NCIS Los Angeles S08E09 Review
‘Glasnost’ is Russian for openness and famously coined by Gorbachev towards the end of the Cold War in the 1980s to promote a desire for increased transparency in Soviet politics. It is an ironic title choice for an episode pivotal to Callen's life long quest for answers. Openness is the one thing seriously lacking and there are streams of lies and deceit, for good reasons and bad, that are unravelled as the narrative progresses.
Artem Fedor, arrested as a favour to Pavel Volkoff in return for helping Arkady escape a Russian prison (Matryoshka part 2) wants to exchange information on an assassination, for a transfer to a minimum security prison. Fedor was hired to track down Russian Katerina Polumin, who now goes by the name of Mary Reynolds. Katerina was poisoned four days earlier and as Deeks and Eric interrogate Artem in prison, Sam and Callen visit Katerina in hospital, an encounter that later leads to the discovery of Callen's father Garrison in her room, having killed a would be assailant. The case may be personal to Callen, yet through clever storytelling there is progression for other characters, particularly Kensi and Eric. Kensi has gone from not being able to walk to now walking unaided. The timeframe surrounding her recovery has seemed blurred and this is addressed with Deeks in their final scenes when Kensi once again doubts her ability to return to the field. She is two months into an anticipated six month recovery and improving in leaps and bounds. It was great to see Sam and Callen visiting her in a change to the usual opening bull pen scene, the banter as amusing as ever although the moment turns sombre with Kensi reflecting that she misses this.
Last week's antagonist Sullivan returns and they now have an easy teasing banter themselves, starting with a food fight and ending with Kensi holding Sullivan in a head lock - enter Deeks. Again it shows how far both Kensi and Deeks have come, that they can talk as adults about Sullivan (Deeks is a tiny bit jealous), and Kensi's fears. The most touching scene is when she manages to open her claw-hand and interlock her fingers with Deeks. These two do truly seem inseparable.
Out in the field, Deeks is paired up with Eric and their opening prison scene with Artem is frustratingly amusing, as Eric tries to intimidate the prisoner by using a jelly bean filled grenade. He interjects with exaggerated comments and paces behind Deeks, who can barely keep Eric in check. The light humour is captured particularly well and contrasts with the darkly lit cell and a very relaxed prisoner. Several of Eric’s scenes show him as unnecessarily dumb which is out of keeping with the Eric from early seasons. Now he is frequently used for comic effect, often coming across as embarrassing and unrealistic. Luckily Eric redeems himself and proves to be an asset in the field, logically working through clues and even saving Deeks' life. Towards the close Granger makes an appearance, and using Callen and his father as examples, Hetty suggests Granger speaks with his own daughter [about his ill health].
Recent episodes have served as reminders that Callen still has issues caused by his past. These may not be addressed head on, but the reintroduction Callen’s father Garrison, means there are answers to some of the questions that have eaten away at him since childhood. He has to leave the personal behind when he interrogates his father, his attitude already on display with Sam and then with Hetty, walking away from her and saying he knows how to do his job. Callen is a lone wolf and his self-defence mechanism is to shut people out when anything becomes personal. The interrogation scene is a fascinating play between estranged father and son. Body language shows Garrison leaning forward, arms on the table whereas Callen is sitting at a distance, leaning away. It is when he realises his father is only in town for work - to find Katerina - that Garrisons leans back in his chair. Callen is visibly hurt and Garrison has nothing to offer but silence.
Hetty also talks with Garrison in the interrogation room but on more of an equal footing (both are equally positioned to each other) and as he talks about Callen’s mother Clara, Hetty pieces together his history with the KGB and CIA. She realises that Garrison is in LA due to his past affair with Katerina. The hurt which Callen experienced earlier is mirrored in Garrison’s face when Hetty confirms Katerina has now died. Hetty literally leaves the door open for Garrison, her parting words that she couldn’t save Clara, but she was able to save her son. Note the words Hetty uses, she doesn’t say "your son" to Garrison.
The Russian refugee connection with Arkady is made early on by Callen, and Arkady in his usual deliberate and dramatically vague manner claims not to remember Katerina, and reminds Callen that he only handled the US angle - “he” handled the Russian side. At this point neither Callen or Arkady mention his father by name, just as “he” and it is attention to details such as these which makes this such a great episode. During the interrogation, his father calls him Grisha yet Callen does not know what to call him, refusing to call him ‘father’, despite Garrison’s suggestion. He is a little bitter, with an undercurrent of anger that he manages to control.
Garrison and Callen work extremely well together, both express their emotions through their eyes and facial expressions. Maybe the years between them will reveal just how similar they really are? In an emotional closing scene Garrison keeps his promise and reveals the reasons for his actions, and they are harsh. He abandoned his children so he could continue to help refugees escape Russia, believing they would be better off on their own. Amy clearly was not, and neither was Callen who was on course for a life in prison before Hetty intervened. Continuing the frank and honest exchange, Callen hurts his father by saying he can’t forgive him and probably never will. Garrison admits he lost the ones he loved, including Katerina and another truth is revealed. Garrison had an affair with Katerina, who had a daughter (Alex) shortly after arriving in the US. And with hindsight, maybe that was why Katerina seemed to recognise Callen when she briefly awoke in the hospital. Callen needs to remember that despite his father severing ties with his children, he still kept tabs on him through Michael Reinhardt (season 5, Reznikov. N).
Every twist and turn of this case is intrinsic to Callen’s journey of self-discovery. The web of intrigue is centred around the past; his father, Russia, power, mistresses and stolen money. No one is who they seem to be; Katerina lied to her daughter Alex about her identity (and possibly to Alex about her father), Callen cannot tell if Garrison is telling the truth. Garrison reveals Pavel used NCIS to his own ends and even Arkady lies to Callen about his father. Callen is just as deceitful, hiding a tracker on his own father, who does like to go AWOL. After Garrison is rescued, Callen says he needs to have a chat with Hetty about keeping secrets (he might be thirty years too late on that one) and then says he needs to have the same chat with his father. Callen has been the victim of secrets for too long but it was interesting to see him chastise his own father.
Amongst all the secrets and lies there is hope. Kensi is improving and it is Thanksgiving; a time for families to get together. Deeks and Kensi are spending it together with their mothers, and Callen with his ‘own’ family, the Hanna’s. Mary Reynolds (Katerina) was going to spend thanksgiving with her daughter Alex for the first time in years, after a falling out. However the future lies with Callen, his father and the knowledge they have blood relatives. Tentatively, they can move forward. There is a lot of trust to be built and it has been teased that this will come later in the season. Importantly, trust will stem from the truth, starting with Callen passionately saying there will be no more lies; Garrison must introduce himself (and his son) to his daughter Alex (Callen’s half sister), and her son - his grandson and Callen’s nephew. Will Callen be “Uncle Grisha” or “Uncle Callen”, as he is to Sam’s children?
Andrew Bartels has written an episode which should please fans of all characters (main ones at least). The narrative is multilayered but not confusing; the twists and turns are believable and without clichés. And as always with the best episodes, it is the depth of character and the focus on their development which resonates once the credits have rolled. The only gripe (apart from Eric) - why does Deeks refers to himself as an NCIS Agent..?
Do let me know what you thought of Glasnost...please leave a comment below.