NCIS Los Angeles review: “Payback”

Here’s my review of NCIS Los Angeles season eight episode “Payback.” 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.

The best thing about serialized storytelling is that there is a lot of room for the characters to grow and develop. One episode alone is probably not going to be pivotal to a character’s development, but a multi-episode arc gives enough time for any changes to be realistic. The mole storyline finally comes to an end in “Payback” (despite a few loose threads still) and this episode is exactly the kind of perfect payoff we should see from serialized storytelling. Each character is affected by the events of the episode, all in different ways.

Let’s start off with the character whose main story arc wrapped up here in many ways: Kensi. Her life changed dramatically in the season premiere with a devastating injury that she’s needed a lot of time to recover from. We’ve watched her journey from being unable to walk to struggling with self-doubt to attempting field work again when times became desperate. It’s been a fantastic story that allowed Daniela Ruah to show off acting skills we don’t usually get to see, and also forced Kensi’s character to grow from the experience.

This all comes to a head in this episode where we see Kensi held captive, tied up, and threatened with permanent bodily harm. And what does she do in this situation? She fights back. Fiercely. At no point does she ever seem to give up hope that she can make it out herself. Perhaps Kensi from previous seasons would have tried to taunt Ferris by reminding him that her team will always come to rescue her. But she’s had to go through her recovery on her own this season (Deeks was there of course, but he can’t quite understand the magnitude of what she’s dealing with), so Kensi fights back in the most awe-inspiring sequences of the episode. She plays mind games with Ferris to keep the saw away from her leg. She pretends to choke in order to get him to remove her bonds. If not for Ferris’ backup making an untimely appearance, she would have made it out singlehandedly.

I worried at the beginning of the season that Kensi’s injury would fall into the tired tropes of “hurting the girl just to make the men suffer” and making her a “damsel in distress” because of her weakness from the injury. But the writers have done an excellent job of avoiding those, making sure Kensi’s story of recovery is about Kensi’s story of personal growth. Most likely in future episodes, she will probably struggle a bit mentally from this episode’s ordeal, but she’s proven that she’s never backing down without a fight. That’s great use of serialized storytelling.

Of course, Kensi wasn’t the only one to be majorly affected by this ordeal. But while her story winds down, Callen’s seems to be just beginning. He finds out here that his ex-girlfriend Joelle was actually a CIA agent working with the moles in the agency. That’s a betrayal that will shake him to the core. It’s not often that Callen lets people get close to him. But he did just that in the previous season where the two of them were dating. Things came to an amicable end when they broke up and he still kept her dining room table, as Deeks and Sam liked to tease about often.

So that’s the kind of thing that could potentially tear Callen up now that he knows the truth. He was nothing but kind and caring towards her when they found her in the church, pretending to be a victim, but that kindness was wasted since she was working with the moles. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to this in future episodes. He’s got a burgeoning romance with Anna going? Will that be affected? He’s trying to reconnect with his father. Will he be more wary there too? His last scene in the episode is taking a saw to Joelle’s dining room table, getting the only revenge he can (unlike Ferris in contrast). The events of this episode will continue to echo as the season continues, keeping Callen as a dynamic character that is interesting to watch.

There wasn’t as much time to focus on everyone else but this three-part arc will surely have an impact on them as well. Things have definitely been shaken up and they’ll have to deal with the aftermath going forward. All in all, the three episode conclusion to the mole arc was exciting with all sorts of twists and turns, but thankfully did not sacrifice character development along the way.

Notes from the Boat Shed
*Questions that still need answers: Where’d Sabatino go? Is Callen still technically a fugitive after breaking out? And, uh, what about Deeks and probably dead Det. Whiting? Why didn’t Hetty take care of this sooner? How many bad apples are left in the CIA? Who shot Duggan?? AND WHY? etc etc…

*I can probably answer this by googling, but was the helpful Admiral guy from the original JAG series? If so, cool! I’m not sure if I want him hanging around more though

*Best line of the episode goes to Sam to Sabatino: “You’re already walking on thin ice, don’t make me smash your head through it”

*I didn’t suspect before this episode that Joelle was involved, but as soon as she popped up on screen in this episode, I was sure she was shady. In hindsight, the constant mentions of her may have been a clue

*SABAtino? SABOteur? Why didn’t we figure this out sooner? It was so obvious 😛

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


3 thoughts on “NCIS Los Angeles review: “Payback”

  1. Great review!
    I oved this episode despite all of the questions it left me with. Sam’s line to Sabatino was awesome but it was Joelle’s comment to Callen about forgiveness that was my favourite. I got the impression that Sabatino didn’t know Joelle was CIA but Ferris did. And yeah, where the heck did Sabatino go?

  2. Thank you very much for a great review. I agree with your remarks about Kensi and Callen. However, I still have a lot of unanswered questions which I assume will be dealt with over the season. Over the three episode arc Joelle’s and Sabatino’s names have come up for speculation. I wasn’t surprised that either was involved. For me, the big thing was Joelle’s betrayal of Callen. This will haunt him for a very long time and have an effect on his future relations. Her remark about forgiveness will certainly make him think. One question I need answered though is how much did Michelle know? If anything, Sam would be crushed. Liked the new guy AJ and I remember him from JAG and as you said why didn’t Hetty act sooner? Lots of questions. Hope we get answers.

  3. This is an excellent review, you’ve picked up on so much of the character development, particularly for Kensi and Callen. Kensi has had an amazing season so far. The next episode features Callen’s father and Nate-be interesting to see how that goes. I do hope they take the opportunity to explore how Joelle’s betrayal affects him. And of course there *were* so much banter from the guys about Joelle being a psycho ex leaving dead bodies on Callen’s lawn (I missed that one)!

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