NCIS: Los Angeles Review S10E03

It has been a while since an episode centred around Callen.  There were several last season, one of which was fundamental to his very essence - his father - who was suddenly delivered by the American government in to the hands of his enemy, via Iran. The other involved Joelle, furthering both her and the mole’s story, yet all the while examining Callen’s emotional reactions to her betrayal of him. However neither storyline, both of which had such an impact on his character, had been mentioned since.  It could be argued this is very much in line with who Callen is. He doesn’t talk about himself or his feelings and deflects such questions and conversations usually by ignoring them. Such frustrations from last season are addressed in ‘The Prince’, which sees the team placed on protection detail after a failed assassination attempt on a visiting Saudi prince. 

The case itself is run-of-the-mill, the rich prince reluctantly accepts further protection, he refuses to cancel his meetings or move hotels, which culminate in an almost successful attempt which is thwarted by the team at the very last minute. Standard stuff. It is the unexpected appearance of two unconnected characters who have caused pain and heartache, which hit Callen with a double whammy of emotional turmoil. Firstly, DSS Agent Brian Bush is their main contact for the prince's protection and from the moment his picture first appeared in ops, Callen’s demeanour changed.  If it wasn’t enough that he had to control his emotions in the field, he witnesses his ex-girlfriend and rogue CIA operative Joelle Taylor, escaping from the hotel as the potential assassin.  And this unfortunately leads Callen to reveal to Kensi and Deeks that he (and Sam and Nell) faked Joelle’s death and deliberately withheld this information.  The betrayal of trust is not appreciated by the pair and both are rightly indignant and frustrated.  Callen’s reasoning was sound and his apology accepted, which prompts one of the best lines from the entire show to date, when Deeks says:

“It’s all good.  Can’t really blame you, anyway.  You were raised like this, thanks to the Hetty Lang School of Mischief.”

Callen is not only a product of his childhood experiences, also of his later life which is very much influenced by his mentor.

Surprisingly, there is not really a confrontation between either Callen and Bush or Callen and Joelle.  Callen reverted to his serious agent persona to just get the job done with Bush around, only struggling to contain himself when Bush stated he knew Callen was withholding information from him.  Callen’s emotions are more to do with his reaction to seeing Joelle, rather than the man who handed his father to the enemy, although there is an undercurrent of anger and frustration when Callen is in his presence.  The tension between them is lessened with an touching scene at the end, when Bush apologies to Callen and says that he hopes he finds his father. 

The light-hearted aspects of the episode are left to Kensi and Deeks, and Nell and Eric, with both pairs excelling in their roles.  The ongoing joke of the episode is the questioning of Kensi and Deeks’ wedding being back on and if a date has been set. This threads through the episode from the opening bullpen scene, to the ops centre right to just before the final assassination attempt.  The pair have literally picked up where they left off before their major row in the finale.  They talk endlessly about planning their wedding but are not actively doing anything about it.  The digs are coming from all angles, initially from Deeks’ mother and then from Sam.  Nell puts her foot in it with Kensi, who later threatens to start shooting when Callen makes a comment in the field.  It is finally Sam who as usual, offers the pair some words of wisdom.  The opening bullpen scenes have been sorely missed over the last season, and it was a joy to see the team together and teasing each other.  In a throwback to Callen’s long recovery from his collapsed lung, internal bleeding and broken back, he is catching up on missed cases by reading Agent Deschamp’s detailed reports, causing Sam to gently snipe that at least she writes them...It is the team banter and interaction which is not case related that brings as much satisfaction as the cases and character development themselves.  When Deeks’ bar comes to life, there will be another location away from the workplace, to see such playfulness.

The lack of leadership due to the absence of Hetty, Mosley and Admiral Kilbride meant the lunatics were running the asylum this week.  It was quite a surprise to see Callen allowing Joelle in to ops and Nell literally asked Callen if he was insane!  It was an action that Hetty would definitely not approve, considering some of her comments about Joelle in season 8.  Eric of course, also had his moment of hilarity which although rather silly, was not as overtly ridiculous as in other episodes. He disturbs Deeks with his fantasy talk and when he sees Joelle in ops, he threatens her with a pair of scissors attached by a chain to the sewing table.  However it is the sweetness between him and Nell that really shines through.  Nell tells Eric how she helped fake Joelle’s death, much to his annoyance about keeping secrets, and she obtains his forgiveness with a kiss.  It is also Nell that puts Joelle in her place, pulling a gun out from under her desk and later stating she’ll be watching her from ops.  Joelle understood the threat and Nell looked convincing.

On the face of it, the case itself had the potential to invite a number of actions scenes and gunfights, as is the norm. Instead it is the activities associated with the case, the recurring characters, their impact on Callen and the underlying humour with the rest of the cast which contrasts sharply with the ever present sadness that permeates from him. His feelings do not need to be verbalised when it is visible in his eyes, particularly during his conversations with Bush and Joelle. There are barbed comments, mainly from Callen to Joelle but on the whole, despite his initial reaction they are surprisingly civil to each other, which even catches her out. It seems they have reached an understanding and the closing scene featuring the two of them in Callen’s car suggests their relationship could possibly be rekindled. Joelle is much more suited to Callen as her real self, rather than the ‘safe’ kindergarten teacher.  She has previously admitted she finished their relationship as she had developed real feelings for him and Callen’s behaviour during their last confrontation could be interpreted that he still has feelings for her. Having opened up about his family predicament, Callen drove away rather than watching her reconnect with her family, an action that allowed her to do just the opposite and walk away from them. Their conversation about finding Callen’s father suggests maybe a search and rescue mission will take place later in the season.  And with scope now for Joelle to return, maybe she will be instrumental in this.

The prince may have been a secondary character but he bonded with Sam and there was a touching moment when the two men considered where they would prefer to die. It was also interesting the attitude the prince had towards death when pressed by Callen. His brother and grandfather were assassinated but he will continue with his job until his time comes. The same could be said for Callen, with his mother and grandfather effectively assassinated by the Comescus, and attempts on his own life.  It is a reminder that life goes on in spite of the tragedy it brings. Trust, identity and family are three of the biggest themes that under pin NCIS: Los Angeles and two of the three take centre stage in ‘The Prince’.  The questioning of trust and the keeping of secrets is common to all characters, some of whom have bigger secrets or more trust issues than others.  But it is family which ties it all together, the team as a family who quickly forgive each other as well as their blood-family ties, which remain as big a challenge for Callen as ever. 

‘The Prince’ was an absolute gem of an episode and the missing hierarchy meant more screen time for the main cast, allowing character driven stories to be explored rather than rushed, with secondary characters having a real purpose. Writer Andrew Bartels is proving a master at delivering Callen-centric episodes and balancing drama with humour in the style of earlier seasons. This was also very much a team event and that is another reason why this episode was so enjoyable and already marked down as a favourite.

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