“Blame It On Rio” is a standalone episode filmed at the end of season six, and as such, there were no expectations the IA investigation into Deeks or Callen’s search for Arkady would progress, nor would there be any development into who burned Callen and Sam in the previous episode. But the promise of Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo visiting from the NCIS DC headquarters, does guarantee an episode full of fun and shenanigans.
DiNozzo has been sent to LA to collect prisoner Rio Syamsundin, a money launderer for terrorist organisations, who was arrested in Singapore. During his transfer flight to America, he managed to drug the US Marshall escorting him, slip out of his cuffs, trade places with another passenger and escape. DiNozzo approaches the LA team to request their assistance in locating the missing prisoner.
Clearly it has been an early morning without any pressing cases, as the episode opens with half of the team training in the gym. Kensi and Sam are playing “whack a Beale”; both field agents seem to relish using Eric as a punch bag just a little too much. Hetty is dressing Nell for a renaissance fair, and Deeks has spent half an hour in the locker room, only to come out dressed as Bruce Lee, in a yellow onesie. Callen is late, causing Sam to speculate there is trouble in paradise between him and Joelle.
To make allowances for those purist fans of either the mothership or the LA spin-off, DiNozzo and the LA team are introduced to each other with a face off in the Mission. As DiNozzo walks in, the team are lined up opposite and DiNozzo remarks that “this must be the secret lair of the west coast Avengers”.
The characters are then introduced one by one. The dynamics and tone are set up with DiNozzo calling Deeks “Uma” (Thurman – Kill Bill), and continues throughout. The two trading insults is similar to how DiNozzo treats McGee, but the difference here is that it is played for laughs, and Deeks responds quickly with his own witty come backs, giving DiNozzo a run for his money.
Kensi is the only other character that constantly interacts with DiNozzo, as he partners up with her and Deeks to track down Rio. Kensi reverts back to the way she flirted with Sabatino back in season four’s “Wanted”, not understanding the impact her behaviour has on Deeks. Deeks reacts with jealousy (as he also did with Sabatino) and is reluctant to leave the two together. In this respect, the episode seemed to have aired in the wrong order for season seven, as last week, Kensi and Deeks had an open and honest conversation about money. To now see Kensi flirting and complimenting DiNozzo on how sharp he looks in his suit, does not fit at all. Maybe this should have been placed after Citadel, when Kensi had to deal with Deeks and Talia?
The difference between the DC and LA team is clearly demonstrated in Ops when they describe how Rio escaped on the flight; a reminder that DC would have spent time interrogating suspects to uncover the plan, whereas the LA team are used to thinking creatively. DiNozzo even looks suitably impressed and comments as such, later referring to their undercover speciality when he assumes Sam would want to take on the role of “bad cop” in interrogation.
There are very few scenes between DiNozzo, Sam and Callen, although the partners do give him ‘advice’ on dealing with Hetty, resulting in DiNozzo closing his eyes when Hetty stares at him. It is strange to see him lost for words and unable to charm his way out of a sticky situation. Callen seems mildly amused at DiNozzo’s antics and is generally more upbeat and looser than in previous season seven episodes. As usual, he still manages to get the better of Sam in the boatshed, when they trade stories on various escapades where the men or women were not as they first appeared (not forgetting the midgets, hanging from Sam’s ear)! Each threatens to tell Deeks to ensure the other is the subject of his ridicule for a long time to come.
DiNozzo himself has been written in character and played off Deeks well. He has the funniest line as he greets Rio’s imposter (Mr Hung), by saying “Well, Hung”…His character is much lighter away from Gibbs & DC; there seems to have been little opportunity for DiNozzo to have fun in recent seasons of NCIS. The in-jokes between Deeks and DiNozzo about shipping and relationships were interesting and fun to watch. The NCIS writers missed the boat with Ziva, whereas LA have had the courage to make Deeks and Kensi a couple. There was also a reasonable amount of continuity with NCIS as Hetty brought up Director Jenny Shepherd, who died in LA, last time DiNozzo came to town. The Gibbs head-slap was also good to see, although could you imagine Hetty trying that with Callen?
Rio is introduced as a villain who triggered an intelligent contingency plan after he was arrested in Singapore, and is a master of switching identities, even arranging plastic surgery to alter his appearance. However, he hires a red Mustang and drives around LA, sightseeing and quickly morphs into a caricature. He has wild, fluffy hair that sticks up, clearly fakes heart attacks, tries to bribe agents and even pretends he’s CIA – at one point he does all three in the space of about a minute. His interactions with the various field agents are fun to watch.
Between Rio, DiNozzo and the LA team, the case has more than the usual amount of references to Batman and other movies. It is the post plastic surgery medicine that enables DiNozzo and Deeks to quote Michael Long, who has facial reconstruction surgery and emerges as Michael Knight, in KinghtRider. And to continue with the absurdity, when Rio is finally captured, he refers to them all as the A-Team, topping it off with an impression of Mr T, just for Sam.
Despite being filmed at the end of season six and inserted as the fifth episode of season seven, the continuity within the NCISLA arcs is still present (excluding the Kensi jealousy). Eric is attempting to continue his training and early on, Granger requests more information on the IA investigation. In fact DiNozzo asks Deeks if he was palmed off on NCIS due to an internal affairs investigation, a sure warning that the IA arc has still to play out and will most likely impact on his relationship with Kensi. Joelle is talked about for the first time this season (excluding last week’s ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ reference), and is another warning of their impending split.
The episode was uncharacteristically funny and in some places tried too hard. The Nell and Eric conversation in ops about cosplay and a fur convention was very weird, overlong and slowed the episode down horrendously. They were very niche references and unnecessary. Rio was a funny but a ridiculous villain, and Deeks and DiNozzo had great banter, with each trying to one up the other. Purist NCIS fans are probably now reassured they made the right decision not to watch the LA spin off, and purist NCISLA fans may still not give the mothership a chance, if they viewed DiNozzo as a rather arrogant bully.
Taken on face value, Blame It On Rio was great fun and it would be interesting to have DiNozzo appear every once in a while, in the same way as Vance has. DiNozzo does not belong in LA permanently but his visit certainly put a spark in to the episode. Unfortunately, when NCISLA visits DC, they are not permitted to access the NCIS offices, as per Hetty last season who had to meet with Director Vance at a museum. The NCISLA team functions perfectly as they are, and a little shake up once in a while changes the dynamics and is always welcome. A return to the norm next week though, is welcomed.