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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
  • 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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DR Ryan remind me a lot of Ziva and how she first came to NCIS so I don't understand why Dr Ryan getting all these hate

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I either have seen way too many NCIS's in my life (if there is ever such a possibility ) or I am wrong. I 'liked' the episode, but I am not jumping up and down about it. We can see where this is going, in particular with Ryan. Gibbs being with eager beaver Ryan just never seemed right to me - then she pulled out that crayon drawing and I knew something was horribly wrong. Her 'quips' are annoying - her 'smart' attitude is not funny and dare I say it, what started out as a wonderful character is now 'whack worthy'. Grates. Yes Yes yes.. we, here the NCIS fanatics tear apart each detail -- but I hate to break your bubbles, the plots are becoming secondary - it's the characters we are interested in - PS) killing Vance would be a wonderful parting gift (Sorry Rocky nothing personal) Getting a new tech'd out NCIS another great plus.. And also, as seasoned NCIS viewers, we will wear black as i am sure we will be weeping by show end. GIVE US SOME TIVA , anything...we beg you.

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I am hoping either Ryan gets killed or arrested because on you tube last night she said oh he is delicious and ladies you can not have him, oh my goodness this is coming from a 50 year old woman, i have to agree jlc got to go

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Again I have to make the comment that Jamie Le Curtis has NO chemistry with Gibbs and you keep throwing her at him. It does seem like Ziva's part is getting bigger when Tony is the heart of NCIS.

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Great acting by Ryan- but agree with everyone, even if she is playing "bad girl" but is really a "good girl" Gibbs needs someone who he can trust; although Gibgs is man of few words, he does communicate and Ryan is always trying to play mind-games with him, making him out to be in the wrong. I am ready for her to be gone! I still liked Rena Sofer, for Gibbs love interest- one of the last scenes with her and Gibbs was great, realizing that she wants to help him with the situation regarding his killing the man who killed his family. There was a definite connection between the two of them-Gibbs may need a challenge, but not someone like Ryan who really, no matter what, likes "playing with his mind".
I agree- having Vance kidnapped when we haven't seen for a while seemed a bit off. I think this whole plot with Dearing has something to do with Barrett. Abby as usual is always wise and great. Maybe she needs to have a few words with Ziva about being more respectful. I love Tony when he is also wise and witty-some of the banter between he and Ziva a while back was a little overboard- but the show needs more of the strong Tony- Ryan as Director-definitely not. So if you are going to get rid of anyone, Ryan, Palmer, the other new geek-

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AJA- Don't forget they also had her runing around wondering where tony and gibbs were thinking they were on a mandate

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Kat - In answer to why some (mostly Tony fans) feel that Tony has been reduced to less than SFA. IMO this has been happening little by little since season 5. It started with Ziva ALWAYS being right when they had small competitions. That continued and is still with us. By season 6 and 7, if she and Tony were paired and in a fight scene, over and over, Tony could barely throw a punch, while super Ziva would take out 3 goons twice her side with nary a mussed hair. You are right that in the last few episodes, for the first time in years I might add, Tony has actually gotten to throw a punch and take someone down in Ziva's presence and she didn't have to come in and save him. Thank you GG! But now we have Gibbs calling Ziva, not Tony, for information or to have her handle something. We have Ziva ordering Tony around, still insutling him regularly - remember the deadweight comment, going on every undercover mission this season, and paired with Gibbs always.

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Has anyone seen the promotional video for next weeks episode seems Sean Latham is back he tried to kill Tony and EJ is involved somehow in the plot

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ha. he's like self-righteous tony, but bad

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Part Two: If this plot line is correct then all of this (Ryan) stuff has been worth it. Now that would be exciting. However, I do not think the current writers of the show are that clever. But for the fans sake I hope they are.