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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.

Wounded

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!

Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
  • 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.

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One of the better story arcs this season. Everyone but Jimmy and Vance were involved. I'm always happy when the characters have an opportunity for quality interaction. I don't need shoot 'em up all the time, I just need a good, solid story and characters acting in character.
My only concern is this - is this going in the same direction as the Swak episode? Kind of think maybe, kind of hope not. And I'm wondering if there's more to Ducky's will than meets the eye.

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Good TIVA moments. Vance should have been in this episode, Gibbs looked rather stressed having to cover for the Director, which would happen in real life. Sneak preview of the next episode reveals Samantha Ryan stating the obivous and her hands on Gibbs--in public! LOL. I really love Jamie Lee Curtis, just wish they would improve the character she has to play!

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Michael, is your ignorance just a joke or are you truly as language-challenged as your writing indicates? PROOF READ IDIOT!!!

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OMG what do you guys think 'till death do us part' is gonna be about and more importantly what does it mean with TIVA i am hoping that at the wedding there will be that one slow song that everyone is dancing to except Tony and Ziva and then Tony will ask Ziva to dance as a joke and she will take it seriously ultimatly ending in them getting to dance. (i dont want them to get together until the last season though)

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*Nod to the Review* Well done, Reviewers. I totally agree & cannot add much more *Wavin' @ Janet* Hi Janet - I already KNOW you liked this ep! lol Poor Tony is INDEED a bit obsessed w/ his partner's private life(lol @ DiNosey). Funny how Agent Burley wasted no time hitting on Ziva - one woman, two men..on a boat. "Poor girl", huh? Definitely was a slow burner but leading up to something REALLY big, I hope (unlike the Pyramid/PTPK Disaster). I felt sooo bad for McGee;the man has the weakest stomach on TV. Ducky is truly bothering me. He is thinking too much about death & wills. Something is going to happen with him - that much I know. :0(

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The use of the Korean characters was lame. Had it actually been an elaborate code, great, but just using a qwerty keyboard to output the corresponding Korean character in real life would be figured out in less actual time than it took TV's crack NCIS team to figure it out.
Why bother, why not just change the font to wingdings?
The 'mastermind' behind this encoding scheme must be like ten years old.
There are tons of easily available, and nearly impossible to break coding/decoding tools available, low tech and high, that would have been a better choice.
That was one weak spot in the episode, the other being: why no cameras used for surveilling the package? It had already been rendered harmless.
Sure, dramatic license I guess.
Regardless, a very good episode. Abby even wore big-girl clothes for a while.

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Michael...you're ignorant! Good move Ducky, and I, too, believe the vulnerability at his age of thinking maybe Dementia is only normal. I'm sure he had a Will, but now that he is wealthy he had it revised/updated...Gibbs' reaction to being asked was cute...he looked like the same thought went through his mind of losing Ducky, but choked it down and accepted gallently.
Excellent episode! Well played! The Tiva banter was just enough, Tony picking on Tim, but backing off when he heard his rough arrival (and the bags later) was grown-up (finally!), and Gibbs in charge was excellent (and I agree...no conference should excuse a Director in times of crisis).
JLC returning next week doesn't bother me but feel it's too soon to find and kill the mastermind, and feel his use of Korean script was more to put misguided blame on Korea to throw off the investigation, and not their actual involvement.
Great review!

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LOVED IT!!!! The build up is fantastic, I was literaly on the edge of my seat by the end of the episode going "No! It can't be over yet!" MORE! Needless to say, next week cannot come soon enough for me.
What more can be said that hasn't already been highlighted in this review. So all I am going to say is; agreed on all accounts!

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Gibbs is a tough guy with a heart. Wish there were more bosses like him, but they are few and far between.
This show can do no wrong. The writing is superior and it keeps you glued to the tv each and every week. I now have a dvr that in case I have to miss an episode I can at least watch it at another time.
Hoorah for NCIS.....

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@CA Your right I didn't notices that till now also who love Gibbs bring abby and mcgee breakfast