NCIS: Los Angeles S11E18 Review

Andrew Bartels is one of NCIS: Los Angeles' best writers. His stories are character driven, meaning they connect and resonate with the viewer, regardless of whether they revolve around the established team or a guest. Bartels seems to have a favourite character and most of his episodes feature Callen, pushing his story forward with his family and quite often causing him emotional conflict and pain. Sometimes, such focus on characters can mean the case of the week is sidelined and is almost a distraction. In this week's instalment by Bartels, he keeps the case at the forefront and entwines the personal side story of Anna and Callen, illustrating how the personal and professional can easily blend to form a coherent and engaging episode.

The case of the week focused on locating a Defence Intelligence Agency officer named Anderson, who was investigating UFO sightings. UFOs - or as they are apparently now known as UAPs  -(unidentified aerial phenomenon), can go one of two ways: either weird, whacky and over the top, or with a touch of humour and a degree of scepticism. Thankfully Bartels takes us down the second route and allows Eric Beale to get a little excited about UFOs but thankfully does not trip over in to the idiotic. The idea of unidentified flying objects being aliens is quickly shot down by DIA Agent Sarah Raines (last seen in NCIS 13 years ago as DiNozzo's girlfriend and daughter of an arms dealer). She is suitable shifty and clues about her character start early when she refuses Eric access her offices to investigate potential security breaches, before she’s cut down to size by Sam and Callen.  She does of course she turn out to be the villain, driven by avarice and selling new US technology to the Chinese. 

The unknown is 'out there' enough for Deeks to deliberately embrace the possibility of alien abduction, just to wind up Kensi. Their partnership banter is on fine form and has not taken a hit now they are married. Anderson's home is full of literature and notice boards of maps featuring UFO sightings, and the clocks are mysteriously thirty seven minutes out of sync with the actual time, an event which occurred in the early hours of the morning. Again the alien angle is a deliberate misdirect when Kensi discovers an outside clock with the correct time. In a lovely nod towards the believers (and Eric), other-worldliness returns at the end when Nell enhances a surveillance image containing a photo stolen from UFO fanatic Jason Ward. All that is missing is the X-Files music as the pair gaze in amazement at an image conveniently hidden by their bodies. 

There are some unfamiliar camera shots when Sam and Callen are interrogating Jason Ward, with a a number of close ups of his face and mouth, emphasising his state of mind and depth of his belief in UFOs.  Sam and Callen continue to be filmed as usual, meaning they remain framed as expected. The action scenes jump between frustrating and fun. Some rather close tailing by Kensi leads to a car chase when they’re spotted and is intercut with scenes of Sam and Callen’s one on one fights with more bad guys, the fast beat of the music spanning all shots and adding to the intensity.  In two separate fights, Sam takes down the bad guys by using a table. Once was fun and the second time was laugh out loud funny, particularly when Callen comment as such. As Sam says after each occurrence, he could have shot him...

Secondary to the case is the plight of Anna Kolcheck and it is a credit to Bartels that her plight did not detract from the team’s investigations. She discussed her fugitive status with Callen at the start, commenting that after a month confined to Callen’s lodging she was going stir crazy - quite uncanny timing given that today much of the world's population is on some kind of lockdown due to Coronavirus. They have a curious relationship and although it’s clear they care deeply for each other neither of them know how to actually have a romantic relationship. Kensi and Deeks' communication issues are a non-starter compared to Callen and Anna. They ghosted each other when Anna started at the ATF, Anna pushed Callen away after she shot and killed Sokolov, she told him to tell the truth and then blamed him for her sentence. Callen revealed to Arkady he ‘cares deeply’ for Anna, when she was hospitalised in prison. Anna risked her life to help lead Callen to his father, becoming a fugitive while assisting Joelle and the CIA. Callen shot repeatedly at the car she was travelling in, causing it to crash but shortly after allowed her to escape. Earlier this season Anna risked arrest by warning Callen about Darius Reznikov, and now Callen is risking his career and freedom by harbouring her.  They have a tumultuous relationship!

Now she can no longer wait a few weeks for the CIA to decide whether to expunge her criminal record and instead makes a farewell call to her father Arkady and gets herself arrested.  At breakfast she had hinted at her restlessness and was overtly negative and pessimistic, contrasting with an optimistic Callen. It really makes no sense for Anna to hand herself in, apart from revealing that she may well be a touch unstable. She is used to being on her own and not part of a team and much was made of this during her early appearances. On the flip side, Callen has moved away from his lone wolf tendencies over the seasons although he still reverts back to type when things get too personal. Once again Anna is pushing Callen away citing reasons of protecting him, despite him earlier stating he would stand by his decision (to hide her) and would stand by her, and they confront each other in the LAPD interrogation room. Callen also confronts Assistant US Attorney Alan Williams who interrupts them, before Williams states he’s releasing Anna as there is no warrant for her arrest or a record of her incarceration.

The closing scenes in the Squid and Dagger are a mixture of emotions. There is relief Anna is now a free woman and Kensi and Deeks reveal the clues that confirmed Callen was hiding Anna in his flat.  
Arkady makes his debut in the bar, offering to buy “Wodka” for everyone and the mood is light-hearted. It is a contrast to the earlier scenes between Anna and her father when she sat inside a bar, leaning against the same window that Arkady was sitting outside. Callen is puzzled about who removed all trace of Anna’s warrant and cut it so fine. Some of the mystery is revealed at the end.  AUSA Williams and a colleague are staking out the Squid & Dagger, placing Anna under surveillance to see if Katya (Anna's cellmate who was really a Russian spy working for Pavol Volkov). Another storyline which is setting up for a future episode. 

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