NCIS: Los Angeles S12E12 Review

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You follows in the footsteps of the previous episode, Russia, Russia, Russia and ironically features many more Russians, than the actual Russia x 3 episode!  Last time, Callen was accused by DOJ Agent Carlson of being a Russian asset, the team concocted a plan which resulted in Russian defector Kapitan Gonchgarov fighting for his life, after being poisoned by Russian socialite Zasha Gagarin.  The episode concluded with a shady looking Callen, resplendent in dark hoodie, threatening Zasha in a dark alley and for all intents and purposes, appearing to be the Russian asset he was earlier accused of being.  Rather than directly continuing with this tantalizing plot, another Russian angle is followed, namely that of Callen’s AWOL girlfriend, Anna Kolcheck.  The ‘previously on NCIS: Los Angeles’ reminded viewers that Anna remained in Cuba with Callen’s ex-girlfriend Joelle, after the mission to infiltrate Katya Mironova (AKA Kate Miller’s) inner circle went sideways.  Once again the cold open features Callen, this time focusing on the black SUV and it’s Russian occupants surveilling Callen, who’s reading a newspaper in a cafe. Since Callen almost caught his tail at the start of the last episode, it is obvious he’s now setting his own trap, and a moment of distraction and their subject has disappeared. 

But while the focus is on Callen, writer Lee A. Carlisle manages to make this very much a team episode, bringing in the different personal struggles the original field agents are experiencing. Nell has miraculously materialised after her disappearance her colleagues ignored. Again no explanation is given as to where she has been or why - she is clearly following in Hetty’s footsteps!  And talking of Hetty, she may not actually be seen in this episode but her presence is clearly felt as she sends Nell a coded message, leading the team to a warehouse and warning them they’re in danger from events which will unfold that day.  Since the day started with Callen apprehending, then releasing the Russian (Maksim Myshkin) who’s been tailing him, the logical conclusion is this unspecified danger is connected. Hetty of course, is never wrong and the team separate, with Roundhouse tailing Myshkin while Callen digs deeper, and Deeks joining Sam to investigate the warehouse. 

Kensi has always been a strong character both mentally and physically. As the only female field agent for many seasons she has endured more than her fair share of trauma. But as a woman she is now dealing with her desire and inability to fall pregnant naturally. This already preys on her mind and her and Deeks have now embarked on their IVF journey, starting with hormone therapy in the form of injections. This is an emotive subject for many women and when Kensi later confides in Nell, she lays out the obstacles she will have to face, including mood swings. She has just started an emotional rollercoaster ride which is already affecting her job which makes it a perfectly legitimate storyline, and so much better than sweeping the IVF journey into a) they start to b) Kensi falls pregnant.  Deeks supports her and there is a throwback to the season 3 crossover to Hawaii 5-0 and needles, when he reluctantly injects Kensi. The gentle humour is replaced with seriousness when Kensi’s dizziness means she remains in Ops rather than risk not having her husband’s back in the field. It is reassuring she is comfortable enough with her body signals to know the side effects have passed and she rejoins the team in time for the epic gunfight.

Likewise, Sam’s personal life is also shown. He is facing new parenting challenges with his daughter Kamran. He’s kept her out of the academy and learning remotely, living with her father on his boat. Although Sam just wants to keep her safe, his rules and actions are a little controlling and Kam almost rebels until her boyfriend Logan, talks sense into her. Again there are references to comments and characters in previous episodes. Kam compares Sam’s snoring to that of Otis the sea lion and Logan asks permission to come onboard the boat. Several episodes ago Sam told Callen off for (deliberately) just venturing on deck and not asking permission. Kam has already demonstrated she is strong and determined, and quite rightly gently knocks down Logan when he refers to her as a princess that needs saving.  The biggest challenge for Sam will be to accept his teenage daughter is developing different aspirations, and he leaves the scene of the gunfight early, to speak with her.

