NCIS: Los Angeles S13E01 Review


Season 12 was a funny old season, constrained by the conditions imposed by a global pandemic which at first struggled to allow NCISLA to form that close, familial feel and personal interactions between all characters. Gone were the bull pen scenes during the opening, and there were no more bar scenes with the team unwinding at the end. The show soldiered through and found it's stride again as the season progressed, particularly with the Russian arc. The Russian's again being prevalent in the finale, albeit on a much lighter note, with the team in a reasonably happy place (just in case it wasn't renewed). RIP Ravil Isyanov (Kirkin) who passed away in real life at the end of September.

There may not have been a cliffhanger to build on during the season premiere but there were plenty of threads tantalisingly left and ongoing storylines to ensure continuity, both of which are character driven. Kensi and Deeks are continuing on their quest to start a family. They've only been trying to conceive for a few years and during that time have started the expensive IVF journey, which they moved on from and are now exploring adoption. Callen is continuing his quest to follow up from both Arkady's and Kilbride's direct comments that Hetty made and mentored him from a young child, something of which he has no recollection and has vehemently denied. Character changes are also afoot. Gone are both Nell and Eric, off to seek a life away from OSP and to be honest, their presence was not missed. Maybe this is due to how whacky and eccentric Eric had become in recent seasons, and how Nell had regressed from a super-assertive and confident analyst, to someone who constantly doubted her abilities. Instead for the most part this week, Agent Fatima Namazi was in Ops, supporting Callen in his request to illegally hack and post a video on Facebook. Hetty was also present during the opener, sparring with the new permanent character of Retired Admiral Kilbride who is now overseeing the Los Angeles team. And of course there was the return of the boomerang-like Joelle Taylor (Callen's ex) and Zacha Gagarin (Callen's Russian asset). Subject 17 is most definitely all about Callen.

The episode opens with Callen taking down the security system for the Archive Room. This sends an alert to Hetty's cellphone - she is still in Ops and looks concerned, but takes no action. Callen continues to pick the filing cabinet lock to access confidential files, all with a title 'Subject' followed by a number. He stops at Subject 17, scrutinising the data contained within, which references a Caucasian male, born 1976 (more on this later), whose family are deceased. Callen has clashed with Hetty before about his past, initially early in season 3 when she reveals she was his mother's CIA handler and most notably in season 4, Raven & The Swans. Both provide crucial pieces of information which Callen either never though applied to him or never made a connection. S03E04 Deadline, Hetty revealed she got him out of the orphanage and into every foster home. He was a challenging child and she was determined to find him a family, referenced in Callen's flashback in the S12 finale. At the end of season 3, Callen realises Hunter was an orphan, raised by Hetty but it isn't until S04E22 Raven & The Swans that he discovers more agents recruited by Hetty were orphans (Sullivan, Grace Stephens), with the latter's background more similar to his (the comment from Grace that Hetty steered her on the right path when she was in trouble with the law as a teenager). The led to a confrontation between Callen and Hetty, yet there is no acknowledge from Hetty, or realisation from Callen, that she's groomed Callen from childhood. It is the statement from Arkady in S12E14 The Noble Maidens, that Hetty's orphans programme was arguably tougher than the Russian school, which Callen should know as he was one of them, coupled with Kilbride stating that Callen was 'made' by Hetty, whereas the rest of the team just work for her. 

Finding the file which contains his date of birth is the trigger for a variety of conversations and confrontations, firstly with Sam, who tries to minimise the importance of it, even though Callen points out his birthday - more of this later...Sam also tries to dissuade Callen from going down that rabbit hole as he might not like what he finds, and may get lost. This sounds like a precursor for later episodes, particularly with Sam also referencing that Callen's had more hard hitting life events in the last few years than most. Callen's mental health is seldom mentioned, whereas all the others have been shown struggling. Hopefully this will also play out later, undoubtedly with more drama and angst first, and maybe a long over due session with long-time absent Operational Psychologist Nate Getz. Callen clashes with Kilbride as he demands answers over the files and Hetty, Kilbride threatening to end his career (and life!) if he continues his insubordinate tone. It seems Kilbride will be tougher than Granger, although it doesn't usually stop Callen and his authority issues. The final confrontation is with Hetty and in a scene reminiscent of Raven & The Swans, he forces Hetty to admit that he is Subject 17. An untimely interruption from Fatima (in the style of Nell) halts the conversation. Despite the case, Callen continues to mull on this newly found information, still having no recollection of being subject to early childhood screening (which he likened to his CIA intelligence tests), but a memory is triggered of a test, apparently connected to dyslexia; the flashback showing Callen was a young boy piecing together items to form the shape of a gun.

