‘NCIS: Los Angeles’ Winter Premiere Recap: Does Nate Think Kensi is Ready to Come Back?

"Kulinda" -- Pictured: Daniela Ruah (Special Agent Kensi Blye) and Peter Cambor (Operational Psychologist Nate Getz). After a Navy reservist is killed while protecting a City Councilman, Sam is sent undercover in a private security firm with links to several criminal organizations. Also, Callen and Anna (Bar Paly) discuss the next steps in their relationship, on NCIS: LOS ANGELES, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Sam is just the kind of man that the youth in a neighborhood need to look up to, but is the rest of the security firm in which he’s going undercover? That’s the question for the NCIS: Los Angeles winter premiere, “Kulinda.” (That means to protect in Swahili, as Eric helpfully shares.)

Elsewhere in the winter premiere, Kensi’s eager to get back to work, but that’s easier said than done, as she learns, thanks to one conversation with none other than Nate Getz.

My worry meter for Granger continues to rise, as he skips out on work for the day and Callen reveals that he wasn’t at home even though he said he’d be there all night watching the game. And he’s been missing for three nights, plus looking rough lately, as he and Sam note.

They wonder if he and Hetty are working on something off the books. Considering she too is MIA the entire episode and that deadline to find the mole is approaching, it is possible. Still, factoring in what we’ve been teased about regarding Granger’s health, I’m concerned when we don’t see him.

Is Sam Putting Himself in a Dangerous Situation?

Following an event, two bodyguards walk with City Councilman Hill outside, only for one car to drive by and someone to drop a bomb under his car. When the three go for cover, another car speeds by and a guy shoots and kills one of the bodyguards, Mark Newton. Why is this NCIS’ case? Newton was a Navy reservist and Hill’s father played football with a senator.

Upon checking out the crime scene, Sam and Callen see that the bomb was low-tech (dynamite taped to a bottle of rum) but highly effective and that Newton was the real target; the shooter had to pivot back to hit Newton, when he would have had a clear shot at Hill and didn’t fire once he was down.

Though Hill tells Deeks and Nell that KTS (the security firm protecting him) is great and a beacon for the community, Hetty wants Sam to go in undercover because intel suggests that they’re hired muscle for several LA criminal organizations. That link could have gotten Newton killed. Sam’s backstopped under his own name, with an admiral placing a call that he’s leaving NCIS and needs a new job. If anyone is dirty in KTS, however, they’re going to be suspicious and won’t be afraid to come after him.

Sam’s meeting with Harold Irvin of KTS goes off without a hitch, with Sam hearing about how the man hires men and women that the youth in the neighborhood need to aspire to be and seeing him talk to a couple of kids about their grades. After that, he meets Byron and Sancho (the other bodyguard on scene when Newton was killed) before hearing about the YouTube star they’re going to be protecting during an appearance at an art gallery.

It turns out that Sancho was affiliated with a gang before he enlisted in the Marines, and they wonder if he really did leave that life behind him. “Can you un-gang yourself?” Eric asks. He’s especially suspicious when he leaves an hour before KTS’ assignment — something he never does, according to Byron — and Deeks and Nell can’t listen to his conversation in the parking lot with Irvin because they blast music.

Callen and Anna find one of the cars from the shooting in a chop shop, and while one of the guys inside the warehouse immediately surrenders, the other guy starts shooting. Callen ends up tackling him while he’s focused on Anna. And identifying the men involved here is when the pieces start coming together.

It actually all leads back to a Syrian money-laundering group, and one of that group was arrested with members of the gang Sancho was a member of. Was KTS working with the gang and, after a deal went sideways, the Syrians wanted revenge? Eric finds that Newton, Sancho and one of the Syrians all called one man: D’Andre Linton, who hadn’t been arrested but was kicked out of high school for running a sports gambling operation. He’s the middle man.

Is KTS Clean?

