Several episodes in season seven have set the foundations for the return of Tahir Khaled, warlord brother of Jada, whom Sam romantically befriended in season three. Sam tricked her into leaving her home land, and destroyed her dreams when he abandoned her upon arrival to the US; Jada had to testify against Tahir or return home, where her brother would kill her. In ‘The Long Goodbye’, Jada managed to escape witness protection and returned home, leaving the storyline open for her brother to finally seek revenge upon Sam, hence the title ‘Revenge Deferred’.
Sam and Callen are flown into a destroyed renegade army camp in Eritrea, Africa, where only Sam is initially privy to a tent full of surveillance photos of his family; it seems there is a new mole at NCIS. The photos are less than a year old and none of the Agencies are willing to share information with the Office of Special Projects. Of course Sam involves the team, and his family are immediately placed in a safe house – so safe that even Hetty doesn’t know the location. The army camp had belonged to elusive resistance army leader Thomas Karume, and back in LA, with the help of War Crimes Tribunal investigator Alex Elmslie, the team connect Karume to Tahir Khaled. Meanwhile, back in Eritrean, Sam and Callen disobey Hetty’s orders and search for Tahir, and then Jada.
Protection of Sam’s family is crucial and as always, the team steadfastly stand together when one of their own is in danger. Hetty even gives voice to this by stating to Sam that his family are the NCIS team’s family too. The subject of family is absorbed in to the larger topic of boundaries. Within the remit of field work is the unspoken question of how far Sam took his undercover mission with Jada. Tahir even attempts to antagonise Sam by stating he does not love his wife as much as he does Jada. Sam is an honourable man, and although he clearly has strong feelings for Jada, it was implied in season three that he never acted on them. Boundaries of authority are pushed when he (and Callen) disobey Hetty to search for Jada after Granger (disobeying Hetty’s wishes) sends Sam a recent photo containing GPS coordinates. But Sam does seem to struggle with his feelings when Jada reveals she was rescued from her brother by her now fiancé, and they share a tender moment to say farewell. This version of Jada is a far cry from the tired, angry and defiant woman who fled the US to return to her brother – and Jada now says she was returning to her fiancé all along. Unfortunately this seems to contradict The Long Goodbye, eight episodes ago.
Torture was also high on the agenda, with Sam intent on securing the information on who at NCIS leaked the information on his family to Tahir. Sam has always been portrayed as a moral and honest character, so it was interesting to see where the writers would take him and how his partner would react. Sam asks Callen to leave him alone with Tahir and Callen acquiesces, even going so far to say that whatever Sam does, will stay between them. Bearing in mind Callen’s dispensation to premeditated violence (in season two’s Lange. H, he coldly told the team his plan was to “kill them all”, it is not surprising that he is sanctioning torture.
Any scenes which refer to torture are compared to the benchmark set by Deeks in season five’s Spoils of War, whose actions were impulsive and emotionally driven. Sam too is emotionally driven but his torture is planned. He deliberately ties Tahir to a chair in the same basement where Tahir had once interrogated him. Throughout the torture scenes, Tahir taunts Sam that he is American and conditioned not to carry out his threats. The power struggle continues and even when Sam has Tahir tiptoeing on a chair with a noose around his neck, he still says he is not afraid. Sam’s calm behaviour and admission that he has self control and is a trained SEAL, is a psychological game which Callen interrupts; but on the face of it, Sam has lost the power battle with Tahir.
The team in LA are extremely focused on the case, with Nell and Eric safely finding and analysing information from Ops. Kensi and Deeks investigate intelligently, liaising with Elmslie and the CIA, and playing hard ball with an asset/suspect – they were back to being partners rather than lovers. There was one reality check for the couple when Kensi responded to Deeks’ comment that the job does not allow the white picket fence lifestyle, that at least they have each other to come home to. This is an important affirmation of how far both characters have progressed in their commitment to each other and their ability to communicate.
The mole story arc has suddenly returned with a vengeance, having been mentioned in odd episodes during the season. It is now common knowledge that there’s a leak within the NCIS Office of Special Projects. No agencies will release information to them and even the African Army Colonel in Eritrean is aware of the issue. This suggests the thread will be picked up within the next few episodes and it would be refreshing to see a known character as the traitor, rather than a random member of staff, never seen before, as in last season’s Traitor.
There is an interesting dynamic this week between Hetty and Granger. Their scenes are always intriguing, often with the overtone of a power struggle. There is more than a hint of a rich back story that has not yet been told, with Hetty’s line that they have never stopped lying to each other, adds fuel to that fire. Both characters are now seeking to protect the team albeit in differing ways. Hetty wants to bring Sam home to remove him from the temptation of interrogating Tahir and possibly his feelings for Jada. Granger stated that Hetty underestimates Sam’s obligations to Jada, unspoken obligations caused by guilt and confusion over his feelings. Granger deliberately sent Sam the photo so he would find Jada and not have regrets, sounding like a lesson he has learned the hard way.
Although this is a powerful and thoughtful episode, it does have the misfortune of following last week’s Matryoshka Part 2, where Chris O’Donnell gave an emotionally charged performance. This makes it more noticeable that LL Cool J does not have the same range and his scenes with Jada do not have the desired emotional impact; his strengths lie in the action and buddy scenes. On the plus side, it was great to see the roles of Sam and Callen reversed. On countless occasions Sam backed his errant partner, usually without voicing the concerns he clearly harbours. This time it is Callen’s turn to support Sam unconditionally.
The investigation from LA was fairly complex with duplicitous charities and money trails and at times was difficult to follow. By comparison the capture of Tahir Khaled in Africa was extremely easy. In the final scenes, Sam and Callen return to Tahir’s farm to find it attacked and Tahir missing and before that , Jada warned Sam that her brother’s obsessed with Sam. Tahir has deferred his revenge for four seasons, and will again be taking a breather before returning and attempting to finish the job (maybe in the season finale)?