NCIS Review: Going Down in Flames

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NCIS' season-ending story arc continued Tuesday in an unpredictably complex installment that sent the team in a half dozen different directions with an elusive terrorist mastermind always one step ahead.

If not more. Few shows would leave their main character so flummoxed at such a crucial juncture, or send the team down the wrong path for the better part of an episode as "Up in Smoke" did this evening.

That's part of what makes this arc (and NCIS in general) so good, though. Every chapter fits into a broader narrative, keeping you guessing as to what's next while remaining entertaining on its own merit.

A depraved financial mogul convinced he's a hero. His embezzling second-in-command. A night watchman serving as the go-between. A rogue dentist. A middleman gunned down in a parking lot.

All of these would-be adversaries played a role this week, but none hold a candle to Jamie Lee Curtis' Dr. Ryan when it comes to secrecy. To say she's hard to read is be like calling Tony a cutup.

For one of the good guys, Ryan plays everything too close to the vest. Even before Gibbs openly questioned the brain-gamer's motives in the closing moments, 19 million viewers likely did the same.

Gibbs and Ryan Pic

Was her hunch about the faulty artillery shells innocently and legitimately wrong? Or designed to throw Jethro off the trail? It's hard to believe Ryan would want Vance kidnapped, but who knows.

With the investigation taking its darkest turn yet, so has her character. Gibbs may be a man of few words, but what few words he utters aren't going to be flattering unless she comes clean in a hurry.

Ryan was probably not wrong about one thing, however. A bug inside Gibbs would totally pick up mostly wood-sanding noises. Okay, two things. She also seemed to peg Dearing's torment of Jethro.

Dearing (played by the outstanding Richard Schiff) may not have a personal vendetta like the Reynosa cartel had in the Season 7 finale, but he's made Gibbs the personification of his adversary.

He won this round, too, by a longshot.

With the very real possibility that Vance is in grave danger, he's upped the ante heavily. Is he after Vance? Gibbs? The SecNav? All of the above? Money certainly isn't his driving force.

Anyone pulling off what he has so far qualifies as a Grade A villain - even if the "my son was in the Navy and he died, and now I'm targeting NCIS' top agent" explanation is currently thin.

If he can get his hands on one of the Watcher Fleet's microchips - you had a feeling those would resurface at some point - there's no telling the extent of his malicious reach, or his endgame.

That, along with Ryan's motives and level of involvement, remain to be seen, but perhaps a surprising ally will come to Gibbs' aid. See our NCIS season finale spoilers page to learn more, but let's just say he was put away this season after playing a key role in last season's Phantom Eight storyline.

While the roster of guest stars - Schiff, Curtis and Matt Jones as the maligned Dorneget - was certainly impressive, it meant less screen time for the core cast this week, which was one downside.

Although we did see Palmer's bachelor party. Sort of.

It was pretty fun seeing the celebration of Palmer's impending marriage seamlessly morph into an undercover operation, even if the man deserves a real send-off (whether he wants it or not).

Palmer's Bachelor Party

Tony's two words were totally on point: Abby Sciuto.

You don't make her the best man without expecting some crazy stuff to go down, Jimbo. That outfit was one for the ages, even for her. One can only imagine what she originally had planned ...

One gets the feeling that his wedding may be similarly overshadowed by the case, but such is the nature of their work. Sometimes that means apple juice shots instead of other beverages. With a criminal of Dearing's caliber at large, and themselves the target, NCIS can't help but be on high alert around the clock.

As long as everyone makes it out of "Til Death Do Us Part Alive," count your blessings.

Like the previous two episodes, "Up in Smoke" ended with more questions than answers. Some of the details were a bit oversold by the characters, but the mystery deepened and the plot thickened.

There will certainly be some backlash against Curtis' enhanced role, but nevertheless, when the producers commit to complex, compelling storylines, the core characters still make the show one of TV's best.

With a few exceptions, the writing has been sharp and the plot nicely paced these past three weeks as the emotional stakes rise. NCIS is always a Navy show, but rarely is the entire fleet the target like this.

With the possibility for catastrophic loss heightened for the military at large, the chances of something happening to one of the team members also grows, especially with Gibbs & Co. directly in the line of fire.

A few additional thoughts and stray observations before turning it over to you:

  • On The West Wing, Schiff's character Toby Ziegler was arrested (and later pardoned) for leaking classified information about the government's plans to potentially weaponize the space program. While Dearing is infinitely more extreme, his sense of moral superiority draws an interesting parallel.
  • Anybody afraid of the dentist before tonight is likely even more so now. Holy molar, indeed.
  • The Kelly boat replica? Talk about eerily hitting close to home.
  • Is Ryan right? Is Gibbs completely unable to "turn it off"?

What did you think of this week's NCIS episode? How do you see everything playing out in next week's Season 9 finale? Tell us in the comments!


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (275 Votes)

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


they shudnt have kielld her off. she wouldve been better off by being taken into witness protection by tobias it wudve added depth, like with alexandra cabot in SVU. but still, this was just beautiful


I love ncis and the finale was da bomb! I am really pumped to see how it all plays out in season x and what happens with ducky, tiva and the rest of the team! I hope they are all ok because if they are not I will cry. :(


I really would like to see Jamie Lee Curtis go. Her character is just not clicking with Gibbs. And I usually like her in other thngs.


Why hasn't Robert Vaughn ever guest starred on the show. I always thought it would be a natural. Anyone have any thoughts? I just read where David McCallum has signed on for another two years. Vaughn has to be about the same age as McCallum.


If any of the characters Gibbs MY TONY McGee Abby ducky ziva or Vance dies I will NOT watch this show ever again. They are a family they all compliment each other, even Palmer & Tobias. the director has a family that shows stability.JLC can go back doing her commercial she is not good for Gibbs this episode it seem like she is messing up his head playing games lying has stated every week I do
not like her on the show. Just like on law &order {SVU} when stabler left I never watched that show ever again.
Law & Order {SVU}Stabler left I never watched that show ever again. I am a faithful and loyal fan to NCIS to the point were I donot watch The Los angles NCIS. That is straight to the point.


Tony better not die hes my favorite I will stop watching it and Abby and McGee better not die MW SM PP all better come back next year. I like everyone on this show.


Its funny we were told that Ziva came on the show to replace Kate but looking back it seem like Tony replace Kate and Ziva replace Tony


I agree it does seem like its Tony who going to die I have had that same feeling for years


If Tony is killed off, I would lose my main reason for watching the show. It may be him though that dies. Although Tony has gotten a couple decent small episodes this year, the show still mostly focuses on, and gives the majority of drama, action, and screen time to Gibbs and ZIva, and now to JLC. Ziva has pretty much replaced Tony as Gibbs "go to" agent, since Gibbs now calls her, is constantly paired with her, there is no skill she doesn't possess, and she plays a much larger roll in all really big danger stories than Tony. Tony is a very popular character but he's under used and rarely gets flattering writing. TPTB seem much more interested in flattering and fanwanking Ziva and Gibbs. I don't think that tptb admit to themselves just how important MW is to the show's success. They fall all over themselves writing new stuff for and promoting Ziva and Gibbs dramas instead.


I know this may sound Stupid but I am really nervous about Tuesday night episode I have this gut feeling that one main characters is going to die and my feeling is its going to be Tony, I hope its not he brings so much to this show, but I do hope one thing I hope JLC is trapped in the building when it blows up, anything to get rid of her

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