NCIS: Los Angeles Season 10 Episode 15 Review

Smokescreen part one was an example of NCIS: Los Angeles at its best.  The opening scene saw a break from the norm, there were fast paced-action scenes and quiet character moments.  Guest characters were introduced without narrative disruption and empathy was built with the bomb victims.  Investigations were well underway when the episode ended with Sam and Callen trapped in the theatre where the exits were rigged to explode.

Part two had the trickier task. The seeds had already been sown and the intense excitement of setting up the case has passed. Then there was the major problem of the three week break between the airing of parts one and two. CBS scheduling between January and March is always frustrating and always will be, when a twenty four episode procedural has the season finales around the first/second week of May and about half the episodes have already aired by Christmas. 

Regardless, part two was a valiant attempt to equal the expectations set by part one. Featuring different writers (Matt Klafter & Kyle Harimoto) and director (Sherwin Shilati) there was of course a different feel as their job was now to guide the viewer through the terrorist fear and chaos created by part one writer Andrew Bartels, and to reach a conclusion. The heart of the episode remained the same, focusing on the human element. Two children are trapped in a bomb blast set off by an opportunist thief.  Callen finds them and uses his training to keep them talking, calling them by name and freeing them. Concern for their wellbeing remains a constant, as Sam asks after them, Callen states how special they were, holding it together in such a situation and at the end, they say they’ve visited the boys in hospital.  Likewise Sam remains attentive to the first aid needs of the other bomb victims, namely the man injured in part one.  In an unusual close up, Sam cuts either side of the collar bone and inserts a tool to pull the broken bone back in to place, allowing Dan to breathe freely again. Even visiting NCIS Special Agent Fatema Namazi says to Nell that she’s arranged to have lunch with the widow of murdered Oscar Azim.

The investigations are fast paced, following the twists and turns set up in part one.  To assist, there are several places where the team stop and talk about the case, refreshing themselves and the viewer about what has happened so far and talking through possible scenarios.  This invariably allows them to realise the next step and follow leads.  Kensi and Deeks seem to have a slightly lesser role in part two but are key in discovering clues in this fashion, both in the mission and later in the boatshed.  It is Deeks in both instances who displays his detective skills and realises the play. There is fluid camera movement, gradually zooming in on characters across consecutive scenes. One such example is when Callen and Sam discover the passports and talk with Fatema and Nell in Ops.  This culminates in a beautifully framed shot of Kensi and Deeks pacing and thinking aloud as the camera moves closer to them.

There is also a much grittier feel about the final gunfight scene, reminiscent of Frank Military’s handling of the opening to part 1 of the season nine finale and the season ten premier with Callen skirting round to slash the bad guys throat.  This is through use of handheld cameras , slow motion and accentuated sound of the guns firing, switching between Sam and Callen and then Kensi and Deeks. Surprisingly there are not too many edits, the director favouring fast camera movements instead.  Again there is a single panning shot between all four field agents at end of gunfight. Juxtaposed is the next scene where Fatema takes a quiet moment away from stress and pressure of the op, talking to Nell about handling such situations. Such changes to directorial style allows NCISLA to remain fresh and exciting, although there are still clichés, such as Sam appearing from the flames after the airport explosion.  There is comfort in the familiar and expected (and sometimes raised eyebrows and the shaking of heads).  In keeping with part one, Sam is still diffusing bombs at the last minute, Kensi is still taking out the bad guys in typical physical style and in a slight change, Callen is seen crashing down on the bad guy at the airport and stabbing him with a knife.

Twists and turns should be expected in episodes titled ‘Smokescreen’. Effectively nothing is as it seems, including the terrorist group the Mashriq Army. Repeatedly in parts one and two, Fatema states their actions do not fit the group’s pattern and she is right. It is a very elaborate distraction to force a South African arms dealer, arriving in LA for extradition, to be held whilst flights are grounded, thus masking and enabling his escape. FBI Agent Ross also turns out to be a rogue agent - how else did the baddies know in part one the FBI were transporting Jellal and on which route? His role is explained but not his motivations (which was presumably money), and it almost seems glossed over.  There is so much packed in to this episode it would have been difficult to explore Ross any further.

Unlike part one, there is little time to focus on character development and humour, although there are moments. Callen fails in his pop culture reference to Aquaman as expected. It is amusing how throughout all ten seasons the writers always skirt around Callen and comic book references, never once allowing a direct reference to, or for Chris O’Donnell to utter any lines about Batman and Robin.  There is an out of character Callen moment when Sam comments he does not know tools.  Sure he is not as good as Sam, but Callen takes apart toasters and other electrical appliances when he can’t sleep (although that doesn’t mean he can actually puts them back together in working order!). Suspect Wassim is interrogated in his hospital bed and literally begs Deeks to stop talking, prompting the episode’s best line from Kensi:  

“It’s amazing to me how in every culture on this planet, people have the same reaction to you.”

A surprise visit from the Under Secretary of the Navy Felice Waterstone, prompts another recap of the case before addressing the threat of splitting the team. Apart from a few earlier episodes, the threat has been diluted with the absence of Special Prosecutor Rogers and the lack of any other mentions. It comes as no great shock that Ochoa recommends they are not broken up (cue season eleven?).  It is surprising that Waterstone knows Hetty practically raised Callen from childhood and Ochoa didn’t react. Previously this has seemed like privileged information, unknown by anyone except Hetty and Callen (and then Sam).  Ochoa’s role with the team is now in doubt as it seems he needs to get home to tend to his addict daughter, which could once more leave the team leaderless.  Yet again the human element comes in to play, giving Ochoa more of a back story which may or may not be relevant later. The closing scene continues with the empathetic focus of parts one and two, with the team attending a candlelight vigil outside the theatre, commemorating the victims. A poignant and heartbreaking scene, evoking memories of such tributes after real-life terrorist bombings of public targets across the world.   

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