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.


i see NOTHING wrong with tony having a guilty's hard for a cop to think and deal with the fact they might have shot another agent/ shows tony as being HUMAN.....and i DON'T WANT ANY KIND OF TIVA romance....she doesn't respect him as an AGENT or a MAN....and i haven't forgiven her for how she treated tony after that rifkin thing. 2) last night's eppy just showed that tim had ALOT of gutts teasing tony over his bad relationship with his father DiNozzo, shows that tim didn't have the perfect childhood either....i do agree....i HOPE they bring his grnadmother back....but, ducky is getting an ANGEL for a girlfriend. alisa


I loved this episode -- but then, I've always been a fan of Lily Tomlin's. Didn't I hear Ducky bemoaning the fact that it's a long time since he had a romance? I'm not surprised that he and Penny hit it off. As for McGee's voice, if it was my grandmother, I'd have trouble talking too.


i love the episode. Gibbs is always so good. the way he looks for me is everything. Tim needs to start eating. Tony and Ziva are great. i would like Tim's grandmother back with Docky in a date. But for me everything is Gibbs, without him nothing. looking forward for next tuesday !!!!!!


Loved the episode and really like the show. In fact I like the show so much I am pleasantly surprised by the fact they haven't cancelled it! (It seems that when I really like a show they cancel it!) Tomlin did a great job and I do hope we see Tim's granny again. More importantly maybe we will meet Tim's parents. We have seen Tony's and Ziva's Dad, we have met Gibb's old man and Ducky's Mom (Abby's folk I believe are dead) so it would be nice to meet Tim's folks.


I agree that Sean Murray is looking too thin these days, he seems to have lost a lot of energy. And what was wrong with his voice last night? He sounded like he needed to clear his throat the whole episode. I'm also wondering when Brian Dietzen will be included in the opening credits? He's in all the group promo shots, he deserves to be added to the credits too.


The story line was great as always. The show has now more options, Bring back penny and add McGee's father in the picture like they did for DiNozzo's. Still angry over taking out Mike franks. Had they kept Mike Frank's in the show,the show would of had a full house ( card game !! ) What a pitty!!!!


I throughly enjoyed the episode last night. However, I still worry about McGee's appearance and as one poster said, even his voice was weak last night. Is the guy sick? I haven't heard that, but he doesn't look healthy at all. Thanks


Loved that Tim finally got to be in the "spotlight".We need to see more of this.Love the show.


I love NCIS....I love the fact that they are giving "Ducky" a romantic interest...I agree with comment that Sean Murray needs to EAT and soon..even his voice sounded weak last night. PLEASE get him to eat a MRs Fields'cookie of his choice.


and before you jump on me.. I adore this show more than any other on television.. so relax.. To be critical of a story line or an 'arc' is not being unfaithful.. it's being honest. You can't love every thing every time.. then you are not a 'fan' you are naive. and while we know Sean is on some funky vegan trip.. he needs to eat a cookie immediately.. in fact eat a dozen .. too skinny and too weak.. however seeing "Tim" expand his character this week.. brilliant.

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