The NCIS: Los Angeles season 8 premiere, titled “High-Value Target”/”Belly of the Beast,” is one explosive ride — and I’m not just talking about the helicopter getting shot out of the sky. The Office of Special Projects is taken over by the Under Secretary of Defense and his task force — Granger steps up in such a big way that I can’t remember why I ever didn’t like him — and one of the team members is seriously injured during a mission in Syria.

Once the action starts, mostly in the second half of the two-hour premiere, it never slows down. It’s constantly a race for them — against the unlikable Duggan and his equally unlikely right-hand woman Chen, against insurgents who know pretty much exactly where they are and against the clock when the life of one of their own is at risk.

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But even with all that going on, there is, of course, time for some of that great Sam and Callen banter, from Sam’s disbelief that Callen doesn’t have a bucket list to Callen taking a moment to re-enact a scene from Say Anything in the middle of the helicopter crash.

As for the moment that everyone’s been waiting for with Kensi and Deeks, keep waiting. For now, they are engaged in every unofficial way possible — at least in his mind, as he calls her his fiancee and himself her fiance — and he has the ring (though Kensi is never going to want to know that he swallowed it, which is why he spent so long in the bathroom), but the actual proposal is going to have to wait.

Radioactive Materials, Rich Kids and Armed Accountants

Let’s be honest, the entire point of the case in the first episode is to get Sam, Callen, Kensi and Deeks to Syria. After a shipping container sets off radiation detection equipment at LAX, Homeland Security has requested their help. The radioactive material found in the saline is supposedly headed to Cyprus for refugee relief, with a final destination of Syria, but it’s cesium 137 chloride, with enough to make several radiological dispersal devices. The dirty bombs’ main purpose is as a terror device. The container was paid for by a local charity group.

The investigation leads to a phony company whose name in Arabic means “vengeance,” which leads to a guy setting the place on fire with Sam and Callen inside. Sam runs through the flames and tackles the guy out a window, with Callen providing back-up in the form of a fire extinguisher since Sam’s leg is on fire.

The guy may not want to talk, but they do manage to get into his phone (registered to Elias, so there’s his name) after tricking him into breaking Eric’s and then forcing his thumb onto his real cell. (Poor Eric and his Pokemon Go.) Plus, a woman at the charity group’s headquarters recognizes him as someone she saw with one of their donors (aka the guy driving a red Ferrari who kept going when he saw Sam and Callen with Elias).

But what’s important is that there’s a photo out there of Elias with Ahmed Han Asakeem in the background. Asakeem was a Syrian citizen who came here with his family, was in Naval intelligence and then defected. He’s now a high-value target. This could be how they get him. After a text comes to his phone threatening to detonate a dirty bomb in LA if they don’t release him, Chen wants to respond as the suspect, pretending that he escaped, but Sam and Callen know the chances of that working are about as high as the chances of anyone in this office liking either Duggan or Chen.

While Duggan agrees to let them go ahead with the exchange, he wants his men to join them, and they might as well be wearing neon pink shirts that proclaim, “We’re Feds Trying to Pretend We’re Not.” Deeks and Kensi’s covers, on the other hand, are as great as always, with him pulling out his homeless gear and Daniela Ruah’s real-life pregnancy becoming a “fake” pregnancy, complete with a stroller holding a gun, not a baby. Elias gets shot by a cyclist, and Deeks takes off after the shooter on a bike in a not-very-exciting chase but loses him. Duggan takes them off the case.

That’s not going to stop them, thanks to the Wonder Twins getting a hit on the Ferrari and sending them Bassel Rizvi’s address. A woman lounging around by Bassel’s pool has no problem letting Sam and Callen, the accountants armed with guns to protect his money, into the house to see Bassel. After making Deeks hand over his wallet and keys and strip, Bassel jumps off the balcony when Kensi joins them, but Callen tackles him into the pool.

