NCIS: Los Angeles S13E07 Review: Lost Soldier Down


Lost Soldier Down is NCISLA star Daniela Ruah (Kensi's) second outing as director and she was teamed up with another woman, episode writer Indira Wilson, to bring this week's offering to life.  In Lost Soldier Down, the team investigate the apparent suicide of a Navy intelligence officer and uncover the mystery of why he had taken LSD before he jumped to his death, and why the USS Allegiance had an LCD problem.

The episode opens in a fantastically confusing manner as Navy Officer First Class Adrian Vargas is seen in a haze of red in a smoke filled area of his ship, sparks flying. He runs through the corridors, shot upside down, from the top and side.  An injured arm claws at him and he tries to escape through his ship's secure hatch, looking back over his shoulder in fear of his life.  He makes it on to the deck and climbs over the side, choosing to free fall rather than risk whatever has been chasing him. As he falls backwards, the background morphs into an apartment block. The camera follows his journey until he smashes onto a car roof.  Daniela has perfectly captured the chaos and confusion felt by Vargas through unusual angles and camera shots, the red lighting used, tight editing, make the drop to his death unexpected and shocking. 

Post opening credits finds most of the team in the bull pen.  It is a treat to see the team together in this shared and familiar setting.  Callen is making a personal call, the end of the conversation overheard by Sam and looks to be telling Sam a little white lie about the call.  The conversation quickly moves onto binge watching The Fast and The Furious franchise before Deeks arrives, also talking on the phone.  Kensi is on a mission in Mexico and Deeks has promised not to make changes. So of course as soon as he hangs up he states his plans to transform their garden.  Sam and Callen warn Deeks against this course of action, advise which he ignores.  Kensi's absence allows Daniela Ruah to fully focus on her directing duties and means Deeks is partnered with Rountree as Fatima is still on crutches and working the ops centre.

There are several threads to this episode; PTSD, the questionable use of the illegal drug LSD and a lesser thread of honesty in relationships.  PTSD is explored in two different ways.  The most prominent of this is through Vargas, whose PTSD was triggered by a fire on the USS Comanche where some of his colleagues died. Even though he suffered anxiety and depression, as elaborated by his boyfriend, Vargas struggled with confined spaces. After a year he took leave and secured a therapist who finally diagnosed PTSD. NCISLA often cover PTSD in former military personnel after they have left service, criticising the VA due to horrendous backlogs and the expense of private therapy. Here, the Navy itself is at fault together with the VA. Vargas went to a private therapist, who referred him to a clinic that uses LSD to successfully treat PTSD. Surely not a coincidence that high levels of LSD were found in his system during the post mortem. 

PTSD has also been covered through several of the field agents, Kensi and Deeks being the ones most affected. Fatima is the agent currently struggling, and there is continuity from S13E05 where she was shot. Fatima is still on crutches and manning ops and Kilbride catches her walking around without unaided. Showing an unusual character trait of tact, he does not call her out on it or challenges her statement that her doctor wants her out of the field for another month. Instead he advises his door is always open if she wants to talk.  This is revisited during the closure and Fatima admits to Kilbride that she's just been cleared to return to the field but she doesn't feel ready and does not want to let the team down. Kilbride shows empathy and understanding, supporting her to only return when ready, citing his own experiences of losing good marines to PTSD over the years.  The situation with Fatima is in direct contrast to that which Nell Jones found herself in after killing someone for the first time (S06E03 & 04).  At this time Granger was still around and he showed no sympathy at all. In light of mental health movements this is a sign of the times and demonstrates how progressive senior staff can and should be.

The subject of the illicit drug LSD is not limited to the treatment of PTSD but in another commentary on the military, the narrative explores the reasons why Navy Intelligence Specialist Jason Renfro was arrested for using and distributing LSD on the USS Allegiance. (where Vargas was posted after the USS Comanche fire). Sam and Callen interview Renfro and his story makes little sense; that parcels of LSD were left for him to distribute amongst his colleagues for use. Further digging shows this was seemingly part of hazing, and when a note was left on his bunk with instructions to pick up a package with details of dosage and distribution. Instead of taking this to his senior officers, he simply obeyed the instructions. The reasons for the LSD is a reflection on the high intensity work intelligence specialists on navy vessels undertake.  Renfro explains it enabled him to focus as the work requires "a heightened ability to disseminate information at a rapid pace" and he saw patterns and details he couldn't previously.  He goes on to cite that the US sanctioned experimentation of psychedelics during the Cold War. The LSD is traced back to a former intelligence officer which sort of exonerates the military, but leaves the question about working conditions and performance expectations unanswered. 

It's been a while now since there's been a bizarre character present and just in case anyone missed this element, Deeks and Rountree follow a lead to a spiritual centre and prophet Mahee Mahee.  The interview with him is senseless as the man is seemingly an idiot. The conversation goes round in circles and proves to be a dead end.  Deeks of course provides he humour during the scene where he and Rountree search Vargas' apartment. He uses the VR headset for clues, causing him to ask where he is and where are his feet.  Further amusing conversations centre around the film Hair which becomes the running joke. Deeks loves it and states it's why he wears his hair two inches longer than standard law enforcement.  He's amazed Rountree has never heard of it and plans to educate him. Callen follows this up by asking Sam if he's ever seen it. Sam counters by asking if it looks like he's ever seen it, but immediately follow through by saying that he's taken Kam to see Tangled...

Callen's story this season started in the opener Subject 17 (S13E01), where he discovered Hetty had chosen to groom him as a spy from early childhood, whereas he only 'met' Hetty when he was 17 (Rage S06E20).  This thread has been left untapped until now, and instead there have been sporadic references to his search for Katya. Now he reveals to Sam that he's tracked down another of Hetty's proteges. Sam realises Callen is up to something an lying to him (the phone call in the bullpen, saying he's on his cell to play Candy Crush). He caught a glimpse of Callen's cell, showing a photo of a woman, and Callen eventually relents and talks to Sam, whose advice (when other words fall on deaf ears) is for Callen to not let it consume him.  Callen will clearly ignore this advice - it's in his DNA. In a funny way this parallels Deeks insisting he will change his and Kensi's garden, despite her protests and the sound advice from Sam and Callen to not change anything.  The ending bullpen scene with the three agents brings the team in full circle. This time Callen says to Sam that he not going to pursue other orphans, quoting lines from Toyko Drift to confirm he'll move forward with his life. Deeks too has headed advice and works with Kensi on plans for the garden together.  The show often uses circular storytelling within episodes, and included this week is Rountree, who shares his concern over his younger sister blowing him out on their scheduled theme park day as her boyfriend stayed over. He staked out her place to discover this. At the end he reveals he has also adhered to the advice Fatima gave and all is well again.

The equilibrium may be restored but it's apparent someone was lying - Callen. Even Sam must know by now that Callen was only paying lip service to stop Sam preventing him from investigating further. When it comes to his past and family, Callen is like a dog with a bone; he won't let go. In the closing scene a casually dressed Callen bumps into the woman from his cell, causing her to drop her take out. Manufacturing such a scenario allows Callen to make moves on the woman, offering to buy her another lomo saltdo and to add a drink when he finds it's dinner for one.  Before there are any questions about his relationship status with Anna, Callen introduces himself as 'Gregg, my friends call me G".  The woman from the photo introduces herself as Leah, and Callen now has three off the book missions in progress; one - to find Katya, two - finding Hetty, three - working Leah. 

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