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.


Michael go away and do something interesting with your life, leave Ziva a lone I like her, think there should be a lot more Tiva for next season that is if MW is still with the show


do you dentis is from Monk I just notices also I still think that Zorkel567 from NCIS squadroom is right
Deering's son could have been on Cape Fear, from Hiatus, which is shy he blames Gibbs for not stopping the attack. It would explain why is blowing up ships, just like how Cape Fear blew up.


I wish it was possible to ban Michael from posting stupid comments and hate
for Ziva all the time. I will not come back to this site because of him/her/it. What a shame. What a sad pathetic fool.


I am very suspicious of Dr. Ryan. I don't know if she is playing Gibbs or, is Gibbs playing her ? Oh boy, only time will tell. I did enjoy the fact that Jimmie was so in character all upset about how his Bachelor Party would turn out. Loved Abby to death last night. I adore Dorney too. Is there ANYONE that Abby can not work with? Amazing. Holding my breath for next weeks Finale .......


Zorkel567 from NCIS squadroom brought these up and now that I think about it seem kinda of cool "Anybody else think Deering's son could have been on Cape Fear, from Hiatus, which is shy he blames Gibbs for not stopping the attack. It would explain why is blowing up ships, just like how Cape Fear blew up." Gary Glasberg is a smart man if these true out to be true


I was hoping this season finale would rekindle my love for NCIS which is rapidly disappearing. I'm sick of Ryan & all of the time this season devoted to Gibbs & Tony with no improvement for either character to show for all of the time spent on them. After 7 years of waiting for Tony & Ziva to get together let me know that will never happen so I can move on to other series. They are basically the big draw to NCIS for me and without Tiva I'm losing interest fast.
One suggestion to TPTB ,dump Gary Glasberg before he totally skuttles the show. He's on the fast track to destrying the NCIS I knew & loved.


maybe Ryan love gibbs and want to save him I mean they had such great chemistry it be sad to see it go Just look at Tony and EJ their chemistry was off the wall and then she got screw over for Tiva


I think Ryan is behind the whole thing. She's a double agent. Why else would she be trying so hard to get close to Gibbs??????? I don't blame him for NOT trusting her.


I think Gibbs sees Ryan as too secretive, an his famous gut is telling him something is just not right, she plays too many mind games, i hope she gets arrested by Gibbs in the end. I actually like Vance character hope he does not get killed he adds mystery to the show, there just this mystery about him yet to be revealed. JLC she can go, Gibbs and her have no chemistry


The thing that really hurt gibbs was he allowed Tony and Mcgee to bring Ziva back on the team after all the horrible thing she did so if Dr. Ryan did something to break gibbs trust he MUST! forgive her because he forgive Ziva for her horrible thing. Dr. Ryan just remind me of a older Ziva because if you look at them they both say they love the men in their life but well Ziva more then Dr. Ryan treat them like hitler treated the Jews. Just like they have taken Tony skill away and given them to Ziva they taken Gibbs coolness of being a bad ass away and given it to Ziva as well when Gibb call Ziva his favroite children(agent) Last year that really Kill a lot of gibbs fan to see how far he has fallen. I am looking forward to next week I hope its as good as the P2P finish,be fan to see what happen to Tony,Mcgee and Abby since the actor have not sign a new contact yet. As for Ducky should stay where he belongs they should only show next year how he and gibbs meet other then that he just not that what eles do we need to know.

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