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NCIS: Los Angeles - Episode 5.19 - "Spoils of War" Review - No Spoils, Just Costs

The multi-faceted layers of this action-packed episode pushed it beyond the expected plot of just saving beloved team member Kensi Blye from the clutch of the Taliban. In “Spoils of War,” the writers skillfully wove both tense and touching scenes that explored the characters’ humanity and compassion. By the end, it is clear there are no “spoils of war” for this team – all they take home from Afghanistan is a heightened understanding of the stark costs of war.

As the team flies to Afghanistan to save and rescue Kensi (Daniela Ruah), I was glad to see Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) with his own plot and struggles. Though they were tied to saving Kensi, they became much more than that. Deeks’ role in this episode could have been nothing more than an emotional wreck of a partner worried about the woman he cares about. But instead, the writers used his emotions in a powerful way.

After a warning from Hetty, Sam gives Deeks an assignment on his own – and for the story, it was a great choice. Instead of following the team to track down Kensi, Deeks is tasked with talking to a Muslim cleric to find out why a Taliban courier visited his house. He hopes to find out information about Kensi but soon learns the cleric is faithful to the Taliban and has no intention of helping him.

Deeks offers the cleric money, but he refuses. When Deeks ties him up, he emphasizes to his interpreter that he doesn’t torture people. “For the record,” he says, “I have morals.” His interpreter questions whether those morals can hold up in a war-type situation.

I found it interesting that the writers chose to make the cleric blind; it was their way of trying to garner a little sympathy for the man and encourage viewers to care whether Deeks was going to hurt him or not.

As two days go by, we now see Deeks keeping the cleric awake and withholding food from him. Though Deeks says this is not torture, he is about to go one step further when he receives some bad news from Hetty. What a great scene. As Deeks answers the phone and goes from his usual joking self to worried and serious (“Hetty, please tell me something good,” he pleads), he receives the news about a photo of Kensi in which she appears to be dead. An emotionally distraught Deeks insists on seeing the photo. And you want to cry for him as he views it.

After that his ideas on torture go out the window. Yelling about the extremist Islamic treatment of women, he knocks down the cleric and pulls out a gun, coming close to shooting the man. When he still receives no information, he prepares to waterboard the man. As the interpreter tries to stop him, Deeks replies, “Want to know the truth? I don’t even care if it works.” By now his rage has taken over and he wants revenge. If finding the woman he loves means torturing someone for information, he is willing to do it.

All of this culminates in the waterboarding scene. As Deeks yells for the cleric to reveal a name, he says to the interpreter, “Tell him I’ll see him in hell” and begins to torture the man. He knows what he’s doing but feels it’s worth it. Yet as he continues, his voice begins to shake. And as soon as the water is gone, Deeks cannot deal with his actions. Whereas moments before he was determined to do anything for intel, suddenly Deeks is wrapping his arms around the man, holding his head against the cleric’s, consoling him, soothing him and promising not to do it again. This scene was phenomenal. Granted, the message was a little preachy and political. But the way Deeks desperately offered solace to this man clearly indicated he was really trying to comfort himself. The anguish and fear in his eyes was now not just about Kensi, but realizing what he was capable of himself.

Shortly after this, Deeks makes some remarks about why he has so much rage. He tells the interpreter, “My partner is the person I care about most on this planet. And she’s here because of me.” Deeks clearly still blames himself for Kensi being sent to Afghanistan. No one has explained to him the real reason she was chosen for the mission. So he assumes it was because Hetty noticed they were getting close and felt it necessary to keep them apart.

That brings us to the reason Kensi was chosen for the mission. It was a shock to learn that Hetty (Linda Hunt) knew Kensi’s ex-fiancĂ© Jack. (Though maybe it shouldn’t have been – Hetty knows everything and everyone.) In fact, Hetty and Jack are friends. Jack turned to her for help when the CIA began coercing information from him. So Hetty purposely sent Kensi to be his executioner because she knew Kensi wouldn’t shoot him. After learning this, I found myself thinking about all the things Hetty knows behind the scenes. She even had a picture of Kensi and Jack from 10 years ago. The whole time she has watched Kensi with Deeks, she knew Jack was alive. The things that Hetty knows!

