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NCIS: Los Angeles - Episode 5.23 - "Exposure" Review - Packed with Action: Good or Bad?

When season finale time rolls around in TV land, the networks always feel the need to ramp up the action. Procedurals portray bigger cases with further reaching impacts. And they spice up the action sequences. It looks like they’re starting a week early with “NCIS: Los Angeles” as the penultimate season five episode, “Exposure,” was typical action-packed drama.

The problem is, typical isn’t always a good word. It often points to another word: predictable. Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t dislike the action or this episode. It was nice, I enjoyed it. I just wouldn’t rave about it. That’s mostly because it didn’t emotionally draw me in. My favorite “NCIS: Los Angeles” episodes make me feel a connection to the characters and camaraderie, if not the action. (If an episode is good, I may not envision myself going after the bad guys, but I do somehow feel like I personally know the characters.) For me, the problem with this episode was, it was all about the action and there weren’t a lot of other intriguing reasons to watch. The new characters at the heart of this plot weren’t especially interesting and the wonderful regular “NCIS” characters I love weren’t fully on display. And I always miss them when they’re not the heart of an episode.

"Exposure” begins at a charity Marine volleyball tournament where suddenly, a car bomb explodes. Two people are killed, and at least 29 are wounded, including seven children. The bombing appears to be a terrorist attack. A journalist with ZNN credits the attack to the Jihadist Liberation Front (JLF), an Iranian militant group. Since the bombing took place on a Saturday, the NCIS team comes in on their usual day off. Kensi comes in after giving blood. Deeks comes in wearing board shorts because he was surfing. And Granger is wearing jeans. Even though this was only a short scene, I liked showing the attack happening on their day off. It added a small element of seeing what these characters do with their personal time.

Since the Department of Homeland Security has been investigating the JLF, Kensi and Deeks pay the department a visit. They learn that the JLF at has been dormant in Los Angeles for the past year. The department is sure the organization was not behind the bombing.

Sam and Callen, meanwhile, have a chat with the journalist who first reported the claims of responsibility on air. She wants to protect her sources, but Sam says she is protecting terrorists. The duo eventually convinces her to come in for questioning by telling her everyone else will get ahead of her on the story if she is arrested. At the boathouse, she gives up her source as a man who used to run relief operations through Somalia. She says she trusts him.

But it turns out the man is a quack. Kensi and Deeks pay him a visit and he quickly starts talking about aliens and how the journalist is one of them. They’ve been sent on a wild goose chase.

The most enjoyable scene for me in the episode is between Nell and Eric. As Eric watches video of the bombing, he is clearly upset. Nell asks him what is going on and Eric says the victims never realized when they got up in the morning that it would be their last day. In a moment of tragedy-induced clarity, Eric says if you don’t tell someone how you feel about them, you may never get the chance. Nell agrees and says people should put it out there while they can. Then Eric grabs a stack of Post-it notes and begins writing, saying he is putting it out there while he can. Nell follows suit. They agree before they exchange notes that they will not talk about this afterward.

As they exchange notes, the audience is left in the dark. We are not privy to the content of their notes, only their reactions, which are great. Nell’s eyes grow wide, then she glances at Eric and gives a little surprised smile. She seems pleased and a little amused. Eric has an even bigger reaction. His eyes almost pop out of his head, then he grips his paper in shock and lets out a big breath. It was almost as if he was thinking, “No, you didn’t!” Ha ha. They both seem like they couldn’t believe what the other person wrote. It didn’t seem as much of a sweet, ‘I love you’ kind of note as something a little edgier or racier. I really wish we could see what was on their notes! But it was a fun scene that left me wanting more, which was great. When Granger comes in and notices they are acting strangely, he asks if something is going on that he should know about. Eric replies, “There’s nothing to know about… that you need to know about.” I had to laugh. Eric is right. This is none of Granger’s business.

Eric is doing real work, too. He has located a car rental company from where the car with the bomb in it was rented. So Sam and Callen pay a visit to the company. While the renter used a bogus name and paid cash, the men learn one very important piece of information: the bombers actually rented three cars. That means two more attacks are planned.

And there’s more bad news. The car bomb was created using military-grade explosives and NCIS finds a military contractor who reported some missing two weeks ago. He tells Kensi and Deeks that the thieves disabled his alarms and took five tubes of the explosives. That means the bombers have four left, which is enough to take out an LA city block.

Meanwhile Sam and Callen go looking for the journalist in a crowded market. I had to laugh when Sam made a reference to “Where’s Waldo?” and Callen didn’t know who Waldo was but he then quotes a 17th century French poet. Soon Sam and Callen see the journalist meeting with a man who argues with her and then stabs her. Sam takes off after the man while Callen stays with the woman. But it is too late. She has died. Sam, however, catches the man, who is one of the bombers, and takes him to the boat shed.

