NCIS: Los Angeles S10E22 Review

‘No More Secrets’ continues from last week’s search for Anna and her subsequent flight out of America. This week they have a lead not only on Anna but also Callen’s father, courtesy of the woman running the operation. Part one was an excellent episode and the writers (Andrew Bartels and Erin Broadhurst) remain the same. The value in this continuity is evident, particularly when Bartels has consistently demonstrated such an insight in to the writing of Callen’s character.  This week was a rollercoaster of emotions, branching off on previously unimaginable paths. The early part set the scene, quickly establishing the limit of Hetty’s involvement, the extent of Joelle’s and getting the team to Havana, Cuba to find and rescue both Anna and Nikita. Then, everything turned south when Joelle’s contact Lionel, sells her and Callen out to Nikita’s enemy, Pavel Volkoff.

The episode centres around Callen and his father, with family and trust being central and recurring themes for both.  Callen has a strong desire to bond with his father yet Nikita repeatedly lets him down. Each time this occurs the effect becomes worse and re-enforces Callen’s abandonment issues and the reasons why he doesn’t trust easily. There is a never ending cycle between them, perfectly exemplified when they are sharing a cell and Callen challenges his father about the identity of the Romani prisoner they saw tortured.  As they verbally dance with each other, the camera physically circles the pair.  Trust is in short shrift throughout the episode: Callen’s shows little trust or faith in Hetty which is reciprocated during a revealing conversation between Nikita and Hetty at the end. Callen and Sam believe Special Prosecutor Rogers will shut down their black op if he found out and the team generally do not trust Joelle.  Cuba contact Lionel betrays Joelle, then turns tail to assist the team. And as the bad guy, obviously no one trusts Volkoff!

Volkoff was introduced as Arkady’s former KGB protégé in the season 6 finale, Chernoff, K. The following season he facilitated the prison break of Arkady and CIA Officer Balinski. Since then Callen’s father revealed Volkoff is his enemy, and last season he masterminded a plot whereby the US government traded Nikita to the Russians. Such a heart-wrenching separation and Callen’s subsequent estrangement from his sister and nephew meant it was inevitable Callen would cross paths with Volkoff again, their recent history making for a dramatic confrontation. In an episode so dark and twisted it could have been written by Frank Military, Volkoff executes Joelle and Anna in front of Callen who, with no time to grieve, is then tortured in front of his father via Volkoff’s preferred ‘Little Elephant’ (a Russian torture method where a gas mask is strapped to a restrained prisoner’s face, then the air supply is shut off). Callen is repeatedly punched in the chest to hasten the imminent suffocation. During a break, the FSB officer deals the final blow to Callen. The man with the Romani tattoo they saw tortured earlier is Darius Reznikov, nee Comescu who Nikita orphaned and then raised as his own. 

Nikita:       What makes you think Darius will even listen to me?

Volkoff:   You're the closest thing he has to a father. That's right [To Callen]. He never told you. Perhaps your father was too ashamed. Darius. That's his name. Darius Reznikov. But before he went by Reznikov, he went by another: Comescu. The family that killed your mother. Nikita hunted them for years. Did you know that? And then one day, he killed a husband and wife only to realise too late that there was a child sleeping upstairs. A boy, not even ten. How terrible it must feel, knowing that your father sent you away, but then chose to raise your enemy's son.

This turn of events was unpredictable yet believable, adding to the dramatic tension and most importantly to Callen’s already emotional mindset. The devastated look Callen gave his father was heartbreaking for Nikita to see. As Volkoff moves to torture Callen again, Nikita realises the pain his son has enduring because of him and agrees to talk to Darius. Callen’s torture was reminiscent of what Nate forced him to endure in season 7 when he was tormented about his name and identity prior to being water boarded. Volkoff however, knew Callen’s background as well as Nikita’s and Darius’, and used that as psychological torture.  

This moves on to the intriguing relationship between Nikita and Darius. The two are genuinely close; Darius calls him father (“otets”) and thinks he has disappointed Nikita. They communicate covertly by discretely tapping their fingers whilst verbally Darius tells Nikita that he was told his father was alive and held by Volkoff. He was going to use evidence he acquired to blackmail him into releasing his father. Nikita then takes a bullet for Darius when Volkoff’s men storm the room, sending his adoptive son to find his real son, as he lies wounded. There is something about being a Reznikov, whether by name or by blood, that means remaining captured is just not an option. It has been established on numerous occasions that Callen will escape captivity, and that he’ll deliberately goad his captors and this is no exception. He’s sassy, fakes a recurrence of his season premier punctured lung and attacks his guards. This leads to a tantalisingly brief encounter between Callen and Darius. The two warily assess each other and as Callen is ‘safe’, Darius no longer needs to find Callen and instead pursues Volkoff while Callen goes to Nikita. 

