NCIS: Los Angeles S09E09 Review

Callen is a complex character with deeply ingrained trust issues and until Joelle Taylor entered his life courtesy of a blind date, he was happily single.  He let down his defences, was later forced to reveal his true identity and opened up further, letting her meet his family, which then consisted of only his team.  His split with Joelle was amicable yet what better way to cause Callen emotional turmoil than with a personal betrayal - and they don’t come more personal that discovering your former lover is a CIA officer sent to keep tabs on you and your team.  The latter part of last season saw Callen struggle with Joelle’s betrayal.  He took a chainsaw to her dining table, later using it as firewood.  He left the bed they once shared on the kerb and blew hot and cold in his burgeoning relationship with Anna Kolcheck.  Hetty even had to intervene to help Callen cauterize his wounds, forcing him to see Joelle for who she really is; Beth, married with a young son.  This week Joelle has returned again, this time breaking in to his home and turning to him for help, claiming she was kidnapped, pumped for information on naval security and subsequently escaped.

Can Callen and the team trust Joelle?  The obvious answer is no and yet Callen feels obliged to undertake at least cursory investigations and to keep overwatch on her family.  The opening pre-credit scene may show a hooded woman escaping her captors but there are plenty of clues along the way to both support and challenge her claims, for example gouging out a bad guys eye with a shirt collar stay.  She removes them from the shirt she’s borrowed from Callen and yes, they are a viable weapon.  Eric easily finds footage of her abduction on traffic cameras, immediately raising suspicions about the amateur nature of this and causing Callen to consider it was staged.

The two play mind games against each other and their verbal sparring really light up the first half of the episode as each one takes turns in 'one upping’ the other.  Joelle refers to Anna Kolcheck on two separate occasions; the first time Callen ignores her, the second, after she admits from what she’s read, that Anna ‘is quite the woman’, he shuts her down.  Is she just baiting Callen on his new relationship or gauging his reaction to see if she can turn on the charm and flirt to win Callen over?  More concerning though is that she’s continued to keep tabs on Callen even after they split.  Their scenes do allow for some home truths to be delivered even if they are in the guise of cheap shots.  Joelle forces the point that her marriage is built on trust, implying quite rightly that trust is something Callen struggles with (evidenced in his earlier dalliance with Anna in S7 Exchange Rate - before they were together and before he found out about Joelle’s betrayal).  This is quickly followed by her observation that Callen is angry at himself for not seeing through her deception.  Joelle certainly seems to have won this round in the interrogation room.

In comparison, Callen’s own mind games with Joelle seem subpar and he comes across as a scorned lover, displaying his usual attitude when matters get personal, even giving Sam ‘the stare’ when he suggests Callen should accompany Hidoko in the field.  He takes some of Joelle’s sucker punches, perfecting the wounded puppy look. The pivotal moment comes on Sam’s boat and after an almost civil conversation, Joelle is caught out on another lie.  Callen loses his temper, pulls his gun and really tells her how he feels.  Their heated words showcase Callen’s own ability to play mind games and adopt alternative methods of interrogating a suspect, having made Joelle equally angry, he instantly calms down and says he believes Joelle’s story.  His admittance that it wasn’t all an act was probably a much needed outlet for his pent up anger and frustration.

Joelle believes it was the rogue CIA cell (from mole arc) who were responsible for her kidnapping.  It was never fully clear if that story was over - certainly Sabatino and Joelle were left in play, even if it seems Sabatino is (probably) on the NCIS agents side.  In this respect, Executive Assistant Director Mosley played her part well, initially supporting Callen and the team and later preparing to get the CIA to sort out their own mess in Joelle.  She doesn’t believe in the underhand methods Hetty liked to use but did give them a timeframe before withdrawing them from the case, (something Hetty has also done in S7 Matryoshka part 1).  Finally Mosley has her office which is actually a very tasteful area above Hetty’s office, with wall to ceiling windows.  Once again she drew attention to how Hetty may have had an open door policy but how open was Hetty really with her information and her manipulative ways. 

Callen has broken Joelle down to find the consistency in her story, to protect her family and Kensi’s conversation with husband Nick reveals the chinks in their relationship.  Not even he trusts Joelle.  He reluctantly tolerated her sleeping with other men as part of her job - and although not verbalised, knew Callen was one of those men when he saw him again. He witnessed her become detached from her emotions over the years, failing to react when he admitted his own infidelities. Callen even uses this information in his fight with her, asking if she’s even capable of love, as her husband also has his doubts. Disassociation leads to identity issues, again a prevalent theme with Callen's character which has run through the seasons.  Even though he has a first name (of which Joelle is thankfully unaware), Callen is still discovering who he really is.  Joelle is a complete fake.  Her birth name was neither Beth or Joelle and in a rare move the CIA scrubbed her true identity when she was recruited twenty years ago.  It is only near the end when Joelle is shot that she tells Callen her real name is Jane.  [Was her surname Doe?]

It is almost a foregone conclusion that Joelle has to die.  To a certain extent her character and the exploration of her and Callen's relationship has reached a natural end.  Her inability to feel has caused her family life to deteriorate and her career placed them in danger. Death would also be a fitting end after her betrayal of Callen. Instead of actually dying, she and Callen fake her death (it is unclear if Sam or Mosley are in on this) and the final scene with Joelle and Callen observing her family for one last time is poignant and symbolic.  It is the reason why Callen's father abandoned him and his sister and one of the reasons Callen kept his distance from his newly discovered half sister and nephew.  He refuses Joelle's request for assistance in her recovery and hunting down the 'syndicate'.  The reason?  He has his own family to take care of. 

Some context has at last been provided for the mole storyline.  The rogue CIA agents were not just pissed that NCIS was interrupting their clandestine operations in the Middle East, they were in fact working for a syndicate, helping them secure their business interests in the region.  When the CIA failed at that venture, Colton Leach was tasked with recruiting Joelle for their alternative plan.  As the episode concludes this provides another new loose end.  Will Joelle succeed in hunting and killing the syndicate?  Or when she finds them will she be persuaded to turn traitor and work with them?  The door is certainly open for her and the syndicate to return. 

With such focus on Callen, the rest of the characters are a little sidelined.  Callen and Sam continue to banter despite the circumstances and Deeks and Kensi are back to their best with a highly amusing scene discussing dream interpretation which culminates in Kensi squishing the spider that represents Deeks' mother. Deeks also provided a little fun for Joelle’s son, playing basketball with him in the boatshed while Kensi interview his father. Nell’s presence was practically non-existent and Hidoko took on the role of partnering Sam in the field and bantering with him about saving each others lives.  As expected from the procedural nature, there are explosions, close calls and gun battles, heightening the excitement and tension of the episode's climax and contrasting against the intense dialogue that has passed between Callen and Joelle.  

Episode writer Andrew Bartels is earning himself a niche role by writing great character driven episodes.  He has also taking the crown from former showrunner Shane Brennan, in writing important Callen centred episodes.  He also wrote Glasnost covering Callen’s reunion with his father, co-wrote Humbug which dealt with Joelle’s discovery of Callen's lies and his real job as an NCIS agent, and The Grey Man which not only dealt with Callen's daddy issues but also tackled Kensi and Deeks' relationship.  The next issue for Callen to tackle, is how he moves on from his emotional attachment to his house.  It has now been compromised countless times - maybe he just likes the excitement, never knowing when someone will break in or attack him..?

What did you think of Fool Me Twice?  Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

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