Bassel and Elias were just rich kids playing terrorists, spending money to rub shoulders with Asakeem — and he’s the one they’re after now. He’s still expecting that shipment of radioactive saline, so they’re going to give it to him and be there waiting when he shows up for it.

The Office of Special Projects is Invaded by Really Annoying People

Granger and Hetty gets a heads-up of about 30 seconds before Under Secretary of Defense Duggan and his task force walk in and take over. The station has been compromised, and they’re going to fix that, Duggan claims. How? “Replacing you and your staff,” he informs Granger.

Since the breach hasn’t been resolved to DC’s satisfaction (the mole is still out there, so I agree with that), the task force is there to do just that, Duggan announces, during which Nell makes a quick stop up in Ops. After interviews and polygraphs, they’ll get to keep their jobs, but most won’t be there, the Under Secretary explains. “I feel like we’re being Punk’d,” Sam says, and while Granger tells the team to keep working while he figures out what’s going on, Hetty’s plan is retirement. She even starts packing up her desk.

Is this the time to think about a career change? If you ask Deeks, yes, and he reminds Kensi that she’s always wanted to go to Bali and she can ride her horse on a beach there (two items on her bucket list). The thing is, this is who she is, and yes, at some point there are (probably) going to be kids for them, but she’s not ready to not be a federal agent just yet.

In the first of several scenes in which I absolutely love Granger, he tells Duggan that what he’s doing makes the least sense and makes it clear that his people do keep this country safe. All Duggan does is suggest that he focus on his future because someone has to take the fall since they can’t even find a mole in their own house, and he’s already offered Hetty the same deal. Does he honestly think that any of these people would turn on one other?

While Nell thinks that they’re irreplaceable, especially Hetty, Hetty argues that they’re all replacement. Nell reminds her that she taught her to never give up and that Henrietta Lange is not a quitter, so what should she do? Find everything she can on Duggan. That was obviously going to be a move at some point. Something about that guy just seems off.

Echoing that “no one’s irreplaceable” sentiment is Duggan to Granger. At one point, sure, he and Hetty were untouchable, but that’s not the case anymore. “This is the end of all of you,” the Under Secretary informs him. DC thinks Hetty runs the show and that Granger has feelings for her, to which Granger quips, “What can I say? I’m a romantic.” And while Duggan’s bragging about how he can do more with one drone than with 50 of Granger’s agents, I’m just thinking that that drone comment is going to come back into play later on.

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Trouble in Syria and at Home

The team heads to Syria to capture Asakeem, leaving Duggan a “You’re welcome” note with Bassel. After Kensi takes out an insurgent, the team uses intel from his phone to find Asakeem’s location. Though grabbing him isn’t much safer than just killing him, Sam and Callen do manage to sneak up on him and knock him out. But just as the team’s in a pretty good mood on the helicopter and thinking the mission is a success, things go “really south,” really fast.

Insurgents on the ground bring the helicopter with a rocket launcher, and while Sam, Callen and Deeks are able to move around, Kensi’s stuck under the chopper. (At this point, no one’s paying attention to Asakeem, so I just assume that he’s going to escape at some point. He does.) To make matters worse, not only can they not get Kensi out, but they also know that the men who shot them down are heading their way.

Oh, and Duggan’s still being his unlikable self, this time finding Hetty as she’s packing up and going on about how he knows she wants what’s best for the agency and she’s lucky it wasn’t worse since she let the real culprits waltz right in. It serves him right that he slices his finger on her pen/knife.

Hetty has more important things to worry about, however, like that feeling she has that something’s wrong with the team. She, Eric and Nell head to the boat shed, and once there, Nell discovers that the helicopter sent out a distress call and then disappeared off radar. Hetty’s gut was right. With anti-air threats, they can’t even send in help yet because it’s too risky. They can send a drone, but they’re going to have to use Duggan (without him knowing) to do it and get back in Ops. The problem? They’re locked out.

Things just get worse in Syria. Kensi’s unconscious, her blood pressure is dropping, she doesn’t have a radial pulse and her carotid is faint. They need to get her out immediately, which means rigging something together to lift the helicopter up enough to pull her out.

