NCIS: Los Angeles S12E02 Review "War Crimes"

In the season 11 finale ‘Code of Conduct’ the team investigated Petty Chief Officer Argento,  whose fellow SEALs accused him of murdering an injured and unconscious prisoner in Afghanistan.  Kensi and Deeks persuaded the SEALs to sign official statements, while Sam, Callen and Devin Rountree travelled to Afghanistan to locate and arrest Argento.   The episode was intense and dramatic with constant reminders he has highly powerful connections that could be career threatening for those who have taken him down. In other words, there would be hefty repercussions for the NCIS team in LA.


 ‘War Crimes, is the conclusion to ‘Code of Conduct’ and focuses on Argento’s court case.  Again the global pandemic is set aside with a peculiar mixture of social distancing and close proximity.  Sam greets prosecution lawyer Marine Lieutenant Colonel Catro with a handshake, yet later scenes between her and Callen observe the two metre rule.  The main characters continue to be split with Sam, Callen and Rountree in San Diego in support of the court hearing. Fatima and Nell remain in mission, sharing a few scenes together physically in Ops, and later with Fatima in Ops and Nell on the big screen (she’s based herself in Hetty’s office).  Kensi and Deeks are mostly in the field in LA and sadly there is no scene where the entire team meet up.


The events which follow the team’s missions are rarely followed through and ‘War Crimes’ offers the chance to view this side of the their work. Initially there is no promise of action or drama as Lt. Colonel Catro reports the SEALs are primed to give solid statements.  Catro is an understated character; calm and unflustered.  The defence lawyer is introduced as a powerful high flyer, an almost over the top stereotype. She is dressed in red, boasts she has just flown in from New York and treats the case as a game she intends to win. So far, she is the only potentially powerful person connected to Argento.  The groundwork is laid for the court hearing to go smoothly, and of course it’s thrown up in the air when the first witness, Special Warfare Operator First Class Kendricks, amid flashbacks to the incident, testifies his sworn statement is a lie and that he committed the atrocities. The second witness, Navy Petty Officer William Moffet, fails to appear. From this point, the team both in LA and San Diego have a race against the judge’s deadline of 14:00 to investigate why Kendricks changed his statement and to locate Moffet.  The rest is really just run of the mill. The team locate Moffet and discover the reason why he disappeared and why Kendricks changed his story - witness intimidation. There is nothing groundbreaking in the way this unravels and it is done in a very pedestrian manner and with a lack of urgency. For example Nell and Fatima talk generally about the case in Ops, but there is no frantic panic when the deadline is looming fast. Kensi and Deeks investigate a courier company, visiting them three times in order to extract the required information. 


Frank Military’s penned ‘Code of Conduct’ was dark, intense and dramatic. This episode, written by Jordanna Lewis Jaffe is light, slow and unremarkable. She has not built on the previous tension and the repercussions threatened - the careers of the NCIS offers and the existence of the LA team, due to Argento’s powerful allies - is ignored. His lawyer is supposedly powerful but undermines herself with smart-ass comments in front of the judge. Highly decorated retired Navy SEAL Parker Cole is the only person of rank and is arrested, having arranged for couriers to pass messages to Argento. This is most confusing as he is a new character barely introduced, who speaks maybe one line. He is also the father of Navy Petty Officer Michael Cole, who gave evidence against Argento and helped the team find Moffet, but was also instrumental in threatening Moffet’s family.  No explanation or motivation is given as to why Parker senior was involved, nor for the conflicting actions of Parker junior.  Daddy-issues are mentioned but makes little sense as none of the characters are fleshed out.  The SEALs also have lost the toughness they displayed in Afghanistan, which could be attributed to their return to civilian life rather than living in a war zone. Or it could be due to poor character development.


Episode writer Jaffe has a penchant for creating oddball and ridiculously over- the-top-characters.  She may have restrained herself somewhat here, with the exception of the young man running the courier office who was only slightly amusing and otherwise embarrassing. There were other, curious scenes such as Fatima practicing yoga and meditation in Ops, surrounded by candles. There was some comedic value in the scene, when Fatima comments she didn’t realise the candles were scented and she now had a headache!  More concerning is how a new NCS Special Agent considers the use of multiple candles with real flames set among the expensive and powerful electronic equipment, is acceptable. Countering this are some good partner scenes, with Sam and Callen’s bromance bracketed with Sam outside Callen’s home to pick him up/drop him off, and the Kensi and Deeks scenes in the armoury.  Deeks has the line of the episode “without comedy there is only pain”.  It is just unfortunate that comedy is very subjective and personally, this mostly falls very flat.

The very nature of court dramas is an emphasis on morals and characters, the search for truth. This marries up with the values of NCIS: Los Angeles, but the premise of the show is fast-paced cases, action and adventure.  This was evident in last season’s finale, but War Crimes fails to capitalise on this, making it a rather dull and extremely unsatisfying conclusion.  It is always good to shake up the storytelling methods and mix in different genres and filmmaking styles, however this attempt just failed.  

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