S08E08 Crazy Train

NCIS Los Angeles is an office that specialises in undercover work and it’s been a while since any of the team have been on assignment.  Recent cases have focused on the investigative side but watching various team members adopt different personas differentiates this show from the mothership.  Episode writer Frank Military (Spoils of War, Rage, The Seventh Child, An Unlocked Mind) has set the bar high for dark, character driven episodes and once again, he does not disappoint.  NSA Analyst Gary Dill has gone missing whilst investigating an ISIS cell who’s using a Mexican drug cartel to infiltrate the US.  Using information from two fellow analysts, the team believe Dill may have been committed to a mental health hospital under the name of Noah Leipzig, and Callen is sent undercover as a fellow patient to make contact.  

In the usual style of Military, the case itself is reasonably straight forward.  The simple twist is that there is no ISIS cell and NSA Analyst Jolene Townsend is stealing money from the cartel, who is chasing down her associates and feeding them to the sharks.  Despite some amusing scenes the tone of the episode is set in the pre-credit opening sequence, where a man is found dead inside a shark’s stomach, and Granger is undergoing an MRI scan.  For the last season or so, Granger has looked a little ill and has slurred and mumbled his words somewhat but with no prior warning of any ailment it comes as a shock to see him having the scan.  True to the shows format, post opening credits the seriousness of the previous scenes are juxtaposed with the lightheartedness of the bullpen, with Sam playing a “would you rather” game with Callen (who only finds it fun when he realises he can beat Sam).  The fun is quickly dampened as Deeks fails to join in, barely knowing what day it is, having slept at the hospital again.  This pattern of seriousness and lightheartedness continues throughout.

It was fun to watch Sam, Callen and Deeks argue as to who should go undercover as a mental health patient. Naturally Deeks volunteers, stating that neither Sam or Callen can pull off crazy, but Granger vetoes the idea immediately. Callen volunteers Sam who counters by stating that Callen is a recluse who can’t form long term social attachments, quickly followed by Granger agreeing that he does have issues. That Callen looks puzzled, just adds to the hilarity of Granger’s brazen comment and admittance that he’s seen Callen’s psych evaluations!  Deeks, Nell and Eric jump on the bandwagon, suggesting he could be backstopped as a double murderer with a history of killing animals.

Callen’s past has caused him to be ‘damaged goods’, and early season seven demonstrated how this still affects him, going rogue to desperately discover Arkady’s whereabouts and vlcsnap-2016-11-07-19h55m09s812later spectacularly failing the HL7 psych eval test for the wrong reasons.  It would have been interesting to see Callen’s stint as a sectioned patient push further in to the psyche of the troubled agent, yet instead there is a glimpse into how calculating he can be.  He witnesses an illegal mobile change hands, picks the culprit’s pocket and plants it in Dill’s room. Callen calls to the mobile, causing Dill to be accused of theft and physically threatened and having orchestrated the attack, he then wants to take on three men at once.  Callen later attends a group therapy session, calmly observing before voicing his own opinion of the shrink, cleverly analysing and slowly humiliating him in front of the group.  In past episodes Callen has frequently played Dr Nate Getz, beating him at his own game.  So it is no wonder Granger recognises Callen has issues, particularly if this type of behaviour is reported in his NCIS psych evals.

Elsewhere Deeks has his own therapy session with Sam and Hetty, both of whom do a better job than the one in the mental hospital.  Deeks is not fine and neither is Kensi who is now in physical therapy and pushing herself too hard in the belief she can recover quickly, despite warnings.  vlcsnap-2016-11-07-18h55m28s858When left on her own outside, her determination and optimism is cruelly dashed when she falls, having managed to stand by herself for a few seconds. The result devastates her. Again Deeks is on the receiving end, even though he can still make her smile. Believing the moment is right, he proposes but Kensi does not want to be a burden to him.  She also wants the proposal to be memorable for the right reasons.  vlcsnap-2016-11-07-20h20m43s639Kensi may be hedging her bets – remember she has abandonment issues and subconsciously she may be afraid that Deeks will also leave.  The strength and reassurance Deeks has received from Hetty and Granger means he stays by her side despite the rejections, and he now helps her return to her bed.  Kensi is broken, more so now than she ever was after her torture in Spoils of War.

There is a little action amongst all the drama particularly when Callen assumes the identity of Dill’s alias Noah Leipzig so the cartel thugs take him instead.  Callen is shipped to the ocean in a box and then thrown to the sharks as an interrogation technique.  The madness of the hospital has clearly rubbed off on the agent with issues; Callen makes fat jokes and likens to the cartel boss to Chevy Chase – even when he is in the water – although he is genuinely scared when the sharks begin to approach, and Callen is rarely scared. Sam was always going to be in time to save Callen’s life and the underwater scenes of Sam passing Callen his breathing apparatus and handing him a gun are brief but chaotically dramatic.

There are three sets of closing scenes to ‘Crazy Train’.  Firstly Callen returns to the metal hospital to release Dill and his final encounters with his new BFFs are endearing and amusing.  The next is Deeks’ failed proposal to Kensi and lastly is a shocking conversation between Hetty and Granger about the latter’s health.  Granger advises the doctors are still be investigating but he knows his time is coming.  Granger was in Vietnam and the reference to Agent Orange was the nickname given to one of the herbicides used during the war, to which many men were exposed. He has been a character viewers ‘love to hate’ and over recent seasons he has developed in to a tough-love father figure for the team.  There have been no rumours that Granger is leaving, however is this the beginning of the end for the Assistant Director?

