NCIS: Los Angeles S11E15 ‘The Circle’ Review

The introduction of another Comescu, last season, and his surviving the chlorine gas in Cuba meant it was only a matter of time before Darius Reznikov (formerly Comescu) reappeared and crossed paths with Callen. Since S10 ‘No More Secrets’, there has been no mention of him and Callen has seemingly buried his emotions about events in Cuba, when he buried his father. Similarly with Anna, although her return has been foreshadowed since episode 11 ‘Answers’, when Sam forced Callen to confront his feelings for her. He has now been searching fruitlessly and is about to give up when she walks into the Squid and Dagger after hours. It is hardly a reunion of two estranged lovers as Anna is all business, working with Joelle and the CIA. Anna reveals she’s been tracking Darius as part of her task and that he’s reverted to his birth name of Comescu. The team locate Darius at a murder scene and arrest him, only to discover he’s been following a human trafficking network in an effort to find his fiancé who’s been abducted by them. 

With Anna setting his expectations, it is unsurprising that Callen has a problem with Darius, and it should be noted this problem is not reciprocal. When he arrests Darius, the latter speaks to him in Russian, calling him brother to which Callen replies (in English) that he is not his brother. Callen clearly feels no connection to the man his father raised as his own. The resentment comes to the fore during the interrogation, when Callen states Darius had the life meant for him. However he has the capacity to realise that Darius was also taken from the life he was supposed to lead, although there is no empathy. 

“You had the childhood that I never had. My life was supposed to be different. But then again, so was yours.”

The life of a Comescu means violence, corruption, people trafficking and other criminal enterprises. It’s this very point Darius makes, that by assuming his birth name he was able to open doors in to the criminal underground in Europe that the name Reznikov never could. This is a return to the central and recurring theme of the show - identity. Mostly this revolves around Callen and as the seasons progressed he has uncovered his past and found his family but he is still finding himself. Darius is in a similar predicament as noted by Hetty to Callen. The nature versus nurture theme was recently visited in ‘Mother’ with Akhos and by extension, Callen.

"When I found him, he was struggling. Torn between the man he was born to be, and the man your father raised him to be."

It is well established that Callen does not trust easily. He resolutely refuses Darius’ assistance, demanding information pertinent to him and Sam infiltrating the human auction, which Darius refuses unless he also attends. In this battle of wills, Callen is in the position of power and looks set to win. Trust is an issue raised again by Anna. Their business-driven reunion and Anna’s focus on her mission places her at odds with Callen, causes them to exchange harsh words. Callen compares Anna to Joelle, and Anna retorts that Joelle was right, Callen doesn't trust women. The apologies come later, when she acknowledges that Callen does trust her (he let her escape as a fugitive). The conflict between the pair is resolved amicably however it takes Hetty (shaking her head as she observed Callen’s interrogation of Darius), to manipulate Callen in to working with Darius. It’s key to remember that Nikita raised Darius and in Cuba, trusted him to find Callen whilst he lay shot. And Hetty trusted Darius with the Cuba mission in the first instance. The problem is Callen, and it is a credit to his character that he does not allow bitterness or jealousy to surface, although it clearly plays on his subconscious mind. He is drugged with a hallucinogenic during a fight and has a vision he’s on the beach, watching Darius execute his mother. Shortly after he aims a gun at Darius who’s trying to comfort his fiancé Mina, again seeing Darius shoot his mother as he fires a kill shot to the unseen bad guy in the doorway behind Darius.

The hallucinogenic drugging of Callen was an interesting technique which was a touch underplayed. It would have been good to see the after effects of the drugs, a conversation between a slightly confused Callen and Darius, leading to a ‘detente’. Generally ‘The Circle’ would have benefitted from playing out over two episodes, (as many of the character driven narratives should). It would have allowed for more development of Darius and how he reconciled his adoptive father murdering his own parents, his own violent nature - and why there was a blood spattered cheese-grater lying next to the head of a man he killed! There was also a missed opportunity to show the contrast between Darius and Callen in terms of their romantic relationships. Darius can find love and peace, yet Callen has a constant struggle. Did Nikita tell Darius about Callen’s early years? Did he experience guilt about abandoning his two children? Did he share with Darius details about his birth son as provided by Michael Reinhardt (S5E04 Reznikov, N)? Unfortunately these ‘nice-to-haves’ don't fit in to a 43 minute episode and are mostly likely relegated to the world of fan-fiction.

It is the same with Anna. The one time they start a meaningful discussion, Eric interrupts, which is in keeping with Callen’s character. He does not talk about his emotions, his relationships or his private life, choosing to answer any questions obliquely, for example Kensi’s question at the start, about whether he really wants Hetty’s job. Recent situations and conversations (Hetty in ‘Mother’, Sam in ‘Answers’) has forced him to be a bit more honest with himself, instead of being blasé or burying his feelings. At the end, Callen tells the team that he hasn’t seen Anna since the previous night and she only returned for the mission. He’s very nonchalant about moving on and this is somewhat believable as Anna does not appear in the latter half of the episode. Sam is either disappointed or suspicious (hard to tell) but Kensi and Deeks suck up Callen’s little white lie (Kensi having witnessed their earlier harsh words). This made the very final scene where to see Anna opening Callen’s door from the inside (clad only in one of his shirts, with the screen fading to black as they kiss), even more sweet and heart-warming. There are happy endings for Callen (at least at this particular moment).

Outside the Darius storyline, there are some lovely continuity touches with Sam dropping in to the conversation that he has a dinner date with Katherine, Deeks referencing Hetty's "clandestine meetings in cemeteries with sociopathic poets" and reading Anna her rights (she’s still a fugitive) when he first sees her in Ops. Just as amusing was Nell and Eric's conversation detailing the fate of the certain Comescus, who are all deceased by Callen's hand. There are also several conversations about the future of the team, with Sam and Callen disagreeing on potential candidates. Callen dismisses someone who needs the job to 'find himself', somewhat ironically as pointed out by Sam. This again comes full circle as the episode concludes, when Callen hands Sam more possible recruits. The show is managing expectations on change. It will happen, the question is when? Character-wise, Kensi is also changing. During this season she has become much more sensitive to the human aspect of cases, more emotionally connected (not that she was cold before). Her desire for motherhood is affecting her in many ways, although she does counter this with a friendly slap to Callen’s arm when he says he’s letting Anna go.

Episode writer Andrew Bartels specialises in Callen episodes, demonstrating an in-depth understanding of his character and extracting a mixture of painful emotions and moments of happiness. His Callen-centred credits include The Grey Man and Humbug (S6), Glasnost (S8), Fool Me Twice, Warrior of Peace (S9), The Prince, The One That Got Away and No More Secrets (S10). The Circle provides a cathartic release for Callen, assisted by Hetty forcing him to work with Darius in an attempt to break the circle of revenge between the Callens and the Comecsus. Darius has already attempted to connect with Callen by calling him brother and Grisha, when trying to enlist his assistance to find Mina. Without Hetty’s intervention, Callen would not have allowed Darius to take part in the investigate and had the team failed, Darius would most likely have blamed Callen and the blood feud would have continued. Darius has now defected and will resettle with Mina, turning over information on Russian intelligence to the CIA. It remains to be seen whether Darius will make another appearance. It seems probable they will go their separate ways as there may not be much more to tap into - but the door remains. The future of Callen and Anna, on the other hand, is once again looking rosy and bound to be explored later this season.

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