NCIS: Los Angeles S13E02 Review


NCIS: Los Angeles is first and foremost an entertainment show. It uses the established formula of crime procedurals so the viewer essentially knows what to expect from each episode. But at least several times a season, the show breaks from this convention to deliver very dark episodes or episodes with a lot less action and more reflection, frequently both will touch on a subject matter which may either be considered taboo, or a subject not usually tackled in depth by the show. Fukushu tackles the serious subject of racism and does so in a manner which involves numerous conversations, frequently with characters reflecting on their own experiences, making the episode stand out from the usual fare.

The episode opens with a gentle and tranquil scene. An older man is fishing on an empty beach, his catch escaping him. He slowly walks back to his truck, the peaceful scene nosily and suddenly interrupted by a passing vehicle, the young lady on her cell. The equilibrium is re-established but as he places his rod in the back of his truck, he is brutally attacked from behind by two masked men dressed in black, and is repeatedly punched and kicked, then left for dead.

The feel of this episode is very similar to that of S11E11 'Answers', also written by Kyle Harimoto, (which followed the extremely intense episode 'Mother'). The volume of serious conversations naturally slows down the pacing, and instead of high speed chases, fight scenes and explosions, there is reflection, shared experiences and a disappointment and disbelieve this could happen in America. Unfortunately this serves to alienate the viewers who tune in to watch for pure entertainment, and the repetitiveness of some of the conversations has a tendency to lay on the message a little too thickly at times. That is not to say that the show should avoid tricky topics. In the past they have covered or touched on cults (S07E07 An Unlocked Mind), white supremacists in Rage (S06E20), child suicide bombers (S07E19) The 7th Child and burying children alive (S02E04) Little Angels. By coincidence those episodes were all written by Frank Military, and include fairly high intensity drama however they do not scrutinise the subject matter. Harimoto tackles racism head on, and arguably bashes the viewer over the head with the message. Can more be less? Is subtly a better method? The reality is that sometimes subtly just doesn't work and whichever method was chosen, someone somewhere would be disappointed. Racism is rife and the bottom line is that it is right to tackle what should not even be a topic, let alone a contentious one.

The initial message of the episode is to rise above the racists. Jack Tanaka, the LAPD officer son of the victim, Craig Tanaka, a Vietnam veteran and highly respected member of the community who is seriously injured in hospital, readily agrees not to have any part in the case or to hunt for the men responsible, for fear of jeopardising any prosecution. This magnanimous and noble action. he attributes to his father who is an extremely disciplined man, thus leading to a sub theme about fathers, quite typical for the show. Sam comments his father was also disciplined as does Kilbride when he reveals to Rountree why the team have this case. Rountree reveals he would not do anything for his father (his sister is his family - clearly a story there to delve into another time). There is a great moment of mentoring between Sam and Fatima, particularly when the latter talks about her own experiences with racism, mostly because she wears a hijab. He warns her about assuming the attack on Tanaka was racially motivated but encourages her to trust her instincts, which are formed by her frames of personal reference. Kensi and Deeks do not reflect on their parentage and instead reflect on what they could offer an adopted child of another race.

Unfortunately, the message that violence is not the answer to violent racism is dropped like a stone when Jack Tanaka uses his connections to locate the suspects - a father and son - kidnaps and beats them, whilst filming a clip of them admitting the attack. The message becomes a warning of violence, that Asian-Americans will not take this hatred lying down, they are not a passive race. The flip side again reverts to the role of the father. A racist father who has spent years instilling inherent hatred into his son, the unwritten statement that this has been repeated throughout the generations.

There is an awful lot packed into the episode which is identified early with the abbreviated opening credits sequence. The team are together in their familiar shared spaces; the gym (albeit without Callen), the bullpen (minus Fatima and Rountree which leads into an amusing scene later where the pair comment about their lack of allocated desk space to Kilbride. A number of conversations take place in cars although the initial car scene when Kilbride video calls the team, is almost deliberately fake, reminiscent of 60s/70s TV / films. It is important to try different things, whether they be filmic styles or subjects, particularly when they are important and as relevant as race-hate. In this instance the delivery of the topic was a touch too heavy handed, but the cast and crew should be fully commended for such a great effort.

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