout which allows for many character moments, which include the guest cast. Fatema is neatly introduced when Callen and Sam meet her at a boxing ring, where she deliberately riled her opponent. Her respect of Nell’s work means she is ingratiated into the team without the distrust often shown to outsiders. Even Rana Azim elicits sympathy in her actions to help a student who was too poor to afford meals, and her husband remains missing. It is the FBI who gets the raw deal. The two officers transporting Jalal displayed many of the characteristics common to the NCIS team with their banter before they were murdered. And their boss, Special Agent David Ross was the recipient of Callen’s death stare for breaching a warehouse without due process.

Smokescreen part one is very much a team episode, exciting and inclusive and part two will be an interesting progression.

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