It’s Nice When Plans Work So Well (or Sort of Well)

It’s an old building, remember? Once Duggan should be gone for the night, Eric and Nell enter the burn room through the tunnels, but with Ops locked down, they need a way to override the system. They set a fire and call the fire department to keep Duggan from being alerted. It works, and they’re in. While Eric may not be able to log in to the system, he and Nell did create a back door just in case. Now all they have to worry about is Duggan and his task force showing up.

Meanwhile, Callen and Sam pull the chopper up while Deeks slips the inflatable raft under and is able to pull Kensi out. That’s when they see the damage to her leg — an open fracture — and they have to be careful about moving her in case she has a spinal injury. They may not have a choice, though, not with insurgents heading their way and their only possible bargaining chip, Asakeem, MIA. Someone really should have kept an eye on him.

While Callen goes after Asakeem, Sam and Deeks carry Kensi on a stretcher to the rendezvous point.

Back in Ops, Nell requests satellite images under Duggan’s name, and they wait for their drone request to run up the chain for approval. Granger finds Hetty alone in the armory, and she tells him that while she hates Duggan, he was right. She was at the helm when they were compromised. (Who else knows where this is going?) What matters now is the team, he argues, but she sends him away with, “I don’t have anything more to give you.” But he’s not asking for himself. He’s asking for them.

After falling for the “Hey, something’s on the ground, let me look at it” ruse and letting Asakeem get the jump on him, Callen gets him back in his custody.

Just as Eric and Nell manage to find everyone via the satellite images, they get drone approval, and with the team taking fire from the insurgents, Granger tells Eric to request a missile strike from the drone. He’s never killed anyone before, the Tech Operator protests, and so he instead fires near them. When that doesn’t work, Granger tells him to put the drone on top of them, and Eric does. The threat is subdued, and help arrives in the form of transport.

Lives Hanging in the Balance

The team is brought to a carrier, and Kensi is taken to the OR. They did manage to repair the damage to her femoral artery, but she needs a head CT and an MRI before they can determine any possible neurological issues, and that means getting her back on land ASAP. While Deeks wants to go with her, protesting that he’s her fiance, there’s no room for him on the transport. All he can do is hope that this mission was worth it as Asakeem is walked by the team.

We knew that Kensi had to be out of commission in some way in the beginning of NCIS: Los Angeles season 8 due to Daniela Ruah’s pregnancy, so this isn’t terribly surprising. Neither is what happens near the end of the episode regarding the mole hunt.

After Duggan gets a call about the air strike he supposedly called in, he and his task force burst into Ops, determined to catch them in the act. Eric, Nell and Granger are long gone, but Hetty isn’t and she sends Nell a text: “1D4D52C4.” Chess moves, Granger explains. The Queen’s Gambit, sacrificing a pawn to gain an advantage.

No one else is there, Hetty tells Duggan. She knows she’s finished, and she even has an envelope in her hand, but it doesn’t contain her resignation like he suspects. It holds her confession. “Congratulations, you found your mole,” she says. He knows it’s just another one of her Hetty head games. She did this alone, she continues, and everyone else gets to keep their jobs. He’ll accompany her when she hand-delivers her confession to the Secretary of Defense, she goes on to tell him. Duggan has Chen cuff Hetty. No, it’s not necessary, but he wants it done.

What did you think of the premiere? Why do you think Hetty confessed to being the mole? Are you worried about Kensi?  

NCIS: Los Angeles season 8 airs Sundays at 8/7c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Facebook page.

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Meredith Jacobs

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

If it’s on TV — especially if it’s a procedural or superhero show — chances are Meredith watches it. She has a love for all things fiction, starting from a young age with ER and The X-Files on the small screen and the Nancy Drew books. Arrow kicked off the Arrowverse and her true passion for all things heroes. She’s enjoyed getting into the minds of serial killers since Criminal Minds, so it should be no surprise that her latest obsession is Prodigal Son.