NCIS: Los Angeles Season 12 Episode 13 Review

Red Rover, Red Rover is a children's game where one team calls for a member of the other team to come over and try to break through their ranks. If caught, they then form part of the opposition team and the game starts again. It is a very apt title for an episode in which Katya calls for Anna to be sent to her although in this version, the game is much more complex and deadly. Red Rover is a continuation of the last episode Can't Take My Eyes Off You, which aired a month ago. The obligatory recap serves as a reminder that Kapitan Gonchgarov was poisoned and Callen was accused of being a Russian asset by DOJ Special Agent Carlson. Callen later found Anna working with the Russian FSB agents to find Katya, who faked a defection, shot and kidnapped Joelle. Anna was arrested and Joelle's severed finger delivered to Callen. It is quite the recap and the race is on to rescue Joelle, make sure Arkady is safe and to apprehend Katya.

Andrew Bartels has secured his place as one of the show's best writers, his speciality being Callen-centred episodes whilst also ensuring the team are well represented. He penned 'The One That Got Away', which introduced Katya and her prison break with Anna and so his involvement in further developing this storyline is a natural evolution. From the outset, the stakes are set high and tension is created. Joelle is being held captive - presumably by Katya, wearing a full-on head mask and using a voice changer - she is defiant, brave and in pain. Anna is questioned by the relentless DOJ Agent Carlson, and Callen is monitoring from the boatshed, having sent Kensi, Deeks, Fatima and Rountree to Arkady's house. Most cases take place during daylight hours, so a night operation automatically brings its own excitement. The reduced the visibility, the cutting between the boatshed and the two sets of partners, combined with the loud music playing at Arkady's and the increasing pile of dead bodyguards heightens the tension. The intensity is broke with several comments that the team could find Arkady entertaining several women, or he’ll be in bondage gear, citing a spell in therapy once they find him. There would be an uproar if Arkady had been killed off and thankfully he is found in his panic room, surrounded by cases of vodka. The revelation of the season is made in the calmness of the morning when Arkady says to Deeks that he and Roberta Deeks have been 'zooming' each other. The fun factor of those two together is deserving of its own episode!

Relationships are at the heart of the episode, predominantly Callen and Anna, in addition to the usual partnerships. Trust is also key. Anna trusts Callen implicitly with whatever he has planned, really the least she could do after shutting him out, even if it was to keep him safe. Fatima and Rountree have developed a great bond in their first season as partners, easily lifting each other's spirits, for example in the aftermath in ops, when they talk of a relaxing holiday without any hint of flirting or romance. Outside of Callen and Anna, Kensi has important scenes with Deeks and later Nell. The former conversation takes place in their parked car outside the mission - something Callen was unwilling and unable to offer Anna. In a tidy and natural way, she shifts the conversation round to Kessler, her psycho stalker from mid-season. She admits he's in her head and agrees with Anna's course of action, hunting down her adversary. Deeks of course agrees (it is very well established that he would kill to save a woman, particularly Kensi), and is used as light comic relief after Kensi reminds him he cannot drag Kessler back to prison as he was pardoned. Deeks clarifies that he meant some black site such North Korea and Azkaban, the Harry Potter reference breaking the episode's building tension. Kessler has only been mentioned in the episode following Raising The Dead (S12E05) and the update on Kensi's state of mind is a timely reminder there is yet another threat looming and that he may well return before the season ends.
Kensi's other key conversation is with Nell. The pair have a great friendship that has lasted numerous seasons and now Kensi is supporting Nell who is clearly out of her depth in her temporary role as Operations Manager. Ignoring the Nell of early seasons, she doesn't cope well with pressure or stress and has developed an unhealthy dose of self doubt. She has no leads to offer Callen or the team and seemed on the verge of tears when she admits this. She blames Hetty for manipulating her into the position and once again is having a crisis of confidence. It is unclear what she was looking for when talking with Kensi, but stops Kensi in her tracks when she starts to give a pep talk. It seems that Nell actually needed to hear that type of speech to remind her that she is capable and Hetty (and the team) believe in her.

Deeply personal situations equals a rogue Callen and Sam is already concerned when Callen fails to contact him about Joelle's severed finger and the search of Arkady's house. Callen’s reasons were sound, that Sam was dealing with parental responsibilities. Some of Sam’s words felt out of place as Callen readily involved the rest of the team. Sam wanted to be there for him, as partners, best friends and brothers, a point which almost bypasses Callen, until Sam repeats himself, making Callen listen. They work better together, bouncing thoughts and ideas off each other as demonstrated when they talk through events and arrive at correct conclusions about Katya.

