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NCIS Los Angeles S07E23

‘Where There's Smoke...’  is an episode which has whetted the appetite of many a fan girl (and maybe some guys).  Yes it’s the one where Sam and Callen go undercover as firemen, much to the chagrin of Deeks, who fancies himself as Mr November.  And even Nell shares that common fantasy, sighing at the screen in ops each time a fireman appears.


 Case-wise, the Los Angeles Fire Department attend a warehouse blaze and after extinguishing the fire, realise one of their team is missing.  The fire fighter is found dead inside a locked SCIF , a DOD secured area used to process classified intelligence so Nell, Sam and Callen comb the scene and delay the arson investigation.  The pair explore the scorched rooms with Sam borrowing a UV light to reveal a spray of liquids on the back wall.  Despite Callen’s inferred dirty jokes that someone or a group of people had a great time in the room, Arson Investigator Peter Hackett confirms the light bulb was injected with accelerant and begrudgingly thanks the pair.  When a rogue fire fighter is discovered on camera leaving the scene, Sam and Callen venture undercover, whilst Kensi and Deeks liaise with the DOD.

For once there are logical reasons why neither Kensi or Deeks are suitable to go undercover despite both being keen to do so, later commenting they would both want to run into a burning building.  But the LAFD overlaps with Deeks LAPD precinct and there is a risk he might be recognised.   As fire fighters do not take kindly to strangers, let alone a female, Sam and Callen are the remaining options. The former had ship side fire drills as a SEAL, the latter spent his eighteenth summer as a wildfire prevention volunteer (presumably not as part of any youth  prisoner rehabilitation).

The team is hostile to new transfers and Callen bites back a sarcastic comment when asked his name (pointing to his badge); Sam wins most of them round with a steak.  There is humour when the fire alarm sounds, with Callen trying to persuade Sam that he does have time to go down the pole.  On the job the two assume the role of rookies; Sam is solid but Callen's partner catches him without his oxygen switched on.  The fire scenes are dark and smoky with flames licking the rooms and the action becomes intense, particularly knowing the inexperience of Callen and Sam.  But they do get a kick out of saving the female hostage (missing DOD Lieutenant) and apprehending the man impersonating a fire man.

As is the most welcomed trend of season seven, there are numerous references to past episodes.  Deeks is convinced that as his life is going so well, something is due to happen that will upset the apple cart.  Kensi seriously asks if Mercury is in retrograde (reference season five’s The Livelong Day).  This continues until Deeks realises the ill feelings have been fulfilled - his mom (with a terrible track record in men) - has found herself a man.  Kensi too refers to her past, citing the marines that killed her father as evidence team mates can turn on each other.  Most important is the continuation of Deek’s gut-feeling that something bad will happen.  Hetty feels this too, although she attributes this to the mole who is still at large.  It seems certain s/he will not be found until season eight.  Hetty is uncharacteristically hesitant in the shooting range, almost seeming ill. The final scene between her and Granger dwells on this gut feeling of impending disaster.  Kensi’s comment about fellow marines turning might only have been pertinent to the earlier team scene, but with the theme of imminent disaster, could Kensi’s comment be a prophecy that someone in their team is the mole?

Callen has publicly acknowledged his real name, updating his NCIS ID (can he do that without a birth certificate)? 
Sam still calls him G and criticises that he kept his old photo, where he looks ‘angry’ as he didn’t know his name.  The minor psychology is a throwback to Nate’s comments that Callen’s search for his name was his lifelong security blanket; Sam even states to Callen that he’s a changed man, which he refutes.  Nell and Eric reminisce about their childhood dreams of becoming a fireman and Supergirl respectively, with Granger bursting their bubble by stating when he was five, he wanted to be six.  A realist.  And with Sam and Callen exiting the building on the high of a fireman's adrenaline rush, Granger yet again bursts their bubble by questioning how many fires they actually put out.  Someone needs to ground the team occasionally and bring them back to reality...Hello Granger!

This is the third collaboration between writer Andrew Bartels and director James Hanlon. They bring a certain surety to the episodes with Bartels writing focusing on the characters, referencing their back stories and often nodding back to previous episodes.  Hanlon to this episode in particular, brings with him the experience of having been a real life fire fighter in New York, and the pedigree of directing the award winning 9/11 television documentary.
The result is an exciting blend of action, investigation and unquiet...although the case itself is lost amongst these elements and the character moments.   There seems to be no real passion behind this week’s criminal mastermind and the character is essentially boring, particularly his (almost) monotone voice.  The fact the Government has lists of people with even a tenuous link to terrorism (e.g. by inadvertently donating to a charity that might fund terrorism), is rather frustratingly glossed over.  But then this is not a show that highlights and challenges Government policies.  It’s a character based series that in the main, highlights action with a healthy dose of humour, all of which were present in ‘Where There’s Smoke...’  Next week’s finale though, may well forgo the humour for all out action and intensity...