It only took seven seasons, but “NCIS: Los Angeles” finally does what it had gotten to the point seemed would be a series finale moment: give Callen a full name. The Monday, Feb. 22 episode, “Matryoshka, Part 2,” sees Sam, Callen and Anna travel to Russia to break Arkady and the man who says he’s CIA out of prison. But it’s not so easy to break people out a Russian prison (just as the “Legends of Tomorrow,” and look what they have at their disposal), and Callen never could have guessed who he’d meet while trying to get out of the country. Plus, back in LA, Eric has the chance to go into the field.
For an episode that’s about breaking two men out of prison, there’s not much breaking people out of prison going on in this “NCIS: LA” episode. Sure, there’s talk of a plan (which ends up being exactly what is done, albeit by different men), but the real focus is on the planning, on the quiet moments shared leading up to the rescue and, of course, on a conversation Callen probably never thought he’d have without having to really go searching. But that works because, as Callen himself says, “this is a first for us.” And rather than take the risk doing something that, at best, would result in one casualty and two arrests, they use their resources. They use their team. Kensi and Deeks may still be back in LA, and there’s little communication between those in Russia and those back stateside on screen, but this is still a team.
Breaking into a Russian prison isn’t easy. In fact, it takes some time and a few steps, and the first step is finding out exactly where your target is being held. Enter Anna, charming one of the guards outside of a bar, right into their van. This guy may have no respect for his wedding ring, but all it takes is the overused “we’ll make it look like you talked” to get him to sing like a canary. Arkady’s in cell block 24, but he’s too new to know about “Balinski.” And with their arrival making news in Russia, Sam and Callen have to move up their timeline, meaning they need the easiest way in. “Murder,” the guard informs them. The best plan they come up with is to use the, again, overused device of “pretending to kill the targets just enough to get them out while posing as coroner drivers,” but according to Nell’s simulations, it’s not going to work.
Enter the backup plan: Pavel Volkoff. He has the connections they need, but they know they have to do something for him first. In this case, it’s make sure that the police arrest a man in LA on their radar already: Artem Fedor, wanted for credit card fraud. But there has to be more to this guy than that, right? Well, that’s where Kensi, Deeks and Eric – yes, Eric – come in, as they go to talk to him. Yes, Eric is out in the field (meaning he has to wear pants), but perhaps Hetty is right to question Granger on whether he’s ready. After all, when Artem starts shooting, Eric falls back on his video game knowledge and throws a flash grenade. Sure it works, and Deeks shoots him in the shoulder, but maybe Eric isn’t quite ready to go out into the field. He even seems to be questioning it, as he admits to Nell when he returns that he was scared, but Granger walks in before he can say more. If this is the beginning of Eric going into the field like Nell does every so often, great. If it isn’t, that’s great too. They need Eric to be their tech operator. And if this is a way of exploring Eric gradually feeling more at home in the field? Even better.
With Artem in LAPD custody, Pavel’s men move in to extract Arkady and Balinski, using basically the same plan Callen and Sam had come up with (though it’s doubtful that it would’ve succeeded otherwise; this is clearly what Pavel’s men do). Sam, Callen and Anna ambush the medical transport to get Arkady and Balinski, who ends up shot during a struggle with a guard in the back. Because of that injury, they can’t fly out like they had planned. Taking a moment to think about a secondary escape gives Callen the opportunity to see if Balinski is really CIA Officer Sharov by testing how much he remembers of an encounter they supposedly had (voice-only) in Russia years ago. If he is CIA, he should be able to find them a safe house.
That means they have to trust him, and he directs them to the coordinates given to him…which lead to them sitting on an IED. Without the proper code, it will blow up. Thankfully, Sharov is who he says he is, and they are then directed to the safe house, where they meet Garrison. Inside the house, Callen spots a certain coin on the table. And that cues up the most important conversation perhaps in the entire series.
Just as a Navy Seal Commander and his team have arrived to get them to an airstrip where a private jet is waiting, Callen gets a moment with Garrison. Does Callen know who he is? He thinks so, and how heartbreaking is it that he’s not certain? While to Garrison actions matters more than the reasons behind those actions, for Callen, the reasons matter. And so Callen will get those reasons – next time. They have to leave, and so all that Callen gets from his father for now is his full name: Grisha Aleksandrovich Nikolaev. It would’ve been nice for them to have more time together, for more to come of that conversation, but at the same time, given how long it took to get to this point, it’s not surprising that it’s so short. And now, all that’s left to do is hope there’s a next time.
Another father/child relationship that needs more exploration is that of Arkady and Anna. She at first scoffs at calling him her father, likening him more to a “business associate,” but as Callen points out, she’s going pretty far for someone who’s just a business associate (especially since she later says she should’ve done it alone instead of risking others; she was willing to go on what would have likely amounted to a suicide mission if she had been alone for Arkady). And after they do rescue him, he tells her he’ll do better and they hug. Nothing like helping to break out of a Russian prison to bring a father and daughter together.
Another relationship that seems to be taking tentative steps forward is that between Callen and Anna, romantic or not. Even if that kiss to distract the guards is the only one they ever share and her falling asleep on his shoulder is as intimate as it gets, there’s something intriguing about watching those two together. Their conversation over coffee is one of the best scenes of the episode. Both grew up telling themselves stories about why their fathers weren’t there, but the sad truth is that even though Anna’s were nowhere near being what Arkady was really doing, at least her father had a name. In this job, the only people she comes across are those broken like she is, she admits, but he wonders if “maybe being broken is normal.” Well, in some ways, everything is broken a bit. And just because someone’s broken doesn’t mean that’s all there is to them. Look what Callen and Anna are doing. Look at the fun Anna has with Sam about the harp. There’s something about the dynamic between Callen and Anna and between Anna and Hetty that just screams that Anna has to show up again.
“NCIS: Los Angeles” season 7 airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS. What did you think of episode 16 “Matryoshka, Part 2”?