That could best be described as easing back into things.
NCIS: Los Angeles Season 12 Episode 1 was self contained with just a modicum of suspense. As it should have been.
This was just a chance to catch up on what the characters have been up to since Covid prematurely shut down NCIS: Los Angeles Season 11.
They'll get around to tying up some loose threads starting with NCIS: Los Angeles Season 12 Episode 2.
No, this was about establishing the new status quo, to a degree.
Apparently Nell was back, even though she wasn't really back. Huh?
Hetty, in a cameo, coaxed Nell back into the office some time after the death of her mother and asked Nell to do her a solid, even though Nell didn't work for NCIS any more. She wanted to locate a missing Russian bomber without causing nuclear global annihilation.
It was a head-shaker at first as Sam, Callen, and SEAL, Frank Wallace, discussed all those worst-case scenarios surrounding the missing bomber.
Let's face it, Russia can destabilize the United States enough through social-media cyberattacks targeting weak-minded stooges that they have no need to send an antique aircraft our way to attack us.
They should have realized a whole lot sooner that the plane was unauthorized to be here. So, it was either a malfunction, or, as it turned out, somebody was attempting to defect.
It was good to see everyone again after too long a hiatus. Except Eric this time out. But since someone has to be absent, why not Eric?
With the cast up to nine regulars (using that term ever so loosely), expect to see Sam, Callen, Kensi, and Deeks every episode with the other characters rotating in and out. There are only 42 minutes of screen time to go around.
Eric, Nell, and Fatima are interchangeable in Ops, while Fatima and Roundtree are available for field work, which allows members of the Big Four to go off on solo adventures.
As much as I'd love to see more Hetty, like everyone else, I'm fine with Linda Hunt Zooming her scenes in during the current pandemic. Hell, let all the cherished older actors do so.
If she's up for more and conditions allow, great. But that's unrealistic for the time being. Let's just enjoy playing "Where in the World is Henrietta Lange?"
So now that Nell's personal crisis has passed following her mother's death, will she come back full time subbing for Hetty?
That's probably the best alternative, since it doesn't pull Callen out of the field. Nell is likely up for the challenge, especially if she doesn't get hooked up with Eric again. Nell as Eric's boss could provide some intriguing dramatic tension.
Nell's kind of adrift personally right now, so why wouldn't she return? As this episode shows, everyone listens and responds to her well, and she confidently and efficiently applied her resources to the case at hand.
Somebody has to be in command back at headquarters. Fatima's too new, and Eric's too, well, Eric. He's the character that's grown the least over the course of the series. And that's hard to do when Deeks is in the mix.
Fatima has quickly become an integral part of the squad, so here's hoping she steps more to the forefront this season.
I don't know why Roundtree is there, other than to fulfill Sam's wish to train a new agent his way. He could provide perspective on the OSP way of doing things, but so far, he's just filling the wide-eyed newbie role which appears to be a staple on the NCIS shows.
Maybe Roundtree should just be a recurring character. We don't want to squeeze out the colorful recurring characters for which the series is known, like Arkady, of whom we can never get too much.
Sadly, he was just there for a couple of scenes, which he thoroughly dominated.
Arkady training for a triathlon? It's laughable. But then that was the point.
It would have been nice if Anna would have come up in conversation. But no one knows what she's doing, and that's the whole idea. She'll be back, sooner rather than later, to mess with Callen's head again.
The case of the week just fell flat, despite the effort to portray the missing bomber as something that could result in a dangerous international incident.
Callen indicated early on that the plane was a Cold War relic, one that was lucky to still be flying. So a mechanical breakdown should have jumped to the agents' minds a little sooner instead of imagining a rogue agent seeking to nuke the U.S.
A senior Russian officer gassing his crew and trying to defect was a nice twist, if only he hadn't been badly outnumbered by his own men, who were determined to serve the homeland first and foremost. It was the world's most ill-conceived defection attempt.
When the plane blew up, it was impossible to envision that Callen was at any risk. Callen's explanation of, "Oh, yeah. We compromised. It was just a stripped-down training plane" rang true, just before the credits abruptly rolled.
It was like, "We didn't really have much of an ending, so boom."
Oh, well. Maybe they'll be back with feeling for the next outing instead. If not, there are always encores of NCIS: Los Angeles. Everywhere.
To revisit the glory days, watch NCIS: Los Angeles online.
Are you glad the team's back?
If we can't have Hetty, do you like Nell in charge?
Are there too many characters now?
Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.