NCIS: Los Angeles Review S07E16

“Matryoshka Part 2” – the episode which promises to reveal Callen’s name.  For the audience, it has been seven years in the making but for G. Callen, it’s been forty odd years – as long as he can remember…
Hetty has sanctioned Sam and Callen to rescue CIA Agent Sharov from the same Russian prison holding Arkady Kolchek, and part two sees the action move to Russia.  Yet surprisingly this episode isn’t really about the prison break, even though a reasonable amount of time is devoted to planning the mission; in fact there is very little action at all during the episode.
The entire pre-credit opening sequence shows Anna seducing a man in a Russian bar, leading him to the street so Sam and Callen can kidnap and blackmail him into helping them, as he is a guard at Nazarovo prison.  The plan is for the guard to drug the prisoners, allowing Sam and Callen to enter the prison and remove the bodies as mortuary drivers.  Back in LA, Nell and Eric run simulations of the plan and all eventualities lead to capture or death.  Callen calls on Arkady’s associate Pavel Volkoff, who agrees to help in exchange for arresting a Russian in LA.  As a result, the original promise of a risky and dangerous prison break is broken, and this now takes place off screen.  There is some action when the team in Russia attack the transport van, but this takes place quickly with Sharov shot in the shoulder, meaning an extraction via the commercial airport is no longer possible.  Later they receive word the attacked prison van is discovered and they need to move from the safe house to an extraction location.
Throughout the episode there is the constant threat of the Russian authorities pursuing them.  A CIA asset earlier warns that their arrival has made “news with the locals” and recommends they leave within a day; Pavel separately advises them to stay in LA in the future.  The threat infers gun battles and a last minute rescue, however none of the possible action materialises, which is highly unusual for NCIS Los Angeles. vlcsnap-2016-02-26-19h06m58s662 In fact the only other action takes place in LA when Eric ventures in the field with Kensi and Deeks.  This also provides the only real element of humour too, when Eric reveals he only threw the flash bang as it works in Call of Duty.
The limited action sequences keep the narrative pace slow and allows for the continued character interaction and development of both Anna and Callen, but leaves the episode with a slightly disjointed feel.  Callen is purely focused on the mission, admitting to Pavel that he is there to rescue Arkady, and remains business-like throughout.  His reluctance to trust others is seen during his conversation with CIA Agent Sharov, who recognises Callen’s voice, and provides a tantalising glimpse into Callen’s career with the Agency.  In typical spook fashion he is evasive in his conversation with Sharov, asking him to prove how the agent knows him.  (When Callen was stationed in Russian, working Moscow, a female asset turned out to be not who she said she was.  The CIA turned their back on him, he was alone and Sharov guided him to a safe house, or he would have died that night.)  Even then, Callen is reluctant to place his trust in Sharov, but he does lead them to a nearby safe house.
Anna’s development suggests that she will be a recurring character.  In part one she participated in the team’s banter with Deeks and in part two she plays Sam about harp playing for the pleasure of friends and family only.  Although these interactions come across as a little forced, a comparison can be made between her conversation with Sam, and Callen feeding Sam what he thought he wanted to hear about his break up with Joelle (Angels and Daemons); Anna was playing Sam light-heartedly, whereas Callen was seemed seriously trying to hoodwink his partner.  The relationship between Anna and Callen is blossoming but not in an overtly romantic sense, despite last week’s undercover kiss.  Anna seems curious about Callen and vice versa, and parallels continue to be drawn between them.
Anna is comfortable with Callen and falls asleep against him, with Callen unsure how to react (he pulls the blanket around her shoulders).  The following morning Anna asks him to join her for coffee and despite their close proximity the previous night, Callen pulls his chair away from the table, physically positioning himself away from her.
Anna is seeking Callen’s approval for her actions, despite her ambiguous feelings towards Arkady.  Callen recognises the stories Anna told herself as a child to explain her father’s absence – that he was a hero.  Callen hesitates before reciprocating, his trust in her demonstrated as he leans forward and wagers that her stories were better than the ones he told himself as a child.  Anna breaks Callen’s moment of honesty by laughing as she has yet to find anyone who does the same job as them, who is not broken.  Callen’s response is that maybe broken is normal.  It’s certainly the only normality he has ever known, and their ‘daddy-issues’ means they have a deeper understanding of each other.  Anna’s issues though, are resolved when she is reunited with her father and they hug resolving to leave the past behind them.
Callen’s issues come to the fore when an old man named Garrison meets them at the safe house and even as introductions are made, Callen is uneasy with a sixth sense about who this man may be.  There are looks of recognition from Garrison and his harsh tone softens as he asks him who he is.  Callen’s suspicions develop further when he spots the same Lenin coin on the safe house table.  From the moment Callen lays eyes on Garrison, there is heighten tension which comes to the fore when it’s time to part company, and Garrison finally asks Callen if he knows who he is.  Callen seemed to be waiting / hoping for the older man to take the lead, although he has been consistently mission-focused, decisive and strong all episode.  And with that question his behaviour changes.  “I think so”, “maybe” and “I don’t know” are the uncertain and somewhat nervous replies from Callen, the last one sounding defiant and a little childlike.
Garrison is portrayed as a hard man; he speaks bluntly and with a harsh tone.  He never introduces himself, instead stating that he knows much about Callen, but he (Callen) doesn’t know him.  He believes actions matter, not the reasons and gives permission for his son to hate him.  Callen doesn’t hate him but the reasons do matter to him.  Garrison promises him all the answers – but another time as the Exfil team arrives.
Before they part, his father admits he knows the things Callen has done (is Callen a touch apprehensive at this statement?), and Garrison offers the reassurance to Callen that he is a good man.   It’s not quite “I’m proud of you, son”, but they are words Callen needed to hear.  They interact physically when Garrison offers his hand, finally telling Callen his full Russian name and that his mother wanted him to know where he came from.  A most ironic statement as Callen’s identity was never revealed to him until now.  And then frustratingly, Callen walks away from his father, from more answers, so he can complete his mission and safely return home.
There are several other frustrations with this episode that boil down to inconsistencies.  Arkady & Sharov are injected are removed from the prison in a small medical van, however the van is not medically equipped in any way.  How did Sharov know the code of the day when he has been prison for a least several months?  Does Sam really know every SEAL Commander the encounter?  Why didn’t Arkady recognise Callen’s father, as in Chernoff.K he pointed him out in a photo and had met him once?  And what a coincidence that Sharov directed them to a safe house managed by Callen’s father.
Not surprisingly, all other characters are marginalised with Arkady having a surprisingly small role, which allows for Callen’s familial discovery.  Eric was lucky he was not shot in the field as he froze when bullets started flying.  Granger wanted to go to Russia so he could force them to abort rather than see them killed.  Kensi and Deeks also wanted to fly out and support the team.  The Hetty-Bot also made another appearance, this time in her Russian apartment, where she and Anna bonded over weapons.
The plot frustrations and lack of other characters can be put aside with the clever writing, directing and acting that holds the whole episode together in the last few minutes.  There is no angry confrontation between Callen and Garrison; they are both quiet and somewhat reserved, with emotions played out on their faces – particularly Callen’s – and these make the closing scenes all the more powerful.

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