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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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Please get rid of Jamie Lee Curtis.She is bringing the show down.I can't stand her.I hope she turns out to be a bad guy and is done away with.

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Why do so many persons dislike Ryan? She is female Gibbs: confident, complex, reserved and excellent at her job.

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(Note: This got omitted from my earlier post and should be read with that.) The worst thing that can happen to a show is to get utterly predictable. If that happens people stop watching and the show gets cancelled. I think the writers/producers have attempted all season to add some unpredictability to the plot and venue. I don't know about you but I'm just a bit tired of being immersed in Abbey's roomful of electronic gizmos and listening to Ducky while he stands over a corpse with the chest cavity folded back.
So let's cut them some slack and see if they are digesting these comments. If Jamie Lee is back next season we'll know either they don't care what the viewers think about her character or they will soften her up. Would you be surprised if Vance leaves next week and Jamie Lee gets appointed Director of NCIS?

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Well janet - they've put Tony and Ziva on two out of country missions together recently, and neither episode generated the numbers that the beginning to the middle of the season had. And even though nothing happened between them, fans could not know this ahead of time. I think the soapish romances and constant teasing hurt the show and tick viewers on both sides of the issue off. I just wish NCIS would stop trying to be the crime/romance genre and stop giving too much screen time to characters viewers don't even care much about.

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i'm getting SICK of tony being sidelined in favor of ziva.....gibbs SHOULD have called TONY, his SFA....i wouldn't blame weatherly if he decides he's had enough....the disrespect shown towards tony, by the WHOLE team....just like abby being picked as jimmy's "bestperson"....that should have been TONY'S.....i sure as HELL "DO NOT WANT TIVA". alisa

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Not a particularly interesting episode. The Harper Dearing arc carries little weight for me, since there was really no buildup for the character. It might've worked better had the Navy bombings not been clustered together for the last four episodes of the season, allowing the mystery to simmer first. But even then, the motive, such as is at the moment, is questionable. "My son joined the Navy, but he died. So I'll just bomb Navy vessels until I get the attention of my newly christened archnemesis, LJ Gibbs." Give me a break. Yet another example of being told how awesome an agent Gibbs is through the use of another throwaway villain with an axe to grind. Vance's abduction was a disappointment on several levels, the first being the absolute lack of him in the episode. Way to shock and us, NCIS. Also, the waste of Rocky Carroll's talents is just...no words. Ryan can go. I'm sick of her, and she comes off as a poor man's Jenny, only in PsyOps rather than NCIS.

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I liked last nights episode but JLC HAS GOT TO GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Every time I see that superior, smug, I've got Gibbs look I want to reach through the screen and rip her face off. What an offensive character. She definitely needs to go. A writer on this site thinks maybe Dearing might be JLC'S ex husband. Sounds interesting. LOVE MCGEE and ABBY, please let them be together more often. Can't wait for the finale......... BUT I can't think of one episode that I will watch as a rerun. The season has been that disappointing!

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I suspect that the only reason Vance was kidnapped is to ensure that Gibbs remains as the head. This is a Dearing vs Gibbs match.

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well the ratings keep going up so NCIS must be doing samething right because their still number one

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I found this episode boring. It seemed flat and it took me till this morning to figure it out. The team acted like a bunch of strangers who happened to be working on the same case. No connection within the team. Even at the worst of times, the team was connected. Last night they just worked side by side.TPTB are slowly destroying this show. How sad.
And Ryan-don't like, don't care about her at all.