NCIS Los Angeles review: “Battle Scars”

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

Most of the time, I don’t pay much attention to the episode titles because they’re mostly unimportant to the plot. But “Battle Scars” is aptly named for an episode that deals with the emotional fallout of this turbulent season and brings back Hetty’s old friends who have their own proverbial scars to deal with. This is just the first part of (presumably?) a two-episode arc, so there’s no sense of resolution, but it does set up some great character moments to focus on.

As usual, I find myself uninterested in the case of the week, even after we find out the guy who sets things into motion is one of Hetty’s old teammates. Maybe it’s my short attention span or maybe they just don’t present the exposition in an interesting way, but I felt like we didn’t get a decent explanation for everything that was happening. Of course, maybe they’re saving all the big clarifying reveals for the next episode? I’m not sure, but at least the lack of a coherent case doesn’t drag down the very excellent character work we are given here.

First, Eric gets a quiet moment with Sam about dealing with the fallout from “Getaway” where he blew up a car with a bad guy inside. The scene is a nice call back to early in the season when Eric was eager to get some weapons training from Sam so he could do more field work. I like how this scene fleshes out both of their characters. Eric is struggling but trying to hide it, and Sam is always ready to deal out his wise advice. It shows the difference in their experience, and it’s just nice to see them interacting in a realistic way.

Secondly, Deeks and Kensi’s b-plot is a lot more tender and serious than the previous episode’s contest to see who talks more. While I love their ridiculous banter, it’s also nice to see them be mature and serious about their relationship. I’m only disappointed their conversation was cut short by discovering the missing guy. (Maybe work is not the best time to discuss who supported who during the whole coma/recovery ordeal). Despite its brevity, I like that the episode gave us a moment to focus on how Kensi and Deeks are dealing with everything that’s happened in the past few months.

Thirdly, the show finally addressed the fact that Granger is gone for good within an actual episode. Since the character made his hospital escape, I’ve been wondering when the team was going to mention him again and acknowledge that he’s gone. It took a few episodes longer than I expected but since every mention of his name in this episode was heartbreaking, I’m kind of glad they waited a bit. Having Hetty’s team and our team reminisce together about him was a nice moment. And I even cried a bit when Kensi admitted that she’d wanted Granger to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. All in all, it was a good way to recognize the hole left behind by Miguel Ferrer’s passing. They didn’t just brush off his death.

Lastly, on a happier note, the return of Hetty’s old friends, the JAG Admiral and his friend Sterling was good for a contrast between our favorite pair: Sam and Callen. They butt heads quite a lot and only reluctantly team up, but their similarities make it fun to watch. The two characters are fleshed out better than most guest stars and recurring characters, like when they pull out their keys. The admiral’s is on a keychain while Sterling’s is in his shoe heel. They each ridicule the other for their hiding spot.

Since the story is continued next week, we didn’t get all the answers. But we did get a chance to see inside the team’s heads long enough to see how they’re still dealing with this rollercoaster season. Hopefully next week’s episode won’t trade the battle scars for more flashy explosions.

Notes from the Boat Shed

  • I thought it was good for the episode to put a spotlight on the ongoing problems at VA hospitals across the country, and I was kind of disappointed when the case spiraled into something different at the end.
  • I really dislike when there are cartoony-like bad guys because it ruins the realism. But I’m also horrified because there probably are real people like the jerk head VA guy. Ugh.
  • “Because I play a mean lute.” This is the kind of quirky tolerable Eric I like. Not too over-the-top.
  • What do you have against Waze, Sam?? It’s a nice app!
  • Hetty, why can’t you ever just tell people what you’re doing ahead of time?
  • So is the Sterling guy someone from JAG too? Or just a random guy? Either way, I like him. I like him much more than the new annoying FBI who seemed kind of like a pointless character to introduce.
  • Hetty is Keith Richards. End of story. No arguments. That’s that. Everyone can go home now.

So what did you think? Like it or hate it? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. (By the way, I’ve been awful at replying to comments lately, but thank you for all the ones I’ve received! It’s always nice to see other thoughts and perspectives on the story. I’ll hopefully get back to replying to comments soon.)


