Season seven has been a roller coaster of a ride for all the main characters. Each has been allowed the opportunity to develop a little further and to shine in their own right. There has been no focus on one single character. And true to the show, the best episodes of the season have been the character driven ones such as Citadel, Internal Affairs, The Long Goodbye and The Seventh Child.
Writers & Directors
Underlying themes of family, loyalty and boundaries were prevalent throughout the season and most of these were entwined with each other. Both sets of partners encountered their own issues at the hands of the various NCISLA writers and directors. For the third season running, Frank Military turns in the best episode of the season with The Seventh Child, a brutal yet powerfully emotional tale. He was also the pen behind the Chris O’Donnell directed An Unlocked Mind, which tackled the threats and risks of religious cults in a manner that was uncomfortable viewing and made excellent use of the 10pm time slot.
Veteran writer Dave Kalstein bowed out of the show with the aptly titled The Long Goodbye. It was a tightly written episode with great direction from John Peter Kousakis and editing that made the story flow seamlessly. Earlier in the season, Kalstein’s Citadel introduced Deeks’ mother but unfortunately without any explanation as to where she sprung from. He also brought back Talia Del Campo, a ‘love her or hate her’ character who annoyed Kensi, but in The Long Goodbye they paired up well Along with Kalstein, fellow writers Kyle Harimoto, Joey Wilson and Scott Gemmill all produced episodes which showed the inner turmoil of Callen, Deeks, and Granger, getting under the skin of all three men. Gemmill also wrote the cross over / comedy episode Blame It On Rio, with NCIS ‘Very Special’ Agent Antony DiNozzo uttering a line which made me cry with laughter (and my son, although he did not understand why it was so funny…)
The linkage between episodes was a joy. Driving Miss Diaz reintroduced Alex Elmslie, who featured in the season three episodes with Sam and Jada Khaled. Jada retuned in The Long Goodbye, and again in Revenge Deferred (featuring Elmslie), before her brother attempted to exact his revenge in Talion. In a similar manner, Jennifer Kim was introduced in Cancel Christmas, where it was inferred that Granger was her father. Their connection is mentioned again in Matroyshka to explain Granger’s absence, as is Callen’s fight with Kim, both of which come up again in Granger O, where the focus is Granger and his daughter, which nicely parallels Callen’s own story but with a different perspective.
Newish writer Erin Broadhurst gave Kensi her chance for closure with Jack Simon in Come Back (not that I’m sure it was needed). Andrew Bartels teamed up with director James Hanlon for three episodes which saw Kensi and Deeks handle a spoiled model, Callen ride around undercover on a hoverboard and Callen and Sam dressed as firemen in Where There’s Smoke. The episodes gave us laughs and as expected from Bartels, important snippets of character insight. One of the best directed episodes for me though was Unspoken. The episode focused on Sam and loyalty to his former NCIS partner, leaving Callen on the sidelines. Diana Valentine literally left Callen in the shadows, in silhouette, in the background and finally hooded in disguise as a bad guy, punched by Sam to keep his cover.
Of course the season has it’s faults and frustrations, for example the length of time taken for Deeks’ Internal Affairs episode and the never-ending mole plot. Alongside the consistency of character development, there are character concerns (Deek’s mother) and questionable plot elements. Granger and Hetty are hell bent on bringing a rogue Callen back to the fold in Active Measures, but after he crosses the line and runs in to his team there are no repercussions, not even a snarky reprimand from Granger. Nell and Eric’s strange conversations are getting worse and I don’t like them in the field as agents (but a field trip as analyst and tech operator is fine). Kensi is also lacking some strong episodes where the focus is not around her love life, although she still kicks ass. On occasion there was a little too much domesticity around Kensi and Deeks, but this was balanced out by Sam and Callen’s talk about the latter’s love life and problems. Despite the shortcomings, it is the character driven episodes and the continual development of such interesting and engaging characters that makes me love the show.
Nell & Eric – The (Weird) Wonder Twins
The ‘supporting’ characters of Nell and Eric have been fairly marginalised and when they have been given more screen time, rather than allowing their work-related talents to shine, their geeky private lives are revealed. One notable example was during Blame It On Rio, where an entire scene in the Ops centre is devoted to their Renaissance-Fair talk. Both of them were also allowed out in the field which is an interesting development for Eric, following his weapons training earlier in the season. He was lucky not to have been shot in Matroyshka part 2, but I did love how he cited Call of Duty for his flash-bang inspired moment. Nell ventured out with Granger during Command & Control and was uncharacteristically unsure of herself, constantly after Granger’s approval. Personally I much prefer the pair without the weirdness and not in the field, but with them safely in the Ops centre where they can demonstrate their technical and analytic prowess (with a few witty comments thrown in for good measure – remember the Eric of season 1)?
