Why Did Hetty Leave NCIS: Los Angeles? A Car Accident and the Pandemic Are Both to Blame
Where is Hetty? It’s no question that Hetty is a fan favorite on NCIS: Los Angeles. But the beloved character’s reduced screen time since Season 9 has all wondering: Why did Hetty leave NCIS: Los Angeles and does she return for Season 14?
NCIS: Los Angeles, the initial spin-off of NCIS, is the CBS drama that follows the Office of Special Projects (OSP), a division of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service based in Los Angeles. The team specializes in undercover assignments and apprehending dangerous criminals. The series premiered in September 2009 and is currently on its 14th season. Our sister site, Deadline, reported in January 2023 that Season 14 would be the last for NCIS: LA, with the series finale set for May 14, 2023.
Linda Hunt plays Henrietta “Hetty” Lange, the Operations Manager for the OSP. She’s portrayed Hetty since the very first episode aired in 2009. The Oscar-winning actress opened up to The Daily Beast in 2011 about the role, admitting that she had no intention of signing up for an ongoing TV series. “I wasn’t looking for anything,” she said. “I’m now 66. At this time in my life, that this has come along, feels just like a gift. The heavens opened up and just handed me a little something to get me into my 70s.”
Hunt added about her character: “I knew that Hetty was going to be someone who was incredibly eclectic in her tastes and her sensibility, someone who lived around the world for a while, someone who had a very unusual, very interesting life,” she said. “She always had her shit together, except when she couldn’t possibly. Then you see Hetty under rare circumstances.” Hunt’s won two Teen Choice Awards for her role in the crime drama.
Keep reading for everything we know about Hetty leaving NCIS: Los Angeles, the reasoning behind her reduced role on the show, and whether she’ll return in the final season.
Why did Hetty leave NCIS: Los Angeles?
Why did Hetty leave NCIS: Los Angeles? There are a few reasons to explain Hunt’s absences over the years. Hunt’s first major break from the series came after she was in a car accident in July 2018. Although Hunt didn’t sustain serious injuries from the crash, her character was gone for the entire 10th season and for most of the 11th. In a statement obtained by TV Line, Hunt said that she had to take more time to cover than she originally thought. “I first want to say how much I appreciate the outpouring of support from the NCIS: LA fans following my car accident this summer,” Hunt explained. “Though I had hoped to return to playing Hetty at the start of the season, I had to take some additional time to recover. I look forward to returning later this season.”
The next time Hunt was largely absent from NCIS: Los Angeles was during the COVID-19 pandemic. Filming for the show resumed in the summer of 2020 — and Hetty was given special consideration because of her age. Showrunner and Executive Producer R. Scott Gemmill said in a 2020 interview with TV Line that they were doing everything to keep the now 77-year-old Hunt safe. “Linda was away a lot more this season because of COVID and us trying to keep her safe…. And then finally, Linda had both her vaccines, she was feeling great, and she came back [for the finale],” he stated, adding that she was “so 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.”
In response to COVID-19 precautions, Hunt only appeared a few times in Season 12. The writers developed a storyline that Hetty needed to return to Syria, which is where the character was for much of the season, to fans’ disapproval. But in the Season 12 finale, “A Tale of Two Igors,” Admiral Kilbride (Gerald McRaney) ordered others to clear Hetty’s office, signaling that her time might be over. But in a surprise twist, Hetty came back to the NCIS offices to say goodbye and good luck to Nelle Jones (Renée Felice Smith). The ending of Season 12 also hinted that Hetty could be back in Season 13, especially when she supervises Kilbride as he puts everything back in her office where it rightfully belonged.
But that wasn’t enough for fans — they wanted to see Hetty in a much bigger way in Season 13. Gemmill heard the calls for Hetty’s return and addressed the matter in an interview with Parade. “Her story continues,” he reassured Hetty supporters. “She was in at the beginning of this season and then we had her disappear. The plan is to follow that up next year with some reveal.” Ultimately, Hunt only appeared in one episode of Season 13, the premiere episode titled “Subject 17,” in October 2021.
Is Hetty coming back to NCIS: Los Angeles in Season 14?
Is Hetty coming back to NCIS: Los Angeles for Season 14? The answer is yes! Fans will be excited to hear to Hetty did in fact return in show’s final season, and she made her final off-screen appearance in the Season 14 finale, which aired on May 21, 2023.
Her first appearance in Season 14 was for the NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: Hawai’i three-hour crossover episode in January 2023. A historic event, it marked the first time that all three NCIS divisions were united together under one roof. We heard Hunt’s voice in the crossover when she left an encrypted voice message for G. Callen (Chris O’Donnell) and Sam Hanna (LL Cool J), which they had to eventually decode.
“In true Hetty fashion, she proved not only to be on top of what was going on but she even offered some cryptic advice to help get them out of a jam,” Gemmill told TV Line in January 2023 after the crossover premiered. Although we didn’t get to see Hetty on screen, fans still got to hear her voice. Her spot in the crossover also proved that Hetty was, in fact, still alive, after it’s believed that she faked her own death earlier in the season.
In the Season 14 finale, the last episode of the long-running series, viewers found out that Hetty was still alive (but we still don’t see the actress in person). After Callen and Anna’s wedding, a courier showed up with an envelope for G. Callen (Chris O’Donnell) with a wax seal with familiar initials. Hetty somehow knew about the wedding taking place, and she surprised the couple with a honeymoon and a new secret mission. “Dear Agent Callen, Congratulations on your wedding. I am so very happy for you and Anna. I only wish I could have been there to celebrate such a glorious occasion with all of you. Most people think I never had a family of my own, but I beg to differ. I have been blessed with the greatest family one could ever have wished for…and so have you. As always, Hetty P.S. I have arranged for you and Anna to have my place in Mykonos for your honeymoon. Stay as long as you like,” the letter said.
In the envelope, there were also plane tickets for the newlyweds and a secondary note that read: “I’ve also sent along two plane tickets to for you and Sam in the event that you may have a couple days beforehand to help me with a small side project.” The episode concluded with Sam and Callen traveling to Morocco to see what the special side project was.
Gemmill explained to TV Insider in May 2023 why Hunt couldn’t appear in person in the Season 14 finale. “Yeah, that was just about Linda’s availability. I’d hoped that if Linda was available, the finale would’ve been a rescue mission to find Hetty and whether we would’ve rescued her or not, I’m sure we would’ve put our guys — if we knew we had another season and Linda had been available, we probably would’ve gone to rescue Hetty and wound up in trouble and then had to have resolve that in the next season.”
Want to learn more about NCIS cast salaries? Check out the gallery below to see how much each star makes per episode of NCIS.