The news that all three NCIS shows will be returning for new seasons will have come as a relief for fans of the franchise – but perhaps none more so than for those who've followed the exploits of the Los Angeles-based team over the past 11 years.
While the parent show and the New Orleans spin-off brought their seasons to a premature end with a degree of closure, there were a large number of question marks hanging over the characters in the Office of Special Projects (OSP) series, many of whom seemed to be heading to the door in the final planned episodes.
With contracts up for both leads – Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J, who play G Callen and Sam Hanna – ways out were clearly being devised if one or both decided not to return to the show. Callan's on/off relationship with his girlfriend, Anna Kolcheck (Bar Paly), has moved into more serious territory, with the agent finally seeing that there is life away from work.
The writers have also given two avenues for Sam Hanna – the character was widowed a few years back, but is now involved with Moon Bloodgood's Katherine Casillas, a high-powered insurance agent who's made no secret of her desire for Sam to work with her. He's also been offered the chance to move across to assisting the Department of Justice's team headed by Lance Hamilton (Bill Goldberg) allowing the character to potentially guest-star periodically.
The season as broadcast ended with Sam and Callen heading to Afghanistan to investigate a SEAL team leader, Chief Petty Officer Thomas Argento, who had gone rogue, making Sam, a former member of SEAL Team Six, question everything that he had believed about the service. (The story was planned as a two-parter, and a version of that second episode will now be in season 12, although showrunner Frank Military has noted that it won't be the season opener.)
NCIS: Los Angeles may have been devised originally to have a Miami Vice-like feel, with the focus firmly on the two leads, but over its decade-plus on air, it's introduced a large number of other team members. Unlike the other two NCIS shows, there's not been a huge turnover of characters, but the end of season 11 saw a strong likelihood of that changing.
Married team members Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah) and LAPD Detective Marty Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) have spent a lot of the year debating whether they can – or should – continue as part of the OSP, and whether they could – or again, should – start a family.
Were that to happen, one or other of the actors could easily move to a guest starring role, in a similar way to Peter Cambor's Nate Getz, a key part of the show's first year. Ironically, the producers have shot around Ruah's earlier real-life pregnancies, temporarily removing her from the action.
Lovable computer nerds Eric Beale (Barrett Foa) and Nell Jones (Renee Felice Smith) have spent quite a bit of this season apart, with Eric sent to work undercover in San Francisco (to accommodate Foa's desire to appear in a play during filming), and then Nell's sudden departure a few episodes before the end of the season, unable to deal with everything that her life is throwing at her.
Initially, Smith's exit was described as being to allow the actor to handle another project, and it was anticipated she'd be back around, but in an interview with TV Guide this week, Frank Military "played coy" when the subject was raised – and he suggested that "at this stage anything is possible" for Eric and Nell's future.
In earlier seasons, it was clear to audiences – if not necessarily to the character – that Nell Jones was being mentored by the OCP boss, legendary spy Henrietta Lange, to take over her role. However, Nell baulked at some of the coldness and acceptance of harsh reality that leading the team needed, and so began to question her place.
And what about the boss herself? Hetty hasn't been around that much this year – a consequence of a real-life car accident involving actress Linda Hunt – and there's been talk of who could lead the team. If LL Cool J didn't return, then Chris O'Donnell would be without an onscreen partner, and Callen would be the obvious candidate. Others have come in from outside – including some former key members of one of NCIS: LA's predecessors, JAG. However, Military has now confirmed that Hetty will continue to be around, describing her as "the heart and soul" of the show.
We know that the original plan for the conclusion of season 11 would have seen the SEAL plot line wrapped up – with its attendant consequences for Sam Hanna – but little else. With so many potential exits, it will be fascinating to see who does return for the next batch of episodes – whenever they may get in front of the cameras.
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