Finally, Callen got some long-overdue closure.
It was the source of those revelations that was so unexpected on NCIS: Los Angeles Season 14 Episode 19.
At long last, Grisha came face to face with the monster of his nightmares, Howard Pembrook.
Callen’s meeting with Pembrook also nicely dovetailed with the case of the week on which the rest of the team (minus Sam) was working.
We got the hint that this was another DRONA episode when it opened with Callen in the hospital room of comatose fellow DRONA subject Leah, gravely wounded on NCIS: Los Angeles Season 14 Episode 16.
A pair of CIA officers who, surprise, surprise, were also DRONA subjects, were transporting Leah to a secret site under the auspices of protecting her.
Only they soon fouled that up. When another ex-DRONA subject was found tortured and killed, the remaining survivors gathered to discuss this development.
This decision only served to make them easy pickings for a shooter with an unknown agenda, and four of them were killed, including a CIA officer.
The OSP got roped into investigating this slaughter, at least to some degree, by the CIA.
But instead of memorable past CIA contacts such as Sabatino or Joelle, they had to deal with a hardass named Cortes, who wasn’t looking for help. Instead, he wanted to interrogate Callen as a former DRONA subject.
From the beginning, it should have been evident that the obnoxious Cortes had more than the usual CIA agenda in taking intel and offering little in return.
It seemed like he thought he was slumming while working with NCIS. The reason behind his know-it-all attitude became clear later on.
Kilbride called it when he told Cortes that Callen would never come back to be questioned by him.
That situation soon became moot when Callen got a phone call from Pembrook, of all people. He wanted to meet with Callen, which was something that Callen had sought all of his life to get answers to some of his many questions about his involvement with DRONA.
Poor Kensi attempted to back up Callen, running interference with the FBI, then followed him to his meeting with Pembrook.
Only Callen would do what he had to do to speak with Pembrook, even if that meant ditching any backup he might have. Pembrook also planned so that he and Callen would have no interference in their discussion.
Fatima tried to track Callen. But that only worked so far, and the primary investigation of the shootings picked up steam, taking most of the team’s attention.
What everyone learned was there are varying degrees of DRONA subjects.
It already had been established that Pembrook had continued to run a special-ops squad of DRONA subjects that took on missions for various spy agencies that wanted to keep their hands clean.
But Beltran and others had broken away to become mercenaries, and they were killing the DRONA subjects affiliated with Pembrook.
So some DRONA graduates are more morally correct than others, although Cortes correctly called them ticking time bombs. If Hetty hadn’t pulled Callen out of the project when she did, who knows how he would behave now?
The shooters in a helicopter were identified as Beltran and three others. That’s when things got interesting.
Cortes was insistent that his people be the ones to identify the mystery trio. He came back with word that they were unidentified Russians in the country for who knows why.
Fatima rightly didn’t trust him and steered Kilbride to a nonexistent conference call. That’s when she told him that Cortes was lying and the three were all Americans.
While Kilbride confronted Cortes, Fatima kept digging and determined that Cortes was another DRONA defector in league with Beltran.
When Fatima saw that Kilbride was being held at gunpoint, she arranged for backup, then went into Kilbride’s office with a hidden gun, eventually blowing away Cortes.
Having Cortes’s phone enabled Fatima to track down Beltran so that Kensi and Rountree could arrive just in time to save Callen and the wounded Pembrook.
Callen’s travels with Pembrook showed that Pembrook wasn’t still the monster that Callen recalled from his youth.
Pembrook eventually realized that his project was ill-conceived, programming children through violence. Ever since the program ended, he had been attempting to make amends, which must have been what he considered his black ops team to be.
While some, such as Callen, found positive ways to channel what they learned through DRONA, way too many others had harmed the world.
Most importantly, Pembrook took all the blame for what happened to Callen because of his exposure to DRONA and explained that Callen shouldn’t blame Hetty for his being in the project.
And really, in their weepy final conversation, should Pembrook have had to explain to Callen that Hetty viewed him as her surrogate son? Shouldn’t that have been obvious to Callen already?
Even though he had been spirited away to some agency’s black site, Pembrook returned to give Callen his paper files. Those should provide Callen with most of the answers he seeks. Now it’s time to bring Hetty home in the final two episodes.
To follow the DRONA Project, watch NCIS: Los Angeles online.
How was Pembrook different than you anticipated?
Is Callen’s head in a better place afterward?
Besides bringing back Hetty, what else must be accomplished by the series’ conclusion?
Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.