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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!

Review

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.

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I have the weird feeling we are going to lose Vance next week ... but boy oh boy, do we get a final next week! I do hope they show scenes from Jimmy's wedding!

Heather-moyer-gendeloff

I was suspicious of Dr. Ryan before but now I am totally suspicious of her. She just has to many secrets. And she is not good for Gibbs. He needs someone who is honest and she is not. Poor Palmer his bachelor party was part of an op. Hopefully the same thing wont happen at his wedding. Just hope none of the team get seriously hurt. But maybe Ryan can or next week be her last episode.

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I like JLC, but frankly I'm sick of guest stars taking over. If she comes on board MW might as well just quit. Gibbs always gets his dramas and screen time. Ziva has become his go to agent since she is written with super powers and is fun to dress up, and now Dr. Ryan gets to be the insightful one that provides the needed piece of the puzzle. At least McGee, Abby, and Ducky have skills that they can't give to G, Z or Dr. Ryan. All that's left for Tony now is to follow Gibbs, Ziva, and Ryan around while they use their super powers to solve the cases. I want DPB's Tony back, but evidently the current ptb don't care. They push the same characters to the front in all the big stories. I won't be available to watch next weeks finale when it airs, and I guess I'll just read reviews to see if I actually want to. Tony is my favorite but I doubt he'll have any significant importance or business, as usual.

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I believe last night we saw Gibbs fall back into character in regards to Ryan. His distrust of her inability to respond to any question without playing brain games was vocalized last night. And she's right, he does marinate in his own personal hell juices, but we've been shown for 9 seasons how he demands absolute honesty and loyalty from those he trusts and the Ryan character seems to be incapable of such actions.

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I hope that Michael Weatherly signs new contract with out him the show would be very poor.

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I totally agree with the person that said Abigail Borin! I loved her character! She was great and they had chemistry from day #1. Bring her back! I believe she's bad and that she is behind the Vance kidnapping. I was right about Ray. Lol! Then again, I think 90% of Tiva fans were! Anti Tiva fans were hoping he would kill her.

Tiva

i don't mind JLC on it I just don't want Ryan with Gibbs shes just not for Gibbs. the episode was not bad I liked when Tony Gibbs Ziva McGee and Dorneget runs to the car and Palmer runs the other way lol. I liked how Palmer was trying to find out what Abby was planning for his party. I can't wait to the catch During next week hes been messing with Gibbs and next week I hope Ryan dies and no one on team Gibbs I still hope Pauley Michael and Sean sign for next year. and I wish Vance in the episode

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I think that Jamie Lee Curtis is having a good time playing a much different role than she has in the past. You wanna bet Samantha Ryan provided Dearing with the idea for the Kelly Boat? I think Gibbs' relationship with the woman has "Gone Up in Smoke" people. Jamie is a great actress, she makes you hate her (the character, that is!) And no, Ryan is not right. Gibbs isn't down in the basement 'marinating,' not able to turn it off. Woodworking is peaceful solitude from a stressful, and many times ugly day job. If he does eventually get involved with someone, let's hope it's a woman who appreciates that about him and doesn't harangue him about spending time in the basement. I vote for Abigail Borin!

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Violet: Are you from Arizona and/or Alaska?

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OH; BTW! It is all this ambiguous Sh#! That is getting on my nerves with (Ryan) It is not that I do not like her character; It is that I do not like that fact that she is basically taking over Gibbs’ role. Why did Gibbs not have a stern look at Palmer when he called him “Leroy�? The real Gibbs character of would have looked at Palmer ten ways to side-ways, and Palmer would have swallowed that shot glass. It is the little things that made these characters’ great that is for the most part is no longer there; and that is pissing me off! I think JLC is doing a good job with her role, I just think the writers of NCIS just don’t care anymore. They keep saying “ARC� as is if some code word, but basically means they do not have SHIT!!! SAD So, So Sad!!!! BTW! This was the first time is a long time we saw Abby, and Ducky more than once in an episode.

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