Nine seasons in, NCIS still has a great way of peeling back new layers of characters you thought you knew, casting them in a different light or offering a different perspective on what makes them tick.
Case in point: Leon Vance.
The rare Vance episode always keeps things interesting in large part because you never know quite what to think of the guy. He's head of NCIS, yet simultaneously not part of the fabric of the team.
Part of that's the nature of the best. Vance even told Gibbs recently never to seek his job, alluding to the political entanglements and bureaucracy that complicate their mission. But it's also just Vance.
He keeps things close to the vest (pun not intended after this week's poker game tie-in), making it difficult to ascertain where his priorities are at times. This was certainly the case in "The Good Son."
When his brother-in-law Michael became the prime suspect in a petty officer's murder, Vance had to balance his duty as Director of NCIS with his obvious familial - and paternal - feelings toward him.
Rocky Carroll gave a strong, nuanced performance in portraying a man in Vance's position. From the onset, he wanted to believe and help the troubled Michael, yet a part of him was clearly skeptical.
As the episode progressed, Michael's checkered background came to light and Vance confessed that he'd helped "The Good Son" out of jams more times than he could count. Still, was he a murderer?
Yes and no. Despite everything shady we learned about him, it felt like subterfuge, as though the writers were setting this suspect up to conceivably be guilty, only to be exonerated at the last minute.
Gibbs had ample reason to be suspicious, but Michael's wrong-place, wrong-time story seemed genuine, and he gave off the aura of a decent young man at heart. He couldn't really be guilty, could he?
Surprisingly, he was.
His lies unraveled quickly and thoroughly once Gibbs traced the sedatives to the backroom pizza parlor poker game. The trail led back to Michael, just as Vance was about to breathe a big sigh of relief.
Having gambled away the money Vance gave him, he agreed to work off the debt by luring unwitting sailors involved in the game. When our victim, Adams, lost all his money, he came after Michael.
He certainly isn't a cold-blooded murderer, but he was absolutely responsible for a man's death. It was sad to watch Vance so heartbroken, but to his credit, he did what he should've done long ago.
Like any good father, or father figure, he realized tough love was the only course of treatment. There was no "I told you so" from Gibbs, only reassurance that it wasn't his fault as he led Michael off.
This will definitely be a tough one to swallow for the director, but he still has such a strong nuclear family, he'll come through it just fine - and maybe even hone his video game skills while he's at it.
While all that was going on, Tony's ongoing internal struggle for balance between his serious, adult side and his overgrown, always-joking frat boy nature was evident again after his performance report.
After reading that Gibbs thinks he talks too much during case work, he decides he needs to bottle it up. While this angle has played out at length this season, it made for some great comedic moments.
The look on his face when he let the crabs joke slip early on was hilarious, as if he committed an all-time faux pas that he regretted instantly, when in reality no one cared. It's just Tony being Tony.
Notice that Ziva and Tim always complain about his incessant badgering, yet always pick up on the fact that something's amiss and grow concerned as soon as it stops? They know their colleague well.
DiNozzo has his insecurities, but he is damn good at his job and his humor is central to the show. Gibbs admitted as much. He may not like the yabba, but that doesn't mean he doesn't depend on it.
Tony brings so much more to the table - how about that tackle of the fleeing suspect, like an NFL defensive back! - but without the yabba (fun code for "talking") NCIS would be a boring place to work!
He still needs to grow up in other ways, but the yabba yabba is part of who he is, and doesn't need to be stifled in order for him to be a very special agent. Though it is fun to watch him try briefly.
It's also work noting that for a functional mute, Gibbs had his share of great lines in this episode too. "So much for the sex part" being my personal favorite. Every once in awhile, Jethro nails the zinger.
A few additional observations on this solid episode before turning it over to you:
- Hopefully that pizza parlor guy ended up being charged with something.
- Does it get any cuter than Abby trying to talk her way out of a corner?
- How did Vance buy that house on a government salary?
What did you think of this week's NCIS? Discuss in the comments!