An Unlocked Mind is another episode from the pen of Frank Military and this time directed by NCISLA actor Chris O’Donnell. As a result, expectations are already set that this will be a more serious episode, with a little less Callen than usual. And these expectations are indeed met; the episode deals with a religious cult, the Church of the Unlocked Mind, who target emotionally vulnerable high level executives and manipulate them into revealing corporate secrets which they use for their own financial gain. The wife of former DARPA engineer David Ramsey manages to escape the cult and turns to LAPD, who turn to NCIS. Evidence has been uncovered which suggests David has revealed secrets about the DODs cutting edge technologies; an executive cult member has been seen meeting with a Chinese National who is a suspected spy.
The episode mainly follows Kensi and Deeks who are sent undercover in the cult. Sam takes Nell as a partner in the field to stakeout a meet between the executive cult member and the Chinese spy, whilst Callen and Granger keen an eye on DOJ Attorney Oscar Guevara, who’s been sent to monitor the NCIS investigation.
Although having the usual look and feel of NCISLA, this is a very unsettling episode on a number of levels, and overall, has more of an adult feel. The opening scene is overtly sexual with Kensi and Deeks practising yoga in the gym. Naturally, Deeks is only able to concentrate on Kensi’s ass. The sexual overtones continue during Kensi’s experience of the cult. The leader, Lee Ashman has taken a shine to Kensi, who is later seen sitting with the other women, in dressing gowns, drinking wine (akin to a spa) and discussing two girls on girl massages. What is disturbing is that they drug Kensi and when she awakes, she is in her lingerie, being kissed by her ‘mentor’ Gaia. When the scene cuts back to them, Lee Ashman is lying next to her, with Gaia on the other, both about to sexually assault her. It’s an extremely intense moment for the viewer as NCISLA is usually all about entertainment. Frank Military and Chris O’Donnell have had the guts to take the show further than it normally does. The same uncomfortable feelings were generated in two other Military written episodes; Spoils of War (with Deeks water boarding the cleric), and Rage (the racism and abuse).
On a lighter note, it does seem that director Chris O’Donnell likes to cater for the females in the audience, with a repeated emphasis on Deeks’ body. In season four’s Wanted, Deeks gets naked in the Turkish bath house, In the season six episode Seal Hunter (co-written by Frank Military), there is a close up of his butt, and in this episode again, we get Deeks showing off his muscles during yoga, and later, in his swimming shorts. There is also some tongue in cheek references with Kensi’s undercover persona. She’s a ‘wanna be’ actress whose career nose dived after taking meth and she took to sleeping with producers and studio execs. A poke at the Hollywood film and TV industry, whilst at the same time taking a poke at the Church of Scientology, which was actually referenced by Callen in terms of litigious actions with the IRS.
Cults are not holiday camps, despite first impressions – the cult is set is in acres of lush green grounds in Topanga. The Church of the Unlocked Mind takes them “through the looking glass”, as Deeks states, a literary reference to entering an alternative reality, one that is the opposite of the norm and therefore by definition, evil. Attempted sexual assault is only one aspect. Deeks is nearly drowned during a ‘rebirthing’ ceremony, causing Kensi to almost break cover in an attempt to stop them. Deeks befriends David Ramsey and follows him to the punishment area, tricking his way in. An all male group are playing Simon says; those who repeatedly fail will leave the cult (possibly becoming the ‘disappeared’, as David’s wife Kate revealed to Callen and Sam earlier in the episode). The group leader says “Simon says swot yourself…Simon says again…harder!” The men are effectively self harming and do so out of their own self-loathing; David in particular is caught out in this way (references to a teenage Callen in Rage). Deeks is left dumbfounded.
There is a question mark over the DOJ Attorney and Callen realises this, volunteering to remain in the boatshed to stay close to him, allowing Sam to secure the hard evidence required. His stint is the field with Nell is only concerning when they lose track of the men, causing Nell to shout to Eric (via her earwig) in the car park. Good job the men weren’t just at the far end of their level.
When it’s realised that Kensi and Deeks need to be extracted, Callen, Granger and Guevara hover on the edge of the cult’s property. The Attorney brings his own FBI officers to ensure NCIS don’t enter the cult without the evidence, and later orders the FBI to arrest the entire team for lying. It’s amusing to see them each support each other with ridiculous lies, Callen suffering from anxiety, Granger being a megalomaniac and Nell threatening Sam with physical violence! Guevara’s motives are never fully explored – was he just a jobsworth or was there something more sinister?
Clearly all ends well, with a spectacular Kensi head butt into the nose of Lee Ashman and an elbow into the face of Gaia. At the same time, Deeks manages to singlehandedly fight off about five men. For once Deeks has a serious role and he is portrayed as a fully competent undercover agent. There is no unnecessary contact with Kensi, no jokes at inappropriate moments; this episode really showcased the character in a way that is not usually seen. That all changes at the end though, with Kensi and Deeks leaning in for a tender kiss, with Hetty interrupting as only she can.
An Unspoken Mind is supposed to be disturbing and to make the viewer uncomfortable. Cults contain many evil and manipulative people, some of whom are sexual predators. It pushed the boundaries and demonstrated that NCIS Los Angeles can be more grown up in the 10pm timeslot.