The NCIS franchise has three successful series currently airing on CBS. Originally a spinoff of JAG two decades ago, the franchise spotlights those investigators tasked with solving crimes connected to military members. The NCIS Los Angeles series, in particular, is tasked with special cases that involve the investigators spending a lot of their time undercover.
In order to become an investigator of any kind, a character has to be willing to follow strings of strange clues, read between the lines of witness statements, and put together pieces that are seemingly unconnected from one another. Being misled by red herrings won’t get them anywhere. That’s why to determine which NCIS Los Angeles character is the most intelligent, we’ve taken a look at just how adept they are at all of the pieces of solving a mystery over the course of their time on the series.
10 Marty Deeks
Originally a police officer, Marty Deeks is one of the best undercover operatives the show has. He has no problems stepping into someone else’s shoes and spinning a tale to keep his identity a secret.
While that’s great for gathering information, it’s not so great for actually putting the information together. Deeks also has a history of wanting to trust people who should be his prime suspects. For that reason, he leads off the list of investigators in the series.
9 Kensi Blye
Deeks’ partner gets the spot just above him. Though the two share a lot of the same skills when it comes to going undercover, Kensi is a bit more suspicious of people in general compared to Deeks. She doesn’t always come right out and voice her questions, but she’s always observing and thinking about the scene in front of her.
Kensi is the kind of investigator who likes to bounce her ideas off her partner – or their teammates. Once she’s made her observations, she tends to outline her thought process to those around her, but she always wants input before getting to that final puzzle piece.
8 Anna Kolchek
Anna Kolchek has worked in multiple branches of law enforcement, but she’s someone who is more at home bending laws (or outright breaking them) than enforcing them. She’s worked in private security, which often involves helping people flee the country and protecting corporate interests.
Anna’s best skills come in the form of getting out of high-security places, not necessarily in figuring out what crimes are being committed in those places. While a lot of her skills have been put to use in helping solve criminal cases, Anna is definitely more in her element when she gets to do her own thing.
7 G Callan
Despite Callan essentially being raised to be a spy, he ranks relatively low amongst the NCIS Los Angeles team members. That’s largely because, like Deeks, he’s good at gathering intelligence undercover, and like Anna, he’s good at breaking out of secure places, but when it comes to solving mysteries, he needs a little help.
Callan is frequently the muscle in his partnership – and that’s saying something since his partner is a former Navy SEAL. He is definitely better at following the advice of those around him to solve a case than he is at figuring it out on his own. It’s interesting since Callan once preferred to work alone.
6 Eric Beale
When it comes to technical know-how, Eric Beale tops the list. Eric can hack just about anything on the planet, and he’s definitely got a talent for pattern recognition and compartmentalizing important information. That’s all useful in an investigation – and necessary at NCIS.
Unfortunately for Eric, he’s not so great in the field. He’s had a few occasions to go undercover, and he tends to get flustered very easily while trying to secretly gather information. Like both Kensi and Callan, he’s better at solving the big puzzle when he has someone else to help him with it.
5 Sam Hanna
Sam Hanna outranks a lot of the field agents he works with. His stature and his background as a Navy SEAL tend to make people think he’s going to be the most physical of the agents. While he is good at defending his team in a fight, he’s not usually the first to exchange blows.
Instead, Sam tends to be a lot more observant than people give him credit for. He’s often able to see what those around him are trying to hide. His ability to read people even allows him to be so bold as to set Callan up on dates. Of course, he’s not quite as adept at reading people as a few other agents; he didn’t know that the teacher he once set Callan up with was actually CIA.
4 Owen Granger
For a long time, the team considers Owen Granger to be a threat to their methods. He’s a bit more by the book than the rest of the Los Angeles office, and that initially makes them wary of him. In actuality, however, Granger is an incredibly adept NCIS agent – and on their side.
Granger might rank a little higher than expected for some fans, but it’s important to remember that one of the reasons he made the team nervous originally is that they couldn’t hide anything from him. He is always watching and figuring things out about the team that they don’t want him to know. He applies his same skills in the rare instances when he’s in the field.
3 Nate Getz
Leading off the top three spots is a character we haven’t seen much of in NCIS lately. Nate Getz has been gone for a few seasons, but he’s definitely not forgotten.
He initially appears in the series as the office psychologist. He’s there to analyze suspects while they’re interrogated and to provide support for team members who have difficulties in the field. Since then, Nate’s also worked his own investigations. His ability to get inside people’s heads gives him an edge on most of the agents he’s worked with in the past, and it allows him to put together aspects of a case that others might not be able to see.
2 Nell Jones
Originally working solely on the backend of missions for NCIS Los Angeles, Nell is one of the few characters in the show to have cross-training in multiple aspects of their investigations. She can do a lot of the same technical work that Eric can do, but she’s also got field training.
Nell is capable of holding her own while pursuing a suspect but equally able to analyze data and do research. She’s as observant as someone like Nate, but she’s also as prepared to put things together as Sam and Granger. Nell truly is one of the most capable agents in the series.
1 Hetty Lange
It would hardly be possible for any other character to top the list of intelligent NCIS Los Angeles characters. Hetty Lange has handpicked all of her agents. She knows exactly what skills each of them are capable of – and she’s also capable of most of them herself.
Like most of her agents, Hetty is extremely observant. She often knows things before they tell her. Hetty also has more experience with technology than she lets on. Though she doesn’t frequently run computerized searches or analysis herself, she pioneered a coding program decades earlier. Hetty is also a highly decorated field agent who has groomed younger agents to replace her. Nothing gets by her, and she can easily put puzzle pieces together.
NEXT: NCIS New Orleans Characters Sorted Into Hogwarts Houses