NCIS Los Angeles Review: “High Value Target/Belly of the Beast”

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Here’s my review of NCIS Los Angeles season eight two-part premiere “High Value Target” and “Belly of the Beast.” Please note that this isn’t a recap of what happens. I’m assuming that you’ve already seen the episode. There are spoilers in this review.

It’s time for another NCISLA season premiere, and since we didn’t really end on a cliffhanger, the story starts off with a clean slate. The two part opener starts off like any normal episode before the action kicks into high gear with a story we don’t often get to see. Along with that, the premiere sets up what looks to be an ongoing storyline with Undersecretary Duggan. And maybe we’ll finally figure out who the mole is. “High Value Target” and “Belly of the Beast” was by no means a perfect season opener, but it definitely put into motion some plots that could be intriguing.

A story gets boring if it’s essentially just the same idea over and over again. Like I’ve said many times before (aren’t you bored of me repeating myself?), procedurals have a lot of hard work to do to keep from falling into a dull routine. Part one of the premiere felt like the same old routine. It was the typical office banter/find the terrorists/go undercover/catch the bad guy story that we see all the time. I thought the case was a bit disappointing because I had expected a bit more excitement and tension in a story that kicked off the season. Thankfully, however, the b-plot saw a return to the mole storyline and it felt like the shake up the story needed.

Undersecretary Duggan and his underlings arrive to essentially shut down the LA office until they can find the mole themselves. This is, of course, a threat to our team and the danger of sneaking around and possibly losing their jobs is a good added element of narrative tension. They can’t be comfy and complacent in their routine anymore. In addition, this plot actually gives Eric and Nell something to do! Sure, it’s still mostly just technobabble and exposition, but the plot to break into their own office was nice. There’s not a lot of room for character development, but it’s a start at least. The best way to develop characters is to take them out of their comfort zone.

The character who seems most affected by the mole storyline is the chessmaster herself: Hetty. Her sacrifice at the end isn’t wholly unexpected (she’d do anything for the team, after all), but it does put her in a more vulnerable position than before. That’s rare to see for someone who’s seemingly always pulling the strings. I’m very excited to see how her confession storyline plays out.

There are, of course, also downsides to the Duggan storyline. Firstly, he’s portrayed like a typical villain. He rolls in like he has a personal ax to grind, but there’s no reason for him to be so disagreeable. He’s just doing his job after all, so the attitude felt like it was only there to paint him in contrast with our heroes. Secondly, Duggan actually does have a point about the mole. How long has this storyline been going on without any progress or resolution? And how often have we seen the team doing anything to solve it? It seems like we’re supposed to be just as offended as the team is for this personal invasion, but Duggan has a valid reason to be there. So the outrage fell flat for me. And thirdly, Duggan’s staff is super incompetent, especially when they try to trade off the terrorist guy. They don’t blend in and they offer no assistance in apprehending the shooter. They essentially just function as a contrast to make our team look better. After seven seasons, we don’t need the reassurance.

Despite its flaws, the mole investigation was interesting. But the real excitement came in part two, “Belly of the Beast.” The team usually gets to go out of the country at least once per season, but not so often that it’s routine like “High Value Target” was. And it was a refreshing change of pace to see the operation go smoothly and the exit to go horribly awry, instead of the usual opposite. There was a good amount of tension and urgency to Kensi’s predicament. Watching them try to figure out how to free her from the wreckage was nerve-wracking but compelling to watch. The dire circumstances also gave the audience a good opportunity to study the team’s reactions. And as much as I hate to see Kensi hurt, a serious injury seems more realistic than how they’re usually impervious to bullets. Eventually someone was going to get hurt.

I’m a bit wary about the injured person being Kensi, just because it’s easy to fall back on the trope of hurting the female character just to see how the male characters will react. But it’s really too early to say how this will play out. The recovery will be interesting to watch. Hopefully the storyline will focus on both Kensi and Deeks, instead of just Deeks. It seemed like, from their conversation in the car, Deeks was pushing for the two of them to retire to possibly start a family, so I’m curious to see how their perspectives have changed now.

The season premiere started off a bit slow but picked up speed and turned out to be a very interesting story with repercussions that are sure the reverberate throughout the rest of the season. This season has a lot of expectations riding on its shoulders after how good season seven was, but we’re definitely off to a good start.

Notes from the Boat Shed

  • I should acknowledge that I do know they made Kensi the victim because of Daniela Ruah’s pregnancy. They’ve already sent her character away undercover last time she was pregnant, so I guess they didn’t want to repeat.
  • Miguel Ferrer’s deadpan delivery on all his lines makes him the MVP of the episode in my eyes. I pretty much died when he made the boxers/briefs joke. His character has come so far from his first appearance.
  • I wish NCISLA would show a few friendly Muslims every now and then to contrast with the Muslim terrorists. Those extremists only represent a small vocal part of the religious group and it’s kind of unfair to portray only one aspect of it. But that’s just my opinion.
  • The Action MVP for the episode is Sam for jumping through a window to tackle a guy… all while casually being ON FIRE. It will never top the elevator shaft scene for me, but it was close.
  • I suppose to moral of the story is… listen to Sam and never take your shoes off in a helicopter?
  • So what’s on your bucket list? Mine includes going to San Diego Comic Con one year.

So what did you think? Like it or hate it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


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