The first NCIS episode without Ziva was fast-paced and still interesting, which is hardly surprising, given the quality of writing for this show.
"Under the Radar" introduced us to a spitfire of an agent in the person of Vera Strickland (played by Roma Maffia Nip/Tuck fame), who was a former partner of Mike Franks. She assisted the team in the investigation of a Navy Lieutenant who was planning to kill his air school classmates out of spite and revenge because he washed out of the running for Navy flight competency.
Strickland's charm came in two parts: her ability and willingness to shoot from the hip - loudly - and her ability to make Gibbs laugh. That last one was startling, as we're not used to seeing the all-knowing impatient agent even grin very much.
I think her presence in this episode - which will likely be her only appearance - proved something important: Tony needs a foil, which is a role Ziva used to play quite well. He needs someone to spark against. McGee provides somewhat of an opposite to him, but just barely and only in a slightly underdog way. Vera was Ziva squared: she knew him by reputation and wanted nothing to do with him. Even his rescue of her didn't change her mind: she ended up with a sprained ankle out of the deal. I liked her, though, and wish there was hope we could see more of her in future episodes.
Although it has to be said: there was no way she could take Ziva's place. I was relieved at learning that she was about to retire.
Speaking of Ziva's place... her desk has become somewhat of a shrine these days. The rest of the team doesn't want anyone sitting at her spot - least of all Vera. I was surprised when Gibbs steered her to another spot, one that was much more cramped than Ziva's. Guess Gibbs is going to have to find someone exceptional for that spot; he can't just put anyone there. When Ziva's phone rang, the tension was terrific.
It was pleasantly surprising to see what the writers did with Tony for this episode. He was a lot less of a joker, much more of a serious and dangerous dude this time around. In spite of his head-to-head with Vera, he became a sort of super-Tony at the bomb-seller's place: tackling Vera to get her out of the way of the fleeing truck, then turning around, aiming and shooting out the tire of the truck, bringing it to a stop. Then he took the guy into custody and with Gibbs providing assistance, got the guy to confess. That's the Tony we've been looking for. Then of course there was this:
Tony: Want to take a ride, Vera?
Vera: Bite me. | permalink
The use of social media to track the low-flying plane was a bit fantastic. The technology of it certainly appealed to this techno-geek, but the probability seemed a bit off. Now that we know that cellphones and cameras contain meta-data that provide location information, and that tweets often contain such data as well, it's not a stretch to imagine various tweets providing a sort of data map to show the trajectory of the lieutenant's plane.
Theoretically it can be done. The probability of enough tweeters being around during the middle of the day with nothing to do but be outside - in the daylight even! - and tweeting their responses to NCIS' request for help just sort of tiptoes past the bounds of believability. Still, we were entertained, weren't we? And besides, it gave us a reason to ensure that McGee and company got to visit the White House afterward, which effectively cancelled McGee's troubles about the misplaced credentials.
I wondered about Lieutenant Keith's plan and why it was he had duct tape around his hand. When Gibbs talked him out of blowing up the ship and he turned his plane around, it just all seemed too easy. I thought maybe the show didn't have enough money for the special effects necessary to show the plane being shot down. Turns out Keith was holding onto a dead man's switch. Too bad he couldn't keep it together long enough to land the plane.
- There's a lot of bro-love between Palmer and Ducky isn't there? Ducky pretty much bent over backwards accommodating Mr. Palmer's incredibly annoying phone ringtones, all to support the latter's upcoming baby adoption.
- I had no idea Palmer's wife was a mortician. That'll make for some interesting conversation with prospective birth mothers.
- Tony had to give a small dig to McGee about his girlfriend. Nice to see a nod in that direction, as it mean's we're definitely going to see more of her soon.
- Check out some of the other NCIS quotes from this episode.
- For once, Gibbs wasn't able to talk someone into something (notably, Eugene, who wanted to make sure McGee got the Naval slap he deserved for his mess with the ID). The fact that Vance stepped in for the save was fascinating. Okay, technically it was the President who saved him, but at least Vance got the assist.
- Last night Pauley Perrette (@PauleyP) sent out a tweet asking her followers to send out tweets with Gibbs' line #WhatsAHashtag in support of this episode.
What are your thoughts? Would you like to see Vera back again? Were you satisfied with this Ziva-less episode? What do you think of Tony? Sound off on all things NCIS below!
Douglas Wolfe is a staff writer for TV Fanatic Follow him on Twitter.