S08E21 Battle Scars

The team are called to investigate after a homeless man, later revealed as Retired Navy Captain Charles Langston kidnaps a corrupt VA administrator.  When Hetty contacts her former colleagues Retired Admiral AJ Chegwidden and Admiral Sterling Bridges to request their assistance, it gradually becomes clear to the team that there is more to this case than meets the eye.

Battle Scars is very much the subject of this episode, jointly written by Jordana Lewis Jaffa and Andrew Bartels.  The scars are results of various characters experiences and adventures in the field, extremely very recent and others dating back decades.  The damage is psychological and physical and varies from character to character.  The after effects of the team’s operations have been explored throughout season 8, starting of course with Kensi.  She has struggled with her temporary paralysis and whether she would ever be able to return to the field.  Even when she did visit the mission before being cleared to return, her paranoia and internal fears were realised in her daydream sequence fight with Anna Kolchek.

On the flip side, Deeks struggled with his emotions as he witnessed Kensi in her coma and then offered his unerring support as she fought to return to fitness and was subject to bouts of self doubt and depression.  When you are the person experiencing the trauma and trying to recover, it is easy to forget that your support network and loved ones are also going through a tremendously difficult time.  Kensi broaches this subject with Deeks and unfortunately before this can be explored, they hear and then rescue Bryant.  Deeks’ temperament is very subdued during this episode, which seems to commence when he and Kensi return to the VA hospital as part of the case.  IMG_3793He continues to feel ‘off’ throughout the episode.  He is distracted but whether this is attributed to the VA hospital, uncertainly over the internal affairs confession (not mentioned in Battle Scars) or just because the actor was ill whilst filming – maybe more will be revealed in next week’s episode.  NCISLA has attempted to demonstrate the effects of PTSD in S4 finale and early S5, after Deeks and Sam were tortured by Sidorov , but the consistent references during this season show the longer term effects, which is clearly much more realistic.

Shorter term effects have been shown with the return of Nate and his off screen sessions with Nell and Eric; both have struggled after killing for the first time.  Eric in particular, and he confides in Sam in the opening scenes at the shooting range.  Even Callen has suffered through his betrayal by Joelle.  Instead of zipping up his emotions as usual, he has chain-sawed and thrown out what little furniture he has, and blown hot and cold in his relationship with Anna.  A case of regressing with his trust issues!

The team may be dealing with psychological issues, but it is the older generation who are suffering the physical effects of their past missions.  Granger’s time in Vietnam and exposure to Agent Orange is again referenced in respect of Hetty’s former colleagues, all of whom expect to succumb in the same way.  Langston has already been diagnosed and Chegwidden realistically tells the team that Granger may well be dead now because of it.  As well as being realistic, it also provides a legitimate way to write Hetty out at a (much) later date, should the need arise.

Granger is respectfully mentioned several times outside of Hetty’s pessimistic outlook.  He was the only senior man in Kensi’s life, and the connection to her late father had made her want to ask him to give her away at her wedding.  Sam and Callen reminisce about IMG_3794their first encounter with Granger and how Callen put him down and pulled a gun on him. Cunning, sly, dry sense of humour; the tributes to Granger lead to comparisons with Chegwidden and Bridges, who show they have just as much guile, spotting Sam’s Challenger when the younger pair are waiting to see where they lead the agents.  (And the Challenger is an easy car to spot…Bridges does say that he has eyes, when Sam questions how they were made.)

There are throw away (political) statements about the treatment of the homeless as  an invisible population; no one can provide an accurate description of Langston, who posed as a homeless Vet to kidnap VA bureaucrat Bryant.  Bryant himself is the epitome of this.  He thought homeless people made up their signings reading ‘homeless vet’, ‘single mum’ and ‘incurable blood disease’.  He has complete disdain for not only the homeless but also the vets requiring medical attention, as he is skimming money meant for their treatment.  There are long queues at the VA centre and disgruntled patients are unable to obtain medical appointments for months, despite their needs and having served their country.  This aspect is not really mentioned again.  The narrative progresses with more focus on Langston himself and the hidden antics of Hetty and her former cohorts.