While preparing for the gallery event, Sam tries to talk to Sancho, who shuts him down pretty much immediately. Newton was killed and Sam just waltzed right in, which didn’t feel right to him. It’s a good thing that the YouTube star hired security because one of her “fans” tries to go after her with a taser after she insulted her jeans on her blog.

Meanwhile, Callen and Anna find out that the Syrians did go after D’Andre from a kid in the neighborhood when they find his place empty and the front door busted. A hit on Irvin’s credit card at a parking meter ends up leading them to D’Andre, who has a gun in his hand when Callen and Anna find him. Callen manages to talk him down, but D’Andre admits it’s all his fault. Newton and Sancho were helping him after he screwed up and agreed to be the lookout on cash runs for the Syrian group because he needed money. When Newton found out, he told the group that D’Andre was out, so they killed him. Sancho filled Irvin in, and Irvin was going after the man responsible. KTS is clean.

Sam arrives just in time to stop Irvin from doing something he’d regret and reminds him that he’s an example to the kids in the neighborhood, kids who happen to be standing by to see what Irvin is going to do. He’s a beacon for them. Irvin puts down the gun.

Nate Returns … But with Bad News for Kensi?

Something that NCIS: LA is doing right this season is not rushing Kensi back to work after her injury and also taking the time to show that not everything is back to normal and what she’s going through is affecting Deeks as well. In fact, that storyline is responsible for the two best scenes of the episode: Sam and Deeks’ conversation and Kensi and Nate’s.

Sam and Deeks have come a long way from Sam questioning Deeks’ character in the season 4 finale, and that’s what makes seeing the two of them having fun on the shooting range (with drills in the dark, which Eric is definitely not ready for) and then Sam checking in on how things are at home even more significant. Things aren’t great, Deeks admits, and things they used to do together — like running, hiking and surfing — they’re not because Kensi doesn’t want to do those things with him. She needs time to get there, Sam suggests, and it can’t come from him.

Kensi is continuing to struggle, and she’s not exactly happy when Anna spots her walking into the gym to work out. While Anna’s happy to greet her with a hug, Kensi’s more reserved and a bit defensive when Anna comments that she has a wonderful team. (At least this time, there’s no daydream of the two women fighting like there was in “Tidings We Bring.”) Kensi brushes off any offers to help, and it doesn’t help that both Anna and Eric both ask if she’s back.

Kensi wants to be back. That’s no secret. However, that’s not going to happen as fast as she wants it to. Nate returns, after Hetty asked him to come in for an assignment. Kensi’s ready to come back, she tells him, but he warns her that sometimes the body heals faster than the mind. Is she feeling any anxiety about coming back? Again, she says she’s ready and thinks there’s only one way to find out for sure. But it’s Nate’s decision when she returns to work.

What does he want to know? How is she really doing? She’s grateful since she lived when she could have died, she says. Yes, she’s frustrated sometimes and depressed, but who wouldn’t be after what happened? She thinks she’ll be back to 100% at some point because it’s not an option for her not to be. But he wants what’s best for her and the team — and that might not be the same thing. She belongs there, she argues. According to Nate, not yet.

Carbs and Legoland

Those aren’t exactly the things that first come to mind when you think of Callen and Anna, but that’s exactly what their conversations revolve around when they discuss their relationship. And they are in a relationship, complete with the awkward “I don’t want to be that girl” and uncertainty about just stopping by in the morning. But when Anna does drop by Callen’s with bagels and donuts, he stops all “I am that girl” talk by kissing her.

Later, when she begins to invite him to join her for the weekend and then backs out, claiming it wouldn’t be his kind of thing, he pushes her until she tells him her plans: Legoland and an outlet mall. It looks like they might actually be giving a normal relationship a try. But will that work?

Did you think that KTS would be clean? Do you think NCIS: LA is right to not rush Kensi back to work? Do you like Callen and Anna together? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

NCIS: Los Angeles season 8 airs Sundays at 8/7c on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)