NCIS: Los Angeles S11E19 Review

Change is difficult to manage, particularly on a TV show in its eleventh season with the same core cast as the very first episode.  The cast and crew have come together as a family, evident in the ease with which the cast seamlessly bounce of each other, and how the writers and directors can get the best out of the actors.  Since the middle of season eleven, change has become a recurring theme.  The semi-permanent absence of Hetty over recent seasons has finally been voiced with thought to the future.  Callen gets promoted to her role, Sam finds a new recruit with potential and brings them into the fold for training and mentoring.  Deeks has long since dithered about whether a job for him and Kensi in law enforcement is wise when they are looking to start a family.  Eric has job offers from tech start up companies in San Francisco and Nell has realised she no longer wants to be groomed for Hetty’s role.  Special Agent Fatima Namazi has joined as a recurring cast member, able to analyse intelligence in the Ops centre, and proving herself capable in the field. Now it seems there is another ball to juggle with FBI Special Agent Devin Roundtree.

‘Fortune Favours the Brave’, written by showrunner Scott Gemmill is a challenging episode which starts to bring these threats of change to fruition.  It is never easy to introduce a new character and even though Roundtree was first seen two episodes ago in ‘Watch Over Me’ he is presented again not only to the audience but also to the rest of the team.  Unfortunately this makes a few scenes a little frustrating.  In real life Roundtree would indeed be introduced to everyone at different times and here, he is seen being introduced to everyone.  He is at NCIS to shadow the agents and so is not currently a permanent addition. His arrival at the mission was reminiscent of the very first episode of season one, when Sam brings Callen to their new offices. His first day was extremely eventful, from his uncertainty of being in the right place to some terrific stunts and explosions. He quite rightly asks about a typical day for the agents. The episode does have a different feel for several reasons; Roundtree’s arrival, Callen taking vacation time and Kensi partnering with Fatima.

Despite the partner shake-up there is much which is familiar, namely the camaraderie between the characters. Callen is present at the start, causing Sam to almost chase him out of the building to force him to take his leave. Callen does seem to be delaying a touch, and continuing from the conclusion of last week’s episode, Hetty advised she did not arrange for Anna Kolcheck’s  exoneration and hopes it wasn’t done for the wrong reasons. This sows the seeds of doubt in to Callen’s already paranoid mind and as well as setting up for a future storyline, it also leads to the episode’s funniest scene in the gun range with Sam commenting he loves Callen like a brother - in a Rain Man kind of way.  

The familial theme is prevalent throughout, with Kensi, Deeks and Sam all taking on mentoring / older sibling roles at various points.  Kensi becomes the confidant for Nell and in turn offers to listen and support Fatima (who sweetly offers the same back, her youth and junior status makes this a sincere albeit token gesture).  Deeks is paired with Roundtree, quickly striking up a bond and allowing Roundtree to demonstrate his quick wits with both words and numbers.  This is a bit of a surprise as Sam is wanting to assess him, but then how Roundtree fits with the rest of the team is just as important as whether he can be moulded in to a great agent.  Sam as usual, takes on the role of father figure, reassuring Deeks after Roundtree’s car bomb incident and allowing the potential new agent to take the lead when interviewing their suspect. Hetty too makes an appearance, confirming her larger than life legend status as per Fatima’s description of her to Roundtree. After Fatima’s description, Hetty is seen in the gym observing an Eastern martial arts practice whilst dressed in similar garb.  Her motherly status manifests itself in different ways depending with which character she is interacting.  After warning Callen she packs him off on holiday, her words of advice to Roundtree is to not get himself or anyone else killed (wise words) and her most heartfelt conversation had with Nell.

There is concern from Kensi and Hetty, that Nell’s desire to resign is because she has burned out. The accumulation of events over recent seasons with the team in jeopardy, Eric’s near-miss earlier this season, her emotionally draining sister and her mother’s ongoing fight for life has taken its toll.  She overtly blamed Hetty for Eric’s predicament and has the key line in ‘Mother’ about Hetty, “this is what happens when you play God in the lives of those you say you love”.  She has since admitted to Callen that she no longer has Hetty’s ear and yet still Hetty plays the mother figure. She is measured and not emotional, offering Nell the lifeline of taking annual leave and then either returning - or not, rather simply accepting her dramatic decision to sever ties with NCIS. This was a suggestion made earlier by a more emotional Kensi, who seemed shocked at Nell’s decision. All the field agents (Deeks included) have been through much more than Nell and this harks back to her reaction in S06E03 The 3rd Choir when she killed someone for the first time.  Deeks too is in turmoil for part of the episode. Roundtree was in his charge when he sat in a stolen car where the seat was a pressure trigger for a bomb.  The bomb made for some great stunts when Sam jumped off a bridge causing Roundtree (also strapped in a harness) to fly out of the car but Deeks felt guilty that the young agent was in that predicament in the first place.  He also again reflects on his own mortality and how close he came to death. Surely the more telling question was why a trained federal agent sat down in a stolen car when forensics could have provided a crucial lead or evidence? Kensi again becomes pivotal to the scene. She is focused on the case and rather than being too sympathetic, encourages Deeks to focus.   Sam too plays his role, seeing how shaken Deeks is he instead lets Roundtree ride with him.

Alongside the stunts and explosions was a slo-mo gunfight, featuring Deeks as the lonesome (partnerless) gunslinger. Eric too was mostly alone in Ops, frantically (but not idiotically) doing his job and Nell’s, as she avoided him due to her internal crisis. It is refreshing to see the capable Eric that featured so frequently in earlier seasons.  Frustratingly though was Fatima on her motorbike. Memorably, the team and Hetty chastised Deeks for owning / riding his bike to work in season five due to the riskiness of such an activity.  It was also rather curious why the bomb-maker rigged his entire house (doors, windows) to  blow, except the one Sam has to bail  out of to save his own life! 

Judging by this week’s episode, Hetty may also be making her own plans to leave.  Nell first encounters Hetty in the burn room, and the scene finishes with a shot of a passport and documents igniting.  Later when Eric talks to her, Hetty is studying an old photo with many other old papers scattered on her desk.  Change is most definitely afoot and not only is the scene set for Nell to leave, but there are also question marks drawn more subtly against Hetty and Deeks. Forgotten in all of this is Eric, who in a recent episode was offered another job in San Francisco, this time in a friend’s start up company.  And remember the end of Mother? Special Prosecutor John Rogers acquired evidence that Hetty was instrumental in black ops in the middle east.  Partner switches are only the tip of the iceberg as the show starts to explore how to integrate new characters and changing dynamics. The biggest risk is that the changes are too great. The show has been successful for eleven seasons, by building on the chemistry initially between Sam and Callen, and then adding the partnerships of Kensi and Deeks, and Eric and Nell. It is the familiarity, the comfortable relationship of the partners and the entire team that keeps viewers coming back. The cases, well some are more interesting than others.  In Fortune Favours The Brave, the investigation in to an Iranian man’s murder had no relevance or connection to the Navy or Marines and really was forgettable, purely serving as a backdrop.  It is the characters who drive the show and early indications are that FBI Special Agent Devin Roundtree has potential, both as an agent, and as a team member.            

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