renee felice smith in hetty's office on ncis: los angeles season 12 finale

Spoilers below for NCIS: Los Angeles' Season 12 finale, so be warned if you haven't yet watched!

One would think Eric Christian Olsen's Marty Deeks being kidnapped for the first chunk of NCIS: Los Angeles' Season 12 finale would have provided fans with the episode's biggest and most surprising moments. And while that fast food drive-thru visit was quite hilarious, it was the double dose of exits from Renée Felice Smith's Nell and Barrett Foa's Eric that arguably turned the most heads, not to mention the return of Linda Hunt's Hetty. Smith's exit ahead of Season 13 was seemingly an amicable one, which viewers may have inferred from the rather happy conclusion, and it appears to be tied to her eagerness to branch her career out.

When asked about her reaction to leaving, though, Renée Felice Smith gave TVLine an answer that dodged the exit angle and kept things squarely on what's coming next. In her words:

Well, I think it’s complicated. I mean, I think that I’ve been ready for my next chapter for a while now, in whatever form it will take. But it’s surely to be centered around storytelling. I hesitate to be part of the “cliché actress” calling herself a storyteller, but I really am one. I’m a writer. I’m a director. We are developing television currently. We have another indie in the works. I want to tell compelling stories, poignant stories that offer an escape and chance of reflection for the viewer, so that’s where my focus is.

By all means, fans should definitely be excited for everything that Renée Felice Smith has coming, as it sounds like her horizon is marked with multiple creative endeavors. As well, the actress spoke glowingly about Nell's arc this season as the surrogate Operations Manager in Hetty's absence, and how Nell "really found her voice" as the season went on. The finale in and of itself was a statement to Nell's ascent not just in Season 12, but across her entire journey on NCIS: Los Angeles. To be the character set up to take Hetty's place in case of her permanent absence is no small feat. Not that it happened just yet, though it may well happen in the future.

While the episode does officially mark Renée Felice Smith's exit from NCIS: Los Angeles, the creative team already built Nell's potential return into the dialogue, where she half-joked that she might be back from her new job in Tokyo in "six weeks" or so. As well, Nell's brief (though meaningful) reunion with Hetty left fans itching for the characters to have a proper sit down and discuss everything that's been going on. While speaking about acting opposite Linda Hunt again, Smith also hinted at Nell coming back at some point. In her words:

Oh, my God…. My heart. Linda is just a magical creature. To have her back was really quite emotional. She was essentially sidelined by the pandemic, as you could imagine, so to even see her in the flesh, let alone share a scene with her. . . . And the scene is really a bittersweet reunion. Nell really wants nothing more than to stay and catch up with her mentor, but she can’t. So, it’s kind of this 'goodbye for now' scene.

Which isn't to say that fans should get ready for Nell to be back in full at any point in Season 13 or beyond; just that we may not have to worry about Renée Felice Smith being 100% done with NCIS: Los Angeles in the way that other former franchise actors are 100% done with the franchise.

NCIS: Los Angeles will be back on CBS for Season 13 at some point this fall after the 2021 Summer TV season has concluded, but while waiting you can catch all the past episodes streaming on Paramount+.

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