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 thought the plot lines were complicated and interesting. I trust NCIS to tie up loose ends, so I am not worried about the many tidbits not being eventually resolved. I also do not trust Ryan although it's only reading these comments that speculate about her and Dearing being relate in some way. If Gibbs represents the "evil" Dearing is trying to make war with, what is Gibbs's crime??? Gibbs is certainly not one to overlook shoddy workmanship that costs Navy lives. Worried about Vance. Kidnapping him was a real surprise. Loved the team's banter about the Bachelor party driving Jimmy crazy - this episode needed those bits of comic relief.


annie the only reason the ratings are down is because there is a shortage of tiva


Preliminary ratings for last night were 17.8 million total and 3.0 in the 18 -49 demo. Seems like since they began ramping up the tiva spoilers and now the Gibbs and Dr. Ryan romance, the ratings have dropped a bit. The writers seem to be back to giving us mostly Gibbs episodes, with a generous side of super Ziva who seems to have replaced Tony as his best agent, since she is the one Gibbs calls and is paired with all the time. Maybe some viewers don't want the Gibbs and Ziva romance and adventure hour and like to see other equally popular characters get decent scenes and screen time too. At the beginning of the this season, other team members were featured in episodes, but now it seems we're back to super Gibbs and Ziva. Maybe that has something to do with the drop in viewer interest.


Let me start by saying I love Dr Samantha Ryan (Sam) and her relationship with Gibbs. I find it very entertaining how they are trying to 'read' each other, although based on Gibbs 'I don't know' outburst, he is becoming frustrated with trying to figure her out. Overall, I trust Sam, however, because of her position at DOD, she does not give Gibbs all the details, he has to connect the dots, but the leads/hints are good. My only issue with Sam is whenever Gibbs asks her if she would have provided the information if he did not ask, she would always answer with a question. She has never said yes or no, instead she would say, 'what do you think?' or 'whose side do you think I am on?' There is a definite boat theme with the arrival of Sam - her son's boat drawing, her boat drawing on a napkin, Gibbs reference to not wanting to rock the boat, the boat that Dearing left and subsequent picture of it. Could it be that Dearing is Sam's ex husband?


The show last nite was great. Chris and I hate the cliff hangers but would not miss them. They need to let Abby give Palmer a great party in her own way. Will also be interesting what happens to the director as well.


Hey Bockylyn have I missed something, Tony and Ziva been lovers on the Q.T when did this happen? can anybody answer this question? I do love a bit of Tiva


Well, the ratings are out and it's another season low. They tied again with NCIS LA. It may be adjusted up a little when the finals come out, but TPTB have got to be getting concerned. I'm guessing the finale next week will be up in numbers, but if it's not they've got a real probalem developing... The JLC experiment has failed. They need to get rid of her character and fast!


boring epi. character development of harper dearing flawed big-time. another dumb unbelieveable character. suck-y. me thinks gg is the one 'going down in flames'. writin' piss poor. was over written. hate it when gg over explains everythin' in a scene. so many useless words beat me over the head last night. no friggin' mystery. no suspense. no nuance. entire episode was like that. actors over explain' to us in every friggin' scene what was happenin'. felt like i was sittin' through an hour long 'sit rep'. or one of those 'last week on ncis' recaps for an entire episode instead of bein' engaged to figure out what was up myself. way too much ryan & gibbs. it's like watchin' my parents in angsty love scenes. total turn-off. less is more w/ those 2. epi gave me a headache. another ncis epi under gg i won't ever watch again. lost my faith. gave the guy a break for so long. no more. speakin' my mind.


Sarah, ducky signed 2 yr contract extension, so don't worry about the estate issues.
Great episode last night.
I don't trust Ryan at all. I don't know if she sent Gibbs on wild goose chase on purpose, or ny accident, but I don't like her. Gibbs may not talk much, but he certainly talks straight when he does.


If a production assistant (aka gopher) reads these comments and writes a summary for the cast and writers, Jamie Lee has got to be one happy actress when she sees the deep ferver of the angst her character has created on NCIS. What a tribute to her acting ability!
I don't think any of us know for sure where this plot is headed but the writers are sure leaving crumbs leading us to believe Jamie Lee and Schiff's characters are in cahoots. There would be no surprise at all if Schiff is the only villain since he's already been identified.
It's sad but losing a cast member at some point is inevitable - remember Kate, Jennie and Tony's long time girl friend Jeanne - but the show survived with good ratings. These shows were written and video'd weeks ago so no one then knew who would or would not renew their contract. So if we lose somebody this week, I believe we can assume they either asked to be written out or it was decided the ensemble didn't need them any more. 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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