Last week’s ‘Uncaged’ was a beast of an episode. It brutally demonstrated the dark side of NCIS and how far the super-villains or a character’s nemesis will go to exact revenge. Sam watched his wife suffocate and cradled her dead body in his arms. It is somewhat of a relief that the blackness of ‘Uncaged’ is not repeated in the closing part of the season finale. Morning has dawned at the crime scene and the tone has also altered. The frantic search for Michelle is over and ‘Unleashed’ follows the aftermath with Sam single-minded in his desire for revenge and arch-nemesis Tahir Khaled is ready to unleash the second phase of his horror.
The change of tone is reflective not only of the new day and a new focus for Sam, but also that previous episode writer Frank Military has handed the reigns to showrunner Scott Gemmill. His pedigree for this episode stems from writing the likes of Dom’s death in season one and Callen’s ultimate rogue escapade ‘Active Measures’ in season seven. He can write the dark and intense episodes but also has a lighter touch and even here manages to inject a little humour and romance that in no way detracts from the seriousness of the narrative.
It is not surprising and very predictable that Sam goes rogue in order to find and kill Khaled and certainly understandable. It is the only reason for Sam to act in that way as opposed to Callen, who goes rogue as soon as he gets a lead or loses a lead on his mysterious past. When examined in more detail, Sam ditched Callen and then called on CIA agent Sabatino to become his temporary and expendable partner. Sam is still protecting those he loves by his desire to eliminate the threat to his family and thereby take his revenge but he is also ensuring they are kept at a distance. He will only comfort his children once Khaled is dead and even though Callen is willing to sacrifice his own career to help Sam, it is an offer he refuses. The real Sam Hanna is still there – he may have gone off the books but he has not gone lone wolf. Even in the midst of his anger he is still a team player for the most part. He also ditches second partner Sabatino and that was again to protect him. Sam leaves him handcuffed to a bin and when he walks away he says that only he [Sam] is expendable. This doesn’t sit comfortably with Sam’s character, even in the height of grief and anger. If Sam dies in his pursuit of revenge, he will leave his children orphaned. Sensible Sam does return when the team convince him to accept their offer of help, his conversation with Callen, surrounded by Kensi, Deeks and Nell nailing home the point that they are all family.
Sam: Tell me where he is.
Callen: Not unless you promise to do this with me.
Sam: It’s not about you.
Callen: If it’s about you, it’s about me and everyone else on this team.
The episode is about Sam, but it is also about everyone else, how they are affected. Callen is trying to control his anger and emotions to stay strong for Sam. He is uncharacteristically forceful with Kensi and Deeks after their raid of an office building when they disobeying his orders to wait for back up; in the same scene raising his voice and ordering them to remove evidence that was meant for Sam to see. Kensi has become overly cautious in a vain attempt to protect Deeks. Deeks has raised his game now the stakes are high and is very serious and decisive, trying to think how Sam would behave. Nell seems lost, not knowing how she should be reacting emotionally and is almost projecting on to Kensi that she really needs a hug. Early on she asks Kensi when they are allowed to cry. Eric struggles to find clues amongst his technologically advanced toys in Ops.
The role reversal of stalwart Sam turning rogue is not lost on Callen, who calls him on it in a voicemail.
Callen: I do realize the irony of me telling you to drop the lone wolf crap.
Sam may be unleashed yet for the most part he remains in control of his emotions. He has a plan to use Sabatino and CIA intelligence. The moves he makes are calm and he remains focused. Again, a rogue / lone wolf Sam is very different to a rogue / lone wolf Callen, which is underlined by Hetty and Nell’s conversation in her office. Hetty is resigned to the fact Sam behaving as she would expect, and does not order the team to stop him, just to find him.
Khaled is playing a dangerous game with Sam, taunting him by stealing his wife’s body and placing photos of her in an office for him to find. He is depraved and obsessed to an extent that none of the team can predict. As before in season six, he is goading Sam in to losing his self control and luckily it doesn’t work. Khaled believes Sam is in hiding when he is really hunting. The rest of the team find the photos and Callen is shot after ordering Kensi and Deeks to remove them. This scene and the following one in the ambulance seem a little odd. Why was Callen shot when he was not the one taking down the pictures and Kensi and Deeks were also in the room prior to his arrival. Was that because Khaled and his crew know Callen and his connection to Sam? Although he is shot in his Kevlar vest and is in pain, he is conscious yet the next scene he is in an ambulance with Nell and wearing an oxygen mask, almost as though they were faking the seriousness of the gunshot. This was not the case and the pair joke with straight faces, that Callen’s been shot for real – five times.
There are a few other humorous moments; in the same scene Nell advises the paramedic that she’s ‘dewormed’ Callen (presumably by digging the slug out of his vest). Sam tells Callen not to change the radio station in the Challenger just before he ditches him. Kensi comments that men are stupid that way, when Deeks questions why Sam would go off on his own. With Deeks dressed in a Jesus robe, he is the passenger when Nell yells out ‘Jesus is my co-pilot’ whilst driving. And in two unconnected scenes, both Deeks and Sam correct Khaled, informing him that Sam Hanna is two words, not Samhanna as he likes to say. The smattering of humour lightens the episode and shows there is hope out of the darkness of Michelle’s murder.
Even at the episode’s end the characters are still trying to process their emotions. Nell once again approaches Kensi in the same manner as at the start. Her words about not imagining losing someone that close two you is the immediate trigger that Kensi will propose to Deeks. Since her recovery, Deeks has been waiting for the perfect time to propose and he still hasn’t found the right moment or setting. Despite his protests that the guy should propose, Deeks responds to Kensi’s serious speech with a joke. The natural reaction from Kensi begs the question as to whether his line was improvised but regardless, Kensi has continued to be bold in their relationship. In the heartfelt and impetuous moment that is typical Kensi, she uses the ring of a flash bang amid the debris of the exploded tour bus. Life is too short and they don’t know how much time they will have together. Michelle’s death has led to a positive life affirming action.
It is quite right that the final scene switches back to Sam and Callen in the morgue. To underline that this is all about Sam regardless of Callen’s emotions, Sam is at the forefront with his wife as Callen remains in the background. He will take time off to spend with his kids and asks Callen to take care of Hetty and the team. The song that played in the background of the proposal ‘Forever Starts Today’, takes on a different meaning as it’s played again. Sam’s life will never be the same. Let’s just hope it doesn’t change him too much.
The season nine finale has been one rollercoaster of emotions, with the concluding part naturally took on a different feel. There was less desperation and more action, less darkness and a glimmer of hope. The acting from all was superb (although in a few places Nell’s restrained grief seemed to be a little over-acted). There are still loose ends which may or may not be tied up at some point in the future, regarding the mole and how Khaled obtained his information. Sam clearly trusts Sabatino to a certain extent and Sabatino’s actions do seem to suggest he was not fully briefed in the CIA’s operation that targeted NCISLA team. Season eight concludes with the end of the Khaled storyline. Season nine has no cliff-hanger with which to open and a fresh plots can be introduced and developed.
What did you think of the concluding episode of the season finale?