‘NCIS: LA’ Season 13 Premiere: Is Callen ‘Subject 17’? (RECAP)

Linda Hunt as Hetty, Chris O'Donnell as Callen in NCIS LA
Spoiler Alert
Robert Voets/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the NCIS: LA Season 13 premiere “Subject 17.”]

Something that will always be part of NCIS: LA is the simple fact that Callen (Chris O’Donnell) has a lot of questions about his past. (He didn’t even learn his full name until Season 7!) But in the Season 13 premiere, he unlocks another piece of it, after pushing Hetty (Linda Hunt) quite hard for answers.

Yes, Hetty is back, but the operations manager isn’t staying in L.A. for very long as we learn more about the mission she was on last season offscreen. In fact, she’s really only around long enough for that confrontation with Callen and to give Kensi (Daniela Ruah) the exact answer she didn’t want to a request to be a personal reference for her and Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) as they start the adoption process.

Plus, Gerald McRaney is now a series regular and Kilbride is not having any of the team’s antics. This should make for a fun season!

How Long Has Hetty Known Callen?

Callen uses his spy skills to break into Hetty’s files, skimming a few for foster children until he reaches Subject 17, which does sound a lot like him (and the birthday listed is his). It includes a developmental (cognitive, social, etc.) assessment. He, of course, turns to his partner, but Sam (LL Cool J) tries so hard to be kept out of it. The kids were put through cognitive tests, Callen argues. They were psychologically profiled and screened, like a junior version of the CIA’s selection process.

Sam reluctantly gets sucked in and as he reads the file, Callen brings up Kilbride’s claim that his biased opinion towards Hetty is because she “created” him. He thinks the retired admiral meant more than just her influence on his choices since they met when he was a teen. What if he’s known her since he was eight, like the file suggests? Maybe he’s obsessed, Callen admits, but he deserves to know the truth.

Chris O'Donnell as Callen in NCIS LA


And maybe Kilbride isn’t the only one who might know something. Arkady (Vyto Ruginis) had mentioned he should know more than anyone about the Russian spy school the Institute of Noble Maidens, Callen recalls. Maybe he’s forgotten that Hetty trained him the same way that place did Anna (Bar Paly), Katya (Eve Harlow), and others. He remembers doing tests and being told he was dyslexic … and putting together a gun with toy blocks?!

Callen bluntly asks Kilbride if Hetty ran a program that recruited children as future operatives. Ask Hetty, he says, and when Callen gets in his face, Kilbride reminds him he follows, doesn’t give, orders.

When Callen does find Hetty, she’s burning files and he gives her Subject 17’s to add to her pile. He made a copy, he says, and asks if he’s Subject 17. He shouldn’t have done this, she says. The truth is a fickle thing. He keeps pushing her to answer the question until she finally yells, “Yes!” then repeats it more evenly. The case interrupts, and by the time he goes to talk to her again, she’s gone on her mission (more about that below).

Linda Hunt as Hetty, Gerald McRaney as Kilbride in NCIS LA

Robert Voets/CBS

The episode ends with Callen reading his file over a flashback of his younger self watching something on a projector: “The subject shows an exceptional memory. Given the proper opportunity and education, there’s no telling what he could achieve.” That assessment is not wrong.

Callen vs. Joelle?

Joelle (Elizabeth Bogush) is pissed at the Russians, specifically Katya who hired them, for being responsible for her losing her leg. So, she kidnaps Zasha (Olesya Rulin) to force her to use her connections to locate Katya. (At this point, everyone is hunting Katya, including her own country.) “Is there some ‘women who kill’ dating site out there that I don’t know about or do you just have the world’s worst luck with the ladies?” Kilbride asks Callen. (He has a point.)

But there’s no love lost between Callen and Joelle, as he threatens to tell her family she’s alive if she doesn’t bring Zasha in. Joelle meets Callen in the boatshed but refuses to give up his Russian informant. She’s so certain no one followed her … until Zasha’s people surround the building. Fortunately, they have the trap door in the interrogation room, and after they swim to the docks, they slash the tires of the Russians’ vehicles.

Chris O'Donnell as Callen, Elizabeth Bogush as Joelle in NCIS LA

Robert Voets/CBS

But when Joelle takes them to where she’s holding Zasha, they’re too late: her people have her. Kilbride insists they go non-lethal since foreign operatives are ostensibly rescuing one of their own, which means their hands are tied, briefly, especially after Joelle runs inside. The team goes for the element of surprise, and it works — especially after Fatima (Medalion Rahimi) drives Sam’s car into the building.

Densi’s Journey to Become Parents

Kensi and Deeks are seriously considering adoption, and she asks Hetty to be a personal reference. No, her boss says. She’s honored, truly, but she’s not the right person for that. But she’s one of the most respected people in the intelligence community! That’s different from the parenting community, Hetty says, suggesting a reference from the director or SecNav would be more impressive. She can make that happen.

While Deeks thinks Hetty’s just trying to be helpful, Kensi thinks she genuinely believes she’d be detrimental to the adoption process. But why? (Might it relate back to what Callen’s uncovered?)

Daniela Ruah as Kensi in NCIS LA


While adoption is amazing, Kensi later admits to Deeks, she really wanted them to have a baby together. He did, too, before pointing out everything that had to happen to get them where they are, including with their parents, so maybe they should just trust the universe. “What if the universe doesn’t want us to have a baby?” Kensi worries. They’ll steal babies then, Deeks says, doing what he does best: cheering her up.

What Do We Know About Hetty’s Mission?

After learning next to nothing about what kept Hetty away last season, we get a few hints throughout the premiere. When she’s alerted to Callen breaking into her files, she’s looking at a map of the Syrian Desert. Later, Kensi finds her packing a case of weapons for a “short business trip.”

Kilbride then goes to Hetty about travel orders that came across his desk. She’s going back? “I think I have to,” she says. Someone does, he agrees, because “you made a bloody mess of things over there the last time,” but warns, “I will sign the order, but if you make it worse, you will be sacrificed for the sake of diplomacy, and if you do something really stupid and find yourself in a cage again, you will be disavowed.”

Though Kilbride initially will only say Hetty’s mission is classified, he tells Callen she’s going to Syria to clean up a mess — and he didn’t think she’d make it back the first time. “Let’s just say her great white whale hunt went south and now some others are paying for it,” is all Kilbride offers.

Callen then enlists Zasha to keep an eye on Hetty in Syria, with a passport that expires in eight months. It shouldn’t take more than a few weeks, he says. So is that the timing for when the team will be heading to Syria to help Hetty, likely against Kilbride’s orders?

NCIS: Los Angeles, Sundays, 9/8c, CBS