Last week’s episode focused on Callen’s character, but this week the attention is clearly on Kensi, with Deeks also under scrutiny. Kensi’s back story has been explored during earlier seasons; investigations into her father’s death led Kensi to be accused of murder and to the subsequent reconciliation with her estranged mother. Kensi’s spell of living on the streets as a teenager was also touched on in last season’s ‘The Grey Man’. She was previously engaged to a marine named Jack who suffered with PTSD and left her on Christmas day. Hetty used this to her advantage when she sent Kensi to Afghanistan on the ‘white ghost’ mission. She knew that when Kensi found and recognised Jack, she would not be able to pull the trigger, and would instead investigate. But Kensi deliberately allowed herself to be captured and found Jack was also being held hostage (and that he had found peace in himself and moved on).
Kensi and Deeks experienced a lot of trauma (hostage, torture, PTSD) before they even became a couple, most recently overcoming Deeks’ Internal Affairs drama. This week, the pair arrived in the bull pen with Kensi excitedly announcing that she was moving in with Deeks. Sam and Callen show little enthusiasm for the move with Callen assuming they were already living together. The pair have been happy together for a while now, but where is the fun in maintaining the equilibrium?
Ex-fiance Jack had been guiding ICE agent Sy Riggs around antiquity sites in his adoptive country of Afghanistan, but Riggs had been collating two lists; one of antiquities and another of key Taliban and Al Quaeda contacts. Jack became suspicious and contacted Hetty who flew him to LA, but Riggs had already arrived to sell the lists. Hetty placed Jack in her new property (a dilapidated apartment block) after an attempt on his life during their rendezvous. So Hetty sent Kensi and Deeks there on protective duty – although in true Hetty style, they didn’t know who they are protecting until they arrive at the apartment.
The narrative of ‘Come Back’ is very much character based as opposed to case focused, and the episode allows Kensi to explore her relationships and emotions without it becoming a soap opera. In fact the whole Kensi/Deeks/Jack triangle is handled with maturity by the characters, thanks to the writing of Erin Broadhurst, in her first solo-written episode. There is no jealousy from Deeks (he and Jack actually bond), no barbed comments from any character and no hint that Kensi still loves Jack. With one dead wife and having recently remarried, Jack clearly has no problems moving on. It is Kensi who has unanswered questions and requires closure from Jack, and Deeks allows her the time to have those conversations.
For several episodes after the trauma suffered by Deeks and Kensi (early and late season five respectively), NCIS Los Angeles dealt with the subject of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and then moved on to other cases and character developments. But PTSD forms an important subtext to ‘Come Back’. Both Kensi and Deeks speak separately to Jack about their experiences. Deeks sometimes wakes up screaming as he recalls how he tortured the Afghan cleric to try and find Kensi. He also freely admits that he would do the same again to save someone he loves. ‘Internal Affairs’ has already shown that Deeks will kill to protect women and this angle of his character will most likely be explored again. Crucially Jack advises Deeks to not push her away, like he did. Kensi admits she still has nightmares, and Jack has them every night. Terrible though it is for the characters, it is interesting to know they still suffer (off camera) and reassuring for the audience that PTSD has not been swept under the carpet.
Being a victim of trauma can trigger violent reactions, which is cleverly tackled during a Jack / Granger conversation. Jack found peace and solace in Afghanistan but happiness was ripped from him when a US drone strike killed his first wife. Jack fought the urge to take up arms against the US in anger and retaliation as he would just be perpetuating the violence. Instead he vowed to restore his country Afghanistan and he made it clear he wasn’t helping NCIS for Granger or the USA. He still values the simplest pleasures in life, especially his family so it didn’t really come as a surprise that he caved to the bad guys blackmail and gave up his location to protect his family.
For the first time probably since the season opener, Hetty had a substantial role to play, particularly during her closing scenes with Kensi, who challenged why Hetty placed Jack’s life in danger again. Hetty reminds her of their roles and the difficult positions they ask others to place themselves in, but reassures Kensi that she had a SEAL team covering Jack’s family back home. The other, more random piece of information is when Hetty makes a comment to Granger about a stress remedy she learnt from an old Romani woman when she was a child. Is there truth to the conversations she had with Alexa Comescu in the season three opener, that she grew up with a Romani family? Or is this a subtle reminder about Callen’s past. Hetty’s back story has yet to be fleshed out – that would be a whole spin off in itself! There are also hints about Granger when Jack reveals the Assistant Director’s marine past. It’s already known he was CIA and involved in black ops, and more of his story will be explored later this season, if the promised Granger,O sees the light.
There is a reversal of characteristics between Sam and Callen, as Callen spends the first part of the episode guessing what Sam was secretively writing in the bullpen. The boot is clearly on the other foot from last week but Callen treats it as a game. He correctly analyses and deduces correctly that Sam is arranging a Mathalete reunion, and the light banter and sassy Callen continue, particularly with the amusing fight at the warehouse.
But the real joy in this episode is the development of Kensi and Deeks. Kensi gets the closure she desired from Jack, even though this was not required for her to move forward with Deeks. Deeks shows a maturity that seldom comes across in his ‘class clown’ role, and even offers Kensi a take away and crash evening, rather than a moving in evening. Kensi again proves how sharp a shooter she is in the final gun fight, taking on countless bad guys and snapping a man’s neck (note the team eventually turn up to support her, just as it looked as though Jack’s life might be sacrificed for the Kensi/Deeks relationship).
There are a number of additional touches that help seal this as one of the key episodes of season seven – and indeed in the Kensi canon – such as the mathalete joke, the Hetty/Romani reference, and the throwback to Deeks’ walking workstation. And in support of the real agency, Sam and Callen comment about NCIS turning fifty next week. The references to past episodes, the character development and the maturity with which tricky situations are handled, means that ‘Come Back’ is a sheer pleasure to watch for fans of all characters.