Welcome back to In the Bullpen for the second part of our exploration of what makes a great bromance. Maxie Kay joins me again in our study of the Sam and Callen partnership. The timing of last week’s episode – Vengeance couldn’t have been better in helping us learn more about this special relationship. It had all the trademarks of a classic bromantic episode, don’t you think?
Bromance or Romance? Or are they just good friends?
There’s a small group of fans who would love to see Sam and Callen get it on, but that seems highly unlikely. Theirs is the archetypal buddy relationship, with real and deep affection for each other, but no romantic spark. Their partnership is more honest and more successful than either man has managed to achieve in his personal life: Callen’s marriage of convenience seems to have put him off any further commitment and there’s been precious little hint of any romance for him in the show. And Sam’s relationship with his wife is built on an increasingly precarious series of half-truths about his job, and downright denial about the fact that he allowed himself to be tempted by another woman.
So how serious is their partnership?
There is no doubt that Sam and Callen take their partnership very seriously; there is no doubt about how much they care for each other. Is it love? Most definitely, but in a non-romantic sense. In Partners, they give each other gifts – really thoughtful gifts too. But like romantic couples who have lived and worked together for many years, they don’t need to say much to get their point across. In Vengeance, Callen says: Okay, talk to me. What Sam hears is: I’m here; I need to know, I might not like it, but tell me anyway. They know the other person like a book, inside and out.
Sam worries about Callen’s mental state in Lange, H., and hovers over him like a hen-pecked husband. He needs to know that Callen will be ok — and he even asks him twice to be sure. The worried expression on Sam’s face says it all. Sam is always willing to go where Callen leads, even if it’s morally compromising. That’s how much he trusts his partner. When the team finally gets to Prague, Callen chastises Sam for complaining by telling him he didn’t have to come. Sam responds with four words that say it all, “Yet here we are.” Where else would he be? As Eric said: Where Callen goes…Sam goes.
We know they are solid, and we know there was never any chance that Sam would actually kill Callen when commanded to do so. The same can’t be said about Callen’s former partner (and ex-wife) Tracey. Callen said that she was the sort of person who would put the mission before her partner. Sam knows that he always has to protect the mission but he also knows that he was part of the ultimate team – the Navy Seals. He carries this tight-knit brotherhood over to this new partnership with Callen. He will always protect his own.
What also makes this partnership different is the lack of recriminations, When they do happen, it is usually only in very light-hearted tones, which lets the audience know that any cracks in their relationship are superficial and can easily be mended. Even in Vengeance when Callen berates Sam for not stepping in and participating in the investigation, in the end it is Callen who pleads with Hetty for Sam’s job. Every time he points to another Seal who exits the cave safely, Callen shows Hetty another reason why Sam made the right decision to let the team go. He honors the character of the man who would die for what’s right. All the clues are there: this is a solid, almost unshakeable bond.
Who then is the dominant partner?
Is it Callen, with his gift for languages, or Sam, with his knowledge of Arabic language, life and culture? Is it Sam, who insists on driving the motorcycle, or Callen who sits in the sidecar? Does it even matter?
Callen has been described as the ‘lone wolf’ and the one character who (with the possible exception of Kensi) is most defined by his past. Season two focused on how Callen is literally haunted by his past, and even Sam is shown to be almost helpless. Family — or the absence thereof — is a common theme that binds Callen, Deeks and Kensi. We know that those three had difficult childhoods. But what about Sam? Given his character, it seems reasonable to assume that he had a stable, balanced childhood. It’s this stability that Callen counts on the most in times of need. Without it he is the eternal ‘lone wolf’- always on the run.
The bromantic duo have been through some tough missions together and have worked in just about every single location found in a James Bond movie (with the exception of the Moon). Is there anything these guys can’t do together? So whether it’s a romance or bromance there is definitely a love affair between these two than goes beyond any type of typical bond. And even though Kensi once likened them to an old married couple after Sam accused Callen of never listening to him, there’s probably nothing these two wouldn’t do for each other.
At the beginning of season one, Sam and Callen banter during the episode The Only Easy Day. The following dialogue gives a revealing explanation of why their bromance works:
Sam: Holgate had the tendency to work together like a lone wolf, if you know what I’m talking about?
Callen: (Callen squints at Sam) Actually half the time I don’t know what you’re talking about…the rest of the time I just disagree.
Sam: I really look forward to having Dom as a partner.
Callen: You’d miss me. I complete you.
Yes, together they are complete. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Thanks for participating in the Bromance vs. Romance poll. Looks like Romance trumps Bromance by almost three to one! (Do you hear that Mr. Brennan?) Whatever partnership you prefer, it’s great to be able to watch these wonderful characters fill our TV screens every week. Thanks go out to Maxie Kay in helping me co-author the column this week. Make sure you check out her latest NCIS LA fan fic That’s Just the Way it Is. Thanks go out again to Lynn H as usual for her input. Stop by the Bullpen the next time when Sweet Lu and I delve a bit further into Sam’s Navy Seal past and what it’s like to be a member of this elite team.
See you then.