The Nikita / Darius story is interesting as both thought the other dead, their separation occurring when the KGB raided their home and Nikita escaped thinking Darius died in the attack. Instead he was taken by the KGB, trained and later brought to Cuba to continue his training. This is a fascinating glimpse into the Nikita that existed after the Comescu’s murdered his wife Clara. He sent his two children away to America, was captured as a KGB traitor and escaped during transport to the gulag. He spent years hunting the Comescu’s, then raised one of their own children as his, training him to be ruthless and to accept death rather than capture.  For those inclined to investigate further, there are many inconsistencies around the timeline. In Chernoff, K (S6), Hetty told Callen that Nikita Reznikov became Konstantin Chernoff in 1974 (year he escaped the gulag). Chernoff ‘died’ in 2008 and (presumably) Garrison was born.  Nikita Reznikov was a fugitive so why tell his enemy’s son his real name, and provide the boy with the Reznikov surname? The KGB ceased to exist in 1991 so when did these events occur? Even if Darius was captured as young man, how come he is still undergoing training?

Regardless, this adds a new dimension to Callen’s backstory as he has killed a large number of the Comescu family himself.  His relationship with Nikia may be over as his father is now dead, but Darius is a loose end and an opportunity to explore new ground. It’s the same with Hetty. Callen did not appreciate her withholding information about Joelle’s operation.  At the end, Hetty confirms to Nikita that she gave Darius the mission. Her decision not to pass that information to Callen was explained at the start. Nikita made her promise not to allow Callen to go after him, again to keep him safe. Their scene at the hospital suggests there has been little damage to their relationship but only time will tell, particularly if he finds out Hetty knowledge of Darius and her role in his involvement.

The revelation Anna and Joelle were not actually killed was a touch disappointing.  The lack of blood from their bullet wounds was a giveaway and they seemed to work well together, presumably for the shared cause as Anna had previously been left to deal with Callen’s ‘walls’ after Joelle’s betrayal. There was so much packed into the episode there was no opportunity to explore Callen’s relationship with Anna. The fact they hadn’t communicated for months after Anna started at ATF and later said goodbye to Callen before his internal affairs interview with ATF, and again after Anna’s incarceration, she told him to stay away, all indicates they had separated. However their Christmas scene at the hospital confirms they both still have strong feelings for each other, even if they are not together.  Both women remain loose ends as Anna feels she can’t return to the US due to the extensive publicity over her escape and Joelle stays with her.

In some ways it is a shame the characters remain very much ‘in character’.  When Callen had his weapon pointed at Volkoff it was obvious he would not pull the trigger. It would have been an interesting turn of events if he had shot Volkoff in revenge. Instead he kicked him in the head and left him to die. Darius undertook a similar action, using the ‘little elephant’ to his advantage, to safely breath oxygen instead of the chlorine gas and waiting until Volkoff was dead before leaving the bunker.  

Although the episode is extremely Callen-centric, the usual cast are of course present, albeit in a much reduced capacity.  Sam, Kensi and Deeks are in Cuba, finding and rescuing Callen and crew. Nell and Eric support from Ops, again referring to the question of their future at NCIS and are at the forefront when Rogers discovers the team’s off the books mission. He now has seen firsthand the grey area in which they frequently operate (the original reason for his presence in their office).  The remaining episodes set up the finale and it is unlikely there will be any repercussions from the team’s actions - and once again Callen will go unpunished and thus the team are free to go dark again.

The episode was superbly written and such a joy (despite the sadness) after some of the recent offerings. This is matched by the director Yangzom Brauen’s vision. Whilst remaining very much in the conventions of the show’s visual style, there is an excellent use of lighting and framing which is very theatrical.  Shots are framed within frames with characters reflected in windows. The use of shadows enhances the tension and the character’s emotional states whilst illustrating the obsessiveness of Volkoff, particularly in the corridor prior to Joelle and Anna’s ‘murder’.

No More Secrets did feel a touch rushed and there was a lot of background information about Nikita disseminated in a short space of time.  There were scenes missing, such as how Joelle and Anna escaped as well as how did Darius escaped his locked cell?  Kensi dressed to the nines in Ops during the mission briefing and apparently there was a deleted scene showing her and Deeks out to dinner. The ending segued from Callen and his father over Amy’s grave, to Callen in a suit over his father’s grave.  It was poignant and sad and no words or other characters were necessary.  Callen is alone again. A three parter could still have maintained the same tension and drama yet fleshed out more with Callen and his father, and how his sister dealt with their father’s death.  More screen time could have been given to the team and direct interactions between Rogers and Hetty could have been seen.  These are nice to have’s and there is certainly nothing wrong at all with the two parter fans were treated to.  NCIS: Los Angeles has created some fantastically dramatic episodes and No More Secrets is up there with the best.

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