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.


This is still my favorite show. When they get this terrorist, hopefully alive, they bring back the two main leads from JAG to try him. A full circle moment. Cycle of life - a cuna ma tata


Another great episode. This end of season storyline is proving to be a perfectly paced, perfectly written story that will have us fans counting down the days during the summer until the season ten premiere. Things that made the show great: Stan Burley being back was awesome and I seriously was thinking he was gonna be killed off bc they have a habit of bringing back someone just to have them die, the banter between Ziva and Tony was awesome and reminded me of season three when they would goof around and joke with each other, loved Tony wondering where Ziva was going and it was driving him crazy (think bc he does care for her and like Ziva said he is Dinosey), the team effort instead of just one person, and that Gibbs placed the pick of the new terrorist over the poster of Bin Laden. Loved how that was done and how it corresponded to the anniversary of his being taken out by the SEALs.


Excellent episode.........JLC back next week......I do feel this will definitely carry over to the fall......someone is going to get hurt....... I do read something into Ducky talking about his will and making Gibbs executor..........I think there's more to Ducky's secret than just all the money he now has......I think Ducky has some health problem he has yet to disclose.........I guess I read too much into things......


We even saw the photos when Tony was Agent Afloat and they talked about them in other episodes as well.


This organization that Ducky mentioned is about helping children of Navy and Marines go to college & some of them are not able to find a way to pay for it at having Ducky plug this during the episode was awesome, and I'm sure the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund are thrilled to have their organization recognized on the #1 show. It's a worthwhile organization. Clicking on the link that's posted in the article goes a long way to understanding what this organization does. Well, I can't wait to find out who's actually responsible for the terrorist attacks on the Navy ships. Just 2 more episodes to go for this season. Is it really North Korea or are they just the scapegoat or is it Harper Dearing that's the terrorist? Hopefully we'll find out more info in next week's episode. Tony and Ziva were so good tonight.....loved how Ziva just knows how to drive Tony crazy, how jealous Tony got when Stan paid attention to Ziva, and loved the 'bikini pictures' comment. Just glad that Stan wasn't means there's a chance we'll get to see him again. Loved seeing McGee and Abby work together.....I miss seeing McAbby. Loved that they fell asleep in the same room.


I thought it was a good episode. But bachelor party next week! ;-) I think the bikini pictures Tony took when he and Ziva were in LA (I think LA) on a detail assigned to Jenny when she gave them the day off and then went with Franks to the desert. Judgement Day, part 1. Tony and Ziva went to the pool, and Tony fretted so much that they went to find the Director, only to be too late.


I can't believe y'all don't realize that the bikini pictures Tony is talking about is the one he took of Ziva while they were in LA with Jenny in 'Judgment Day'. This was another excellent episode....can't wait to see what happens next week.


I thought playing with fire was great, great use of all the characters, it was a very good naval crime drama, kept it interesting, and on the edge of your seat. And i like Stan being there too


Okay one it was Stupid for Tony to care about what Ziva was doing But that was not as bad as Ducky I mean really we get it children have it bad blah blah blah come on if we keep babying our children how can they grow up. bikini photos of Ziva are from season 5 when Jenny die,One thing that bother me is it a little too soon to have the Korean in a storyline I mean yes the north is not on our good side but do we really want to piss the south off. Now seeing STAN was perfect at first I though he was going to be killed but he was not that was good any idea why ziva was a bitch to him and why she cut Tony off


Tony got the bikini pictures of Ziva in Los Angeles. They went to California with Director Sheppard way back in season 5. He snapped a few pics by the pool and have been using them to blackmail/taunt Ziva ever since.

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