NCIS: Los Angeles S11E01 ’Let Fate Decide’ Review

Much like the season 10 finales, the premiere of season 11 does not compare to the high standards and expectation set in previous openers.  The two finale episodes suffered from a lot of exposition and a number of characters involved with different aspects of the plot.  Thankfully the 'previously on NCIS: Los Angeles' very succinctly summarises what has happened, and what needs to be done, thus ensuring a straight-forward narrative episode: find the French journalist and the ISIS defector, secure the evidence and present that to the Israelis and Saudi's to prevent world war three. This was repeated and simplified further by Deeks a little later, leaving no doubt about the mission and the high stakes involved. 

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done with various factors at play which is where the team were left.  Weapons had been launched at Israel, Sam and Callen had chased ISIS sympathisers on the USS Allegiance to a secured room and been locked out, and Kensi, Deeks, Sabatino and SEAL Wallace were cornered and under fire from ISIS in Iran.  Of course, the intrepid team and their new associates manage to overcome their respective difficulties and little time is spent labouring on their efforts.  In Iran, the attackers are held off in time for Wallace to rig a robotically controlled automatic gun and the team to exit via an escape hatch.  It was quite sad to see the CIA trailer explode in style (is the the end for the trailers initially introduced in 'Red' back in season four?).  

On the USS Allegiance, Sam and Callen talk through options to break into the Damage Control Centre, eventually hitting on a solution, leading to Sam with an electric drill and Callen smirking.  Their banter lightens the scene, particularly when on of the SEALS smiles when Sam permits them to drown Callen when it's all over.  The hostage situation is over without incident as gas is piped in through the drilled hole and everyone in the room falls asleep.  This has now become a non-event and the importance is now lost. Even when the villainous ISIS sympathiser is interrogated, the scene is short and goes nowhere except to confirm he will never talk.  Likewise, the missile threat from the finale is squashed quickly and almost in passing, as the anti-aircraft missiles do their job and shoot down the weapons.

The speed at which ISIS attack, missile launch and the hostage situation aboard the ship are dealt with, provides time for the narrative to stop and focus on the subplot created by the introduction of two new characters (if you've never seen JAG) in the finales, Mac and Harm.  There are stilted conversations between the pair and with them individually by other characters.  Fatima (who in the previous episode - e.g. hours before - was unavailable and on another assignment), suddenly appears and there is an awkward scene where Mac starts talking about her relationship with Harm.  When Hetty, Fatima and Mac meet Sam, Callen and Harm in Saudi Arabia, the awkwardness is accentuated with a long period of silence, prompting the team to give them space to talk.  The same happens at the end, and no answers are provided, almost rendering their guest star roles on NCISLA as irrelevant.  It is time wasted, taken away from the plot, which is still extremely busy.

The three separate plot threads are difficult to work in to a 42 minute episode, and it mostly worked well with the guys aboard the ship, Hetty, Mac and Fatima on a plane, and Kensi/Deeks in Iran. The partners are split further as they venture into different countries to tackle the same problem from different angles.  Here the importance of connections and networking is invaluable.  Early last season, Sam connected with a Saudi Prince and Hetty uses that when they meet in Riyadh . Sam and Fatima in Tehran, Iran, make contact with a woman whose father is an influential mullah. Callen and Harm are sent to Tel Aviv to liaise with Mossad agent Eliana Sapir - Callen having had previous romantic liaisons with the agent.

Frustration is mirrored in each location as evidence is required, and Hetty places this burden squarely on Kensi and the team in Iran.  It does allow for 'pleasantries' to take place during the initial meetings.  Interestingly, Fatima feels at home in Tehran,citing the reason that women can go out wearing the hajib without feeling they are making an overt political statement.  This may be the case but there is a painful and glaring omission about Iran's record with women's rights. Such a statement should have been counter-balanced...The scenes in Tel Aviv were much better albeit somewhat frustrating. The two have just met, Harm has been re-assigned from his position on the USS Allegiance to become a temporary field agent with Callen, he can't understand why Callen hasn't asked about Mac and within a minute likens himself to Callen. One of the best and most intriguing lines comes from Callen, who declares himself as 'emotionally available'.  This quickly becomes a joke between the three as Callen - most obviously - has never been emotionally available!  The status of his relationship with Anna is described by him in one word "complicated", which could mean anything. The hugged greeting between Callen and Eliana was not entirely comfortable, certainly compared to that between Harm and Mac earlier.  The familiarity is there, with Eliana calling him "G" and there is a tantalising insight to their past when she starts to explain why she can't trust Callen after London. 

There wasn't too much banter this week as the team faced a race against time to stop world war three erupting in the Middle East. Callen decides to reveal to Fatima and Mac that Hetty is better at flying than she is at landing (they'd advised that Hetty was accumulating her flying hours), which was probably the most light-hearted line of the episode. The responsibility for humour usually lies with Deeks but even his lines manage to fall short this week.  He pretty much has verbal diarrhea, harking back to his earliest seasons.  This is remarked on by both Sabatino and Wallce, with comments aplenty to Kensi about knowing Deeks' habits before agreeing to marry him.  Suffice to say Deeks was severely under-utilised.

As always, there is never a doubt the team will save the day and come out alive, but unlike the season 10 premiere, the tension and drama does not feel as though WWIII is actually likely. The plot felt too quick and thinly stretched without enough time to draw out the mission or develop any of the characters. This is frequently an issue with two and three parter episodes; even though there should be enough time to explore characters and narratives, there never seems to be enough time.  The JAG characters were a distraction and there was nothing to moved their relationship forwards, and there place within the episode felt forced.  Most enticing though, was Hetty's final orders, this time moving Sam and Callen around like chess pieces, ordering them to remain in the Middle East to work on an assignment that is not entirely official.

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