NCIS: Los Angeles S11E02 "Decoy" Review

The second episode of the season was a thoroughly enjoyable outing, albeit rather fragmented due to the absence of three cast members and one pair who did not even share any screen time. In reality, the actors were unavailable for filming part of or the entire episode. Reasons were mostly provided, for example Deeks' was present for the opening, and then called back for mandatory training at LAPD, with Kensi wondering if there was a hidden meaning to this. Eric (last seen dashing to San Francisco to be with Nell and her sick mother) has suddenly been farmed out as a consultant (by Hetty) to a tech firm in San Francisco, whilst Nell has returned to work now her mother is a little more stable. Continuing from the conclusion of last week's premiere, Sam and Callen remain in Israel and although they communicate frequently by phone, they don't physically share any screen space. In fact the only absence not explained is that of the grand chess-mistress herself, Hetty.

Even though key team members are missing or not together, Decoy is enjoyable as it mixes action, character development and humour, three ingredients which are key to the show. Enjoyment is subjective and some may not have liked the limited appearance of Deeks, Kensi partnering with DOJ Agent Lance Hamilton or the fact that Callen's development is focused on a past romance. Bearing in mind some of the recent episodes (particularly of season 10), there is a comfortable familiarity about Decoy.  Deeks sets the level of banter at the start with Kensi, which is continued with Sam and Callen, both teasing the other and taking nothing to heart.  

Kensi and Lance (who appeared twice last season) work a case with connections to the op which first brought Lance to LA and the team. The bodyguards who failed to protect an arms dealer turn up dead and bereaved girlfriend Karen St Pierre is scared for her life.  The pair work well together with Kensi taking the lead during their tactical assault of the suspect's apartment. They also talked through the possibilities, each making leaps until there is a neat twist in the case. What was curious and possibly a cut scene, was Kensi recognising a knife which helped lead them back to St Pierre - this knife was a clue not previously shown. Likewise, Kensi initially struggled to get the better of St Pierre during their fight. It seems she is better taking down guys than girls!

Whilst the depleted team in LA work one op, Sam and Callen are working a drugs case with Mossad and Israeli police.  Callen for the most part is cooped up in the observation van with former girlfriend & Mossad Agent Eliana Sapir, while Sam is in a location that looks very much like the boatshed (but in Tel Aviv), working an American suspect for information. There is no military connection and Hetty has farmed them out to support the op with no reason why. Drug busts are not NCIS's bag. What is does though, is give Sam another chance to demonstrate how he sees the good in everyone while Callen's trip down memory lane for once isn't family related. The choice of an old flame is curious, especially after how convoluted his love life has been recently with both Joelle and Anna. At one point it seemed Kensi was being defined by her past romances so hopefully this won't be a trend for Callen.

Cramped up for many hours inside the van meant the pair had little choice but to talk about their past. Eliana is another woman who left him (clearly a pattern for Callen) and it is a shame the thread created about Eliana not trusting Callen after London in last week's episode was not continued, as it would have been a welcomed twist. Incidentally both episodes are penned by the same writer, Kyle Harimoto. But is Callen really capable of burying his feelings and moving on? With Eliana clearly he is. She is a little flirty, Callen treats her like an old friend and there is not too much chemistry between them. Their conversation about why she left Callen at a restaurant in Rome felt like a substitute for the talk he and Anna need to have. It was not filled with regret, certainly not on Callen's part and he seems to have simplified his thoughts on their relationship - and maybe love in genera - saying they were together as they liked each other and to not overthink it.  Maybe this is how he is processing his thoughts about Anna. 

Eliana: I just know that I'm not what you're looking for.
Callen: I don't know what I'm looking for. At this point in my life, that's probably not a good thing.
Eliana: Sounds like a personal problem 

Certainly an unspoken acknowledgement of his relationship with Anna. He may have grown emotionally when compared to the Callen of season 1, but he still has a long way to go. The snippets of their long term undercover case is a reminder how this aspect of the show is now largely forgotten. In this past op, Callen's cover lasted 18 months post Eliana's cover being blown. This can only lead to the assumption they were dining as themselves when she bailed. If they were undercover at the time, Callen would have followed up on her disappearance.

Despite the two independent arcs, the episode's pace is slower, which allows for such conversations. It does feel like a long stakeout in the van, day changing to night and in LA the opportunities for Kensi and Lance to work out the case, and Sam's bonding with the suspect in Israel are not rushed.  There is still action, with slow-mo shots mixed in with real time during the final gunfight in LA. Callen and Eliana work well together when taking the warehouse; jaunty music and smooth calm shots mirror how they take out the first bad guys. Likewise the pre-credit opening scene is very stylish, evoking a nostalgic feel America with motorbikes and neon lights. 

Although not present, Deeks helped bracket the episode. Initially with some friendly competition and banter with Kensi (and the dunk in the ice bath), and finally when Kensi, Nell and Lance talk about food and Sushi. The gentle humour, ribbing Deeks in his absence left a warm feeling and a smile as the credits rolled. 

Kensi: I wish Deeks was here. He loves sushi.
Lance: I would never spend this much money on sushi for Deeks. I'd opt for gas station sushi.
Kensi: He'd never know the difference.
Lance: He probably wouldn't. 

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