Some holiday episodes/midseason finales can be heartbreaking. Others can be uplifting. “NCIS: Los Angeles'” this year, for the most part, falls into the latter category, as the Monday, Dec. 14 episode, “Cancel Christmas,” sees the team manage to solve a case and make it in time to celebrate the holidays (even if it’s not necessarily how they planned to).
While not as great as last season’s Christmas episode, this year’s “NCIS: LA” holiday celebration is filled with some great moments, honest, mature conversations and what feels like a tease for what’s to come where it concerns a certain Assistant Director. As always, some things are on point – Sam and Callen’s bromance (especially when it comes to the car reindeer antlers and relationship advice), Kensi and Deeks’ relationship, Eric and Nell’s banter, Granger’s Grinch-like behavior, Hetty’s resourcefulness and the team’s teamwork. The opening scenes set the mostly light-hearted tone for the rest of the hour – Eric and Nell dancing, Sam picking up Callen and remarking on how bare his house is, Kensi and Deeks’ conversation about their holiday plans and their mothers and Sam’s determination to not work for the holidays and reaction to Eric’s elf shoes.
The case itself feels a bit disjointed at times, possibly due to the fact that there seems to be so much else going on. (Why is Granger such a Grinch? Will he go through all the ammo in the armory with all the time he’s spending on the shooting range? Will Deeks tell Kensi the truth about Boyle? What exactly is the story with Joelle and Callen’s relationship at the moment?) They’re likely dealing with a North Korean spy, killed by someone in his network to sever all ties, and there doesn’t really seem to be the feeling of urgency that there usually is with cases like this. The team isn’t rushing around. There are no explosions. Sam even has time to go pick Aiden up from the airport and then just show up in time to tackle a guy.
A suspected North Korean spy is poisoned by a mysterious woman in a blonde wig, and the case leads them to deal with Mike Hobbs (whom Sam accurately describes as an idiot), Callen being duped by a woman seemingly crying over her boyfriend only for her to attack, Mike hiding a list of names he’s going to trade in the chip of his kid’s dog and a takedown happening in the middle of a Christmas Craft Fair, with Deeks dressed as Santa and Aiden enjoying what he’s seeing so much (did Sam really think he was going to stay in the car?) that he’s thinking he could be good at it. There are kids standing around watching as these agents – including, the aforementioned Deeks-dressed-as-Santa – tackle bad guys carrying guns, and really, all that’s done about is Deeks uses the opportunity for a quick after school lesson: this is why you have to be good. Yes, there’s not wanting to tip the bad guys’ hand that the meeting is a setup, but having kids around in a situation where things could easily take a wrong turn and shots can be fired? Not the best idea.
The case also opens up a can of worms with Granger that could probably be the jumping off point for a “Granger, O.” episode. The Assistant Director is the definition of a Grinch the entire episode, turning off the music Eric and Nell are dancing to for a Toys for Tots Drive with Marines and spending what probably amounts to all his free time at the shooting range and calling it “meditating,” until he sends Eric and Nell off to their Toys for Tots drive with a compliment about their costumes and a smile.
Then there’s the conversation he has with Jennifer Kim, the woman in the blonde wig. She doesn’t remember him, does she, he remarks, explaining that he met her mother when she used the same wig trick. Two weeks after they took a photo together in Macau in 1989, she shot him. Her mother taught her English and then she was recruited when she was a kid to be a spy, right? He bets that she hasn’t seen her mother in a long time, which would make two of them. As Hetty asks at the end, was any of what he told Jennifer Kim true? When he wonders if it even matters she says it might, to Jennifer and to him. And that remains an unanswered question, as the two toast the holiday.
Assuming it is true, it’s an interesting direction to move in for Granger, though it seems to just be the tip of the iceberg for now. Hopefully “NCIS: LA” doesn’t wait too long to provide some answers about Granger in this episode, because there are only so many storylines they can leave open-ended for too long. (And it is much too soon to introduce an arc like they did with Deeks’ internal affairs one last season that wasn’t resolved until this year.)
Moving on to the relationships of the team, last season’s Christmas episode saw Joelle find out the truth about Callen when she ended up part of the team’s case. While their way of resolving their issues last year meant a new beginning, this year, it means an end. When Sam picks up Callen from his house on the way to work – and sees just how much it lacks in holiday cheer, save for a card from Janvier (perhaps the best tradition he has) next to a photo of Sam’s family on the mantle. After seeing that Joelle slept over, he calls Callen out on it considering he was going to break up with her, and it sounds like they’re just together at the moment because they have no one else to spend the holidays with, which isn’t really the healthiest plan.
That’s a sign that Callen really knows nothing about relationships and a situation that offers Sam another chance to try to teach his partner about women and things like emergency gifts. If he’s planning to spend Christmas with Joelle, he better believe she’s going to have a present for him, no matter what they “agree” to do. Thankfully, Hetty has a pair of vintage earrings for Callen’s emergency gift (she probably filled out the card too, because this is Callen) because when Callen gets home after the case, Joelle has a present for him. She also makes their breakup official, telling him that her New Year’s resolution is to not date people who may not come home at night. That means they have until New Year’s, Callen points out, and they kiss, and none of this is really surprising.
It’s hard to imagine Callen having a lasting relationship with someone at all right now, let alone someone not in his line of work, not when so much remains mysterious about him, not when he doesn’t even know his father is (probably) alive and not when “What is your first name?” is such a complicated question. Considering all the drama in their relationship last year when she found out the truth because they had to run from a man shooting at her, they needed to have a drama-free holiday this year. And what better way than with something that’s usually not drama-free (a breakup)?
On the other side of the relationship front, Kensi and Deeks remain a stable couple. Though they hit a bump when it comes to Christmas plans – both their mothers want to cook, and cooking together isn’t an option – that problem is solved, thanks to an invitation from Sam for them all to spend the holiday at his place. (Oh, and Deeks suggests they “elope,” where he’s using it in a way that no one ever does, to mean they spend the holiday alone together.)
Kensi and Deeks also throw being professional at work out the window, starting with a discussion about sexy Mr. and Mrs. Claus outfits and ending with a (fraction of a) kiss while on the job. Leading up to that kiss is an honest, mature conversation, as Deeks chooses to ask for “forgiveness” when Kensi asks what he wants for Christmas. Instead of holding in the truth about what happened to Boyle, it only takes two episodes (since “The Long Goodbye” technically took place after “Internal Affairs”) for him to come clean, and to his surprise, Kensi tells him she knows. She figured it out, and she figured he’d tell her when he was ready to.
This is how a couple should deal with a secret: calmly, honestly and almost immediately. Sure, he could have told her at any point before he was arrested, but it’s nice to see that they don’t make this into a big deal, that there’s no yelling, no accusations thrown, no arguing. Just honest statements and a promise of no more secrets. It’s a much more emotional scene than one would expect while working a case, and it quickly turns absolutely adorable, with Deeks asking, “Do you have any idea how much I love you right now?” and then telling Kensi he needs to kiss her. Though she does give in, he insists the quick kiss was only a fourth of a kiss, but he’s going to have to wait for the rest of it. Who would’ve thought that after spending years insisting they didn’t have a “thing” and calling what they had a “thing” that Kensi and Deeks would be here? More couples could learn a thing or two from them.
“NCIS: Los Angeles” season 7 airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS. What did you think of episode 11 “Cancel Christmas”?