In a nutshell, NCIS: Los Angeles executive producer Shane Brennan says that it is time for the CBS procedural to “cut loose” with its third season (premiering this Tuesday at 9/8c). Kicking off the new cycle is the continuation – played out in real time, à la 24 — of the Hetty/Romania/Callen mystery that closed out the sophomore run on an intrigue-filled note. Brennan gave TVLine a look at the big reveals to come out of that cliffhanger, shared Academy Award-slash-Teen Choice winner Linda Hunt’s giddy reaction to it all, and teased a “gut-wrenching” backstory for one of the other team members.
TVLINE | First things first: How much time has lapsed since the events of the season finale?
I think it’s about three minute after we left off, and it’s a real-time episode. The story unfolds over 43 minutes, so it has got a narrative drive that will… well, you really need to go to the bathroom before you watch this show. I mean, it just pumps. We cocked the gun, so to speak.
TVLINE | The finale and all its zigs and zags about Hetty and Callen left us wondering what was real.
That’s the great fun about L.A. Because they’re undercover and they make things up, you get great latitude to play around with some of that stuff.
TVLINE | Someone gets shot in the premiere….
Someone gets shot – [a character played by] one of our regular cast members – and the ramifications from that resonate for four episodes. No one’s going to be disappointed with the opening episode, and no one’s going to be disappointed with what we reveal in the first four.
TVLINE | The question raised abut Callen’s identity – is that something that will be resolved in those four episodes, or are we running a half-season with it?
You are going to go further in first four episodes than you’ve gone in two seasons. There’s going to be some pretty amazing revelations about Callen, but that doesn’t mean the story ends there. It’s a very rich tapestry. He’s turning into this very enigmatic, fascinating character determined to find out who he is, where he came from, what he is… and we learn the answer to one of those questions in the first four episodes.
TVLINE | Is there any one hint from the finale you can confirm right now as being true? Like, is it safe to say Hetty does have ties to Callen’s childhood?
[Long pause] That is definitely true. And I think the other thing I’ll very confidently say is that what Callen remembered on the beach is what happened. When he drops to his knees, he is blown over by what is remembered. And as he tells Sam what he remembered, just when you think, “Wow,” he says, “Annnnd then this!’ There’s a lot more to come.
TVLINE | One of our readers wanted me to ask: Why did Hetty have to resign? Was it just for show?
What we discover is that Hetty drew a line in the sand, and she decided that she needed to do this. So her actions in resigning and going to Romania were probably the most important decisions she’s ever made. It’s very, very real to her.
TVLINE | Is Vance on board with this? To a degree?
Is anyone ever on board with anything Hetty says? Let’s say that Hetty told him some of the story. But what she does by resigning, and going to Romania, opens the door to reveal as much about her as she does about Callen.
TVLINE | Linda Hunt must be over the moon. You’ve turned her into perhaps the most badass NCIS agent.
She’s one of the most badass people on TV. There’s a scene between her and another actor – I’m not go to say who it is, because it will give too much away – that is positively cinematic, and people who have seen it are just blown away by the power of these two actors together. When we were shooting it, I took a sheet of paper to Linda that said “Confidential: Hetty Lang Backstory.” She read it and she couldn’t stop giggling. She was like, “Oh my god!” I gave her the answers to a lot of questions, and then I said, “Read it and burn it,” it reveals so much. The good thing about that sheet of paper is that by the end of Episode 4, you know a lot of it.
TVLINE | You told you me wanted to dip into Kensi’s backstory this season. How soon do you get into that?
My expectation is that probably in the second half of the season we’ll explore that. It’s gut-wrenching. It really is quite confronting for the character and for everyone who loves her – the audience and the other characters in the show.
TVLINE | If she confides in Deeks along the way, it could help along that “thing” between them that she talks about.
In Seasons 1 and 2, we’ve been in first gear. In Season 3, we put the foot down and cut loose. It’s going to be a great season.
TVLINE | Is there anything else to tease about the new episodes?
One of the interesting things we do is that in one of the early episodes, all of the partners get switched around — circumstances dictate it — and they’re not happy. I saw last season as the season of partners, where you paired people up; in this episode, they’re like, “Really? I’m with him?” And that will be a lot of fun.