NCIS Review: On High Alert

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Even run-of-the-mill NCIS installments rarely disappoint, but how good are these end-of-season multi-episode arcs? It seems like every year around late April or early May, the intensity is kicked up several notches.

Tonight was no exception. With two more episodes remaining in season nine, "Playing With Fire" was essentially the second chapter of a four-part NCIS mini-series ... possibly even longer than that.

Knowing Gary Glasberg, Shane Brennan & Co., this will no doubt stretch into the fall in some form. The way it's going after last week's "Rekindled" and now this evening, I doubt there will be many complaints.

It's been a team effort from the start in a case that brings the agency's military roots to the forefront. We all enjoy NCIS for the characters, but remains a Navy show, and it raises the stakes when this is highlighted.

Because of the nature of the deepening mystery, the episode was light on action for most of the hour, but the compelling, perfectly-paced story more than made up for it. When the show commits itself to continuity over multiple weeks like this, the stories are less rushed and often feel more organic.

It was, pardon the expression, another slow burner, and a good one at that.

Tony and Ziva on Board

Much of the episode was spent on the obvious - connecting the Baltimore arson with the fire marshal's demise and the explosion on the U.S.S. Brewer. Once that link was established, it was on to the next target.

Tony and Ziva, at their bantering best, were dispatched to Naples with Stan Burley and tasked with catching the perpetrator in the act of trying to blow up a nuclear-armed aircraft carrier. No pressure.

Their European mission led to some fun exchanges, as did Ziva's ill-fated pilates weekend and Tony's rabid curiosity in general. Obviously, Tony's a little obsessed with her, but he's more obsessed with gossip.

The two of them, along with McGee, offered consistent comic relief and character insight, but never - and this can be a difficult line to walk - to the point where it overshadowed any of the crime solving.

The night's second most intense moment had to be aboard the Benjamin Franklin, when Burley took a flying knife to the shoulder. Fortunately, he'll come out of this fine, thanks to the aircraft carrier's two new "enlistees."

DiNozzo's jealous, overgrown frat boy ways and sarcasm serve as his calling card, but he always comes through. He and Ziva make a great team, even if it irked him that she "outranked" him as a faux Naval officer.

The most intense scene came when Gibbs had the would-be arsonist thinking he was en route to Guantanamo Bay thanks to the Patriot Act. Not a bluff you want to call. Amid Gibbs' threat, he gave up his boss.

Or gave up what little he - or anyone - knows of the reclusive investor anyway.

We now have a name and a face behind these acts of terrorism, but it was not a North Korean despot or a man anyone has seen in person in the past year. It's Harper Deering (The West Wing's Richard Schiff).

Beyond apparently bankrolling the attacks, Deering's role remains unclear. Schiff is set to appear next week, so we'll likely get a greater idea then of whether he's the mastermind, or just the international go-between.

The Korean code was (relatively) easily deciphered, but his motive is another story. This is a new kind of villain, one with all the right connections, potentially dangerous information and considerable financial wherewithal.


Did anyone not feel their pulse quicken when the entire room stood ramrod straight as Gibbs posted Deering's picture over that of Osama bin Laden - killed one year ago tomorrow (May 2, 2011) - on the Most Wanted List?

That moment left no doubts as to the agency's solidarity, or the seriousness of the task at hand. Great to see Gibbs rally the troops, so to speak, for the battle ahead. Next week can't come fast enough.

Somewhat removed from the terrorist plot, but still connected indirectly, especially near the end, was Ducky. Naming Jethro executor of his estate was a touching gesture, as was his charitable bequest.

Seeing the slain officer Ramsey's children made the doctor's decision easy regarding where to leave the bulk of the money he'll never live long enough to spend - the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund.

Classy move to plug that organization via a beloved character like Ducky, who first revealed his surprising wealth at Gibbs' house. You know anytime there's a scene there, some secret's going to come out.

As for the time when Dr. Mallard passes away, don't look for that to be a given that future plot line, thankfully, as David McCallum signed a two-year contract extension with CBS this week. He's going strong at 78!

A few random thoughts and stray observations before turning it over to you:

  • You have to love the resurfacing of Stan (and Ziva's bikini photos), YEARS later.
  • Next week is Palmer's bachelor party. Thoughts on what Abby will (or should) plan?
  • His absence was explained, but it feels like Vance should be involved, doesn't it?
  • Also absent, but getting a brief mention, was Jason King (Gaius Charles).
  • Crackers and apples, people. Remember that.

