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.


I could see it looking a lot like NCIS LA first base we saw back in season 6


I think you're right CJ. The new headquarters will feature updated tech stuff. A dream come true for McGee. Probably no more orange walls.


I think it will have one of those high tech tables that works like an iPad....similar to Hawaii five-O's. The building may have big screens on the wall and touch keyboards instead of individual computers. Maybe the building will have room for posting all sorts of important info on the wall as they collect the material. I'm imagining a moving community of people ....fewer cubicles. Just guessing!


So if the Navy building does blow up what do you guys think the new building will look like


I enjoyed Kate’s character. At first I thought she was going to be Gibb’s romantic interest. He seemed intrigued by her on Air Force One. I thought the sibling relationship between Kate and Tony was funny...�Am not�...�Are too�....�Am not�! The hospital scene of the two of them in SWAK was well done. Ziva arrived on the scene. In the first episode, she slouched in the chair and looked Tony up with her eyes....seemingly pausing on his privates. I guess that’s what the younger viewers like about her.


Agree Acliffe. I too think that Kate was a better character than Ziva. Kate's faults and strengths made her more realistic, and the writers didn't feel compelled to give her constant soapish personal stories and tragedies. Her lines were delivered with humor, whereas Ziva's lines just sound plain judgmental, cutting, and b----y. I feel like Kate was an adult character, written to primarily be appreciated by adults. I feel that Ziva is written to appeal to adolescent boys and the youngest end of the 18 - 49 demographic.


This morning was watching old episodes from season 1 and 2 forgot how good there are, if I had to pick between Kate and Ziva think I would go for Kate she was more tolerant towards Tony than Ziva. Ziva can put Tony down with real venom in her voice Kate never did that, well for Season 9 not has good as past seasons hope to god we don't see JLC in season 10 if she is I would have to stop watching this show just don't like her at all


I like the idea that Ryan is somehow involved with what went wrong with Dearing and although she likes Gibbs, is also using him. It makes sense. I too thought for a while that she might be his ex wife who gave him the son that died, but another actress is on the cast list as his wife, so I don't think that Ryan is quite that personally connected. I do think that she knows a lot more than she's admitting to though. I just hope team other team members (for me mostly Tony) actually have some significant part to play in the SF. I'm tired of Gibbs, Ziva, and Vance always being in the cliffie limelights, and just don't really care about Dr. Ryan.


I could see that should be fun to find out


@ Michael:
Maybe, or they had some sort of affair that created a love child. But, when she was talking with Dearing in MTAC she did not show any emotion towards him. That can either mean she is a sole-less Bitch or it is more likely that she was Dearing’s handler and she lost control of him and needs Gibbs help to bring him in. But in-order to get Dearing to play her game she needed to make Dearing believe that Gibbs is the man that caused all his pain. She is also not willing to admit to anyone the truth about her screw up, but she is perfectly willing to place everyone’s life in danger to cover her tracks.

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