At first the man repeatedly makes one statement over and over: his name, that he hails from South Sudan, and that he detonated the bomb. He won’t say any more than that until the team starts to put the pieces together. Kensi and Deeks visit his home and find a picture of his family, along with letters he and his roommates sent to U. S. politicians requesting aid for South Sudan. Eric and Nell fill in the other pieces of the puzzle. After many failed attempts to get the U. S. to intervene on behalf of the country, the man’s wife and kids, who had been denied visas to the U. S., were killed by police who opened fire on a peaceful South Sudan protest. Now the bomber feels he and his roommates must make the U. S. take notice of their cause in a stronger way. He also admits that he told the news reporter the truth, but she wouldn’t change her story because she didn’t want to publicly admit she was wrong. That didn’t help his cause, so he stabbed her. As usual, Sam and Callen work on the man’s conscience and remind him that he doesn’t want to be just like the men who killed his family. In the end, he listens and tells them where the next two attacks will take place – at the State Department’s L.A. field office. But it is about to happen now. As Sam and Callen leave, Hetty tells them to come back in one piece.

Unfortunately, even though it’s a Saturday, the building with the bomb is hosting a retirement party on the roof. As Kensi and Deeks clear the guests, Sam and Callen find one of the rented cars, but no bomb. Then they see a door to the basement, where they find bomber number two. They convince him to stop what he’s doing but a third man jumps for the explosive and they shoot him.

Uncharacteristically for the show, the ending to the case felt anti-climactic. I found myself thinking, “That was it?” For some reason it ended in a weird place timing-wise in the episode. It was also one of those episodes where you don’t think too much about it after it’s over. Though the case was interesting, it wasn’t intriguing enough to leave other integral and fun parts of “NCIS: Los Angeles” by the wayside. Action itself is good, but not enough to weave an entire episode around, especially in a show that has so much to offer.

Photo Credit: NCISLA Magazine
Back at NCIS, there was a little team dialogue at the end of the case. Kensi, Deeks, Sam and Callen all find Post-it notes on their desks. At first I thought (and secretly hoped) that the notes were Eric and Nell’s notes that had been misplaced and we were going to get to hear what they had written. No such luck. This time we get a couple hints on what the notes say, though. Callen and Deeks won’t spill but Kensi reveals her mystery admirer “has a thing for intelligent brunettes.” And Sam’s note says the writer “really loves tall, dark, handsome men with razor-sharp wit.”

To that Deeks responds, “Oh, you must have gotten mine.”

Sam counters, “No, it says tall, dark and handsome.”

Of course Nell and Eric had written all of the “love” notes and the team knows it and appreciates it. Before they leave, Callen tells the entire team, “When everything was on the line like it was today, there’s nobody I’d rather have by my side.” Then they all go for drinks together.

As Hetty and Granger watch the team leave, Hetty comments that they are her ’27 Yankees. As a little background, the legendary 1927 New York Yankees are considered one of the best baseball teams in history, if not the greatest team of all time. They finished their season with a record 110 wins, swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series and won their fifth pennant. Their lineup was so feared, it was nicknamed “Murderers’ Row.” Obviously Hetty feels this NCIS team is her winning team of starters. They solve all their cases and stay safe doing it.

But next Granger asks Hetty if it gets any easier sending them out every time, never knowing if they will come back. And Hetty’s reply that ended the show left me a little baffled. She says, “They always come back, Owen… until one day they don’t.” And that was it. It was a strange ending. It seemed almost like they were foreshadowing a team member’s death. I hate that thought and don’t really think it’s true. But that was the vibe it gave off. The show ended on an unusual negative, mysterious undertone. I certainly hope it was just talk and not any true foreshadowing to come. It could have just been Hetty reminiscing about past team members who died and worrying about her team like a mother hen. She has lost team members before and knows what it feels like. So the statement could simply have been one of fact. But it was still unusual and kind of eerie.

As we look forward to the last episode of the season, I hope the season finale is a little more focused on the team itself instead of just the action of the team. The team dynamics are what make this show so great. “NCIS: Los Angeles” is at its best when it can engage the viewers with not just the plots, but the characters as well. After all, these are great characters. I also hope there is a little more emotional involvement in the season finale. I really wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters or plot this episode. It didn’t really pull at your heartstrings or make you feel anything particular about anyone. I look forward to the next episode with anticipation - and also a little sadness. What am I going to do when the season is over and I have to wait until fall for more of my favorite “NCIS: Los Angeles” fix?!

What did you think of "Exposure?" What do you think was written on Nell and Eric's love notes? Tell us your hopes/guesses below. What do you hope will happen in the season finale? We love to hear your comments. Plus, it helps make "NCIS: Los Angeles" a top show of the week on SpoilerTV. So let us know what you think in the comments section 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 anchor/reporter 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.