NCIS: Los Angeles S11E09 ’Kill Beale Vol 1’ Review

When an episode is titled “Kill Beale Vol 1”, it’s clear that everyone’s favourite Technical Operator is going to find himself in some serious trouble.  Eric Beale has been missing from LA for most of season 11’s episodes to date.  He’s been working for a start up tech company in San Francisco and has been mentioned sporadically, just to keep him in the thoughts of the team and the viewers.  This week he finally returns to the fold, and gets an episode that is all his!

There were certain expectations going in to this episode, firstly that it will be exciting and secondly that Beale will be - well Beale.  There were indeed plenty of intense scenes, albeit not too much in the way of action, and this was offset with a suitably rambling Eric, mainly from a caffeine high to counteract the effects of being drugged. Usually character centred episodes feature the main field agents, and when they haven’t, Nell and Eric have shared the limelight. This meant there was a notably different feel to ‘Kill Beale’. There were two distinct settings; Los Angeles (with Nell, Kensi and Hetty), and San Francisco, where Sam and Callen are searching for Eric. It is not only the new location which is different, but also much of the episode takes place at night which is unusual for the show. And finally, there is no Deeks as he was back with LAPD for the week (in actuality actor Eric Christian Olsen co-wrote next week’s 250th episode and was prepping for this). Kensi was very much a spare part during first half, exemplified by her lounging in the bull pen and staring at Deeks’ desk which prompted her to call his cell (and inconveniently, Callen called her at that moment). On the plus side, this allowed conversations between Kensi and Nell to take place, with Kensi playing the role of the sensible, reassuring older sister.

The narrative pace was surprisingly pedestrian. The team were worried about Eric and initially there was little cause for concern; he was the victim of a break-in and then arrested for smashing the rear window of a police patrol car. Yet even when they realised Eric had escaped an attempted kidnapping, been drugged and successfully kidnapped by two fake NCIS agents, there was no real sense of urgency or panic. Sam and Callen were stonewalled by Eric’s employer and that was it. There were no threats given and no further action taken. It almost seemed like an afterthought at the end, when the Chinese were revealed to be behind the criminal enterprise of the start up company. There is little action in San Francisco as Sam and Callen go through their investigative steps, visiting Eric’s apartment twice. Even the scenes between Eric and the fake NCIS agents featured no real action; it was mainly talking (on Eric’s part) and they were never portrayed as an actual threat to Eric’s life. The conversations between Nell and Kensi added to the sense of lethargy. Nell was understandably worried yet there was very little assistance to be offered from the team in LA until half way through the episode.

Despite Eric’s goofiness, he had the presence of mind to finally realise the fake agents were actually, well fake. It was their questions around to whom Hetty been talking which alerted him, which is ironic as it was them referencing Hetty and stating that ‘she will have our head on a platter of avocado toast’, that convinced him to accompany them until the agents from LA arrived. Twice Eric attempted to escape the pair and so he clearly utilised some of his agent training. It was Eric’s position in the field that prompted some in depth conversations at different points of the episode, with Hetty, Nell, Callen and Sam. In scenes at Hetty’s desk, an emotional Nell challenged Hetty about her decision to place Eric in such a position. She calls Hetty out, particularly when she refers to him as ‘Mr Beale’.  Nell forcefully states his name in Eric and accuses Hetty of already distancing herself emotionally. Key to this is Nell realising she can not be Hetty, a role she has been groomed for since her arrival. Such conversations in LA mirror those in San Francisco, where Sam and Callen discuss whether they rode Eric too hard so he had to prove himself, or gave him false hope of his agent abilities so he believed he had skills he actually lacks. The agents rarely question their actions or discuss repercussions and this aspect belies the fact that even though the episode revolves around Eric, it is actually about Hetty, Nell and Callen.

Hetty’s manipulation and decision-making has been challenged in the past by Callen (S4), Kensi (S7) and Deeks (S8) but Eric's situation and Nell's words seem to hit home. Hetty no longer wants her job and seemingly neither does anyone else. Hetty speaks with Callen about her decisions with Eric and ends by suggesting Callen should consider taking her job. There is a lot of foreshadowing here to next week’s 250th, where Hetty is targeted by a former operative she handpicked and trained, a case which will obviously affect Callen and potentially both their futures. This finally looks like the start of the season 11 story arc. 

Callen has referenced working alone and being a lone wolf more times in the last two episodes than he probably has in the last two seasons. Early season 11 he was happy-go-lucky (maybe forcefully so), enjoying his job and Sam's company. Now he has turned serious and reflective. Is Callen getting itchy feet now he's been settled so long and fearful that those close to him will be hurt, in order to hurt him?

Callen: This job used to be a lot easier.
Sam:     It was never easy. It was just easier because you were working alone.
Callen: Yeah, this is what happens when I stay in one place too long.
Sam:    No, this is what happens when you get connected to other human beings

Many of the San Francisco scenes took place at night, in back streets and alleys, makeshift tents for the city's vast homeless population. Images of the Golden Gate Bridge may illustrate the agents are in a different location but there is nothing glamorous about it. The scenes in the mission also take place in the early hours of the morning or late at night. The workplace is quiet, empty and dimly lit, reflective of the shadowy environment of their work and the questioning of their motives. By contrast Kensi's location scenes were during the day, clear blue skies in an affluent property with an outdoor swimming pool, belonging to the rather hapless business owner of the San Francisco think tank. Kensi is the only one who really had any action, holding off a number of shooters. The subsequent interrogation with Kensi and Nell was particularly satisfactory and successful. A formidable force!  

There were some cracking lines of dialogue, even though Deeks’ quick-witted quips were missed.  Kensi described Eric as a born conspiracy theorist, ‘one Area 51 documentary away from wearing a tin foil hat.’  At another point Eric stated to the fake agents that he lives in the shadows - whilst standing flat against a wall with a bright streetlamp shining on him.  Eric’s return to Los Angeles and the Mission was very sweet and his best scene was when he was alone in the ops centre, breaking out some cool dance moves, with Nell discretely looking on. This was followed by the long overdue tete-a-tete between Hetty and Callen, discussing decisions and the future, which will feature heavily next week. It will be interesting to understand how much their relationship may be scrutinised when Hetty's manipulation is placed under the spot light.  

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