After last week’s intense and immensely enjoyable The Seventh Child, any episode was going to struggle, but Seoul Man manages to hold its own with a light-hearted case, a standalone episode that showcases the team when Hetty assigns them to protection detail. A South Korean Fleet Commander is in town and NCIS has been asked to assist in protecting him, an order which has Callen questioning why (he’s not done that for a while), and Deeks asking if he can have a cuff mic to go with his swish undercover suit. But all is not as it seems and soon the team realise there is a mole in the South Korean team, a point which prompts Callen to again challenge Hetty; has she assigned them the case to flush out the mole? Hetty insists the team are there as bodyguards only. The case progresses with Sam infiltrating the inner circle of guards while Callen remains as observer. Kensi & Deeks are also on the ground. His paranoia allows him to be suspicious of all the Korean team; one does not making eye contact, another is sending messages by smart phone. Kensi and Deeks are also on high alert, following guards to payphones and the hotel shop. Only James Kang, the one on the payphone is worthy of following up after Nell and Eric confirm he called a burn phone.
Sam accompanies the Koreans to a karaoke bar where the Commander amusingly starts rapping, with Granger assuming the role usually occupied by Callen; he keeps watch at the karaoke bar – complete with an umbrella in his cocktail for camouflage – tackles the North Korean mole and is embroiled in the gun fight / car chase at the end. Granger’s paranoia shines through when he questions Hetty about the presence of NCIS Special Agent Gates at the firing range. NCIS Special Agent Gates (based out of Singapore) is played by the real life Director of NCIS, Andrew Traver, in an excellent nod to the agency. Whilst a nice touch, the scene was only relevant in displaying Granger’s paranoia and allowing Hetty to ask if Granger is OK in dealing with a Korean case, knowing his background and connections to the region.
Another loss leader of a character is the South Korean Intelligence officer that Kensi and Deeks tackle. Deeks likens him to 007 with his tracking device and video camera pen but his only purpose is to alert the team that there is a double agent in the South Korean ranks, and hidden communications in QR codes on Facebook photos. It is James Kang who gives the team the slip at the Karaoke bar and Kensi and Deeks interrogate Dawn Amaro, the nurse Kang interacted with in the ladies rest room. From here on there are twists and turns as the case evolves in to a thriller with a healthy dose of action and romance thrown in for good measure. Kang enters a Federal building to defect, he is a North Korean double agent who fell in love with Dawn when she worked in South Korea, opening his eyes and his heart to love and compassion. More spy tools come to the fore as the couple communicated daily with poetry coded with every fourth word, Kang had a chip hidden in a Nickel with stolen information (also seen in the recent cold war film Bridge of Spies) and also a 3D laser gun, undetectable but lethal as it fires and kills his would be assassin. Deeks later takes on their idea of poetry writing with a limerick for Kensi. In the final boatshed scene he feigns stomach cramps to get Kensi on her own and gives her the ‘poem’ and a gift, he framed her father’s medal. The hug between them takes place away from the rest of the team and again shows the right balance of romance versus action, and also restraint in front of the team.
Callen is noticeable by his absence particularly during the second half of the episode (in real life, Chris O’Donnell participated in the AT&T Pro-Am Celebrity Golf Tournament), explained by him staying with the protection detail. There is a great set piece in NCIS Agent Prieto’s back-up/chase car where Prieto unintentionally tests Callen’s people skills. Sam tries to maintain a modicum of restraint whereas Callen’s facial expressions reveal his blatant amusement at Prieto’s seriousness. The crux comes when Fleet Commander is escorted to his car without incident and Callen sarcastically comments that he thought it was a little touch and go. Sam tells Callen to behave, their banter causing Prieto to ask how long they’ve been married – a now well overused line. The most amusing scene comes when the team congregate in Sam and Callen’s hotel room the following morning. Only one of their beds looks slept in and both Kensi and Deeks wonder if the pair had snuggled up together, a throwback to Preito’s marriage comment and their ever burgeoning bromance. Callen looks amused and remains silent, leaving Sam to defend himself – he makes his bed every morning.
The joy of ‘Seoul Man’ comes from the team’s interactions and the solid continuity nods to previous episodes. Deeks tidying and vacuuming Kensi’s desk in a solid throwback to last week’s episode and the earlier episode ‘Defectors’; Kensi is inherently messy. Sam talks with Callen about his family still being in the safe house and both topics come around again during the closing scenes. Deeks accepts that Kensi is just messy, and Granger advises Sam the assessed threat to his family is deemed to be over. Additionally, the North Korean spies killed by the team mean there are only two names on the list from the earlier ‘Cancel Christmas’ episode. The references to previous episodes and cases do not detract at all from the plot of Seoul Man and instead enhance the narrative as well as setting up future episodes. In a few weeks is Granger, O which will see him revisit Kim, the Korean spy from Cancel Christmas, and the threat to Sam and his family returns for the season seven finale. The show may be a procedural with a number of standalone episodes, but audiences like to see an arc, a connection to previous episodes and generally continuity between the show’s different writers.
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