‘Defectors’ is the episode rescheduled from last week due to the ISIS terror attacks in France. The story centres around a note found after a car crash, which has the phonetic spelling of Luqman Badr Al Din, an elusive yet charismatic key ISIS member, who’s responsible for youth recruitment and propaganda. The team discover the man killed in the crash was an Uber taxi driver, and one of his passengers from the previous day was Iraqi Jahmir Yacoob, who was Special Forces during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The team turn tactical to assault his house and arrest him, only to find that his eldest daughter Zahra has been reported missing to LAPD. The parents confirm the note found at the crash is written in Zahra’s hand, and that she had access to her father’s Uber account. A photo on display from a recent model agency shoot suggests ISIS are using the studios to recruit girls, and Kensi goes undercover to obtain evidence of their involvement, whilst the team seek the girl and the terrorist.
The episode could and should have been a lot heavier on the ISIS story as it is very topical. Certainly UK news has stories of teenage girls, with no history of extremist views, upping and flying to Syria to fight with ISIS. Their roles are unclear, however the likelihood is they will become suicide bombers or as this episode suggests, ISIS brides. In the hands of a different writer such as Frank Military, the tone would have been very dark and intense. But here there is more discussion about what ISIS is doing and how, rather than showing, and the seriousness is somewhat eroded by the humorous aspects between characters.
The opening bullpen scene featured some rather amusing but harsh banter as Callen attacks Kensi over her clutter; he gives her a self help book, advises she requires professional help and that her mess is a sign of depression. Kensi counters by saying his accusations and lack of mess is about his inability to commit to a serious relationship. When Callen cites Joelle to disprove her theory, her blunt and sarcastic response is left answered, leaving her to state that Callen can’t even commit to a coffee mug. His lack of reaction suggests there is trouble ahead. In an earlier episode, Sam says to Kensi that Callen was late due to relationship issues, a continuation from season six when Joelle was still trying to get used to the real him. It seems the path is being laid for a break up.
Relationship wise, it is interesting to see how the tables have turned, as in early seasons, Kensi and Callen were very much alike in the romance stakes. Now Kensi is ‘all in’ with Deeks, she can afford to make such comments. It also serves to cement her own commitment, which will be tested as Deeks is arrested for murder at the end of this episode.
The assassination of Callen’s character continues with Sam hauling him up about being selfish. The only reason he gave Kensi a gift was so his desk space is clear, a point that Callen concedes without issue. Callen gets his revenge later, by calling in to question Sam’s controlling nature. The partner bickering continues with Kensi and Deeks squabbling about the use of a double entendre, which Sam has to moderate with a “time out”. They do seem to be pushing each other’s buttons a little more than usual.
The role of women is also relevant to this episode. Kensi rolls her eyes, sighs and volunteers to go undercover at the modelling agency and Deeks protests in favour of sending a male model undercover. However when it is clear Kensi is the wisest choice, the usual sexism appears as Deeks attempts to suggest clothes Kensi should wear for the shoot. Conversely, ISIS is recruiting beautiful young women via the agency to ship them off to Syria as teenage brides, ready to breed the next generation of terrorists. It causes various team members to stop and reflect on how many other young girls have gone missing. ISIS propaganda is tapping in to the girls during their teenage years and the flattery received from the modelling agency and the glamorising of ISIS is key to their recruitment strategy. During Sam and Callen’s interrogation of model agency founder Allison Nelson, Sam states what will happen when the girls reach Syria; they will be sold, whipped, or stoned to death, actions which Nelson believes the girls bring on themselves.
‘We can’t assume to know everyone, not even those we are closest to.’
There had been no noticeable change in Zahra’s behaviour and the family were close, which make Hetty’s conversation with Kensi relevant on a number of levels. The words apply not only to the girls and their families, but also to the NCIS team. They might be so close enough throw home truths at each other without damaging relationships, but they are each extremely private. Bantering is forgotten as the team witness families reunited, and reflect how Badr Al Din is still free to continue to build the ISIS army, one by one. ISIS remains a threat and will undoubtedly feature in future plots and hopefully with a bit more gravitas.
Hetty’s words though, have more meaning when taken in context of the final scene. The team has bonded and praised each other, with Deeks stating how impressed he was with Kensi’s talking two young girls in to returning home. In typical Deeks style, the moment turns jovial and is lost as the pair walk into the street with easy banter playing between them. And then Deeks is arrested for murder, leaving Kensi stunned.
Unfortunately, the episode teasers mean the shock element of Deeks’ arrest at the end is not a surprise, but it will be interesting to see how this unravels. It is already known that Deeks is released and back with NCIS as their LAPD liaison (ref The Long Goodbye), but this does not necessarily mean he is innocent…Hopefully the next episode, ‘Internal Affairs’, will offer some insights and background in to Deeks, as he is currently more mysterious than Callen.