The Many Faces of Henrietta Lange
She once ruled Nicaragua for 72 hours. She knew Frank Sinatra and Jack Nicholson. She may have invented the Internet. Henrietta Lange is arguably the most interesting woman in the world. She’s a master strategist driven to make the world a safer place, but she’s also a caring person who sees her agents as adopted children. These separate callings often conflict, leading her to tremendous guilt and rationalization. Hetty may be the “master of the universe,” but she is not perfect, which makes her all the more interesting.
Let’s take a closer look at the woman behind the legend. Today we’ll explore the maternal, benevolent roles Hetty fills. This is the Hetty we all want to see, the woman we want to believe in. In Part Two we’ll examine the occasionally manipulative woman compelled to accomplish the mission at any cost, and talk about how these two sometimes incompatible drives affect her relationship with Deeks and her team.A “Little Mother” with an Unconventional Family
Let’s start with Hetty’s softer side. She never had her own children, but she hasn’t let that stop her from forming a family around her. She’s done it unconventionally, by taking orphans under her wing: Grace from “Raven and the Swans”, Sullivan, Hunter, Callen, and “a lot” of others. She gave them all “an opportunity, an education, a family.”
Hetty follows her orphan recruits for a long time before they ever meet her. She watched over Callen since he was little. She picked Hunter up from the orphanage when she was seven, and intervened with Grace when she was “in trouble with the law as a juvy.” We don’t yet know when Kensi or Deeks, who both fit the orphan profile, appeared on her radar. As Callen observes in Fame, “You do your homework, don’t you, in choosing agents… You’ve been watching him for a while.” She replies, “There is value in being patient.” At the very least, Hetty followed Deeks’ career, but she could have shadowed him much longer. As for Kensi, we know that Hetty’s friend Tujon knew Donald Blye. Could it be that Hetty has followed Kensi since she was functionally parentless and living on the streets? Or maybe she learned about her through a friendship with Jack that could go back many years.
A Next of Kin for Deeks
Once Deeks joins Hetty’s team, he quickly comes to see her as more than a boss. By “Personal” he shares with her the most painful memory of his childhood and she becomes his next of kin, officially filling the role a mother would. It’s more than a legalistic title though. Deeks accepts her as a genuine maternal figure in his life. We see this in small but telling ways, like in “Cyber Threat” when he jokingly refers to her as the “little mother” watching over the team. It’s also clear from more significant actions, such as in “Familia” when he goes to Prague to rescue her from the Comescus, and in “Fallout” when he helps break into the Russian consulate to save her career. Hetty is quite possibly the most positive maternal influence he’s had in his life.
Hetty often acts in ways that make her seem more like a fairy godmother than a human one. Her ability to materialize out of nowhere, as if she’s apparating like a witch from Harry Potter, is one example. But she has also figuratively swooped in to affect her agents’ lives. After years of watching from the shadows, she appears out of the blue to rescue her orphans. In “Hand to Hand” she offers a surprised Deeks his liaison position, and later (in “Imposters”) she tries to secure his long-term job security with NCIS. Just as she gives Callen a physical home (in “Human Traffic”), she has given Deeks and the others a spiritual one. Lieutenant Bates sees it in “The Debt,” and Deeks confirms it, saying “I think it’s where I belong.”
During that initial job offer, Deeks is shocked by all the information Hetty knows about him. Sometimes her ability to know everything her agents are up to borders on the creepy. She may accomplish this thanks to an endless number of hidden cameras, but she seems happy to have Deeks and the others believe that it comes about through magical powers. Deeks actually revels in Hetty’s power, just as he does with all strong women. He takes great pleasure in her frightening reputation, like when he assures the FBI agents from “Archangel,” “Oh she’s real, and you do not want that little chupacabra surveilling your asses.”
Matchmaker (and Densi Shipper?)
Like any good mother, Hetty just wants her children to find the right person to make them happy. She has tried with Callen, attempting to match him with Paris in “Red” and helping to set up his blind date in “War Cries.” But nowhere has she been more involved in the love lives of her agents than with Deeks and Kensi.
Early on she wants them both to be happy, although whether that involves being happy together is unclear. At the end of “Plan B” she tells Deeks, “No one should live out his life alone, including you.” In “Imposters” she warns Kensi away from making the same life choices she did, explaining “you’re going to want to come home to more than just a collection of antique weapons.” Given her patience and planning, it’s easy to imagine that one of the reasons she hired Deeks in the first place was because she saw him as a match for Kensi.
