NCIS Review: "The Penelope Papers"

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NCIS may be labeled as a "procedural," but I know I'm not alone in saying what really makes it work are the characters. The plot is almost always superbly written, but only if our favorite agents can sell it.

Last week's episode dovetailed nicely with some of DiNozzo's internal struggles. This week's featured a case even more directly tied to McGee - his grandma was personally involved - and it was wonderful.

"The Penelope Papers" were heavily classified documents that got a Naval officer killed just as he was attempting to go to the press and blow the whistle on a top secret military project. His accomplice?

Tim, Tony, Penny

None other than Penelope Langston (the amazing Lily Tomlin), a character who would have been a treat on her own merit, but whose entertainment value skyrocketed because of her relationship with Tim.

Their scenes together were all terrific, especially at the end. We actually experienced a power outage with two minutes to go in the episode. Imagine if I hadn't gone back and watched the conclusion later!

Watching Penny tell Tim to reach out to his estranged dad was touching, as was the fact that he immediately did so (after seven years) as the screen faded to black. What do you think they talked about?

As far as Penny's date, I'm sure I was but one of about 20 million viewers smiling ear to ear when Ducky arrived to escort her. We can only hope this budding relationship works out for so many reasons.

Through Penny, we learned a bit about McGee's issues with his overbearing father, a Great Santini-esque individual (no, he wasn't a magician, Ziva) who always made him feel a bit inadequate growing up.

All of this made the night's mystery surrounding a secret military think tank and its robotic caterpillars - stretching the imagination a little bit there - seem secondary, but it was certainly intriguing as well.

How can your interest not be piqued when Navy Lt. Paul Booth is gunned down calling a woman later revealed to be Penny, with burns on his fingers and McGee's old card in his jacket. That's a new one!

McGee and Grandma

McGee had absolutely no clue how Booth had his card from back in his fresh-faced, 15-pounds-heavier Norfolk days, and was clearly rattled by that fact. Then he traced the call, and it got 10 times weirder.

Being introduced to Penny for the first time was great because given Tim's description of his military taskmaster dad, his free-spirited, activist grandmother was the complete opposite of what we expected.

She was obviously up to something and win way over her head, but encouraged Tim - much as she loves him - not to get involved in this for his own good. Evidently she didn't know who McGee's boss is.

In 1968, Penny worked for Telles, a secret military think tank, developing The Annex Principle, which sought to essentially weaponize nature, changing the rules of the game and even life as we know it.

Their hybrid caterpillar must have been at least somewhat effective, because Penny sought to blow the whistle in 1973, only to have the Vietnam War come to an end and the project mercifully scrapped.

For whatever reason, the project is back on now, and Booth had similar reservations. He contacted Penny, one of the last surviving analysts from its original days, and they planned to expose it to the press.

The killer was not Booth's yes-man boss, as we were led to believe, but the presumed-dead director of Annex, who came out of the woodwork to make sure his mechanized caterpillar brainchild lives on!

Penny vs. Gibbs

McGee and Gibbs saved the day before he could silence Penny. Hopefully that kills the project, although we probably can't even imagine the kinds of things the military cooks up, in theory or in practice.

Between the Annex Principle, the CIA's uber-stealth training camp that spawned the P2P Killer and the Phantom Eight conspiracy, NCIS is definitely exploring the top-secret underside of government agencies lately.

Overall, "The Penelope Papers" was a typically strong episode showcasing Tomlin at her best, with a nice assist from Sean Murray (and Mark Harmon of course), a detailed murder case and plenty of smiles.

A few closing thoughts/observations before turning it over to you:

  • Another favorite moment of mine? Abby jumping up and down, begging Gibbs to ask her what she found, then answering her own question before he could even reply.
  • Is it ever not hilarious watching Palmer overstep boundaries at the crime scene and meeting Gibbs' icy glare? Even when you know it's coming, pure gold every time.
  • Quote of the night: "Just give her what she wants." - Gibbs. "I have absolutely no idea what that is." - Palmer. "Welcome to the rest of your life, Jimbo." - Gibbs.
  • Ducky had better bring Penny to Jim and Breena's wedding.
  • Think Genghis Khan actually would be afraid of Gibbs?

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


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.4 / 5.0 (219 Votes)

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


This definitely wasn't the strongest episode in the NCIS cannon, but that's to be expected. What bothered me most was the scene in the garage. Penny went to meet the journalist, and the car waiting there was the exact same car that almost ran her down earlier. Hard to believe a trained agent like McGee would miss that. It made him look stupid.


Nice ep, although I might have to watch it again to make sure I understood the many plot twists - but that's a good thing, NCIS is one of the few shows where you usually can't figure it all out until the very end... It didn't help that I couldn't stop wondering how Lily Tomlin could play McGees grandma, she really doesn't look old enough! Anyone else get distracted by that? Anyways, she was a great, love to see West Wing reunions (even very, very small ones like this...)


Gee! Hoffstriker bitter much? I think if they can make Tony show his emotional side why not the rest of the team? Everyone feels vulnerable and thinks about the sad times along with the good times of their childhood. I think when we see our favorite shows characters at their lowest or most vulnerable we love them more and can relate to them and realize they are just like everyone else. I loved this episode and I love McGee and respect him and do not feel any less of him. I think he was being very strong to tell his Grandma how he felt about her.


hoffstriker you said your not going to watch NCIS again dont think anyone will miss you.


Absolutely hated this episode. Made Tim look weak. Lily Tomlin can't act and was just basically annoying. Script made little to no sense. Gibbs was hands-off and not allowed to do his job. Gibbs not being allowed to crush grandma McGee in interview made Gibbs look weak. Stupid stories about McGee being a cross-dressing kid. Two people died and felt as though it was no big deal, oh well. The over whelming anti-war/anti-military message. Finally, no suspense. By the end of the episode, I was hoping Tim's grandma died. If this was the first time I saw NCIS I would probably never watch it again. Good thing is this is one very rare occasion in the history of this series. This was the worst episode of NCIS ever. I hope it never happens again.


It was strong. It made me adore McGee because he usually lacks substance compared to the others. I liked that his centric episode this season was somuch better than his rocketship episode last year. Lily Tomlin was pure gold. My only complaint was not getting to see Penny and Abby share screentime.


They say when you lose a lot of weight your voice changes


I think Seans voice sounded emotional because he was doing scenes that called for him to be upset and the scenes with Lily were about old family hurts.He did a great job and I really got into the scenes with him. Wanted to give him a big hug and say I'm proud of you Timmy. Sean really pulled it off big, great episode. Want more McGee stories.Also like looking at hot Sean Murray.


@marguerite I totally agree with you!!! I'm so worry about Sean's voice!! what is up??? Love the episode and Lily Tomlin!!! :o)


I liked this ep more than anything I've seen on "classic" NCIS for a while now. McGee is one of my fave characters, so it was wonderful to have some focus on him again, and I've been a Lily Tomlin fan for a long time. Loved seeing Penelope and Ducky happily strolling off at the end for a nice dinner and cocktails. Would love to see them bring her back.

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