Although there’s nothing radically different about this episode, it is one of the best of season eight so far. It follows the established formulaic structure and with a fair amount of predictability. Kensi was always going to reject Deeks’ proposal, Callen would swap hospital ID bands with Leipzig and Sam would save him from the sharks, but this doesn’t matter.  All of Frank Military’s episodes are strong as he utilises simple stories that are complex in terms of character.  NCIS Los Angeles is a character driven show that develops individuals and explores their histories and their present lives.  It is not a serious drama like Homeland, so Callen will never really be sectioned and subjected to drug therapy – or probably any kind of therapy (no matter how much he needs it) – however it’s always fun to see glimpses into characters psyches through episodes such as these.

PS – Sam’s SEAL pal Tom Olsen was played by none other than David Olsen, husband of Daniela Ruah (Kensi) and brother of Eric Christian Olsen (Deeks) 

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on this episode.

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6 thoughts on “S08E08 Crazy Train

  1. robin1028

    Crazy Train, mixed feelings, the only beleivable actors in this eposode are of course Callen, Deeks, and Hetty in the scene with Granger…the one with sam and her trying to counsil Deeks fell very flat at best, Not Hettys fault definitly Sams ..everything is moving to.. to slow with Kensi, her presence in the show is missed,but it is the better part of all the shows so far this season
    someone needs to tell the guy that plays Sam that roof actually starts with a R not a W
    the word is Roof not Woof……lets get back to the awsome 1st 7 seasons that everyone loved

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  2. F4llon

    Thanks again for your review of this episode. I am loving Season 8, Frank Military once again hasn’t disappointed fans. Callen was great in the Mental Hospital, people underestimate his intelligence, he not only challenges Nate on occasions, but he’s now questioning and getting inside the head of the shrink in the hospital. Perhaps he needs to become the operational psychologist at OSP. He has the skill. But we know it’s part of his background growing up in the system, and it’s what makes him such a great agent. Hetty has trained him well, or as Callen puts it, he’s observed her too well. I like the concern Callen and Sam have for Deeks and Kensi, with the filming of Kensi’s scenes made before Danni went on maternity leave, it’s great to see that her absence is felt by the rest of the team, and especially to see the brotherly concern Callen and Sam have for Deeks as well as Kensi. It shows just how far this team have come since Deeks’ first arrival in OSP. And of course Hetty doesn’t miss anything, so of course it was good to see both Sam and Hetty sit with Deeks to talk to him about Kensi and him. That he’s not alright, even though Deeks wants to believe that it will be in the end, it’s okay to accept that they aren’t okay now. I also loved that scene with David Olsen and LL Cool J, it reflected the close friendship these two men have established over the years, it fitted in perfectly to have David play Tom Olsen, an old SEAL buddy of Sam’s. I would love to see David appear again in a future episode as Tom Olsen, it makes the history of these characters more solid when we have a sneak peak into their pasts and people from their lives prior to OSP. I also enjoyed seeing Nell back in Ops with Eric, seeing smaller snapshots of them, rather than Nell out in the field, where she’s tried hard to be Kensi, when she really needs to be her own person.

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  3. Linda Wigington

    Thanks for your review. It was to the point as usual. I agreed with all you said and I loved the episode. The story was straightforward but of course the emphasis was on character. Everyone was involved and there was a mixture of tension when Callen was in the water for example and humour with Sam and Callen and their game or when Callen was in the mental hospital. It struck just the right balance for me. I feel sorry for Kensi and Deeks. To me it is a waiting game. Deeks must be there and Kensi needs something to snap her out of this feeling of doom. Hopefully that is to come. The real shock for me was Granger. I didn’t think that he looked well for awhile but there has been no hint in the show or in real life to understand this unless I missed it. The next few episodes are going to be very interesting.

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  4. skippy

    Thank you for your review. These ones are great analysiss of what we have seen.
    But actually I was hoping for a bit more tension, suspense and darker scene since I am really a fan of FM as a writer. But I guess you can’t blame him because they think they have to bring in a lot of Kensi and Deeks scenes and therefor the cases are really short and there is no other character development at all due to the lack of time.
    Sorry I know I repeat myself but I really don’t get all the focus on Densi. I just don’t like it because all other characters are lacking some time for developement and the cases are cut too short.
    I find myself less inetersted in this show. Hopefully it will get better soon. But the Kensi/Deeks thing is so so boring if you are not intersted in romance and not interested in them.

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    1. orangetails

      Agree with this, I’ve been re-watching some of the earlier seasons lately whilst impatiently waiting for my season 8 dvd to arrive so I can finally watch it and realised how much I missed the Callen-Hetty ‘talks’ (where so much is said with so few words) and the Callen-Sam banter – it seems like there has been far too much ‘Densi’ of late (much as I like the pair of them in smaller doses, and love the strength of character of Kensi in her own right) It also feels like there is no relationship between Callen/Sam and Kensi anymore, it is all about her and Deeks – and yet both are strong characters as individuals, if only they are allowed to be so. It would be nice to see more of a focus on them all as a team (and more with Callen in general as I absolutely adore his character, and O’Donnell’s wonderful portrayal of him. The relationship between him and Sam is also fantastic, the light-hearted banter covering the deeper emotions – would love love love to see more of that, and I wonder how Sam is going to feel about Callen in vulnerable situations come season 9 after the loss of Michelle…)

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      1. I Am Me Post author

        Wow! That’s a comment I would have written myself!
        My S8 DVD arrives on Monday, can’t wait for the specials and extras.

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