Hetty’s views on the Densi ship, however, have appeared to shift over time. In “The Debt” she tells Kensi that it might be best that Deeks is gone if she’s developing feelings for him. In “Neighborhood Watch” she warns them about the “unfamiliar feelings and emotions” of working undercover as man and wife. Yet the clearest communication she has made regarding her position on Densi has to be the “sunshine and gunpowder” note she passes to Deeks at the end of “Parley,” an apparently clear blessing for him to pursue a closer relationship with his partner.
Season 5 Hetty has shifted to wariness of Deeks and Kensi growing closer. She questions Nate about them in “Impact,” and worries over them with Granger in “Reznikov, N.,” saying “Partnerships are tricky at the best of times.” This could come out of her desire to keep them both safe. She has just nearly lost Deeks at the season’s start. Perhaps she’s concerned that a deepening relationship could affect their judgment on the job, a concern that proves accurate in “The Frozen Lake.” She does try to comfort Deeks with the knife discussion at the end of that episode, and in “Merry Evasion,” she shows some sympathy with the gift of satellite phones. With Kensi’s recent return, Hetty has remained ever watchful of the pair. Does her “end of the beginning” observation in “Three Hearts” mark her approval of the apparent slowdown of their relationship? It’s too soon to tell exactly which way Hetty will lean when it comes to Densi, although we have to hope that, like any good mother, she won’t interfere with their chance at true happiness.
A Mother’s Love
Although the mission will always be her first priority (tune in to Part Two for much more on this topic), Hetty tries to protect her agents as best she can. She doesn’t just view her recruits as part of a job placement program; she seems to genuinely love them like they were her own children. We see this through her choice of words, for example in “The Gold Standard” when she threatens Granger over Deeks’ undercover assignment, telling him “You’re in my house now… If anything should happen to him, I would take it most personally.” Or in a lighter moment, such as when Kensi and Deeks plan to “play house” with Sam’s kids: Hetty looks on quite pleased, saying to herself, “They grow up so fast.”
We see her love most poignantly when Renko and Hunter are killed in “Sans Voir” Parts 1 and 2. She nearly breaks down in front of her team when she learns of Renko’s death, and she displays tremendous vulnerability over Hunter. She questions Callen about the moment of her death, worrying that she felt afraid. It’s clear that Hunter was like a real daughter to her. In “Raven and The Swans,” Hetty tells Callen, “There were many factors that conspired against me having my own family. But I did my very best to take care of those who fell under my wing.” Callen tells her “I think you would have made a great mother, Hetty.” To that, she says, “Thank you, Mr. Callen. I’d like to think I have.”
Season 5 Hetty has shown concern for Deeks’ well-being, but it has been tempered by her need to make sure the team is “mission ready.” We’ll explore Mission-Focused Hetty in Part Two, but for now let’s look at her Season 5 behavior through the lens of Maternal Hetty. She checks on Deeks in his home in “Impact,” kindly wishing that the storm he’s experiencing will “pass without too much damage.” She checks on his heart, his “emotional center,” in “Unwritten Rule,” and again asks how he’s doing in “Iron Curtain Rising.”
This caring behavior is balanced with some harder-to-categorize actions, such as when she takes away his motorcycle in “Unwritten Rule.” This could be chalked up to over-protectiveness. After all, Hetty was likely quite shaken by seeing Deeks tortured and nearly killed on her watch (and because of the same man who murdered Hunter); we really aren’t privy to her reactions. And perhaps some of her harshness, such as in “Impact” when she says she doesn’t want him back “if he’s not the man he was,” is also her effort to protect him. If he truly isn’t capable of doing his job, he’ll be in greater danger of being hurt again.
Then there’s the curious behavior of jumping out from behind his curtains. Is scaring a man who’s just suffered such trauma really a smart or sensitive move? Perhaps this is Hetty’s misguided attempt to be amusing; Deeks is the only one who always jumps at her sudden appearances, as if it’s a private joke between them. Maybe Hetty thought she would bring some light, literally and figuratively, with her little trick.
When Mother Meets Mission
There is much to Henrietta Lange that is good, kind, thoughtful, and wise. She works hard to keep her agents safe, and worries over their happiness and love lives. But she is not so simply described. Hetty is also tremendously driven to accomplish her job at any cost. She sees the greater good that comes from what she does, but she also enjoys the power she’s fought to attain, and she doesn’t hesitate to use manipulative tactics to achieve her aims. It’s when all these characteristics are taken into account that she becomes even more fascinating (and controversial). We’ll take a closer look at this other side of Hetty in Part Two.
In the meantime, Hetty is so complex that there are countless ways to interpret her behavior. Tell us your take on this amazing character in the Comments.