The Tuesday, Feb. 25 episode of "NCIS: Los Angeles," 515, "Tuhon," was yet another example of why this show should be renewed already as it tackled Sam and Callen's first case together without even one flashback and introduced more mystery into the White Ghost storyline.
Reuniting with old friends
"NCIS: LA" set the bar high when it was announced that Danny Trejo would be guest starring as the title assassin, and he – and the episode itself – exceeded those expectations. Since we knew going into the episode that Tuhon was a retired assassin from Sam and Callen's first case together who was suspected in a diplomat's murder, everything that led up to that reunion in the bar could have ended up feeling a bit slow, and some of it did. The moments of humor helped – Nate pulling the "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you - no, wait, I wouldn't succeed" card and Sam and Callen's reunion with the sisters in the salon who had been waiting for a trip on a yacht – and once they were in that bar, it became much more fun, despite the threat still prevalent, and Tuhon presented as someone we'd like to see continue to be a presence, even just an off-screen one.
So how can a retired assassin be such a likeable character? By being exactly like Tuhon. The way Trejo played him and the way Dave Kalstein wrote the character, you wanted him to have been set up. You didn't want Sam and Callen to have to "act accordingly." After it was confirmed that Tuhon was indeed set up – the guy who killed the diplomat had fake tattoos – members of his "tribe" stepped up hoping he would come to his senses and what followed was an example of just why Tuhon was so dangerous, why he had had the job he had, why he was friends with Hetty and why only Danny Trejo could have played him. Who else would bet on Sam, Callen and Tuhon coming out on top no matter how many men they were facing?
While waiting for access to the safe house, Tuhon offered insight into what Sam and Callen's partnership was like when they first started out. He had seen fear and two strangers who were afraid to trust their training and one another. They had evolved in the seven years that had passed since then, but he thought Hetty had trained them better, trained them to be prepared for the day that she didn't return because, for all of Hetty's skills, living forever wasn't one of them.
Considering the plans we've seen the team put together over the years, it shouldn't have been surprising that with there was yet another one in place when it became clear the safe house wasn't safe (which was what happened when Russian mobsters got involved). In the end, their story was told and they were all dead.
As much as we loved seeing the relationship between Tuhon and Sam and Callen, it had nothing on the one between Tuhon and Hetty. Only Hetty would smile back at the guy who only smiled once he knew how you were going to die. Only Tuhon would make a weapon like he did for Hetty ("Hetty – Trust Our Training – Tuhon"). Only for Tuhon would the rare occasion when Hetty was ready to leave before everyone had already cleared out arise, but unfortunately, he wasn't going to be around for long. "Tribe's in good hands, no matter what," Callen assured her as she left, and Hetty's parting words as she warned them not to get carried away and she'd be back recalled a puzzle Tuhon presented Sam and Callen with while they waited for the safe house. If they were in a dark room and everyone they loved was in there and out of nowhere, a hot flame appeared and kept getting hotter, and they could only take one person, who would that person be? Tuhon's answer revealed that the fire could be whatever they wanted, and as Hetty left, she told them not to burn the place down. It was a fitting ending for a story that had been a long time coming.
[And bonus: Tuhon was the one who made Kensi's knife for a friend and remembered that friend had a sweet girl and knew that knife was so much more than a knife, solidifying his connection to all four field agents and their boss.]
Nate joined Deeks in the field in a seizure-inducing, "Downton Abbey" conversation-starting suit, and while it was understandable that he would ask about Kensi and assume Deeks' mind was on Kensi since he was "fondling her knife," it would have been nice to see a few moments taken for Nate to check in with Deeks and Sam to see how they were doing, especially after the concerns he voiced about Sam to Hetty.
About the White Ghost…
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Kensi continued to be very suspicious of Sabatino, who didn't exactly do himself any favors when he took her out into the middle of nowhere on a "lead" of some "movement" and instead questioned her about who she was working for, which led to a lot of yelling and accusations. He said she was there to do more than just be a shooter because many guys were more qualified and when she asked where he was when Sanders' head was cut off, he told her to go back to camp while he went to do his job. When she came out and accused him of being the White Ghost, he said he'd been hunting him for weeks and told her to not to follow him. So, on one hand, suspicious behavior, yes, but on the other hand, would it be too obvious if he was, in fact, the White Ghost?
When she returned to base, she voiced her concerns to Granger, whose response to her accusation was just, "that's ridiculous." He accused her of being paranoid but assured her that Sabatino wasn't the White Ghost and told her she had one mission: take him out, whoever he was. The only way he could be so sure would be if he knew who the White Ghost was, right? While Sabatino's behavior certainly has been suspicious, there has to be something else going on and this could be lend some credence to the theory of Jack being the White Ghost.
Maybe Kensi wasn't brought in for her sniper skills because, like Sabatino said, others were more qualified, but because she could get close if necessary. Maybe the hope was that Jack wouldn't be able to do to her what he did to the last sniper. Maybe that theory is a bit of a stretch. But what this episode did was create doubt in Sabatino's (possible) guilt, and it was just another instance showing that the White Ghost storyline, despite playing out somewhat slowly over multiple episodes, has ended up being a smart addition to the season.
"It can only end one way. How we get there is the question."
"NCIS: Los Angeles" season 5 airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS. What did you think of episode 15, "Tuhon"?