The atrocious terror attacks in Paris on Friday meant the scheduled episode of NCISLA (“Defectors” – teenage girls recruited by ISIS), was withheld. The teasers had shown Deeks being arrested by LAPD, which led into the following episode “Internal Affairs”, and the re-jigging means both episodes have been pushed back by a week. Instead is “The Long Goodbye”, written by Dave Kalstein and originally scheduled to air after Internal Affairs at the start of December. The beauty of NCISLA being a procedural is there is a mixture of standalone episodes, two-parters, and those which contribute to an overall season arc. “The Long Goodbye” can be viewed on its own, but may well contribute to the Sam-centric finale (as teased by Shane Brennan).
This episode is reminiscent of one of Kalstein’s early season one episodes, “Past Lives”. Both deal with the aftermath of long term undercover operations. Past Lives dealt with Callen sleeping with (using or falling for?) the sister of one of his marks, to the extent that her four year old child may have been his. Callen felt guilt and confusion around the web of lies he spun, questioning which truth he should reveal, if any. This time, Kalstein has revisited Sam and Jada, a character the audience was briefly reminded of earlier in season seven (Driving Miss Diaz).
Four years ago when Sam was undercover in Sudan with war criminal Tahir Khaled, he convinced Tahir’s sister Jada to fall in love with him. Sam’s cover was blown but he escaped with Jada back to the States, where he destroyed her hopes and dreams; she would have to testify against her brother and enter witness protection or be sent back to Sudan, where her brother would kill her. Either way, she would never see Sam again. Now, Jada is on her way to witness protection when the van is attacked and in the confusion, she escapes. The attackers are from the Molina drug cartel and due to NCIS connections with Jada, the team must investigate and find her. As Sam is personally involved, he’s sent to the boatshed, tasked with interrogating an injured cartel member. The drug angle means working with DEA Agent Talia Del Campo, and this time round, Kensi is paired with Talia to infiltrate the cartel’s playboy style mansion, leaving Callen and Deeks to work the crime scene.
Shaking up the established partnerships is always a joy as it changes the team dynamics. The rather strained relationship between Kensi and Talia from earlier in the season, has been put to one side now Deeks is not around to turn Talia’s head. Without him, she has no reason to wind Kensi up and the two quickly realise they have more in common than they thought; namely being revolted at the sexism they have to endure for the greater good. They work the cartel’s pool party and are a force to be reckoned with when they fight the security guys.
Surprisingly, Callen and Deeks have only paired up occasionally and rarely for more than a few scenes – even then, Callen manages to ditch Deeks. It has taken six seasons for them to be together for the best part of an episode. Their bonding commences in the bullpen where they present a solution to Kensi’s Parking Space Bitch (PSB). Later, as they stakeout a meet with Jada’s US Marshall Drew Groller, Deeks challenges Callen’s social behaviour. They are words that Sam could easily have uttered, and Callen of course states he’s social, just picky, leading Deeks to suggest they hang out. The suggestion is met with resistance; Callen fails to commit; he has to check his plans. Finally, he refuses outright in favour of hanging with Talia, presumably just as mates, as there has been no mention of his splitting with Joelle. Although it could just be that both Talia and Callen have seized an opportunity to wind up Deeks, who is somewhat vocal about no longer being the object of Talia’s desires…
The banter throughout the episode is of girls versus guys. Callen & Deeks against Kensi and her PSB, Kensi & Talia versus the cartel guys. Deeks trying and failing to get Callen to side with him against both girls and the PSB. The girls are bonding, Talia and Callen are bonding, Callen and Deeks – well it’s an excellent start to a very interesting pairing.
The light-hearted moments contrast with the seriousness of the main narrative theme; the consequences of the team’s undercover operations and the lies they tell themselves and others. This is discussed throughout and is a question the US Marshall asks directly to Callen and Deeks; do they ever think about what happens to people after the cases wrap? Both admit they do and Sam later reveals his own feelings to Hetty; it is Sam who has the most difficult challenge. On the one hand, he can justify his actions as he saved Jada from Tahir. But he lied and tricked her into leaving her homeland, effectively blackmailing her in to testifying. It was not Jada’s choice to betray her brother. For her, entering into witness protection would mean losing the last piece of her identity, familial connection and her freedom. When Jada realises Tahir wants her to return home, she acquiesces and seeks out the cartel herself. The lies told by Sam, mean she refuses to believe her brother will kill her. The team has no choice but to allow her to leave the US. As Hetty stated, forcing her to stay would be akin to imprisonment.
Sam’s scenes focused on interrogating cartel member Diego Salazar and served to slow down the episode’s pace to reveal Sam’s inner thoughts and his conscience. The questions and answers from both sides of the table were clever, each debunking the others lies and deceit. Salazar provides a foil with which Sam attempts to justify his past with Jada, both men controlling their emotions as they circle each other to uncover the truth, leading to several twists and turns in the plot. Characters are not as they first seem and their motivations are not straight forward, causing the viewer to think a little more than usual, (a common trend in episodes written by Dave Kalstein). In addition to Sam’s unhurried scenes, the lack of car chases and fights continue to slow the narrative, allowing the team to actually investigate and so creating a different feel from the usual fast pace.
There is some smooth storytelling and editing, particularly when Nell and Eric brief the team in Ops. Questions asked by the team are answered with a cut to the scenes in the gym, where Granger is updating Sam. Information continues to be released in this manner, with each cut between Ops and the gym revealing more. The most frustrating element though, is the over-use of music, particularly in the airport shoot out where it is extremely noticeable. Music in procedurals should be used to enhance the moment, not to stand out and be overbearing. In fact some scenes are better without any background music; images can speak for themselves, as can words.
The Long Goodbye is a reference to the hard-boiled detective novels by Raymond Chandler and in a literal sense, this may not actually be goodbye. Before Jada left, Callen confirmed a cartel member was still tagged. They will know when and where Jada lands and therefore, will also have Tahir’s location. Sam may possibly encounter them both again in the season seven finale; after all, her brother still needs to exact his revenge on Sam.
This is another excellent episode for season seven, which is continuing to focus on different characters and bringing variety with the storytelling and episode style.