I had my doubts about the premise of this episode from the get-go, but the writers again deserve credit for turning what could have been cliched filler into excellent TV.
The history of this long-running show was on full display last night, but rather than feeling like gimmicks, the flashbacks actually taught us a lot about our favorite agents.
"A Man Walks Into a Bar" took us inside the minds of the NCIS team, a group whose selfless devotion overcomes all dysfunction to fire on all cylinders without fail.
The episode also served as a tribute of sorts to Sasha Alexander's Caitlin Todd.
The week's murder mystery felt almost irrelevant, although the fact that it even took place, with the team's psych evaluations worked around it, made the episode more realistic.
Vance, Ducky, Abby, Tim and Tony were all interviewed by Dr. Rachel Cranston (Wendy Makkena), who observed them on the job, asking probing (no pun intended) questions.
The answers and expressions they gave, particularly in Ziva's case, were revealing. As tough as these people are, the psychiatrist broke them down, even if only their eyes said it.
Instead of overwhelming the present story, the flashback clips were short and powerful.There was an unexpected, common theme. Not just dysfunction masked by loyalty that keeps NCIS from becoming unglued, but the effect of Kate's death on the entire team.
Incredibly for a character who died at the end of Season 2, her presence looms large to this day. Ziva took her place. Abby lost a friend. Tony became the man he is right now.
Many fans of NCIS miss Kate to this day, so this was not only a compelling episode on its own merit but another "here's to our fans" moment from the producers, which I loved.
I did not see the connection between Rachel and Kate coming, although my wife said early in the night that Rachel and Kate looked similar, so Makkena was clearly well cast.
As is to be expected, Gibbs was several steps ahead of me and everyone else.
As Kate's older sister, Rachel was there for reasons beyond obligatory psych evaluations. Gibbs knew that Rachel needed closure, as depicted in the powerful scene here:
Their exchange was powerful, and his differentiation of closure and memories quite accurate. So few words, such deep meaning. Kate must have been smiling from above.
Vance didn't have the personal connection to Kate, making his talk with Cranston a bit different. He's been off his game, afraid to let his guard down. They both know this.
After all he's been through, Vance can be forgiven for that, but you have to wonder if he'll crack at some point, and what consequences he or the team may suffer for it.
The murder of a Naval commander took some interesting twists, and turned out to be suicide. A suicide made to look like murder. That's not one you see every day.
This plot line obviously had greater potential than it was given time to explore, but for being a "B-story" in this unusual installment, it was handled well enough.
A few concluding thoughts:
- The title refers to this joke, as told by Rachel to Gibbs: A man walks into a bar and asks for a glass of water. The bartender pulls a gun on him, at which point the man says thanks and leaves. Why? Gibbs nailed it - he had the hiccups. Unconventional, but effective. Just like the team. This metaphor worked very well.
- Among my favorite moments from the psych evaluations: Tony being thrown off by her questioning, Ziva admitting she wanted something permanent, insight into McGee's romantic life (or lack thereof) and Abby's simple declaration, "I miss Kate."
- Were they planting a seed for an Abby-McGee hookup?
- Was that rooftop Tony-Kate scene new?
What did you think of last night's NCIS? Discuss!