What did you think of tonight's NCIS? Discuss in the comments below!


Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 (218 Votes)

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.


Really enjoyed this episode. It was a Team Episode. It was good to see Ducky, McGee and Abby have more to do. There was no guest stars to take away from them. This is how NCIS use to be-good episodes about an interesting team played by wonderful actors.Only other thing to say is Vance should have been there too.


So if TVline is right the actors who play Tony, McGee and Abby have not sign a new contact, so my questions is will they be the three people who will be put in danger? I know a lot of people though Vance should of been there but I think like in real life it would be more of a risk if Vance try to come back because what if whoever doing these go after Vance next I know they didn't but there also that possibility I like how they did the same thing with these storyline they did with the P2P storyline by not having us find out who the guy was till like the season finale I got to say Gary does great with season finale first the P2P and now This one.


Must have run out of allowed letters. My last comment ended with a number missing. Red Adair died in 2004 at the age of 89.


Wonderful episode. Glad to see the writers have found a better way to use the wonder team dynamics of this group of talented actors. At the beginning of the season there were several random episodes that just never went anywhere, and it was a little frustrating. There were also good ones, and the last few have been awesome. Sorry the season is coming to an end already. I'm really looking forward to next season. Mark Harmon will be 61 by then, and he looks amazing still. Love all the characters! A comment on Gibbs' and Abby's discussion about the John Wayne movie "Hellfighters". Great movie, by the way. But John Wayne's character was not Red Adair, as Gibbs stated. He played Chance Buckman. True, the movie was based on the real person, Paul "Red" Adair, and his team of oil well wild-fire fighters, and some of his team were in the movie ("Boots" and "Coots"). I lived in Texas at the time this movie was made, working at an oil refinery, and we all knew who Red Adair was. He died in 2004 at the age of 89.


Wonderful episode. As usual they're building up to a season finale and it should be good. I so enjoyed seeing the regular gang working together and don't really look forward to JLC coming back. Sorry still think she's wrong for Gibbs.
So very glad David has renewed for another two years, I think he's an integral part of this series. I was afraid he had some illness and was preparing to die. He was just preparing for others to have a decent chance and has made such an appropriate decision. Love Ducky.
I don't have a problem with Tony because in reality there is probably at least one like him in most workplaces, and that's a good thing especially at NCIS because he brings a little laughter in what would be a very dismal job considering they're always dealing with untimely deaths and terriorism threats. He usually gets payback somehow, as after teasing McGee he was feeling sick.
Looking forward to next week.


Really enjoyed this episode. The smart, witty banter is so natural and entertaining. Great story arc and it's nice to see the entire team involved in the case. The scene where Gibbs was cleaning his gun was very intense and MH played it perfectly. You just know he's going get this guy and God help him when they finally track him down.


WOW some hatefully people are on here chill out people its just a TV show you guy really need to accept other people opinions its ok for people to not like something its our right as humans.


Hey Michael, any idea what it's like to spend months on end in a desert combat zone or confined to a ship in the middle of the ocean off the coast of hostile countries waiting for the day you can come home to your family and friends and praying you will make it home? You're right, you're normal, they're heroes! Want the benefits? Make the sacrafice! Until then, keep your mouth shut!


Loved this episode, it was fascinating, as usual, and there was extra screen time for the marvelous Dr Mallard, or Ducky, as he's called, which warms my heart as I've been watching David McCallum on TV since the Man from UNCLE. We also got to see Abby and McGee putting in the extra hours and sleeping together in Abby's lab, though it was just sleeping. I seriously hope that we see more of Abby and McGee working and playing together, as I believe they were meant for each other. I also think Tony and Ziva would be great together, but I don't think the shows writers want them together because writing the sparky banter that has become their trademark is part of what keeps their chemistry going, and I think the writers assume they'd lose that if they got together. I also got a shivver up my spine when Gibbs tacked that photo up on the wall while everyone in ops stood at do NOT want to piss off Leroy Jethro Gibbs!


This is a great show Tiva they are great always give you some laughs action tim and Abby allways good Gibbs super and this is a fantatic show going to be a great one and its going to get more intresting next week when we see Deering going to be great. know I will watch the show again I tape them and see what I missed

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