The older generation of Chegwidden, Bridges and Langston are well created and the former in particular have great chemistry and patter.  It was fascinating to see them take on Sam and Callen, referring to them as Hetty’s ‘lap dogs’, in response to Sam calling them ‘Abbott and Costello.’  Each pair took turns at one upping the other and it made a change to see the agents at the mercy of others, including the incredibly annoying FBI Agent Morris.  IMG_3792In fact Chegwidden and Bridges provide a glimpse as to how Sam and Callen may well be in another fifteen to twenty years, still running around causing mayhem and chaos. Unfortunately there was some clumsy storytelling; Kensi and Deeks drove past where they found VA administrator Bryant hanging but failed to spot him from the road.  Several times various characters repeated that Bryant was a corrupt official, just in case it wasn’t understood the first time.  And if Hetty and co had to find all the money for equipment, fuel, bribes – then where did they find $1 million worth of gold bars (now worth $40 million)?  And Sam and Callen blame the FBI collectively, for shooting Undersecretary of Defence, Duggan, yet during the mole trilogy, the blame was firmly placed on the CIA.

Battle Scars is the first of a two-parter and as a result, the narrative does not race along at one hundred miles an hour.  The plot and characters can be explored in more depth, allowing for development of Hetty’s former colleagues and the slow unravelling of their real story.  The exchanges between Chegwidden and Bridges with Sam and Callen provided a light hearted tone to the episode which overall had a slightly sombre feel, particularly with Deeks not dishing out the usual wise cracks, the joke about Kensi finding ‘fresh prints’, and Deeks immediately asking ‘Bel Air’, excepted.  Callen is reminded of Joelle’s lame attempt on Hetty’s life and has clearly been talked about behind his back.  vlcsnap-2017-04-26-21h37m11s568Sam and Bridges are constantly sniping and part two will hopefully continue the gentle antagonism between them.  There was a risk that an episode focusing on characters from Hetty and Granger’s past would detract from the screen time of the main agents however the risk was unfounded.  This was a team episode, the team has temporarily become a little bigger and even with a slightly subdued Deeks, it was again reassuring to see Sam and Callen on form as partners, and Kensi and Deeks sharing some emotional moments.

How did you enjoy this episode (rate it using the stars below), and please leave a comment to let me know your thoughts…

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14 thoughts on “S08E21 Battle Scars

  1. EH

    I think your review is wonderful (as usual), but I found the episode boring and the obvious mistakes annoying; since these are “professional” writers, there are no excuses.( Maybe the writers are suffering from the same malady that Langston suffers from and they need to keep a journal of what’s happened in past episodes and which character said or did what.) I also expected the episode to focus more on the emotional struggles of the main characters given the title. Apart from the obvious errors, one of the things that bothered me most was that the characters behave a particular way for no apparent reason. There was no reason for AJ to make his snarky comment and Sterling just acted like a jackass. Callen and Sam are NCIS agents, and as a former JAG, you would think AJ would show more respect–particularly since he’s withholding vital information. When the writers make characters behave unrealistically, they create caricatures, and it ruins the episode.
    There seems no reason to bring AJ and his crew in this late in the season. They could have easily written a story about gold or money that was less fantastic (Jordana is one of their weakest writers). The situation regarding the treatment of vets was poorly handled and is far too complicated to brush off with a scene in a VA hospital that was so unrealistic (this issue was handled better in Field of Fire), and the fact that Hetty, AJ, and Sterling were all surprised by Langston’s condition showed that they obviously had not kept in touch with him very closely even though he was their former comrade AND knew about the $40 million in gold. (The fact that AJ and Sterling evidently couldn’t figure out why his house had been ransacked was another oddity. After all, THEY knew about the gold; Callen and Sam didn’t.)
    The scenes with Kensi and Deeks felt flat and lifeless, and the reason for his reluctance to go to the VA hospital was unclear. Also, is the IA story ever going to end? With luck, it will be killed off when the mole is–if that ever happens. The inability of the writers to wrap up stories in a succinct and logical fashion has been one of the most glaring problems this season. There have been outstanding individual episodes, but it seems obvious that the real master of telling a story arc was Shane, and now that he’s moved on, that particular aspect of the show is really suffering.

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  2. snoopgirlz

    I miss Dave Kalstein—loved his episodes.
    Agree with this 100%–> “When the writers make characters behave unrealistically, they create caricatures, and it ruins the episode.”
    What obvious mistakes did you notice?

