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'NCIS: Los Angeles' 'Spoils of War' review: Operation save Kensi

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The Tuesday, April 1 episode of "NCIS: Los Angeles," 519, "Spoils of War," is the hour most of this season has been leading up to, as the L.A. team heads to Afghanistan to save Kensi.

The truth about the White Ghost

The person whose identity "NCIS: LA" has been making us try to guess for quite a few episodes is…no one. There is no White Ghost, at least not in the sense of what we've been made to believe, and it's a nice twist. As Hetty explains to Nell, she too knows Jack, and what he told Kensi is true. His wife did die, but the CIA forced him to become an asset – and because of what he knows, they can't have him living where he does, so that means they want him dead, hence the story of the White Ghost. Hetty sent Kensi because she knew she wouldn't be able to do it and she wanted to give her old friend a chance at a running start.

How far will Kensi's team to go to save her?

In a glimpse at what could be her future, Nell is the one to order the team to pack up and be ready to leave ASAP when they're called in at 3:30 a.m., with Hetty giving them as much cash as they could get to use for whatever they needed. Hetty also keeps Sam back to tell him to separate Deeks from the team if he had to because of his emotions – and that's exactly what Sam does, leaving him to find out who's living in the house while he, Callen and Granger track the courier that leaves it.

What follows is quite the performance from Eric Christian Olsen as Deeks is driven to go further than he thought he could after learning that the others have found a photo of Kensi looking dead. Just look at Deeks' reaction to Hetty telling him about the photo and then seeing the photo for himself. When the man in the house refuses to answer any questions, Deeks does turn to torture, only to confirm what he already knows about himself: that isn't the type of person he is.

It's when Deeks does what he does best – use his mind and not his hands – that he puts together what his translator, Sergeant Makar, determines about what the man has said about maybe betraying his son and realizes that maybe his son is of high-ranking.

Meanwhile, Callen, Sam and Granger track the courier and come across the cave where Kensi and Jack had been kept, only to find blood and a computer with photos showing both of them dead, their throats slit. Callen refuses to buy it, and they keep moving, even as they run out of water and have to leave their horses. They then find Sabatino, who's been shot and is one of the guys who don't want to see Jack dead. There's no more time for secrets in their current position, and that means everyone's teaming up to hopefully bring Kensi home alive.

Callen uses a translator to question a young girl who had been shooting at them. The Taliban uses orphans like her, and Callen and Sam refuse to kill her, meaning she's coming with them. When they do catch up to the Taliban, they're outnumbered, but instead of waiting like Granger orders him to do, Callen sends the girl ahead with money to offer a trade for the American prisoners. With that, the Taliban's coming for them, there's no deal, and all they can do is shoot back with the limited ammo they have…until a helicopter arrives, with someone declaring they have the father of someone and will do a prisoner exchange.

That would be Deeks with Sergeant Makar and the man they'd been questioning, and all that's left to do is the exchange. Both Kensi and Jack are in bad shape, but Kensi looks much worse, and once it's over, Granger orders an air strike. Callen takes the girl with them to save her. The mission's a success.

Moving forward

Granger's holding off the CIA long enough for Jack to get away – with the young girl – which means that he has to leave immediately, but he promises Kensi he'll be in touch if there's a way.

Daniela Ruah absolutely steals the show with the few scenes she is in, from Kensi's emotional message to her goodbye with Jack to her reunion with Deeks. This isn't something Kensi is just going to bounce back from, and her scene with Deeks says it all as she's first distracted as she watches Jack with the young girl and then all but crumbles into her partner's arms, breaking down as she admits "it was really bad."

This is a Kensi we wouldn't have seen around Deeks when they were first partnered up, and this is a Kensi who shouldn't be seen as bouncing back when she returns to work in Los Angeles. The beginning of the season saw Deeks struggling with returning to work after he had been tortured, and what Kensi went through should lead to the same thing for her. In a way, Kensi got closure about Jack, but was the cost too high? Does that even matter after what she went through? What is this going to mean for Kensi going forward?

Does "Spoils of War" live up to expectations?

Admit it, you had some pretty high expectations for this episode, given how long you've been waiting for it. That can be a bad thing, but in this case, it's not. This has been quite the season for "NCIS: Los Angeles," and this hour is just another example of why it's still a much-watch show.

"Spoils of War" was a brutal – in all the right, but at the same time very worrisome, ways – episode, one that forced the team to make hard decisions in a split second and see just what each would and would not do. Even though it was obvious that Kensi wasn't dead despite that photo, it was still heartbreaking because you knew that even though she was alive, what she was going through had to be hell. This has been the toughest season for this team, beginning with the premiere picking up where last season's finale left off all the way up to this episode, and what that's done is set up what's bound to be very emotional times leading up to the finale.

"NCIS: Los Angeles" season 5 airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS. What did you think of episode 19 "Spoils of War"?

© Meredith Jacobs 2014

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