Operational psychologist Dr Nate Getz has always been the soft-hearted good guy, and the press release for “Head Of The Snake” promised some high jinks with Nate, along the lines of ‘has he or hasn’t he turned bad’. From season two, Hetty has been cultivating Nate as a field operative, sending him to various corners of the world. He occasionally returns to the LA office to offer counsel, such as after Deeks and Sam’s torture and was last seen in season six, helping Nell after she made her first kill. Nate has also been the butt of Callen’s sometimes cruel jokes; in season four’s Paper Soldiers, he turns Nate’s caring question about his well-being back on him, by asking about how to find someone and how long he should wait before asking that someone out (Callen knowing full well that Nate spent a few years wooing Rose before they actually started dating). Now Nate has failed to check in from his undercover operation for three months, is a bad-ass and nasty, and this really does not sit quite right. But having been missing from the show for a while, anything is possible…
The team too question whether Nate could really have gone native. In Ops, the agents witness him shooting a plain clothes military man, luckily only hospitalising him. They are sent to not only investigate his high jacking of compromised weapons and ammunition, but to find Nate. Throughout the episode the team try to understand what is happening with him. Deeks seriously considers how Nate could have lost himself during his deep cover and Nell is confused and very much affected by the possibility, the two having formed a close bond during earlier seasons. Granger and Hetty though, fail to show much concern and are more interested in letting Nate’s actions play out. This again adds to the confusion; both have enough experience to know Nate might just be in too deep and may be asking the team for help – without actually asking for help.
Nell and Eric track the van used in the high-jacking to the desert where Sam and Callen find an unconscious Nate. But he has tricked them, and the first seeds are sown during this early scene. Sam and Callen fail to announce themselves as Federal Agents and Nate calls them on this. The team always shout “Federal Agents”, causing the bad guys to run to ensure a chase sequence, so this in itself is curious. Secondly, Nate instructs his female accomplice Alisa to kidnap Callen and not to kill Sam. Why leave Sam when he will alert the team and mount a rescue attempt? Nate does however, shoot the tires of Sam’s precious Challenger, (saying he’s always wanted to do that), leaving him stranded.
The thoughts that Nate may still be undercover are somewhat silenced when events spiral out of control with Callen. He is seriously pissed at Nate and gives him a lot of attitude and smart-ass answers. Nate verbally lays into Callen with some personal attacks; he knows his real name and baits Callen with the question of his identity, knowing his name has removed his lifelong security blanket – but still he does not know who he is. Callen knows the weapons high jack and his capture were tests to confirm Nate has turned. But Nate wanted him specifically so they could breach the security protocols created by Sam and Callen, and steal NASA grade explosive JDX (which is not a Vegas DJ, as Callen sarcastically suggests)! He won’t divulge the information and is water-boarded. He still refuses to tell them what he knows (except he does know the water was not spring water), and Nate confirms Callen’s a problem child. On a side note, Callen may have been taken as Nate knows from counselling Sam, that if he is tortured too many times he may reach a breaking point where he will never be able to reconnect with himself.
The tension is palpable between Callen and Nate, and their psychological battle and interactions are fascinating, but there is something else going on. Callen’s real name is not public knowledge and that he and Sam consulted on the JDX security protocol is above Nate’s security clearance. Callen challenges Nate on both. How has Nate obtained this information? If Nate had accessed NCIS databases, surely he would have left an electronic footprint? Did this information come from Hetty..? Regardless, Nate and Alisa revert to plan b. A man is waiting in a public area to randomly shoot innocent people if Callen does not play ball. Nate uses Callen’s fear of being responsible for other people’s suffering against him, forcing him to help the bad guys. Nate’s behaviour with Callen is contradictory to the early signs that he may just be in over his head, and suggests that he has actually gone rogue.
Meanwhile the team make a connection to Omni, the criminal operation investigated in season five and there are fears Callen has been taken in revenge for NCIS killing their men. Kensi and Deeks successfully interrogate an imprisoned member of Omni in some rather elongated boatshed scenes. The first interrogation serves only as padding and to give the pair more screen time. (The pair are also responsible for the lighter side of the episode as leftovers have disappeared from their fridge. Deeks of course blames Kensi, cue the banter). During the second interrogation scene they obtain information that the JDX is to be sold to three major criminal organisations. Deeks later voices his concerns about Nate and provides an insightful analysis of how undercover roles mean you have to first deceive yourself. Nate, as a psychologist, will go deeper into his psyche than he should and may start believing and living the lies.
Nate’s real intentions are confirmed when Sam conveniently finds a loose vent in Nate’s home containing vital documents and then, when Nate convinces Alisa not to kill Callen, the latter making Callen realise that Nate is trying to do the right thing. Callen slips Nate a tracker before escaping, and agrees with Granger they should allow Nate to play it out, however dangerous the odds; Alisa will kill Nate if she suspects anything. Eventually the deal is stopped, heads of the three major criminal groups are arrested and Alisa is blown up with the JDX. As a femme fatale with the nickname of the Black Widow (she kills the men she becomes involved with), she obviously has to die.
It was a fairly safe bet that Nate had not turned rogue and there were plenty of clues to support this. But most importantly, it is just not in his nature. Callen’s torture by simulated drowning challenges these clues, but Nate’s actions allow him an element of control. Water-boarding leaves no physical clues, and Nate has chosen not to beat the information out of Callen – if he had, then his character would definitely have jumped the shark. Callen was water boarded once before Nate quickly moved to plan b, knowing that it would work. He could have threatened this in the first place, but he had to act the part to convince Alisa and confuse Callen for genuine reactions. The fact that Nate is a psychologist and knows what makes the agents tick places him in a unique position with Callen. His mind games and torture failed, and Callen showed just how awkward, sarcastic and stubborn he can be. The interaction between the two characters was intriguing and it would be fascinating to see more detailed one on one scenarios between the two at a later date.
The closing scenes in the weapons room show how confused Nate is. He contritely approaches Callen who is clearly still annoyed, but there is no apology for the personal taunts or water boarding. Callen’s reminder that Nate is part of the team and needs to trust is extremely ironic, coming from the show’s lone wolf and considering Callen’s own behaviour in the season opener. The difference between their actions is that Callen knew full well what he was doing when he went rogue. Hetty also throws this back to Nate in their closing conversation, as Nate has said those very words to Callen in the past.
Season seven has shown that character based episodes are usually the strongest, and “Head of the Snake” showcases both Nate and Callen and provides insight to undercover work, particularly from Deeks. It was predictable that Nate had not turned rogue but it would have been a great twist if he had actually turned to the dark side. But instead he now lives to return another day. The one person that remains an enigma during this episode and generally, is Hetty Lange. How involved was she in Nate’s undercover operation? Did she feed him classified information about Callen and the JDX security protocols? Sam challenges Hetty about Nate, as have many of the other characters this season. Nate questions Hetty about his readiness for undercover work, and Hetty closes by saying to Nate that the real training now begins. Was this just a test? There is no doubt that she is a great manipulator of people (Nate even says to Callen that Hetty made both of them), and an episode(s) focusing on Hetty, the story of her ‘orphans’, her manipulations, motivates and the consequences of her actions would be fascinating and potentially devastating.
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