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    1. EH

      Ditto about missing Kalstein; he wrote some terrific episodes! The most obvious to me was when Sam told Agent Morris that the FBI owed NCIS because the FBI had killed Duggan. What??? Another was when Kensi and Deeks drove right past the hanging VA administrator at the cemetery. That wouldn’t happen. And while it wasn’t a “mistake,” the whole idea that these brilliant folks–Hetty, AJ, Granger, and the others–could figure out a way to get that gold donated–with all their connections–was really a stretch. Maybe they should have asked Arkady and Garrison for help.

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  3. EH

    Oops, that should be “could NOT figure a way to get that gold donated” (I hate that you can’t edit comments–I make so many mistakes). 🙂

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  4. robin1028

    finally someone else that watches the show, this season we have switched channels most of the sunday nights when they come on,,so very lame, we decided to pull some ealier seasons
    and watch those, how very different that used to be such a terrific show and I hate what the writers are doing to that show, and if Sam sticks his lips out any farther birds are going to use it as a perch,, I think there could be so many eposotes that i am sure we would all like to see come to some kind of conclusion, such as the mole situation!!! were is the guy that got away the one that both Sam and Michelle said he was such a good guy(sabitino) also what happened to Callens family???? we waited 7 years for that and then nothing, I think if they want to keep the ratings they will have to do something about the writers
    Deeks used to be so upbeat and energetic and this show he looked like he should be admitted to the hospital for depression, and Kensi what happened to her??as well as Hetty just no umpf anymore,,,, the show at this stage needs some good writing and directing or the writing is on the wall…thank God for Callen, Eric and Nell, Deeks ,Kensi, Hetty they are all very good actors
    and even with bad writing there talent carries them….. what happened to Anna?? she is terrific

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  5. Linda Wigington

    Thank you very much for your great review I think that we really have to wait until the end of the season before we say that all the stories haven’t been brought to a conclusion. I enjoyed this episode and am looking forward to the next. This episode was both funny and sad. I enjoyed the bantering between AJ and Sterling and Callen and Sam. Obviously the seniors were brought in by Hetty because of the stolen gold from their time in Vietnam. I really wish they could have spent more time on the treatment of Vets. It is very much a problem today in many countries. I feel that they have treated Granger’s disappearance/ death with respect. The scene with Kensi and Deeks was heartbreaking. I too missed Deeks humour but I understand he was sick. That probably explains his lack of energy.i was confused about the FBI shooting Duggan and I hope to never see that agent again. What is Waze any way? Not everyone gets the reference. I like Eric and Nell very much and if Eric is still struggling he should speak to someone, but please I really don’t care about a romantic relationship between the two. Kensi and Deeks is enough. Bring on part two!

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    1. writeisnice

      It’s not just that stories haven’t been “wrapped up,” it’s that some are just not going anywhere. Callen’s dad and Alex? What was the point? Callen and Anna? Where is THAT going? This episode wasn’t about the treatment of vets–that was irrelevant really (and handled much better in Field of Fire and other episodes). The FBI didn’t shoot Duggan; that was an amateurish mistake by the writers (Jordana is pathetic). WAZE is an app for directions/traffic info. The producers need to start looking at the ratings: the highest rated shows are ones that include the entire team or that have Callen & Sam as the linchpin. Kensi and Deeks are a good couple (and I don’t mind Nell and Eric), but I’m much more interested in seeing where Callen and Anna go in their relationship.

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      1. I Am Me Post author

        Yes, it was a SWAT team (I had forgotten). And as the whole mole saga seemed to include various federal agencies (albeit due to Hetty), it’s not too much of a stretch to think the CIA may have had a hand in getting an FBI SWAT team to lay siege to the boatshed.

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      2. EH

        SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) is not necessarily federal. Most major city police departments have SWAT units. It’s unlikely a SWAT officer shot Duggan because s/he would have been in communication with the other officers, and since Duggan was apparently unarmed, there was no immediate danger.

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      3. Bliss

        I don’t think it was ever revealed who shot Duggan, but based on the reaction of the FBI agents, it was unlikely to have been them.

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      4. I Am Me Post author

        How many thousands of FBI agents are there, working in different departments across the USA?
        It’s all down to people’s interpretation of the episode and unless they ever reveal more about Duggan’s shooting then we will never know. No right, no wrong, just our own imaginations.

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