Season 8 has been fairly serious. Kensi has fought her way back to full fitness, Deeks has struggled at times to support her, Callen was forced to confront the reality of his father’s abandonment and Granger’s deterioration has been heartbreaking. It was only fitting that after the intensity of the three episode mole arc, that Old Tricks should be heavy with amusement. It’s such a shame that this fails to live up to its potential, a rarity for writer Andrew Bartels who has created gems such as Allegiance (S5), The Grey Man, Humbug (S6), Angels & Daemon (S7) and this season’s Glasnost, which reunited Callen with his newly found father. It has frequently been proven that the case becomes irrelevant when the focus is on character development. But here the case is not particularly interesting, and on the surface at least, is in no way connected to the development of Callen or the exploration of Nell and Eric’s relationship, or even the psychological impact their work.
The narrative is a little disjointed, opening with Kensi briefing Operational Psychologist Nate Getz about the ‘mole’ escapades, serving to remind the audience of the facts, namely that Sabatino is still at large. Kensi switches up to reverse psychology, calling Nate out as another CIA mole when he loosely threatened that none of the team should really be in the field considering their experiences. The lines will make viewers think there is a hidden meaning that may later return to haunt the team…The scene switches to Sam and Callen’s briefing in ops and then straight to the pair in the field, with Sam on doctor duty whilst Callen hot wires the ambulance in which they find the missing Lieutenant. Only then comes the familiar opening bullpen scene, with Sam and Callen arriving to find Kensi’s been cleared field duty. Deeks is absent for the opening scenes (already in attendance at the old people’s home for veterans). Kensi and Deeks are once again partners, but this time Sam and Callen are separated when Sam is sent to meet a Secret Service Agent regarding the missing Lieutenant’s father (retired Master Sergeant) and the episode suffers with the loss of their banter.
Hetty requests Callen’s company in her office and their opening conversation is reminiscent of Kensi and Nate’s, as Callen re-affirms that the moles are known or caught and that Hetty still has her job. He also brings up Joelle, with Hetty referring to her as “that bitch” which seems to surprise Callen. Clearly sawing her table in half is great therapy and neither want to talk about her. Callen’s half sister’s ex, Pacey Smith (father of her child) is a convicted criminal whom Callen is keeping tabs on and Hetty informs him that Garrison also has him under surveillance. Once again fathers and family’s come to the forefront of a Bartels penned episode. Callen is still keeping himself at a distance from his family; when Hetty calls Alex his sister, Callen corrects her by saying half sister. He is resentful that Hetty is monitoring his father’s movements (even though Garrison is under NCIS authority in the USA) and is not overly pleased with her advice that not telling Alex about her family soon would be a mistake.
“Don’t let a temporary solution become a permanent mistake.”
Episodes subsequent to Glasnost have suggested that Callen is apathetic towards his father now he finally has answers, and the scene is set for a confrontation. Garrison is still not a constant (or law abiding) figure in his son’s life and Callen has clearly run out of patience. For once Callen does all the talking, the son treating the father like a child. He chastises his father and challenges his motives and behaviour, even though he may not like the answers. There is distrust and a certain amount of dislike on his face at various times during these scenes. He is ready to walk away from Garrison, saying this (the two of them) isn’t working, and he questions who their secrets and lies are really protecting. The words clearly resonate with Garrison and later the pair arrive on Alex’s doorstep. Callen leaves his father to lead the conversation and he opens by asking Alexandra if she knows the meaning of her name, allowing Garrison to reveal his real name, Nikita Alexander Reznikov.
It has been Callen’s life long journey to discover his name and it was perfect to use the significance of a name as the first steps in revealing the truth to Alex. Callen’s body language illustrates his uncertainty and when Alex’s son runs out, he seizes the opportunity to delay and he offers to return another time. Luckily his sister wants answers. Garrison turns on the charm with a smile to his daughter (who seems to have connected the dots) and with a magic trick for his grandson, causing Callen to flashback to the film clip of him as a baby in his father’s arms, with his sister Amy. It is a poignant moment, knowing he may not have the memories of his father’s love but has proof his father loved (loves?) him.
The comedic elements of Old Tricks naturally come from the newly reunited partners, their undercover mission at the Vets home and the subsequent interview of the two elderly con artists, Edward and Ginger. The latter were light relief and displayed the same type of repartee and mirrored the chemistry of Kensi & Deeks. It was light hearted entertainment and immensely satisfying to see Edward tell Deeks he talks too much, Deeks revealing the card game hustle, the over the top scene of Edward attacking Deeks with his cane, the running Ginger (at Kensi’s walking pace) and her explanation of the cloud and dark web to Edward, with Kensi and Deeks looking on amused. Even these two demonstrated some morals when Ginger refused to pursue or reveal the location of the missing coin.
Four threads run throughout the episode; Sam and the Secret Service agent, Kensi and Deeks with the con artists, Callen and his father, and the wonder twins. These threads were fine on there own, particularly Callen’s story and Kensi and Deeks’ sections, but they were not successfully interwoven. Sam’s investigations provided the obligatory gunfights and action but failed to ignite any passion for either the case or his temporary partner. Kensi and Deeks together again was admittedly fun but Eric’s secretive meetings with Nate and Nell’s curiosity were a little distracting. Nate seemed to drift in and out of scenes and only made sense when Nell and Eric finally spoke about how they both struggle with the psychological aftermath of their cases. They admit and acknowledge that it’s OK to have these feelings and to seek help which serves as a great balance to the field agents who never want to talk and view Nate as a threat to their careers. Callen’s story was the one that pulled together with the case of the week, using the symbolism of the coin. The Lenin coin was the lead Callen needed to find his father, that Garrison gave to Alex’s mother, and that he made magically appear from behind his grandson’s ear. A stolen and very valuable coin was at the centre of the case and no matter its origins, was kept in the family and safely buried many years ago with the deceased son of the missing Master Sergeant. The different narrative threads, coupled with the shake-up of the procedural’s filmic structure at the start made the episode feel somewhat disjointed, which is a shame considering the pedigree of writer Andrew Bartels.
Fans of Kensi and Deeks, and of Callen will each take something positive from this episode (maybe using the fast forward button) but importantly, the episode leaves a sense of hope, of fresh starts. ‘Densi’ is back together, Callen can move forward with his new family, the secret service agent is not pursuing the Master Sergeant and the stolen coin, and Granger…
Several times, Hetty has advised that Granger would recover and it was perfect that he left the show alive, not dead. His disappearance from the hospital bed left hope that he would recover and maybe spend time with his daughter (before succumbing to Agent Orange). The farewell letter read by Hetty and the closing track of Knocking On Heaven’s Door, sung by Ferrer was extremely sad, his departure cemented with the lift doors closing on Hetty. A fitting tribute to a character who eventually won over the hearts of the fans.
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