Joelle and Anna have more than just Callen in common. They've worked together on ops over recent seasons and Joelle revealed the threat of Katya to Anna, even asking her to consult on her defection. Anna has no qualms about offering herself in exchange to save Jo's life, trusting Callen and the team to save her. She also finally trusted herself to open up and reveal her secrets to Callen. Unfortunately this was at the most inopportune moment, when they are together in his car, waiting for the exchange. Callen gently helps Anna fix her button-cam which is interpreted as a signal for intimacy, a chance to talk off-comms and to finally be honest. His refusal is reflective of Anna's poor timing and also that he's still angry. He refuses to make eye contact with her and deliberately changes the subject to the case at hand. He hands her the cell phone whilst talking and staring straight, only looking at Anna once she's left the car. There are still many question marks about Callen and Anna's relationship, and no answers are provided in this episode but the strength of Callen’s feelings for Anna are clearly on display. He is desperate to find her, distraught and angry when he believes she was in the van which exploded, and he later slams his palms on his car in frustration when he realises they’ve lost her.

The tension increases during the second half of the episode, with the exchange of Anna and Joelle, and the subsequent events. Half the team search for Anna while Sam focuses on saving Joelle who is clad in a suicide vest. The quick edits convey the race against time Sam faces as he straps her leg from her most recent gun shot. Joelle is intent on being the hero and saving those around her, including Sam who continues trying to save her, ops are still trying to find Anna and Katya, Rountree is running with equipment for Sam (as the food truck is too slow). The quick succession of scenes add to the desperation the characters are experiencing, culminating in Sam dislocating Jo's arm to free her from the suicide vest before Rountree throws it under the picnic table, with a tantalising delay before it explodes.

Several questions are answered among the drama, with key conversations taking place during the first half of the episode, including who accused Callen of being a Russian asset. Katya couldn’t get to Callen directly so attempted to eliminate him as an obstacle by selling him as a spy, all with verifiable intelligence. The revealing scene is not a confrontation but the shots demonstrate a distinct shift in power. Carlson tells her side of the story whilst seated at the table, readily admitting she was duped, with Sam and Callen standing. The one saving grace was Joelle fought hard to deny Callen was a Russian spy, which was blatantly ignored. There is also a direct link to Russia, Russia, Russia and Hetty's mission to find a Russian asset high in the echelons of the US intelligence community, the very reason why Carlson reluctantly trusts NCIS over the CIA, supported by Anna believing someone is leaking information to Katya, allowing her to remain one step ahead.
Red Rover, Red Rover is a deceptively dark episode and ends on a rather disheartening note. Joelle is desperate to save the lives of others and tries to force Sam to leave her to die with the suicide vest. Sam of course refuses and amid the desperation of trying to remove the vest, they manage to talk about Kamran. Both try to be heroes and Sam succeeds, removing the vest by dislocating Joelle’s shoulder. Katya only speaks with an electronic voice changer and when Callen challenges this, she states her voice was taken from her when she was sent back to Russia, inferring her tongue was cut out as punishment. The team has no leads, something which rarely occurs and the disbelief is verbalised by Deeks, who promised Arkady that Anna would be safe and that the team are supposed to be better than this. After the tension and excitement, there is quiet and disappointment. This is felt most keenly when Callen visits Joelle in hospital, the doctor confirming Joelle has lost her leg from the two bullet wounds sustained. Joelle may not be part of the team but her intrinsic connections leave Callen shocked. It’s been a long time since a recurring (or main) character has endured such an injury.

Questions may have been answered here but many more are posed, mostly surrounding Anna. She is held in the same container as Joelle by two Russian women she fails to recognise. The presence of accomplices answers the question of how Katya could take out the CIA offices last week and Arkady’s numerous bodyguards. They converse in Russian and reference an academy they attended. Was this one of the secrets Anna was going to tell Callen? The women also say Katya is securing insurance so Anna doesn't try anything stupid. Who or what will this be? More secrets? The Russian plot continues in The Noble Maidens, written by showrunner and writer of Russia, Russia, Russia and has a high standard to maintain.

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