9 thoughts on “NCIS Los Angeles review: “Battle Scars”

  1. I thought it was a very boring episode, and although I like AJ and wouldn’t mind seeing him as a regular, I didn’t like his interaction with Callen and Sam and really saw no likeness between the two pairs (Sterling was just annoying and his humor sophomoric). The whole kidnapping stunt was irrelevant, the scene at the VA was so unrealistic to almost be a parody (and much too complicated a matter to address in a few minutes; they did a much better job in Field of Fire). I agree, work isn’t the best time to discuss your feelings–especially when you’re on a case and investigating a kidnapping–but it was nice to see Deeks serious even if it was awkward (Kensi’s always serious with a sense of humor). The conversations about Granger were appropriate and a nice way to bring his story to a close, but they were poorly integrated into the story line. That Sam wouldn’t use WAZE seemed out of character (this is the guy who embraces the “shared collective consciousness” of the web and says “teamwork makes the dream work”). And Kensi has made dinner; she made a quiche for Deeks during one of the Sullivan episodes, so the whole kitchen scene seemed silly (I sometimes wonder if the writers even remember what the characters have done/said from episode-to-episode and season-to-season). Also, the fact that AJ and Sterling couldn’t figure out why Langston’s home was overturned–when he was in charge of $40 million in gold–shows they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed (maybe they shouldn’t be helping on cases). And AJ getting warrants from civilian judges in LA in such quick order (even though he was a JAG lawyer who worked in DC)–evidently, personal relationships are more important than following the law because probable cause was worse than weak. Here’s hoping the next episode is better (it couldn’t be worse), and that the season ends on a high note with Military and Gemmill. BTW, if they’re aiming for the geriatric crowd, they’re hiring the right actors (even though I LOVE AJ and Hetty), and I think the proposal comes next week (I can’t see Military writing a proposal scene–at least not one in which someone isn’t injured or killed–lol).

  2. I don’t think that I’ve ever “hated” an episode of NCIS-LA. And there was a lot of little things going on with this one.

    Let’s start with the whole Eric/Nell scenario. Eric is having problems after the shooting, which is both understandable and expected. Even though Sam’s advice is good, I think Eric needs (and will probably get) some one-on-one time with Nate Getz. He’s been able to relate well with other members of the team after traumatic events, and he’s no stranger to Eric. I think that’s what he needs right now.

    As a couple, Eric and Nell are definitely connecting. Nell’s shampoo seems like a trivial matter, but it is obviously one of those things that is a total turn-on for Eric. He mentions to Sam about the coconut/mango shampoo that Nell used back in 2014, which she is now using once again, obviously for Eric’s benefit and pleasure. And after the Robin Hood/Alan-a-dale exchange, Eric smiles as he detects that familiar aroma, and says “coco/mango” under his breath as Nell walks away. Nell definitely knows what she’s doing, and she’s loving it, as is he.

    Alan-a-Dale is no accidental reference either, and it goes far deeper than Eric’s ability to play the lute. His lute-playing ability comes as no surprise, and those who don’t know Alan-a-Dale’s story with Robin Hood might be tempted to just leave it at that. But Alan-a-Dale, with the help of Robin Hood and company, rescues his true love by preventing a bad marriage right at the altar. Alan-a-Dale becomes the girl’s hero, and he sweeps her off her feet. They get married and live happily ever after. Nell is excellent with trivia, as we remember Eric referencing this in “Getaway” when he told the story about when he first knew he was in love with Nell. She probably knew full well about the whole Alan-a-Dale story. as did Eric. The “lute playing” was most likely a thin veil for something much deeper. They couldn’t be more in love.

    The neat thing about this romance is that it is a completely different type of situation than Kensi and Deeks. Eric and Nell have been long-time friends who are taking things to the next level in a logical progression of things. Kensi and Deeks had to work around a different dynamic, with Kensi coming to the realization that Deeks was the love of her life, and perfect for her.

