While it’s not the same heights of rating success as its parent show, NCIS: Los Angeles has been a huge hit for CBS.
Fans enjoy this more light-hearted take on the franchise with its eclectic group of agents handling crimes across the West Coast and occasionally abroad. The latest season has continued the trend with some notable character returns (despite the absence of leader Hetty).
But like its parent series, NCIS: LA does have its share of sad moments. Despite their best efforts, the team will fail to stop a crime, and each member has suffered a harsh loss.
This latest season had drama from Deeks face losing his bar and Kensi trying to have a child. There have also been some harsh character losses that affect fans majorly.
From shocking deaths to other drama, NCIS: LA has 10 moments that left fans tearing up and a reminder it’s not always sunny in the California show.
Warning: This has SPOILERS for several NCIS: LA episodes.
Goodbye Eric and Nell — A Tale of Two Igors, Season 12, Episode 18
A new entry for this list was a stunning turn for the 12th season finale.
All year long, it appeared as if Nell was being set up to take Hetty’s place as head of the unit. She was given the rub by Hetty herself and even seemed ready to practice her quirky sayings.
Yet Nell was worried she couldn’t live up to Hetty’s example. She also faced the fact that she didn’t have the spine to possibly send her friends to their deaths in the field.
When old love Eric offered her a chance to join him in his new tech venture, Nell said yes. Even the team was taken back by the pair exiting the show so quickly.
While it was nice to see them getting a happy ending, the loss of the two beloved tech geeks is a major blow for the show’s fans.
Harley’s loss — To Live & Die In Mexico, Season 10, Episode 1
While she may not have been the most popular character, Harley deserved better than this.
Played by Andrea Bordeaux, the hard-edged Harley took charge of the unit in Season 9. While her attitude rubbed some the wrong way (such as trying to fire Deeks), Harley was a capable agent who aided the team.
In the Season 9 finale, Harley went ahead to Mexico to take on a deadly cartel. The rest of the team follow to discover a badly burned body in the middle of the desert.
The Season 10 premiere confirms this was Harley. Maybe it’s better that fans didn’t see her brutal end, but it’s still horrible to imagine what was done to her.
Even after their problems, the team was affected by Harley’s death and how coldly she was dismissed.
Harm and Mac’s breakup — False Flag, Season 10, Episode 24
This is more a heartbreak for fans of NCIS’s parent series.
For eight years of JAG, viewers watched the dance of Harmon Rabb (David James Elliott) and Sarah “Mac” MacKenzie (Catherine Bell), ignoring their obvious feelings for each other.
That series seemed to end with the pair finally getting together and fans imagining they lived happily ever after.
But when they both appeared in the Season 10 finale, it was revealed that Harm and Mac just couldn’t agree on their separate career paths and split after trying a relationship. Their reunion was filled with awkward tension.
It was a rocking bit for fans to realize in the end, the pair may have been just too much alike to be the lasting couple they had imagined.
Sam’s stunning loss — Uncaged, Season 8, Episode 23
Nothing tore Sam (and NCIS: LA fandom) apart quite like this moment.
When his wife, Michelle, was kidnapped, Sam was naturally on the warpath. With the team joining him, it looked like it was the typical thrill before a rescue, only for Sam to realize how much she meant to him.
Instead, Deeks and Kensi went right past the hidden room Michelle was held in. Those few moments were all the difference between her surviving and dying in Sam’s arms.
This was after the team was on a wild goose chase before realizing Michelle was being held close by. It sent Sam into a very dark direction he barely pulled out himself from.
He’s mostly recovered now, but it’s obvious how Sam was ripped to shreds losing his love.
Jemadar’s sacrifice — Expiration Date, Season 6, Episode 16
Sometimes, the saddest moments come from the guest stars in an episode.
In just one earlier appearance, Jemadar Thapa (Ernie Reyes Jr) had won fans over. He aided Sam in a mission and was brought in to help when a sniper wounded Sam.
Thapa got along well with the team, including giving Deeks and Kensi some relationship advice. The idea he might be a regular presence was strong, which made it more shocking when Thapa ended up taking a bullet to save Sam from attackers. Losing the guy just as he was wonderfully winning over viewers was a real heartbreaker.
Deeks’ torture — Season 5, Episodes 1-3
Martin Deeks is usually the bright guy with the wisecracks, so seeing him going to a darker place was terrifying.
In the Season 4 finale, Deeks and Sam are captured by a terrorist who brutally tortures them. The team rescues them, but the effects are major.
Deeks is nearly broken by the incident, without his usual jokes and snapping at others. Even the sight of a needle at the hospital almost sent him into a panic.
Kensi did her best to help him out, but Deeks took a while to pull himself out of this. It did help him aiding Kensi with her own later trauma but jarring to watch the light-hearted Deeks put through the wringer.
The Chameleon strikes — Sans Voir, Season 3, Episode 23&24
It takes a lot to move Hetty Lang to tears.
Among the team’s top foes was the Chameleon (Christopher Lambert), a ruthless terrorist and master of disguise.
As the team closed in on him, the Chameleon struck back. First, he shot popular undercover recurring agent Mike Renko.
The Chameleon then trapped Lauren Hunter (Claire Forlani) in a car with a bomb. Despite the team’s efforts, it exploded, killing her.
The murders deeply affected Callen to nearly kill the Chameleon himself. As it was, losing two popular characters like this rocked the audience.
Deeks and Kensi say ‘I do’ — Till Death Do Us Part, Season 10, Episode 23
Thankfully, this was more of a tearjerker in a heartwarming way.
After years of banter and circling around their feelings, Deeks and Kensi were finally about to walk down the aisle. Of course, this being NCIS: LA, that couldn’t have been so easy.
The goofy Russian gangster Anatoli shows up to “save” Deeks from enduring inevitable heartbreak. Before long, a batch of rival Russian mobsters are crashing the wedding with hijinks climaxing in Hetty smashing a cab through a wall.
Thankfully, it’s handled as Deeks (with a ripped tux), and Kensi (in a torn dress and swollen knuckles) finally say “I Do” with Hetty officiating.
After so many close calls and brushes with death, it was wonderful to see the pair finally tie the knot with the audience joining the characters in warm tears.
Dom’s death — Found, Season 1, Episode 21
This was a shocking early twist for the series.
Almost forgotten is that when the show started, Deeks wasn’t in it. Instead, Kensi’s partner was Dominic Vale, a rookie agent who was the audience’s “eyes” into how the team operated.
He had good style, and was just getting the hang of things when he was suddenly abducted.
After several episodes, the team finally found Dom, having been held prisoner by some militants. The team was able to rescue him but came under fire.
Despite months of torture, Dom leapt forward to take a bullet for Sam, dying before the team could even get him out of the building.
The team was rocked hard, especially Kensi, and Dom’s death was proof that no one was truly safe in this series.
Granger’s farewell — Liabilities Season 9, Episode 15
This is tearful because it wasn’t just the character fans were saying goodbye to.
Over the years, Miguel Ferrer was a great face as Granger, the stern boss who could drive the team nuts with some of his orders, but they respected him. Throughout Season 8, it was obvious Granger was becoming more haggard and had some health issues.
He finally confirmed he had cancer, noting the irony of surviving so many gunfights only to now battle this. Granger suddenly left, leaving behind a letter of wanting to enjoy what little time he had left.
Season 9 confirmed he had indeed passed away. By this point, Ferrer himself had also died of his own real cancer.
Thus, fans had to say goodbye to both the character and the wonderful actor who portrayed him.
NCIS: Los Angeles Seasons 1-12 streaming on Paramount+.