Hetty – The Manipulator?
Hetty also seems to have taken more of a back seat this season, although she had a prominent role in the season opener, Active Measures. Who would have thought that she would actually Taser her favourite agent and later threaten to terminate him with extreme prejudice and refuse his (token) apology. It was a shame that this crack in their relationship was not explored further in subsequent episodes – a golden opportunity missed. Hetty was also more involved during Internal Affairs, this time confronted by Kensi for seemingly not doing enough to support Deeks. However during the closing scenes she admits knowing Deeks killed his former LAPD partner, and that she cut a deal and guided her team down a certain route that led away from Deeks. Her manipulative ways also featured in other episodes, particularly ones with Anna Kolcheck in Exchange Rate (she is clearly lining Anna up for future assignments with the team), and Kensi with former fiance Jack in Come Back. It is also questionable as to how involved she was with Nate in his out of control undercover role.
Kensi – Bad Ass Blye
Kensi has undergone tremendous character development over recent seasons and now her romance is ‘all in’ with Deeks, she continues to grow. Instead of being relationship and commitment shy, she has moved in with Deeks, met his mother, steadfastly fought for Deeks when he was arrested and even had serious conversations with him about having children. And this is the Kensi who in season four, admitted she did not like kids and had to be strongly persuaded to babysit for Sam. The growth feels natural rather than forced, however I have a few concerns that she is sometimes being defined by her relationships – past and present. I did not feel that the return of Jack was necessary in order to progress her relationship with Deeks but it did allow Kensi and Deeks to understand each other better through Jack, and it was great to see Kensi take control and hold her own during the gun battle.
Kensi’s biggest episode of the season was An Unlocked Mind where she was drugged and almost sexually assaulted; a serious reminder of how dangerous undercover missions can be. Her and Deeks partnership continues to be strong despite their romantic involvement. They may have ‘real life’ relationship bickers (most of which revolved around Kensi’s messiness) but when the pair focus on the case, they make breakthroughs – to me, this aspect of their partnership is much more exciting than seeing them in their domestic environment. Having said that, I do believe that so far the show has just about the right balance (although I would not like to see any more of their love lives than we do now).
Deeks – ‘Party Marty’
The first half of the season was spent with a few hints being dropped here and there about the Internal Affairs investigation. The biggest clue came in Unspoken, where Deeks said that if Kensi committed murder for the right reasons, that he would stand by her and protect her. Deeks did kill LAPD Detective Frances Boyle, his former partner, but he did so as he was beating a prostitute (that Deeks was keeping an eye out for), half to death. The prostitute however, did say that she escaped the motel room and assumed that Internal Affairs Officer Quinn killed him. This plot line allows Deeks’ past to be revisited, albeit very briefly, by his mother. They share a touching jail scene where Deeks reveals how he used to blame himself for his past; now he can blame his father. Roberta Deeks blames herself for letting her son down during his childhood. It is Deeks’ desire to protect the innocent which led him to law enforcement – and to shoot Boyle. And the innocents he finds himself protecting from violence, by using violent means himself – are women he cares about. This is an inner turmoil which surfaced in Spoils of War and again in Internal Affairs.
Deeks also shone in both An Unlocked Mind and The Seventh Child. All of these are episodes which allow actor Eric Christian Olsen to show off his acting skills, as opposed to the smart-ass comedic moments we are used to seeing. Deeks lightens the serious episodes (where allowed), and his humour is prevalent throughout other episodes. Most notable was Blame It On Rio, where he seamlessly played off against the lines delivered by Michael Weatherly’s DiNozzo. The interactions between Deeks and Kirkin were also highly amusing. Interestingly, Deeks was paired up with Callen during The Long Goodbye, and I hope we are treated to more of this pairing during season eight. However it happens, it is still the serious side of Deeks that is most exciting to watch.