Sam and Deeks’ partnership at the warehouse allows them to further develop their relationship and respect, with Sam explicitly commenting on this.  Deeks may have Kensi’s hormone therapy on his mind but he reads Sam’s worries and he opens up about his parenting concerns with Kamran. In typical Deeks style, there is a wordy story with a moral which Sam takes on board.  Later, they bounce off each other whilst analyzing what DOJ Agent Carlson does not say, when she supersedes the CIAs jurisdiction at the warehouse.  Carlson’s reference to them as the “SEAL” and the “hyphenate” was a fun shout out to the previous episode.  

Joelle Taylor is intrinsically tied in with the lives of both Callen and Anna, more so with the latter. Even last season, Anna was working with Joelle, hunting down Darius Reznikov among others and turning up unexpectedly to warn Callen he was in town and a likely threat (S11E15 The Circle).  She also persuaded Anna to take part in the op to get close to Katya in prison. It makes sense that Katya has also focused her wrath on Jo.  Anna’s elaborate lie to cover her disappearance was to give herself space to think, formulate a plan and to keep Callen safe. This is very much in keeping with her character - remember she snuck back into the States last season (without telling Jo), to warn Callen about Darius. What is curious is that she did not think of the consequences - that Callen might visit her, given their separation. Her radio silence is another way of keeping Callen at arm’s length, similar to when she ordered him to stay away when she was in jail. She wants to keep him safe, (after all Callen would definitely involve himself if he knew the details), but Anna is not easing his deeply ingrained trust and abandonment issues.  The pain is more deeply felt when Anna takes a call from her father, whereas Callen deliberately avoided contact with his family due to the potential threat from the tail, for which Anna was also responsible - to make sure no harm befell him. Unfortunately she failed to remember he’s a highly skilled agent who easily spots tails.  This is made worse by the sheer incompetence of Myshkin, the FSB agent tasked with following Callen. He failed to spot the agent was playing him, was caught and spewed out ridiculous excuses - which at least made Callen chuckle. Anna also admits she once had a personal relationship with Myshkin. These are big stumbling blocks to overcome, if they decide to continue their romance. A risk to this is Anna’s life, as Myshkin and his team turn on Anna when their orders change, using Anna as bait to draw Katya out so they can assassinate her. There are hints that all might work out; Anna’s smirk when Callen puts her in handcuffs and in the interrogation room, they have an unspoken moment when she passes Callen her cell.  

After her (deliberately) failed attempt to turn herself in, Russia now want their rogue agent dead. This leads in to what is arguably the best scene in the episode. During the hand off, and ensuing gunfight between NCIS and the FSB agents, Katya has orchestrated the warehouse tannoy to blast Frankie Valli’s ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, which morphs into a studio version. The upbeat tempo of the chorus works fantastically with the gun fire from all sides and lends to the energy of the scene. All four original field agents are present, albeit not in the same shot, adding to the team feel of the episode. 

The episode closes out with Callen receiving a package containing Joelle’s severed finger, and a voice message on a burn phone; Katya wants Anna in exchange for Joelle. This will be picked up in the next episode ‘Red Rover, Red Rover’, which is a children’s game where one team calls for one person on the other side to try and break through their ranks. Can’t Take My Eyes of You is not a bad episode, but it does pale in comparison to Russia, Russia, Russia. The blending of the personal and professional works for all characters and the dialogue is on point. Maybe it’s the volume of characters, with Fatima, Rountree and Nell all present, and no explanation provided as to why Nell was previous absent. There are also questions around Anna and her actions. The explanations are not overly plausible, particularly with her underselling Callen’s capabilities (spotting tails) and his feelings for her (visiting her only to find no trace of Anna or the charity). The FSB agents also seem to be second rate, certainly not of the level usually portrayed. There is also no reference to the huge cliff-hanger from Russia, Russia, Russia. Is Callen undercover as a double agent? And does this have any connection to Katya? More is promised next time and Red Rover, Red Rover is tantalizingly written by Andrew Bartels, who has a successful backlog of Callen, Anna and Joelle centered episodes.

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