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NCIS Review: Mike Franks' Swan Song

by at . Comments

From the opening scene, you knew this would be not just an unusual episode of NCIS, but a somber, dark and gut-wrenching installment that would leave viewers reeling.

The aptly-titled "Swan Song" began with Gibbs stoically standing in the rain, helplessly watching a body bag carted off. As promised, the victim was a major NCIS figure.

Even as the story unfolded in reverse, with dots connected throughout the night, the identity of the person ins the bag and the toll this loss took on Gibbs were obvious.

Gibbs and Franks

NCIS doesn't usually try methods such as having Mike (or the memories of Mike) talk to Gibbs throughout the case, hovering over his shoulder, as if he were really there.

For a time, of course, he was. But the Mike Franks we first saw last night spoke to Jethro from beyond the grave, shrouding the episode in both mystery and emotion.

If there were any doubts that Jethro's mentor was the victim, they were cleared up during Duck's autopsy. Gibbs was present, yet absent, like Mike in a different sense.

Perhaps the fact that it was so different made it all the more effective. Rather than having Franks killed as a shocker at the end, we were left wondering how and why.

It worked extremely well not only because many fans guessed Franks would be this week's victim, but because it set up a terrific "Swan Song" for this great character.

Like the old dog he referenced, Franks knew his time had come, and he went out in style, picking a fight the Port-to-Port Killer never saw coming and nearly winning it.

Mike looked noticeably pale and unwell, not to mention noticeably older, in human form than in Gibbs' mental images. You can't help but wonder if he was gravely ill.

That may also explain how Gibbs lives with what happened going forward. Had he not called Mike, he would be alive today ... or would he? Not if he were terminal.

Instead, perhaps Jethro offered the man who took him under his wing a fitting sendoff, and in a tangential way, broke open a case that flummoxed him on many levels.

That doesn't mean Mike's murder wasn't brutal to stomach for Probie or anyone else. For Gibbs, letting go of Franks would be like everyone else letting go of Gibbs.

The scene where the elevator opened and McGee was holding Abby just as Tony was with Ziva, and Tony telling them to "bring it in" for a group hug was powerful.

Given everything that's gone on - and is still going on - viewers probably felt they needed a hug too. After all, the monster who did this to Franks is still on the loose.

Franks' death became the latest chapter in the hunt for the P2P, who we now know by name (Jonas Cobb) and received a full bio on thanks to a one-eyed Trent Cort.

The shady CIA agent's role filled in a number of blanks.

Swan Song Photo

First, it explained the eyeball. It was his, which made sense, given the Company's propensity for gaining access to everything. More importantly, it legitimized the P2P.

Making viewers fear Cobb on a show in which murderers are hunted every week is a difficult task, but Cort's description and thoroughly disturbing videos did the job.

The P2P is a trained assassin, crafted by the CIA to do its "wet work" while remaining undercover as a run-of-the-mill serviceman. Only after his first kill, he went rogue.

After making a mockery of military hierarchy by slaying his first group of victims, the killer is now evolving, tracking the people tracking him. But Franks wasn't a target.

Cobb was conducting "research" on Gibbs, lurking inside NCIS and outside his home. Just as Gibbs and Vance study each other, the killer observes. He learns. He waits.

Interestingly, it was when Gibbs confronted Vance about their personal battles that he gained insight into why Cobb came to his house - and where he went next.

Franks forced Cobb into a kill-or-be-killed situation, but the P2P didn't want Gibbs. He wanted Barrett and her team members, baiting them into a terrifying trap.

Despite widespread animosity for E.J. and the new guys, you couldn't watch this and not feel awful. She walked right into this haunting, deadly trap and had no idea.

Will E.J. survive? It doesn't look good, but Gibbs and Vance are on the same page now. Jethro's running point, fueled by the demise of his mentor. It is ON next week.

Presumably because of its format, NCIS doesn't get much Emmy love, but that should change, because this was one of the most superbly written episodes of TV you'll see.

Weaving this complicated web in such compelling fashion, with precise attention to detail and continuity years in the making, is no easy task. Kudos to everyone involved.

I'm drained after watching, then writing about these events that evoked so much emotion and so many thoughts. It's hard to do them justice. So I turn it over to you:

What did you think of last night's NCIS? Discuss below!

Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (1046 Votes)

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.

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Oh, and seriously, on the Baltimore flashback episode - what great references (Pacci - my stomach will be the death of me, ugh who can forget the elevator scene?) and Tony "who wants to be a Navy cop?" Totally loved it loved it loved it. Definitely a wonderful episode.

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I'm not sure what to make of this episode. I wonder if it was Mr. Watson's choice to leave the show- otherwise it is a pity because he was so much fun as a crusty character who had schooled gibbs in being crusty, as well. It's high time to tie up P2P and I really really hope they DO tie it up and don't pull an end of season cliffhanger. Seriously, it gets old. I do not like EJ - the character and perhaps the actress is flat....not interesting at all. I'm thinking maybe one or two more seasons tops for NCIS. Gotta stop when it's still good, folks.

