NCIS: Los Angeles S10E19 Review

Several times a season, NCIS:Los Angeles shakes things up, usually with a very dark episode and sometimes with different directorial styles (affecting the look and feel). This is most notable with Frank Military episodes, particularly ones he has directed as well as written. This week, there is a break from the convention but this time the difference is in the narrative itself. NCISLA is a crime procedural which strongly embraces character development. Some episodes focus on the cases and crimes, whereas others concentrate on characters to various degrees. The best mix both together seamlessly. 'Searching' is a peculiar mix of non-NCIS case and the personal, which is fragmented into four different storylines. It is a refreshing change from the norm but also quite jarring, witnessing extended insights to all bar Sam's personal lives.

The episode has a hard opening with Army CID Special Agent Evans, tied to a chair and taking a series of punches. Kensi is undercover as a bad guy's girlfriend (resplendent in a blonde wig), and on cue they take down Evans' attackers. The rest of the team are in support, Nell and Eric via earwigs in Ops and Special Agent Fatima Namazi planting infrared cameras in the field. The ensuing escape and gun battle is substantial, similar to the opening of last season's finale, A Line in the Sand (writ/dir Frank Military). The highlights are the camera movements up and down the stairs, and Kensi, guns in both hands, firing in opposite directions to cover Evans as he moves to unlock a gate. As with A Line in the Sand, the impact of such an intense gun fight is that a character is shot, this time Callen, a bullet grazing his calf and the adrenaline masking the pain as Deeks had to point out the injury.

The opening is the catalyst for the remainder of the episode. Evans thanks the team for their support and exits, Callen is taken to hospital and the entire team have a well-earned day off. There is a little exposition to explain the opening however it does not play in to the remainder of the episode and almost seems superfluous, merely a method to allow Callen to be injured and the team to have a day off. It always seems a shame to come in at the climax of a mission, particularly ones where characters have clearly been undercover. Identity is an enduring theme of the series, initially built around Callen - who still has issues - and furthered with the team's undercover work, assuming different personas, some of which bleed in to their personal lives. The biggest change to the show in recent seasons sadly, has been the substantial reduction in team members going undercover for longer than a few minutes. 

The team has never been shown on a day off, only when they've been interrupted and called back in. 'Searching' allows for another dynamic, another element to further develop the characters. Kensi and Deeks spend the day in their bar, bickering.  Married life has not changed their relationship and they continue to work at their best as partners in the field, however as business partners, they are failing dismally. Eric is excited to be attending a job interview in the private sector in San Francisco and Nell is positive and supportive, which throws their next scene together into confusion. Nell is no longer excited and reveals her mother as a serious heart condition and her parents are moving to San Francisco for treatment, and Nell wants to move their with them. It seems communication is also an issue in this relationship, with Nell not talking to the man she lives with and loves about the health of her mother.

Callen meanwhile has his own issues, firstly being the most awkward patient possible for the medical staff and secondly, he's contacted by his estranged sister Alex, after a year of her ignoring all communication attempts, asking he will mind his nephew Jake for the day. Callen sees this as a positive step whereas his Alex sees Callen as a last resort to enable her to attend a work emergency. Unfortunately all attempts by Callen to reconcile with her fail. Alex still clearly blames him for effectively barging into her life, introducing her father and not doing enough (in her eyes) to keep Nikita in the US, breaking her and Jake's heart in the process. It's a shame her selfishness is preventing her from seeing how much worse this is for her brother. In typical Callen style, he initially struggles to connect with Jake and to engage him in conversation and activities, but ends up teaching him how to play Blackjack and gamble, and later they play pool in the bar. Luckily Alex was not aware of the former activity and was easily disappointed at the latter, despite Deeks' attempts to pacify her. On a positive, it was Jake who provided the light bulb moment to Kensi after he solved their streaming and sound issues - pay a professional!

Sam offered to help Fatima with her Harley Davidson on their day off but is found by DOJ Agent Lance Hamilton (introduced earlier this season in 'One of Us'), who has received approval for Sam to work with him on a case. Fatima is drawn in too and the three investigate the disappearance of a US Border Patrol agent James Wallace and his family, after Wallace went underground after killing the son of a drug lord whilst on a raid. So Sam's day off is working on a non-NCIS case with Fatima and Hamilton. They all work well together, with good chemistry. Maintaining interest in a case where only one of the stars is involved is tricky. There are some great moments between them, with humour and minor revelations (of course Sam can work with technology), and all offer support and encouragement.  Wallace and his family are only introduced under duress and at the end which means there is little opportunity for empathy which again means the non-NCIS case does not quite engage as much as usual. The toughest scene is Wallace's young daughter Amanda, alone in the car outside with a gun and her father's instructions to shoot anyone that came after her, warning her they might even pretend to be a cop. 

The downside to the multiple storylines was a slightly disjointed feeling. The epic gun fight was great yet frustrating no other elements of the mission were revealed. Army CID Agent Evans (pro-wrestler Shane McMahon) was fantastic in his action scenes but unfortunately sounded like he was just reading the script when it came to the mop-up scenes after.  There was also curiously ordered scenes with Nell and Eric at the top if the stairs in Ops, ready to leave for San Francisco yet their next scene is in the armoury, where Nell's mood has dramatically changed and they are still getting ready to leave. The bonus is Deeks' air-guitar and singing to Twisted Sister, headphones in and unaware Kensi is watching! Sam and Callen also have their moment just before they get in the Hellcat, with Sam pretending to jokingly punch Callen in the stomach while calling him 'sunshine' and causing him to flinch whilst clutching his walking stick and his bag. It is always these types of moments which bring huge amounts of enjoyment.

'Searching' is a brave episode that focuses on the lives outside NCIS that have only previously been glimpsed. The end result is a feeling of sadness, primarily for Callen and the continued rejection by Alex. Change seems to be on the horizon for Nell and Eric. Will they both leave NCIS for San Francisco or will Nell make the move alone for her mother? Of course it could be neither leave and it's is a red herring to be resolved in coming episodes although Fatima has the skills to replace Nell in ops, provide support in the field and is already integrating well with the team. Sam's grief is also touched on with Hamilton. They have both learned to live with the loss of their wives, surviving the tough days and on a positive note, Sam is not ready to run away from his issues and team up with Hamilton permanently. It is the everyday life the characters struggles with rather than their adrenaline filled profession and this opens more storylines for further episodes and seasons. 

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