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.


could it be that Ryan and Dearing were married at one point?


Sunshine: I like where you are going with this. You are saying that it was Ryan who selected Gibbs in order to catch Dearing because for some reason (PsyOps) Ryan has not been able to catch him herself. (PsyOps) does not want to admit that they cannot control one of the (in Tony speak, “nut jobs�) they created. Ryan said it is not Gibbs’ fault because it was she who sick’ed this deranged sociopath on him. She really is trying to get Gibbs and his team killed for her own personal gain. The “Navy� that Dearing is angry at is called (Ryan), kill her off.


In my effort to guess the players and plot, I keep remembering tidbits. 1. When Dearing called MTAC, he commented that it was nice to finally meet Gibbs, but, spoke with Ryan as if they had met before and even called her by name. 2. When Tony described Dearing as 'nuts', Ryan corrected him and labeled Dearing a sociopathic.... It seems to me that she had profiled him before, again suggesting that Dearing is no stranger to her. New thoughts: i) Dearing was already being monitored by Ryan (PsyOps). She did come with a file
ii) PsyOps somehow convinced Dearing that Gibbs is responsible for whatever, hoping that Dearing would take the bait and draw Gibbs into the plot
iii) PsyOps intention is that Gibbs and his team, with help from Ryan would catch Dearing before too much damage is done This would explain why Ryan told Gibbs that this is not his fault.


@michfans I love the character Dr Ryan as well. In the next episode, we will meet Harper Dearing's ex wfe, Victoria Dearing. I really hope this means Dr Ryan is legit and would be back next season.


Please get Dr Ryan off this show. Ryan and Gibbs is creepy, and feels they fit together like nails across a chalkboard. Gibbs and the audience deserve better. Bring back Rena Sofer, she and Gibbs smoldered nicely.
In all fairness, my husband feels exactly the opposite.


So if the navy yard does get blown up what should the new set look like


I've read a lot of interesting comments about people linking Dr. Ryan and all of her past boat references to the current case. I think it is a pretty good theory to suggest that all of it is somehow linked. But instead of automatically thinking she's the villian, could I suggest that maybe she's purposefully been feeding Gibbs these "hints" hoping that somehow he'll connect the dots? Maybe there is some important reason that she can't openly divulge everything? Maybe it is because I like her character (for some reason), but I'm trying to find a less-than-obvious angle in all of this. I think there will be some real surprises in the finale. Personally I've liked all of the intrigue...this one hasn't been so easy to figure out, and my mind is really churning trying to piece it all together.


@ Ann Woodward. I agree with you. What makes a TV show great is how its audience is able to connection on a personal level with the characters. Are they believable or are they just a bunch of over-paid actors melodramatically reading their lines? NCIS has always been much more than just a group of tough federal agents always winning the fight and getting the bad guy, hurray! NCIS has been about getting past each agent’s tough persona, and seeing the person inside. It has also highlights how they deal with home and work. Everyone that watches the show wishes they had just a little piece of the bravery, personality, sex appeal…etc that the characters have on the show. I know that I wish I looked like Ziva, could shoot a gun like Gibbs, and had Abby’s brains.


Still the best on tv and as usual for this time of year we're about to be left hanging for the summer. I love this show and hopefully the writers are looking at the comments about wanting more of the regular characters solving cases and being a work family that argues, disagrees, generates warmth toward each other, teases, and totally entertains its' audience.


Rachael, I hadn’t thought about updating NCIS with high tech toys for Tim. I can imagine the delight in his face when he sees the new office for the first time. That will certainly add interest and vigor for next year. Solving crimes IS the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s purpose. The ratings are high because men as well as women watch. Also, military families watch the show. If it becomes a soap opera, only the young and the restless females will be watching.

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