The case of the week sees the team investigate a private security firm who are under suspicion of being in cohorts with criminal gangs, and Sam is sent undercover as himself, to investigate the security firm, ‘Kulinda’, from the inside. Undercover assignments have been scarce this season with the only one of note being Callen in the mental hospital patient. The mission for Sam is very straight forward without any danger and does not draw on any of his talents, but not all episodes need to be full of action.
The case is used to showcase the positive impacts that individuals and organisations can have on a disadvantaged community within Los Angeles. A local counsellor is seen addressing a small audience at a hotel reception, championing the people for getting up and making a difference to the area. On the same vein, Kulinda works with youths to encourage them off the streets and out of gangs, rewarding them for top school grades. In separate scenes, both Deeks and Callen displayed an understanding of the importance of keeping kids out of trouble and having a safe haven, unspoken reminders of their own youth. Unfortunately one particular youth needed money and agreed to work with Syrian money launderers. The Kulinda security officer shot at the start, was a result of him confronting the Syrians to order them away from the youth. In direct opposition to helping those less fortunate, Sam’s first job with Kulinda’s is to protect a YouTube star, who ordering goods and films herself unboxing and critiquing them. Callously, she has no sympathy for a woman whose business she ruined after attacking her clothing good during one of her video blogs.
Underpinning the abundance of community spirit and hope, is Kensi’s desperation to return to the field. She turns up in the gym to find Anna Kolcheck exercising and despite her best efforts to emphasise she is not encroaching on Kensi’s territory, it is clear that Kensi is feeling pushed out. (The day-dream sequence of her attacking Anna could well have been replayed at this moment.) The cold hard fact is the team is a field member down and on occasion Anna fills that role, as does Nell. Kensi reacts in a similar way to Eric, when he appears in the gym. She clearly did not want to encounter anyone.
Hetty has drafted in Nate to work on Kensi’s return to the field, and the frank and honest discussion puts her actions in to perspective. Kensi’s worse fear is not reaching 100%, never being able to return to the field which recalls her conversation with Deeks from S08E01. Her life is being a Federal Agent and she isn’t ready to give that up for anyone. Nate tells her she’s not yet ready to return and therefore it was a deliberate ploy that the closing scene shows the team enjoying each others company socially, but without Kensi.
Kensi has experienced a lot of emotional pain in her life; from her father’s death to a fiancé with PTSD who abandoned her, to being captured and tortured in Afghanistan. Such an amalgamation of events will eventually cause anyone to crack and actress Daniela Ruah’s maternity leave has allowed the show to fully explore the physical and emotional impacts in a way they never have before. What was the alternative? No Kensi on screen at all for four months? The storyline is mature, well thought out and much better than season five’s White Ghost assignment.
The lack of scenes featuring Kensi and Deeks is indicative of her subconsciously pulling away from him, a reminder that Kensi is fiercely independent and proud. Relationships are not all plain sailing, they take work – even more so due to Kensi’s trauma. It is an opportunity for the characters to re-establish their own individuality rather than continually be defined by each other. Kensi and Deeks work so well together and have great chemistry, so surely within the next few episodes, equilibrium will be restored. [In real life, it is an indication that Daniela Ruah has not fully returned from maternity leave.]
This week, Deeks is not purely defined as the team jester. He demonstrates his capability in the shooting range with Sam and opens up a little about Kensi. Later he explains the history of the Japanese trees near the Kulinda offices, with Nell constantly waiting for the punch line that never materialises. Nell was also more consistent and believable in the field; not over zealous or a nervous rookie. Thankfully Eric remained in Ops and was shut down by Callen when he started on a tangent about threads. It certainly would have been interesting to see Eric approach Callen for a shooting range drill, as Deeks and Sam suggested to Eric earlier…a missed opportunity there! Instead, the most amusing scene was a boy shutting Callen down by saying he was talking to “the lady” (Anna).
Callen gets a rare opportunity to explore his relationship with Anna, who’s turned up at his house with bagels (has Garrison moved out)? Their actions during previous episodes makes it unclear if they are a couple; it seems they have a ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship, with neither wanting to fully commit. Anna’s nervousness and indecisiveness only encourages Callen to instigate a passionate kiss. Later she starts and then stops a conversation about weekend plans, which leads Callen to ask her to continue, meaning she almost forces his hand to agree to whatever she was about to suggest – Legoland and an outlet mall! It seems that Callen is easy going in the romance stakes and is almost allowing Anna to manipulate him. Are her feelings genuine or is she playing him? That leads in to the upcoming arc centring around the mole, where all guest and main characters actions may be second guessed. Hetty’s absence was explained by her having one last card to play. Granger’s absence remained unexplained, even though Callen has been staking out his house and voiced concerns over his health (how much has that relationship developed)?!
Overall Kulinda was a solid episode with a positive community vibe that offers hope for those in less fortunate circumstances, juxtaposed by the desperation of Kensi’s situation. There were a few clumsy moments; the killed security officer had bullet holes in his shirt before he was shot, and an extra in the YouTube scene was catching flies!
Even though many of the procedural aspects remain, season eight has developed a number of ongoing threads which are prevalent throughout most episodes. This has made the storytelling more linear and kept a high level of narrative continuity which seems set to continue – hopefully long in to season nine and beyond.
Please leave a comment about your thoughts on this episode