NCIS: Los Angeles S11E05 Review

Season 11 has been a mixed bag so far. The premiere was good but not quite up to the standard of the many previous openers. The second episode was again good but curious - Callen and Sam were in Israel inexplicably assisting Mossad with a drugs bust, while Deeks, Eric and Hetty were AWOL. Then came grumpy Admiral Kilbride and his penchant for keeping all mission details secret from the team. Not quite so good. This was followed by last week's brilliant episode which focused on a potential Ebola outbreak as well as the personal development of Kensi (and Deeks). The roller coaster of quality continued with Provenance, which plunged the show to a low, mainly due to the over the top characterisations of the guest cast.

There has often been a tenuous link between the case, the US Navy/Marine Corps and NCIS and a frequent line uttered in ops, is "and we're investigating this because..?" In this instance, a piece of modern art, suspected to have once hung over Saddam Hussein's bed was stolen from a house in LA two years ago, is found in a photo when LAPD investigate reports of a disturbance at a residential property. The occupants are also in the photo and said painting is no longer on their wall. Hetty (referenced only) believed the painting had been stolen to fund terrorist activity - that is the link.
None of the team seem to recollect that a piece of modern art named 'the cube', worth $40 million and consisting of two lines and a circle, and rumoured to belong to Saddam Hussein, had been stolen. The team has always been very knowledgeable about current affairs and with the theft happening in LA, Hetty would have definitely voiced her suspicions to her team. This would be instrumental in setting the tone for the episode (the team  being clueless) however this was set up in the pre-credit opening scene. The couple who were in possession of the stolen painting are completely unbelievable and over-act their roles, bringing a sense of the ridiculous to the case. This continues with the other guest characters; Katherine from the insurance company, Christina from the auction house and Kim at the art exhibition.

It could be argued that episode writer Jordana Lewis Jaffe is attempting a satire of the modern art world. Kensi is dressed (by Katherine) in an odd outfit to speak with Kim (a transgender art collector) and several minutes are devoted to a very slow and deliberately pointed scene where Kim appreciates the art of a blank canvas, and expresses a preference for one blank canvas over another. The exaggerated characters and outfits go hand in hand with the absurd art work. This really does very little, if anything to show the art industry in a kind light. The one saving grace is a conversation Katherine has with Sam after he states the art world (from his and our experience after the Kensi / Kim blank canvas pageantry) is ridiculous. She confirms the positive aspects of art: creativity, motor skills in children and art therapy for vets with PTSD. It's a passing sentence that could and should have been capitalised on. The same can be said about piece of art rumoured to belong to Saddam Hussein - did it really leave Iraq and arrive in LA by legal means? It was also very convenient that Christina from the auction house knew that a Saudi family last had the painting and were going to use it to fund the purchase of explosives. Very trusting of the bad guys.

In addition to the plot issues, there are also character inconsistencies. The OTT argumentative couple turn out to run an import/export business which allows them to distribute fake prescription drugs on the black market. It is impossible to see how the two are capable of running a business, let alone manage the movement of large quantities of drugs. Deeks has reverted back to his introductory status where LAPD have a seriously low opinion of him, and to add salt to the wound, he gets his ass kicked by a female in the end fight. Sam and Callen trust a complete stranger (Katherine) and let her lead the case. And her deduction from a bottle of perfume to an auction house makes no sense as it is not explained at all.  Lastly there is a very heavy-handed attempt to show Sam is intrigued by Katherine, namely through numerous lingering looks between the pair and winking by Katherine. There is nothing in Sam's character or past that suggests he would be interested in someone living in such a fake world, or that he would be interested in a white woman. The chemistry between them is just not there either.

There are a couple of excellent scenes, hidden amongst the rest. The scene were Kensi is changing in to her outfit with Deeks waiting is very natural and supplies a gentle humour. Likewise with the other two scenes, firstly where Callen says "really", when the bad guy he's chasing grabs a kitchen knife when he has a gun. Callen certainly means business when he immediately picks up a pan and whacks the guy with it. Shortly after Sam chases a girl absconding with the painting. He literally picks her up from the stairwell and lifts her back to the stairs he's on. Again it is the gentle humour that is well executed, which brings a smile.

Taking a deep breath - enjoyment of an episode is always subjective and hopefully this review contains at least some of an objective viewpoint. Whatever the viewers thought, it is very much apparent that the (regular) cast all had a blast making this episode and for them at least, Nell words when giving the mission briefing ring true "this is gonna be a fun case".

A Virtual Scrawl

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