NCIS: Los Angeles S12E01 Review


NCIS: Los Angeles returned to the screens for its twelfth season and thankfully there was no reference at all to the global pandemic which caused the previous season to end prematurely.  There was not a face mask in sight and with the team split into small groups, partnerships or individuals, the need for social distancing is removed.  And in order to maintain normality, there is even physical contact!  The season premiere delivers some much needed escapism from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Season twelve has the promise of a fresh start, notably with an opening credit sequence that includes newest recruits Devin Rountree and Fatima Namazi.  An undefined period of time has passed and questions which were a hangover from last season are answered early on in the episode.  Intelligence Analyst Nell Jones, was last seen attempting to resign, with Hetty persuading her to take an extended period of leave to look after her seriously ill mother.  The episode opens with her returning to an empty HQ having been summoned by Hetty, who of course is absent. It turns out she’s calling in a favour whilst in an undisclosed war zone and under attack, requesting Nell manages the team’s investigation of a missing Russian bomber ‘The Bear’, which has disappeared on a training mission after flying close to US airspace. The scene also covers off Nell’s personal situation as Hetty offers her condolences after the passing of her mother, which again opens the door for Nell to return to NCIS and to potentially step in to Hetty’s shoes on a more permanent basis.  The team is also happy to defer to Nell; there is no resistance from Callen for example, who was (somewhat reluctantly) moving towards assuming the role of Operations Manager.  The identity of Hetty’s replacement within NCIS is still not confirmed and will continue to play out in future episodes.

Devin Rountree’s entrance to the bullpen enables Kensi and Deeks to correct Nell’s greeting from FBI to NCIS Special Agent, as he’s completed the FLETC training and joined the team permanently. In the same scene, Nell asks after Eric’s whereabouts. Clearly their reversion to a more casual relationship has led to a non-communication situation. In a reference to last season’s ‘Kill Beale Vol. 1’, Eric has taken an extended vacation to Tokyo to further the technical developments from the start up company in San Francisco.  Could this be an early seed sown for a vol. 2?  And finally, Fatima Namazi is ably supporting the team from Ops (and later, in the field)  - the team is all set to search for the missing Russian bomber. 

Of course the presence of Russians can only mean one thing; the return of everyone’s favourite former KGB Agent, Arkady Kolcheck.  His scenes are as chaotically amusing as always, and he meets Kensi and Deeks in the neutral location of their bar, another familiar setting.  It seems his shaved hair and vodka drinking will assist him in triathlon training...His interaction with Kensi and Deeks means there is no opportunity to refer to his daughter Anna’s relationship with Callen; the episode remains firmly focused on the case in hand.  Another bonus of an episode featuring Russians is that Callen gets to introduce himself using is Russian name (omitting his American surname), as he attempts to connect with the airmen who’ve barricaded themselves in the bomber, using his mother tongue.  

The humour continues with various sets of partner banter. There is the return of Homeless Artie who interacts with Rountree during a stakeout. The latter seems unsure what to make of Deeks’ oddball routine. Callen and Sam spark off each other, with Sam treating him like a slightly irresponsible younger brother.  A fond ‘love you’ between them both underlines their tight bond and the closeness of their relationship.  Even Fatima gets in on the act, saving Rountree from a Russian, telling him not to pick on the new guy.

There is no life or death cliff-hanger to resolve and instead, a fair amount of exposition to set the scene for various characters, both of which contribute to the slower pacing of ‘The Bear’.  The episode focuses more on the investigative side, with the team attempting to locate the plane. There is some action, when Callen and Sam are under fire from the plane’s tail gun, most of the team are caught in a gunfight between the Russian group who left the plane, and of course there is the obligatory explosion at the end. It seems the compromise for Callen to persuade the two remaining Russian airmen to leave the plane, was to allow them to blow it up. There were some interesting talking points as the team brainstormed ideas as to why the plane had disappeared, and what the end game might be.  Despite ‘The Bear’ being a cold war relic, the possibilities and repercussions of it carrying and deploying a nuclear bomb are explored and discarded in favour of the airmen themselves being the weapon, disappearing as sleeper agents inside the US to instigate a cyber attack. When Sam tracks the missing airmen he discovers they’re firing on each other, cementing another theory that at least one of them desperately wanted to defect.

The episode’s ending came across as a touch abrupt, with Callen apparently making friends with the Russians from the plane and planning to take them for fish tacos.  ‘The Bear’ never fully explained which of the Russian’s drugged the pilot or confirmed whether one of them wanted to defect and why, or if one of them just went mad or rogue.  At the end of the day, these details are unimportant. What is key is the welcome return of such a familiar show, and with a team who are now like family. ‘The Bear’ was a much needed return to a pre-COVID-19 reality, an hour’s worth of escapism entertainment.

A Virtual Scrawl

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