Sometimes it is the simplest storylines which are the most rewarding. Without complex plot twists, the narrative can focus on character development, the themes and most importantly, the story itself. This is the case with The Seventh Child; a child suicide bomber is talked out of blowing himself up. The pre-opening credit sequence sets the mood and tone for the entire episode. Twin boys decide to run away from the men forcing them to blow themselves up. They inadvertently split up but one twin is hit by a car, his suicide vest instantly detonating. The FBI call on NCIS as the explosive is Binetex, which the team investigated earlier this season in ‘Unspoken’.
Yes, this is another episode from the pen of Frank Military (who co-wrote Unspoken), the man who has buried children alive, had Deeks water board a cleric, Kensi nearly raped and forced Callen to confront his past and nearly get burnt alive. He has now blown up a child, and Callen (who believes kids don’t like him) has to convince the remaining twin Nadir, not to detonate his own vest.
Such a serious theme legitimately allows Kensi and Deeks to discuss their relationship and children. In a reversal of character, their bullpen chat shows just how far Kensi has come in her commitment to Deeks and embracing her feelings. She’s keen for them to get their own, larger place when Deeks spots a mommy/baby magazine in her bag. Deeks has always been the one to suggest they have little Ninja assassins but now he freezes, the reality rendering him almost speechless. Baby conversation continues with them throughout and they have serious conversations that one of them would have to give up their job (Deeks volunteers to be a stay at home dad). And not forgetting that Kensi would be out of action for maybe a year through pregnancy and childbirth. (Remember Hetty’s talk with Anna last episode? Is the show prepping for something here..?). In their closing scene, they are still having serious conversations and Kensi changes her mind, realising that maybe it is best not to bring a child in to the world. So instead, Deeks proposes…sort of, and Kensi says yes…sort of! Now that was a curve ball!
In another character reversal, it is Callen who takes the lead with Nadir, believing he will be less intimidating to the eleven year old than Sam, who remains outside the water tank in support. This is progression in itself as it’s usually Sam or Deeks that connect with children. Callen struggles to form a bond with the orphaned child and is harshly shut down when he tries to explain his own, similar childhood experiences. Nadir knows his brother is dead and wants to join him in Heaven. He believes Callen would have shot him if he wasn’t wearing the suicide vest and speaks passionately about how the US military kills children in their homes.
Nadir doesn’t care that Callen knows who his parents are, although that should come as no surprise, as Callen would have reacted the same way as a youth – and last season’s The Grey Man illustrated how much Callen is still affected by abandonment. Eventually it is Kensi and Deeks finding Nadir’s biological parents and triplet brother in Israel that convinces Nadir to want to live. From here on, Callen switches to a more successful supportive role and Nadir relies on Callen to keep him alive and calm as the bomb squad painstakingly remove his suicide vest. Once released he instinctively hugs Callen and doesn’t let go. That a child needs a hug doesn’t surprise Callen, the fact Nadir won’t let go, does.
Sam later has his own four child suicide bombers to talk down, but his experience is more fraught. He refers to the true meaning of Allah and sin, but has to wrestle with the teen who was ready to release his dead man switch. Eventually it is again the promise and hope of family that wins over the younger children and the teenager. The children have all grown up believing they are unwanted, orphans, rejected by their parents. In reality a doctor at an Indian fertility clinic has been implanting embryos into young women acting as surrogates, passing one baby to the parents and selling the others to terrorists, or on the black market. This forms part of the sub plot and is kept at a minimum, at no point overriding the main narrative focus of Callen/Nadir.
Despite the opening emotional punch of a child suicide bomber dying, the episode closes with an emotional scene which directly follows the sweet and light-hearted Deeks/Kensi proposal. Callen is with Nadir in the boatshed waiting for his real family (note Callen’s idea of childminding is to play on his cell), but he does notice that Nadir is uncomfortable in his stiff new clothes. Then Callen gives Nadir his undivided attention and offers reassurances, both about the clothes and that his biological parents won’t reject him – that certainty also stemming from the fact his father did not reject him when they met. The micro expressions played out on both his and Nadir’s face show a shared experience, the promise of a new life tempered with the experience that hopes are made to be dashed. In the water tank Nadir said he was scared without his brother and Callen admits that when he was his age he spent a lot of time being scared. Nadir asks Callen what he did and instead of directly answering, he says that “there are people who come into your life and you know you’re safe when you’re with them”. After finally embracing his family, Nadir repeats those words back to Callen. But the hero of the hour still cannot understand or believe that someone would say those words about him and Nadir corrects Callen, asking if he found out his first name. Callen tells him yes, Grisha, but that no one calls him by it. Nadir says he will be the first to call him Grisha, in what is one of the most moving scenes of the entire show.*
Once again Frank Military has delivered another unforgettable episode. As both writer and director he creates dark and intense situations, usually with a simple plot that allows for tremendous character development. He has also drawn fantastic performances from all the actors, with Eric Christian Olsen being allowed to show off his acting rather than comedic skills. Chris O’Donnell once again has the art of emotion down pat with all Callen’s scenes with Nadir, but the revelation was Gavin Lewis who played all three triplets but gave such an emotionally charged and passionate performance as Nadir.
After thoughts; for children that have all grown up in India, they all had remarkably ingrained American accents! No one was shot – there was only one death (albeit that of a child). And please – can Frank Military write many, many more episodes each season?
*Much though I love this show and am emotionally invested with the characters, until this episode, the show has never made me cry…
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