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For all of the people who say it was not right to have Ziva show emotion and cry -- she's HUMAN after all and she looks to Gibbs and even Mike Franks as the fatherly figures she did not have in her life (although she would still be upset if something happened to her own father). She is still strong, but hey, isn't it better than they are showing a more caring side to her, not just a cold-hearted-robot (not that I ever thought that of her, but some comments are insinuating that). And yes, I, too, am a HUGE TIVA FAN. Get rid of EJ and the Big guy. Alimi Ballard from Numbers was good, but I have a feeling he was killed this past week. I agree with someone who wrote that Frank's gun probably ran out of bullets so EJ won't get shot (at least not at the beginning of the finale), &/or Tony or Ziva will save her. By the way, this week's show was TERRIFIC!! I have a question tho: unless I missed something, I thought they implied that they knew the P2P killer and had probably seen him before, but then it seemed that they had never seen him (the CIA knew him, but not NCIS). Any comments on this? And I don't think anyone answered the question about whether Kort had an eye patch a long time ago on an episode?? NCIS, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, is the best show on tv and I hope it remains that way by keeping the core stars alive and well and working together for a very long time!

Sue ann

@ Michael -- Thank you for the correction. Chris Pacci was killed while Kate was still there. This changes nothing regarding the death and devastation which have surrounded Ziva her entire life. I do believe your zeal for pulling apart the posts of other people here causes you to entirely miss their point.

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Swan Song was easily the best episode of season 8! Mark was fantastic! Aswell, the elevator scene showed the love between the team. I'm hoping its not going to be Jimmy Palmer who they kill off next week! And i'm a big Tiva fan so i hope that develops in the seasn finale! I'm not a fan of E.J but i think her team work well together so if she doesn't die, and is less involved from now on, i wouldn't mind. Emmy? I think its about time! I'm gutted that Jesse Stern has left the writing team, his episodes have been some of the best on the show.

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@ Sue Ann
Your thinking of Kate not Ziva it was Kate who
lost the co-worker who sat on the other side of her wall.

Sue ann

@ Maka -- I don't agree that Ziva's emotional breakdown in the elevator was solely to do with the death of Mike Franks. I believe that it was the conclusion of a long series of losses suffered by her character over the course of a violent life, finally taking their toll on her new more open facade. She lost her little sister when they were children. She lost her mother somewhere along the way. She was forced to kill her own brother. She lost her boyfriend when Tony killed him. She lost the co-worker who sat on the other side of her wall. (Sorry, I forget his name.) She lost Jenny, in a way that was partly her own fault. She lost her faith in the righteousness of Mossad and her father's orders, due to the actions she was forced to take on that ship off Somalia. She witnessed the murder of an American serviceman by a Mossad operative. She was taken prisoner by her target, and forced to witness what appeared to be the likely torture and murder of her two friends, DiNozzo and McGee. She has very recently broken up with her boyfriend. She has become estranged from her father. She has lost Mike Franks. The integrity and safety of her place of work has been compromised by the theft of Trent Cort's eye. I am surprised that Ziva David has held together as long as she has. Her strength of character and will power are astonishing. But everyone has a breaking point, a final straw which breaks the camel's back. I think Ziva hit hers, however temporarily, with the death of Mike Franks, who is a symbolic godfather to Gibbs's unit, the final resource who comes to the rescue when things get so hairy that they need the figurative cavalry. At one time or another, everyone needs a hug. It does not mean that a person is permanently broken, or cannot go on, no matter what they say at the moment. It means that they have had so much to handle that they need a little support from a warm pair of arms, and someone to lean on for a moment. I think that this moment came for all four of Gibbs's subordinates, and it was lovely that they were there to hold and support each other physically, the way that they so often support each other professionally and emotionally. Ziva will recover. She just needed a hug, a chance to breathe.

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Okay so I guess somehow i missed something with only one eye being their i was so sure their were 2. Franks looked sick already!!!!! Wonder if that was makeup or something is wrong..??? So EJ and her team have been the target all along huh???? well that's what im getting form it. HATE EJ disobeys a direct order jez!!! What is with Ziva???? her charter is really like that ( the way she got so upset) I dont like the hint of "I cant do this anymore" and OMG i almost died when her and Tony were in the elevator together and he was all concerned and caring!!!( i know it wont happen but im a huge fan of those 2 as a couple!) And then them all together in the elevator i hope someone has a shot of that because that was amazingly sad but cute. Preview: okay so are we gonna know if EJ survives??? ( not that i care) Is this obsession with the toys gonna be explained??? ( doll, bear, monkey and robot) Is ziva gonna be saved in time for it not to be a cliff hanger all summer long??? Will Gibbs finally read that file on Vance???? Thats another thing.... this is geeing way to predictable Ziva always seems to get hurt or captured whats up with that?

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i was shocked i had no idea or gave it any thought mike would be killed, i must say i was on the edge of seat and there isn't enuff stars to rate NCIS....i think its the best series on tv

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@Sue Ann There's a difference between having and openly displaying emotions and breaking down into tears for a man you hardly know. Ziva's relationship with Franks prior to this point is knowing that he's Gibbs's old boss and partner and knowing that he's pretty cool for an old guy. That's ALL. There have been no heartfelt or non-superficial conversations between the two that would be in ANY way indicative of a closer platonic relationship. But no, we have to show the girls as breaking down and crying inconsolably so Strong Manly Men McGee and DiNozzo can comfort them and aw-ain't-that-so-sweet. Abby I'd understand, her being a noncombatant and all. But Ziva? Please, that's completely out of character. It would have made more sense for Tony to have been the one who went through the breakdown. He's been around for longer and knew Gibbs for longer, so if there was anybody who would have known Franks as a person rather than "Gibbs's Old Boss", it would have been him.