“In the Bullpen” with @phillydi – A Fine Bromance

The Urban Dictionary describes the word bromance as the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males. There is only one relationship on NCIS LA that fits that description to a ‘t’ and that’s the team of Callen and Sam. Now that our bromatic duo has celebrated five years together, fanfiction writer Maxie Kay and I will take a closer look at this complex partnership.

Bromance brings together the two words: “brother” and “romance”. Author Dave Carnie originally coined the word in Big Brother Magazine which was a skateboarding/cultural publication. The expression is rapidly finding its way into pop culture axioms. If you are looking for ways to channel your inner bromance, there are iPhone apps that can connect you to other guys who share your interest, bromance television sitcoms, music; and numerous articles on the subject (Ten Signs your Guy is in a Bromance, Are You and Your Best Buddy in a Bromance?).

As a fan of NCIS LA there is only one bromance that matters. If you are a Sam and Callen devotee, you have probably been fascinated by this A-Team within OSP. No doubt about it. They’ve got the shared history, the wise-cracks and the sometimes almost impenetrable code words that leave Kensi and Deeks (the young pretenders) just shaking their heads. There is a fine and honorable tradition of onscreen buddy relationships. Special mentions go to such legendary partnerships as Butch and Sundance, Starsky and Hutch and even Crockett and Tubbs of Miami Vice. Like the movies and TV series from which these partnerships sprang, NCIS LA is not only about solving the crime and catching the bad guys, it is also about the personal relationship between the good guys too.

Do Sam and Callen’s pasts hold the secret?

This is a long-established relationship, which since the beginning of season 2 has been contrasted against the developing partnership of Kensi and Deeks. Sam and Callen are the pros, sailing effortlessly through the travails, while the youngsters are still trying to figure out how this partnership thing works, right?

Think again.

Season 2 showed us that the big boys don’t always have it so easy. In two successive episodes (Little Angels and Stand Off) we discover that each man has been keeping secrets from the other. And not just inconsequential secrets, but really important ones – secrets that have shaped them and made them the men they are today (Sam was buried alive with a buddy who died; Callen was married). And at this point, they have been working together for four years. It is clear that they don’t share everything.

The secrets theme is expanded in season 3, when Sam meets Jada, and falls in love with her. Clearly this puts Callen in a doubly awkward position. First: he knows Sam is using her. Falling in love is not part of the game. Second: Callen has spent a lot of time with Sam’s family. He has stayed over on numerous occasions, and even shared a bunker with them! Callen now learns that Sam has given away part of his heart to another woman. That’s going to make Callen’s next meeting with Sam’s wife a little awkward. But Callen is used to lying to her. In some ways, the NCIS LA partners are always in their undercover roles — even to the outside world. It has to be hard keeping all the lies straight.

At this point, maybe Sam and Callen’s only honest relationship is with each other. They’ve gotten past the revelations of season 2, and have reached the point where only their partner gets to see the true man behind the pretense. It is a place where there is no need or reason to lie. During Season 3’s opening episode, Lange, H., Sam gives Callen thirty minutes to tell him what happened on the beach. He knows Callen will eventually tell him the truth, but he also knows not to push him either. Out of respect for his partner’s privacy Sam sends Kensi and Deeks to the beach to take pictures. Callen now feels comfortable in sharing with Sam his heartbreaking childhood revelation about his mother. It was a poignant moment in the show and demonstrated how the two take care of each other.

A Study in Contrasts: Is Sam the Wendy to Callen’s Peter Pan?

Sam and Callen couldn’t be more different, and yet they complement each other perfectly. Although one man is black and the other white, race has never been an issue in their relationship. There’s too much respect and admiration there. (The incredible screen chemistry between Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J doesn’t hurt either.) But that may be the only time you don’t see a difference because Sam is (ostensibly) a family man, with a wife, at least one child and a house. On the other side, Callen has spent much of his time avoiding the accoutrements of adult life, such as a mortgage and possessions. Callen sees no problem about sofa-surfing until Hetty actually forces him to sign the mortgage agreement for the house. Ying and Yang. Positive and negative.

Perhaps they are simply two sides of the same coin. Both men have backgrounds in covert operations, which explain Sam’s obsessive need for secrecy and Callen’s lone-wolf tendency. But as Callen once said, theirs is a brotherhood forged in fire. So much so, that when Hunter switched partners on the team, Sam actually looked as if he was going through partnership withdrawal when he had to work with Deeks. And who could forget Callen’s funny shade of green as he exited the passenger side of Kensi’s car. These two guys are lost when they can’t feel each other at their backs.

Next Week

Come back next week for part two, when Maxie Kay and I explore the difference between love and bromance…. is there really a difference? Also, take our bromance poll in the sidebar. Do you prefer watching a romantic partnership on screen like Kensi or Deeks or would you rather watch Sam and Callen’s bromance? We’ll share the results of the poll in next week’s column. Thanks go out to my writing partner, Maxie Kay and also to Lynn H. for her input. Join us again next week for In the Bullpen with Phillydi and friends!