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.


man a lot of these comment are either about last week show or stuff that has nothing to do with NCIS


kissbuy go do your advertising somewhere else this is a site for NCIS.


I loved this episode...been waiting for a McGee episode for a long long time. It did not disappoint. I think Sean Murray is an excellent actor, I almost cried during the scene in interogation. I think Sean shined in every scene. I hope the powers that be wise up and see what a star they have in Sean. Great episode...can't say enough!


Was disappointed in this episode -- because of Lily Tomlin. She can act, can't she? Maybe it was the script. I never saw her as Tim's grandmother or as someone involved in the case, I just saw Lily Tomlin.


Like everyone else, I was shocked by Tim's voice. I no longer believe it is a matter of his running and changing his eating habits. If indeed, he is not ill, then the writers need to explain it somehow in the show. Viewers are worried.


Loved the show--especially with Lily Tomlin as guest! But I admire each and every one of the actors because they are all a lot more complex (and amusing) than characters in other serial shows. Characters are welcome--I like it!


Lily Tomlin as an old radical hippy! A military X-File as the secret of the case!! Grandma says Gibbs can't break her!!! Booth calling from a park bench in metro DC that could not actually be in metro DC, because it was 100% California scenery - LOL! And oh, our Timmy with an overbearing dad and in her own way, an overbearing grandma, but she loves him and says dad loves him too. So sweet and powerful. When Gibbs called home it was all about the "love", Tim's dad may be younger that Gibbs' dad, but it will be love too. And I LOVED this episode - GO NCIS!


Loved this episode. The characters make this show and McGee is a vital part of the cast. I too am glad he was featured and Lily was excellent as grandma, oh dear, as Penny. Casting has done such an excellent job choosing the actors to play family members.
I look forward to Tuesday night just to see this show because it provides quality storylines and best of all a regular cast I respect for their dedication to excellence.


cast was full of people who protested the viet nam war together. The shooter is, in real life, a man who stood up against US misdeeds in Chile in the 1970's and continued to protest the cover up for many years. See the movie Missing to get the inside references (the one with jack lemmon). As a grandma who lived all this and marched with some of the actors back in the day, it is the first time on tv i see my kinda grandma right there on the box. Great writing!


I love everything about NCIS. Gibbs just turned 60, and he is a very masculine, sexy man. Ducky is 78, and still going strong. I'm enjoying watching Tony "grow up", as he has been annoyingly juvenile sometimes, although that is part of his charm. Weatherly is perfect for the part, and a very good-looking man. I agree that Sean/Tim needed to lose some weight, but has gone too far the other way in a very short time. He looks very thin, and either had a cold or something else going on, as his voice sounded kind of raspy and weak compared to other episodes. I like the evolvement of his character and the strength he showed last night. I think I saw it spelled "Anax" on one of the documents or computer pages they showed, describing the project. And yes, Lily Tomlin was great. I hope this is not the last season, as Mark Harmon also has another project going for USA network. The individual characters within this amazing ensemble cast are what make NCIS such a success, and the foundation for it all is Gibbs.

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