    Kensi and Deeks are about as solid as two people could be. Marriage is in the picture, but with a touch of sorrow about Granger. Who’s going to walk her down the aisle? Sam or Callen would be obvious choices, or maybe Nate. Or perhaps Admiral Chegwidden might do it? He is endearing himself to the team!

    I don’t think that the Granger situation is unfolding in the best way. I know that they’re having to deal with Miguel’s death in an honorable way, but having him just disappear from the hospital seems like an odd way to do things. Having him die in the line of duty might almost seem cliche, but I think it would have been preferable to having him just disappear. We’ll see what the future holds there.

    Having people from JAG do appearances on the NCIS shows is a nice touch. Bud Roberts showed up at NCIS talking to McGee. And now Chegwidden is at NCIS-LA. I’ve always liked John M. Jackson, and he makes a very nice addition to the show. I don’t ever recall seeing Sterling in a JAG episode, and he probably wasn’t; it was brought out in this show that each of them went their own ways after Vietnam.

    FBI agent Zoe Morris is an interesting piece of work. I’m guessing that she was there in a cameo role, but who knows? She was looking Deeks square in the torso, so I doubt if she’s even five feet tall. My initial impression of her is that she’s a small person with a huge chip on her shoulder.

    So now we add yet another relationship to the mix. Eric and Nell are now front and center; Kensi and Deeks are continuing to grow stronger, and lest we forget that we have Callen and Anna bubbling away on the back of the stove. The relationships on all of the NCIS programs aren’t the main point of the respective shows, but it does bring a better sense of realism to everything.

  3. I think the writers have added too much to the mix this season. Just the other day I was re-watching some older episodes, and I realized how masterfully Shane planted “onion” seeds in stories, and then later on, the writers would peel back the layers and expose more of that particular story. This season, I feel as if the writers have been planting “zucchini” seeds: the stories go off in all directions; they’re not attached to anything and there’s no central “core.” The only “seed” story they’ve done really well is Kensi’s arc (although they did well with Granger, and that was special). Other than that, the stories they’ve introduced or continued just pop up and then die off. Nothing much has happened with Callen’s dad or Alex, so why bring them in at all this season? Same with Anna. I love the dynamic between Callen and Anna, but not much has happened between them that we’ve seen (the writers seem to have forgotten the first rule of writing drama: SHOW, don’t tell your audience). And it seems that we STILL haven’t finished the whole mole mess. That’s just been one muddled story after another. And now they bring in AJ and Hetty’s old gang. It’s another cast of characters we don’t need now. I’m just wondering if Asakeem is going to suffer the same fate as Garrison–be brought back for an episode and then disappear into the great NCIS: LA story void. It’s terribly frustrating when you have such interesting characters and yet do so little with them. Although I think many of the individual episodes have been very good, they have missed some stellar opportunities. It seems as though Sam and Kensi have been the best at handling everything that’s happened this season, and while I think it was a good touch to have Nell and Eric see Nate, it makes me wonder why Hetty–especially since she recognized the emotional turmoil Callen and Deeks have both gone through–didn’t order them to see Nate. If she had actually behaved as a concerned supervisor, she would have done that, and those are scenes I would have loved to see. The more I reflect on the missed opportunities this season–and the stories that went nowhere–the more disappointed I am. I was hoping Gemmill would be as good a show runner as Shane, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. He’s had a lot of unexpected circumstances to deal with this season; hopefully, he’ll right the ship before it flounders completely.

  4. Thanks very much for your review. I can appreciate that it must be difficult to do since this was only the first part of a two part episode. I enjoyed this episode, not so much because of the plot, but because of the humour generated between the teams of Callen and Sam and AJ and Sterling. I found it to be funny and sad. I feel that they have dealt well with Granger’s disappearance and it was heartbreaking to watch the scene with Kensi and Deeks. Once again, I really don’t care about a romantic relationship between Eric and Nell. Kensi and Deeks is more than enough. I agree that if Eric is having difficulty he should talk to Nate. I also wish that Hetty would tell the people involved what she is doing. Maybe, we could avoid some of the situations that come up. It will be interesting to see the second part. What in the world is Waze?

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