In contrast, Deeks and Kensi are looking to adopt, now their baby-making plans have hit a dead end. Foreshadowing Callen and Hetty's story, Kensi asks Hetty to be their reference for adoption, and offer which she declines, citing how different the parenting world is, and suggests she can ask SECNAV or the NCIS Director instead, as they would carry more clout. In actuality, and in the forthcoming light of Hetty's 'orphan' programme, it certainly makes sense that she distances herself from endorsing Kensi and Deeks journey to adopt. The damage caused could be irreparable not only to her relationship with Callen, but to the future family of two of her agents. Of course this is a topic which permeates the episode. Huge, all encompassing subjects such as wedding planning and family planning do have a tendency to take over the lives of those concerned, and Kensi and Deeks are no exception. And as per season 6, they are 'all in' - apparently in all aspects of their relationship. There are feelings of de ja vu with this storyline, however as with Callen's past resurfacing, both are unfinished and the twists and turns which follow both narratives will clearly impact the personal and professional for all characters involved.

The case itself sees the return of Joelle and all of the associated drama that her storylines always entail. It seems she has parted ways with the CIA and is on her own private mission of revenge to kill Katya in retribution for her losing her leg and her finger. This ensures that Katya remains in the forefront as a continuing enemy of the team, ripe for either a long overdue physical return or for future mentions. Unfortunately there is a glaringly inaccurate comment stating Joelle lost her family because of Katya. Erm, no. Remember when Callen and Sam faked her death due to the 'syndicate' back in S09E09 Fool Me Twice? And once it was safe for her to return to her family, she chose to walk away and remain dead to them (S10E03 The Prince). Jo was last see last season, embittered by her desire for revenge with Callen unable to reach her through kindness. She is now fully out of control, governed by her emotions and making rash mistakes; she's tailed to the boatshed and later runs off in to the warehouse where she's captured. Callen too is more emotional, having to deal with the subject 17 revelations however he turns to an emotionless state. He coldly threatens to tell Jo's family she's still alive and at the end, it is clear he would have followed through on his threat. He also continues to use Zasha. She may not longer be his Russian asset with her cover now blown, but he orders her to Syria to tail Hetty, knowing she has little choice. Clearly Hetty's training has paid dividends.

There are a number of witty one liners from all the cast, together with highly amusing actions. Sam pushes Joelle through the interrogation room hatch into the water. After helping her out of the water in the marina, Sam and Callen fist bump. The whole team are highly amused with Sam's reaction after Fatima drives his shot up Hellcat through a building door, with Fatima and Rountree discreetly fist bumping. Deeks is his usual self and jigs around waiting to be proved right about Joelle having Zacha's car towed in the parking lot. Kilbride also has his acerbic comments, particularly when asking Callen if there's a dating site called Women Who Kill, or if Callen just has the world's worst luck with the ladies. The overall tone of the episode is pretty serious, with Callen's quest for information and the team's interaction and elements of light-heartedness prevent Subject 17 from being bogged down and feeling too heavy.

Subject 17 is a great season opener. It continues with storylines and threads from previous seasons and is very much character driven and sets up future episodes nicely. The two glaring issues are connected with character continuity. Firstly and already mentioned is that Katya had nothing to do with Joelle losing her family. The second one is Callen's date of birth. His DOB was visible on the fake death certificate Hetty showed the Comescus in S02E24 Familia - born in 1970. S05E04 Reznikov, N and Deeks shows Callen photo of him from 1980, whereby Callen says he was ten years old. In season 6 Chernoff, K, Arkady and Hetty state that Callen's father was sent to the Gulag in 1974. There are also various date and age references in connection with Callen's dead sister and her gravestone. BUT the DOB on the paperwork for Subject 17 and verablised by Callen, is August 1976. Why oh why? On a side note, how was Callen's DOB known when he was an orphan and didn't even know his first name? Any argument that his father told him is DOB is redundant as the huge difference in age cannot be accounted for. At the end of the day it currently has no impact on the narrative or Callen's past. It is just an extremely disappointing character error.

Apologies to Kensi and Deeks fans for the rather biased review, but this episode was very much Callen centred.

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