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NCIS: Los Angeles S09E05 Review

This week’s episode of NCIS: Los Angeles is entitled Mountebank which means a charlatan, a person who deceives others, especially to trick them out of their money.  It is an extremely apt title and to a greater or lesser extent can be applied to most of the characters this week, from Sam’s undercover role, Callen’s disliked financier alias who (ironically) is the victim of credit card fraud, to Arkady and Deeks’ poker games, as well as the episode’s major and minor criminals.  The case of the week is passed to NCIS after The Joint Terrorism Task Force intercepts a phone call between Russian Oligarch Abram Sokolov and prominent investment banker Phillip Nelson (a Navy Reservist), the first and last contact recorded by the JTTF since surveillance commenced on Sokolov in 2014.  Before the call ends Nelson falls victim to a fatal hit and run on Mulholland Drive and the task force is left with the code work ‘Mountebank’. 

An episode featuring a Russian Oligarch naturally begs for the return of everyone’s favourite Russian rogue, Arkady Kolcheck.  This week Kensi and Deeks have the fun task of obtaining information about Sokolov from Arkady - who of course knows every law-breaking Russian citizen at home and abroad.  Arkady is on fine form and so is Deeks.  They work well together with Arkady as the hapless addicted gambler and Deeks winning not just Arkady’s necklace with his poker hand, but also
Vladlena Sokolov (Abram’s sister’s) jewellery, returning the latter in exchange for even more inside information on her brother.  The funniest thread is Deeks’ interest in ‘man-jewellery’ which starts in Arkady’s bedroom, continues in the boatshed and later with the team in the car prepping for an assault.  The information obtained is almost forgettable however the underground Russian gambling den will not be forgotten, primarily for Arkady literally having lost the shirt off his back and Deeks’ arm wrestling and bling.  After the intense trauma experienced by Kensi last season (and Deeks by proxy), they deserve the fun, partner-based antics they’ve been given here. 

Arkady’s involvement in the case is raised to Mosley by Kensi and Deeks and it was interesting to learn Mosley has been studying the team’s cases and is well aware of the Russian.  She also voiced valid concerns to the pair about Callen’s association with a man of such dubious background and his romantic liaisons with his daughter.  Mosley is a character who wants the team to be the best of the best and beyond reproach and logically this should concern her more than Kensi and Deeks’ relationship. As a result of her concern she benched Callen from having Sam’s back due to his alias, Dexter Hughes falling victim to credit card fraud.  Dexter is a financier who travels in the same circles as Nelson.  Is this coincidence or has Callen been compromised?  This action by Mosley inevitably causes several reactions in Callen.  Firstly he taunts her about not yet having her own office and then responding to her question as to whether they are on the same page, by stating he’s not even sure they’re reading the same book.  There would have been fireworks had Mosley broached the subject of Callen’s relationship with both Arkady and his daughter.  And true to character Callen finally has to disobey Mosley to check on Hidoko who is in overwatch.  Hidoko has already demonstrated she is more than capable and it is amusing that she catches Callen before he has snuck up on her.  Clearly he needs more stealth lessons from Hetty.

Once again Sam is undercover as a hot shot financier in Nelson’s bank, relishing the opportunity to display his junior math Olympian skills both in the office (where he is nicely put down by Callen) and in the field.  With Eric’s help in hacking a colleagues computer, he discovered that mountebank is code for mirror trading.  Nelson was buying shares in Russian stocks with Sokolov’s rubles and selling the shares for the same price in US dollars moments later.  The team have to figure out what Sokolov is using the money for and why new CEO Leigha Winters is prepping Sam for a flight to Nicaragua.  Unfortunately there is no fun in the interrogation room as Leigha reveals all to Callen and a risky operation is put in to play to which Mosley surprisingly agrees.  Although Callen and Sam were separated again this actually served the narrative well, allowing two narratives to run concurrently. 
  
The episode’s subplot involves Callen’s investigation in to the credit card fraud of Dexter Hughes with Nell working the technical angle.  The apartment rented by his identity thief bears a striking resemblance to Callen’s own baron house, particularly in earlier seasons when he was still sleeping on his bed roll and it is no surprise when the culprit turns out to be an eighteen year old with a similar past.  There is a nice throw back to season six’s Rage when
questions about a specific shelter’s bathroom tiles leads the boy to realise Callen was responsible for punching a hole in the tiles which are now patched over and also when Callen advises the boy he might have great potential.  The word ‘might’ demonstrates Callen is not willing to trust an eighteen year old version of himself but does offer him stability, allowing him to keep the apartment and giving him his name and phone number should he need it, wanting nothing in return.  It was amusing to see Callen catch the boy lying about his name.  The wry smile from Finn confirms a connection has been made.  It’s been a while since Callen’s childhood was last mentioned and little reveals like this serve as a reminder of how much he has changed over the years but also how he has remained the same, disobeying the rules, getting sassy with his boss and generally disrespecting authority. 

The case is left open when the team dab Sokolov with overwatch spray and allow him to escape to Russia.  His only access to American money is through the bank and Sam’s alias is also left in play.  Likewise the door has clearly been left open for Finn to return and seeing Callen tempt a petty criminal with federal agent training would be a fascinating insight as to how Hetty managed him all those years ago.  Elsewhere investigations into Hetty’s whereabouts continue and will move forward during next week’s episode.  And finally - Eric and an oboe..?  Thankfully he couldn’t figure out how to attach the reed for a new way of summoning the team to ops! 

Did you enjoy Mountebank?  Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.