[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 12, Episode 14 of NCIS: Los Angeles, “The Noble Maidens.”]
“Hetty’s not coming back,” Retired Navy Admiral Hollace Kilbride (Gerald McRaney) said of Linda Hunt’s character in the April 4 episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. We had the same reaction as intelligence analyst Nell Jones (Renée Felice Smith), who’s been (temporarily, or so she thinks?) filling in for the operations manager at the Office of Special Projects (OSP), which is, Wait, what?!
One thing is clear: With so much currently unknown about Hetty’s whereabouts this season, it’s time to get answers.
Since the beginning of the season, Hetty has been videoing in from an unknown location — it looks like a war zone and is somewhere she said is “nowhere I want to be” — without giving any details about what she’s up to. Instead, she has had Nell come in to take over her duties, assigns cases (such as via cryptic messages like the one that led them to dead CIA agents), and got former LAPD liaison Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) into FLETC so he could become an NCIS Investigator.
There has been some speculation about what she’s up to, but we have yet to get any proof. We’re used to being in the dark about most of Hetty’s actions, but 14 episodes into the season and it feels the lack of information has carried on way too long.
And then, in “The Noble Maidens,” Kilbride stops by to help the team as he has in the past, rants about the “fishbowl” of the office up top and Hetty’s “controversial” methods, and drops the aforementioned bombshell on Nell that her boss might not be returning this time.
No, Hetty hasn’t said anything to him, he says, “but she has had her foot out that same door far longer than you have. And I think it’s time we accept this mission she’s on may very well be her last.”
The team has been preparing for Hetty’s eventual retirement for a while now, even discussing among themselves who might take over (Chris O’Donnell’s Callen is a possibility in addition to Nell, who was considering quitting after taking her personal days to consider her options before Hetty roped her into returning). Let’s just hope, however, that if any of those plans, which also include bringing in young agents to train (like they have with Caleb Castille’s Rountree this season), do come to fruition, it’s because Hetty chooses to officially leave NCIS, not because whatever mission she’s on ends with her death.
Fortunately, there also seems to be a bit of foreshadowing, with the focus shifting to the team beginning to track down Hetty. “I’d have to find her first” and “if I ever do track her down,” Nell says while talking with Kilbride about Hetty, Nell filling in for her, and the latest events.
And if that indeed is what will happen next, it’s about time. Just because the team is a well-oiled machine in Hetty’s absence — and even without Hunt appearing — doesn’t mean that NCIS: LA couldn’t have given us more about her whereabouts. Is it time for the team to make another trip overseas to help her out, like they did to Vietnam in Season 9? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, let’s just hope we get something significant before the May 23 season finale. She’s too significant a part of the team and the show (since the beginning!) for her to be written out for good (as Kilbride suggests when he says she’s not coming back) without the CBS procedural doing her justice.
NCIS: Los Angeles, Sundays, 9/8c, CBS