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 later 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. When 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. Kensi 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.