NCIS: Los Angeles S11E12 Review ’Groundwork’

After a short break for Christmas and New Year, NCIS: Los Angeles returns for another solid episode that builds on the foundations laid towards the end of last year. It is always satisfying to the regular viewer when the show continues themes, plots, topics and character growth from previous episodes. In fact the opening of Groundwork was taken up with a number 'previously on NCIS: Los Angeles', making reference to Hetty & Akhos (Mother), Callen and Hetty's job, Callen and Anna, and the last appearance of CIA officer Veronica Stephens.  All in all, the scene is set for a busy episode.

The case of the week is triggered with Hetty sending a seemingly straight forward message (via Nell), for Callen and Sam to meet her in the boat shed. In typical Hetty fashion, the guys appear, Hetty is AWOL and instead they find CIA Officer Veronica Stephens, who was also expecting to meet Ms Lange. Hetty helped out the CIA in Cuba the previous year (yes, 'that' mission) and in return, asked the CIA to help agricultural scientist Dr Joseph Olonga leave Nigeria as his work and patents in emerging agricultural technologies made him a kidnapping risk. The CIA successfully escorted him to Los Angeles but he has since gone missing, the same morning Veronica staved off an attacker with a syringe. 

There is little empathy built for the cause of the 'good doctor', as he is constantly referred (is that not the name of another show on a rival network)? His character is not fleshed out and neither is the potential threat his prototypes and patents pose.  Instead the focus is on character interactions, particularly with Callen and Sam, and Callen and Veronica. Kensi and Deeks still had roles in the episode, and their banter was on par with expectations, however it was unusual and noticeable that they were absence for the first 15 minutes.  Banter was rife between all sets of partners, and even those that do not often share too much screen time.  Sam and Callen had some interesting conversations whilst driving, especially when Sam finally verbalised what most have known for a while, that Callen is drawn to women who are 'deceitful, deadly, beautiful'. There have been occasional references by Callen, of women trying to kill him, or not being who he thinks they are, although it is quite concerning that he doesn't believe he is duped by certain types of women! Enter CIA Officer Veronica Stephens. The chemistry between her and Callen (evident in her first appearance 'Heist') develops further as the episode progresses with them both playing the flirting game as part of the case. There is no serious intent on either side but it is fun to watch. 

During the early part of the episode, much is made of Hetty's no-show and the games she plays. Sam and Callen understand it is just her way, even though they are not happy with the situation, causing Sam to state they wouldn't be having the conversation if Callen was in charge. The same question has been asked in four consecutive episodes, strongly suggesting this will happen in some form this season. More pertinent is Nell's public acknowledgement that she has lost Hetty's confidence and resorts to tracking Hetty, discovering she left the US for Greece to take Ahkos' ashes home. Likewise, the reference to Callen finding Anna is another reminder that she will make an appearance soon.

Prominent throughout is the intense lack of trust between NCIS and the CIA. This is ingrained since the mole arc from seasons 6-8. Veronica's last appearance exposed the presence of a mole within the CIA and despite her presence in the boatshed and the attempt on her life, she continues to play games. Sam and Callen have to work hard to obtain any information, resulting in the latter becoming  somewhat angry with her in the airport hangar. Veronica is an interesting character. She is charismatic, secretive, smarmy, selfish sexy and cold. She betrays no emotion when the team reveal they found the severed body of a CIA colleague who escorted Olonga to LA.

There is a lot of dialogue (in cars, in Ops, on the street, in the boat shed) but two scenes in particular stand out as quite brutal, so much so that Kensi struggles with them. Firstly she witnesses a suspect leap from a trailer to the cab, lose his grip and get run over - it is not left to the imagination but seen. Secondly she finds the severed head in a car trunk. Kensi does not usually have such an adverse reaction to violence. Could her sensitiveness be connected to her desire to have children, or was it just a bad day?  There are no intimate talks between the married couple but their banter, like that of Sam and Callen, is on par, especially with Deeks stating he's the 'dude' and Kensi is the 'man'. Deeks had some fun one on one scenes with Eric, sharing quick repartee to persuade Eric he could successfully retrieve cell phone data. Eric's success is demonstrated with a grand entrance in to Ops, with dramatic 'Frankenstein-type' music and him projecting the words 'it's alive'...only for him to (temporarily) fail!  Deeks also had fun during the episodes climax when he suggests smoking out the enemy. It eventually triggers his comment about not being able to see because of the smoke and almost leads to Callen's demise. Deeks can see the bad guy taking aim on an unsuspecting Callen but Deeks can't see well enough to aim. His shot distracts the bad guy, allowing Callen to kill him. Of course during the closing bar scene, Deeks milks the moment and Callen refuses to acknowledge it as a save. It falls to Sam to have the funniest line; when answering Veronica's question about how she would go to the restroom after Callen handcuffed her to the table in the interrogation room, he answers with 'There's a trapdoor in the floor, try not to fall in.'

Overall Groundwork is an enjoyable episode. The case of the missing doctor was most definitely secondary to the characters and their interplay. Despite the gruesome deaths along the way, it never feels like the team are frantically searching for him or his prototypes. The huge bonus of the episode was how all characters were on form, with continuing references to what can now be seen as the season 11 story arcs (namely Callen taking Hetty's position and Callen searching for Anna). As arcs go, it could be a touch painful to prolong this. Hetty has been missing for most of the last three seasons and Anna comes and goes a few times a season (appearance-wise).  Callen has been overlooked a touch recently (covered by several Callen-centric episodes last season), and more character development outside of his past/parent issues is welcomed. If/when Hetty leaves, the dynamic of the team will change and most likely see the introduction of a new field agent. As always, the best arcs involve the entire team and there are still many episodes left for as yet unseen storylines.

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