NCIS Review: On High Alert

at . Comments

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
  • 5.0 / 5.0
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
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.


A great show all the characters involved, it was interesting, investigive and kept you on the edge of your seat. Playing with fire was great show. And JLC was not there, so made it into a naval crime drama rather than a soap opera


They make more then our teacher do they make more then I do hell most of them own 5 or 6 house


The nosey Tony stuff was all very much in character for DiNozzo. Everything that he was teasing Ziva about in this episode he also did to Kate.
The bikini picture blackmail threat - Kate's wet T-shirt pic and the subsequent blackmail.
Going crazy wondering where Ziva was going for the weekend - going crazy wondering where Kate and Abby were going for the weekend.
Not prrof of love or obssession, just in character writing for a change, or the writers are running out of new ideas so they are recycling old ones. I believe they are finally using the writers that actually know the show and the characters.


Another great show! Where have the writers been all year? Hopefully, this means next season’s NCIS will be back on track with its plots. I think Ducky is just feeling mortal. His mother just died. She and his predecessor (ME) both had dementia. Since dementia can run in a family, I imagine he is simply getting his life in order. Actually, he is late in writing a Will. I think the Will business was just written in as a plug for the organizations mentioned, which was thoughtful of the writers. David (Ducky) just signed a 2 year contract with NCIS.


They said in the previews for next week that someone dies. It will probably be Richard Schiff's character, but I can't help but hope it's JLC. And that whole thing with Duckie and his will is too suspicious. Did the writers make up that whole story just so they can plug the Marine Corp Educational support thing?


Michael, I can always count on you to say something stupid. The children of Marines who risk their lives for us and our country don't deserve to go to college? Do you know how little our military personnel make? Congrats to the show for plugging that charity. And Michael, please please I ask you once again to either proof read what you have written or just don't write anything at all!


Why didn't Ducky help out the hardworking americans with his money like those of us who have to pay with our own money for college a lot of people don't know these but its harder for us normal people to go to college too and we get no help what so ever


The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is another charity to which viewers might consider contributing.


Ziva's bikini babe pictures (taken during the Judgment Day episode) were posted on Tony's bulletin board when he was an Agent Afloat (early in the following season). I think his posting those pictures was an implicit admission that Ziva meant a lot more to him than he was willing to admit.


a good solid episode loved the way tony and ziva interacted with each other and of course tony being tony wanted to know where the girls where going.

Tags: ,