After all, if Nell (played by Renee Felice Smith) was groomed all season long to take over for the MIA Operations Manager, who will lead the team in her sudden absence?
Or might the “new Hetty” be in fact the very best Hetty, as in Hunt herself?
TVLine spoke with showrunner R. Scott Gemmill about Hunt’s cameo in the season finale and what that means for Season 13, and more. (And as always, if you seek additional NCIS: LA scoop, email InsideLine@tvline.com. I’m sitting on tons!)
TVLINE | Hetty showing up…. Eric and Nell riding off into the sunset…. “Densi” picnicking on the beach…. Sam seeing his son take his fighter pilot exam…. Correct me if I’m wrong, but was this the happiest damn NCIS: LA season finale we’ve ever had…?
Well, it wasn’t what we were going to do, that’s for sure. We were going to use the finale that we had written for last season, which got bumped because of COVID, and then we realized everyone had such a tough, s–tty year, that we couldn’t in good conscience put the fans through any more trauma. So we decided to go in the exact opposite way and do a fun, feel-good episode that leaves everyone happy and hopeful for what is coming down the line.
TVLINE | What was the gist of the original, bumped finale?
It involved Anna and Katya and that storyline, which we still want to play out. But it was a little darker than [what we went with]. If ever there was a season where you wanted to go out on a fun, happy note, this was the one where everyone needed that more than we needed to show off some cool episode. We needed to make everyone feel good.
TVLINE | I liked how at that one point Sam and Callen recounted everything that they’d gone through during this crazy year.
You know, the fans have been really loyal for 12 years, and sometimes we do things that are exciting but are also a little bit traumatic, and we felt like we should have as much fun as we can and share that with the fans. It was like a little “love letter” to the audience, to show how much we appreciate them.
TVLINE | Amongst other things, you also apparently had an election in your world, because the president who gave Kessler the pardon is now a former POTUS. But it’s not Trump, because your guy was a former congressman, right?
Yeah. Yeah. We always have to have a loophole!
TVLINE | What sort of reactions did you get from Barrett and Renée, when you told them your plan?
You know, it goes back and forth with each season. There have been seasons where Barrett has gotten sort of bored — he really pulls toward Broadway — and I would always have to have the duality conversation, which is, as a friend, “I totally understand. You want to be doing something else, something cool. You should.” But as a father figure, I’m like, “Keep getting the paycheck because one day the show’ll be over, and then you can do whatever you want.”
Renée’s the same; a lot of the time when we haven’t seen her, it’s because we’ve written her out so that she can pursue [other projects]. She’s developing her own shows, and just wrote a book that’s out. A lot of the actors have other projects; Dani [Ruah] is directing a movie in Portugal right now. It’s such a gift to have a show go this long, but it’s also a big ask to have someone do the same thing for a long time, whether it’s actors or writers or one of the crew.
TVLINE | With Nell gone, what is the plan to fill Hetty’s position?
Right now, we’re kicking around some ideas….
TVLINE | It seems like you may have to bring on someone new.
As you know, Linda [Hunt] was away a lot more this season because of COVID and us trying to keep her safe. The couple of episodes that she was in, where she was supposed to be in the Middle East, we actually shot in her driveway. That was getting a little more difficult to do, and then finally, Linda had both her vaccines, she was feeling great, and she came back. And she was so happy to be back. She had been gone for so long and hadn’t really interacted with anyone, so she was just so thrilled to be back on set. The minute I saw her, she’s like, “Let’s talk about next season…,” so I think that as tough as last year was, for a lot of reasons, she, like the rest of us, is starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel and feels good about coming back to work.
TVLINE | That’s good to hear, because Hetty’s line about still being up to her “ass in alligators” made me worry you were hedging your bets.
Whenever [a cast member] goes away, we introduce some predicament that we’re forced to deal with. We always try and incorporate it. I think those are instances of opportunity rather than problems. Like when Dani was pregnant, or whatever it is that’s thrown at us, we try to incorporate that. You normally wouldn’t ever write one of your No 1 through 6 actors out for four or five episodes, because you couldn’t afford to, but when they have to for whatever reason, you try and jump at that because that’s something you don’t normally get to do, and you build that into the story. Like, “Where is this character?” Obviously, Hetty was away, but we want there to be a real reason, and we’ll probably revisit that next season.
TVLINE | So, we might get a good amount of Hetty in Season 13?
That’s the plan, yeah.
TVLINE | In the meantime, what an MVP Gerald McRaney has been, as Kilbride!
Oh, man…. I have been a huge fan of his forever. I mean, I grew up watching him and I was really happy when we had him on the show the first time, a few years ago. He’s such a pro and so cool, he raises everybody’s game.
TVLINE | And Kilbride’s such a pisser, grumbling about the millennials and their TikToks.
He’s so great because he can do comedy, and he can do drama, and he likes to be out running around with guns, because he’s a big hunter in real life. We hope to see a lot more of him.
TVLINE | Was there anything you didn’t get to in Season 12?
There were a lot of things, like Callen’s past as a child; we probably would have started to explore that a bit more. We didn’t get to where Hetty was; that was a big storyline that we were building towards with, what she was involved in. If we were having a normal season, we would have gone to where Hetty was.
TVLINE | When she and Nell hugged, I got teary-eyed, man. I felt like Renée was really crying in that scene.
That’s what we wanted. We didn’t want to shortchange that return, so we had Hetty make an appearance with Nell, and then had a little fun with her and Kilbride.
TVLINE | Turning to the week prior, I kind of loved how Joelle is basically a Bond villain at this point, dressed all in black with one gloved hand and a prosthetic leg….
I talked to Elizabeth [Bogush] ahead of time and said, “I think we’re going to cut your leg off,” and she was like, “What??” [Laughs] You want to have some legitimate repercussions for some of this craziness, and that seemed like a good way to do it.
TVLINE | Renewal came later than usual this year. Are you preparing for next season to possibly be your last?
We sort of always have that in the back of our mind, and this year wasn’t any different. Next season, I hope to get a heads-up if that is the case, just so that we can go out with an episode or a bunch of episodes that really tie up things and send our characters into the future in a way that makes everyone happy. But we’ll just have to wait and see. No one ever knows. If there is someone that knows, they’re not telling me!
TVLINE | You think it’ll be a full season?
I think we’re scheduled to do 18 episodes. I would like to do [at least] 19, because that will get us to 300. I would really like to get 300, because that’s such a milestone.