Sam – The Honourable Warrior
Sam featured heavily in a number of episodes, most of which were about Jada and Tahir Khaled. Sam’s honour, loyality and integrity were called in to question, and not only by Tahir, but also by his team and his partner. It was only Granger who kept his faith in Sam when his former NCIS partner (pre-Callen) was accused of being a double agent. Sam deliberately kept the team at arm’s length, and Callen even voiced his doubts to Hetty. Sam was accused of sleeping with his ex partner’s wife; an accusation which resurfaced when Tahir challenged Sam’s love for his wife – and Tahir’s sister, Jada. While Sam may have had strong feelings for Jada, I personally do not think he cheated on his wife by sleeping with her. Sam is loyal to a fault but the safety of his family is paramount and even he is willing to disobey orders to neutralise any and all threats to them. It came as no surprise that the finale revolved around Sam and Tahir, the latter threatening Sam’s son Aidan at his military school. Now, like Janvier, Tahir has been arrested and will be languishing in prison. It is a loose end that has been tied up, but can easily be unpicked for another day…
Sam also spent much of the season looking out for Callen and his rogue/wayward tendencies. He reluctantly agreed to bring Callen in during Active Measures, even if he did let him go after sneakily placing a tracker on him. And Sam was on edge for most of Matroyshka part 1, which saw Callen once again push the boundaries with Hetty. Sam also stuck his nose in to his partner’s social life and quite rightly realised that Callen is a glutton for punishment. He does make life difficult for himself – leaving with the exfiltration team rather than stay with his father, falling for Anna rather than the ‘safe’ Joelle, and generally taking actions he knows will eventually get him into trouble.
G. Callen – Grisha Alexandrovich Nikolaev Callen
Callen’s season was full of intrigue, action, romance and finally answers. He started out in bad shape, both physically and psychologically, desperate to find and rescue Arkady (the only link to his father) from Russia. He didn’t just go lone wolf, but became a rogue agent, revealing his shadier side. He approached Kirkin and agreed to art theft in exchange for information, blatantly disobeyed and was openly rude to Hetty, and refused to make contact with NCIS. Even at the end of Active Measures, Callen failed to realise the potential consequences of his actions, although he was expecting to be fired. His fragile emotional state of mind came into play again during Citadel. Callen went undercover to deliberately fail the psych test, but the image/word association demonstrated how messed up he still is. His daddy issues came to the fore again with the chance to rescue Arkady in Matroyshka. This triggered unpredictable behaviour (breathing fire in a Russian bar) and saw him once more push the boundaries with Hetty. The final result was a chance encounter with a elderly Russian who manned a CIA safe house – his father. The encounter was suitably low-key, with mixed emotions played out from Callen – albeit stoic ones from his father. The only other answer he discovered was his Russian name, as his mother wanted him to know his roots. That was a great parting gift from showrunner Shane Brennan, who has announced he is handing the reigns to Scott Gemmill from season eight.
Arguably the best episode of the season was The Seventh Child where Callen initially failed to engage with orphaned Nadir, who was close to detonating his suicide vest. Comparisons to his own childhood fell on deaf ears, and it was only when Nadir realised he had a family that he wanted to live. Callen is then able to connect with the boy, becoming the one person he can trust. Crucially, this connection meant Nadir was the first person to call him Grisha. Callen’s name remained low key; only Sam mentions it in passing and in the penultimate episode, takes Callen’s NCIS ID card as it now has his new, full name. It is suggested that Hetty leaked the information to NCIS Psychologist Nate Getz, who taunts him in a sligthly cruel and analytical way when he captures him in Head of the Snake. Here again Callen shows how bloody minded he is, refusing to comply with Nate and giving smart ass answers, even after he’s been waterboarded. Callen though, is the one playing mind games with Sam and Kensi (regarding her messy desk – both her and Sam assassinate his character in retaliation). During several episodes Callen manipulates Sam saying he is not affected by events and blatantly telling Sam what he thinks he wants to hear about his split with Joelle.
Granger – Danger
Finally to Granger, and what a season he’s had! From sassy and amusing one liners to revelations about his own past, Granger has grown from a character many love to hate, to one many are now warming to. Although it’s great to see such development, he still remains an enigma and the eponymous Granger O did not really delve into his past. What we did get was a glimpse in to the real man behind Granger; the one who has no friends, who failed to introduce himself to his daughter when she was young, and the hurt that was clear when she stated in a matter of fact way, that her mother gave her so much love that she never missed not having a father. (Apart from running away at twelve to train as a Korean spy and killer, she is very well adjusted!)
Granger now looks out for the team although he is still tough with them, instilling that element of discipline that he believes is clearly lacking. I do like the hard-boiled Granger, tough gritty and willing to rub everyone up the wrong way. The antagonist attitude from when he first emerged in season three is now quite tamed – but I for one enjoyed the battle of wills between Granger and the field agents. He has also ventured out in the field a fair bit. Whereas it’s good to see Granger still has what it takes, for an Assistant Director he is rarely seen behind a desk (unless it’s Hetty’s).
With so much going on with all characters during season seven, I’m I have only touched on the elements which have stuck in my mind. I’m sure you all have different favourite episodes, characters, snippets of dialogue and revealing moments.
So please leave a comment below and tell me what you loved and what you hated.