The actual tracking down of Kensi is left to Sam (LL Cool J) and Callen (Chris O’Donnell), who are determined to bring her home. Though at first it seems she is dead, the two NCIS agents don’t believe the authenticity of the death photo and won’t give up. As they track the Taliban who may be holding Kensi and Jack, Callen finds one of their shooters is a young orphan girl. As they capture her, Callen insists they are not going to kill her and Sam volunteers to carry her in the intense heat without water. I love the empathy these two characters show.

Realizing they have to stop the Taliban before they cross into Pakistan, Sam and Callen decide to risk everything for Kensi. They send the orphan girl to entice the Taliban with money and it works. The Taliban come looking for them. They are outnumbered but are willing to go down fighting. As the shootout begins, it looks like there is no way out – until Deeks shows up in a helicopter to make a trade. The Muslim cleric he’d been interrogating turns out to be the father of a prominent Taliban member, so they offer to exchange him for Kensi and Jack.

I loved how Deeks was the one to walk his prisoner past Kensi. It increased the anticipation as he couldn’t embrace or talk to her; all he could do was look behind him to see how she was. This is the first time we see Kensi alive – and she can barely walk. When asked if she’s okay, her feeble “no” sheds a glimpse into her beatings.

As they get ready to board the chopper, Callen learns Assistant Director Granger (Miguel Ferrer) has called for an airstrike on the Taliban. But his eyes immediately wander to the young orphan girl walking slowly after the terrorists. In a touching scene of compassion, Callen runs after her and brings her back with him. Granger approves by looking Callen in the eye and telling him, “That was a good mission.”

Back at the military camp, Deeks goes looking for Kensie. For a moment he turns away as he sees her hugging Jack. Jack then touches Kensi’s face as he tells her, “If there’s any way, I’ll be in touch.” (He is staying in Afghanistan where he will take care of the orphan girl.) Jack’s embrace feels caring, but not romantic. Kensi, meanwhile, is in a trance. She is concerned for Jack’s safety and tells him to leave but can’t stop staring at him.

As Deeks approaches Kensi, she doesn’t look at him but continues watching Jack. Daniela Ruah and Eric Christian Olsen acted these scenes with perfection. You feel the slight awkwardness as Deeks searches for words. He says he heard CIA officer Sabatino and the interpreter (who got shot in the gunfight) were both out of the hospital and going to be okay. Too quickly, showing she’s distracted, Kensi replies, “Oh, thank God. That’s good.” She is still watching Jack. Then Deeks cuts the tension with the perfect thing to say: the truth.

“I’m really glad you’re alive,” he tells her. That brings Kensi back to the present and him. She starts crying and embraces him. You can almost feel everything she’s been through.

Callen and Sam then approach them with Callen joking to Sam, “How come you never hug me like that, huh?” As Kensi thanks them for what they did, her voice breaks. And as they leave her and Deeks alone, she begins to watch Jack again. But as she does, it becomes clear she is thinking of all she suffered.

“It was really bad,” she tearfully announces and starts crying. As she hunches over, sobbing, Deeks hold her tight, reassuring her it’s going to be okay.

“I got you,” he whispers. “We’re going home.”

The subtleties in Ruah’s performance showed a broken woman who couldn’t even talk about the torture she endured. The mix of knowing what Kenzie had been through along with her having to say goodbye to a past love made the scene a standout. So did Deeks’ interaction with her.

What did you think of this episode? What was your favorite scene? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is a freelance journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news journalist and now does everything from hosting to writing. She is excited to cover NCIS: Los Angeles for SpoilerTV. (She loves Kensi and Deeks!) She also writes SpoilerTV articles on other great shows.

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