NCIS Review: Sleepless in the Bullpen

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After being awake for four days, Tony thought his mind was playing tricks on him when he glimpsed an informant who he hadn't seen in 15 years. 

In between flashbacks to those earlier years, the question persisted on NCIS this week: what was keeping him awake?

A 15 Year Old Case

"Once a Crook" began with a murder case that turned out to be peripheral to the main story. 

Anton Markin - a thief who was recruited by Tony 15 years ago to inform on a mobster named Victor - returned home to comfort his grieving sister Marie. Years ago, Markin had killed Victor's brother in an act of self-defense, after which he fled. Vincent, upon learning of his return, had Marie kidnapped in an effort to take vengeance on Anton. During the kidnapping, Petty Officer Wells was killed. 

Man, there was so much going on with this episode, all in an effort to get to the heart of the matter (well, if we're counting, that would be two hearts): Tony's relationship with Anton and Tony's sleep deprivation.

Tony's flashbacks showed him to be a caring and vigilant member of the police force - keen to do the right thing by his informant, while catching the bad guys. He truly wanted to have Anton's back, despite his lack of experience at the time. Anton knew that Victor was going to try and kill him but Tony seemed sure he could keep Anton safe. It seemed a little surprising that the streetwise Anton knuckled under to Tony, even though he was sure Victor was out for his blood. Maybe that's the power of Tony we're seeing here, a man who will talk you into walking into a den of snakes, while assuring you that they're harmless and only want to play.

Far more interesting was the sleep-deprived Tony.

There are a number of possible reasons about why he couldn't sleep (or was it that he didn't want to sleep?) for four days. Obviously, he misses Ziva. Ironic that this happened:

Tony: It's so interesting. No one will say her name. Have you noticed? It's like she's dead. Every time I look at her desk, every time I close my eyes....I just feel like I made a mistake. Like I made the wrong decision. Only it wasn't me who decided. So yeah - I'm probably wrong to think Anton's innocent in all this.
Gibbs: I'll trust you any time. | permalink

Yet even he didn't mention her name. No one did, during the whole episode.

Is it just that he misses her? Or is it that he has regret for not doing something he should have, like trying harder to convince her to come back? Or like making a decision to stay there in Israel with her? My guess is that all of these questions are whirling around in his head ... so much so that he tells Ducky that he's worried that he's losing it.

I'm continually impressed by Gibbs' character: he knows when to crack the whip and he knows when to stand still and listen, as he did with Tony in the washroom. His words of encouragement were honest: you followed your gut and I'll trust you anytime. Powerful, important words that Tony needed to hear.

Observant fans will have noticed that there were at least two occasions when Tony said something that had two meanings. The first was in the washroom when Gibbs had to ask: are we still talking about the case?

The second came near the end of the show when he told Anton that he wanted to help:

Tony: I want to help.
Anton: One thing I've learned, Tony. Just because you want it doesn't mean it's going to happen.
Tony: Tell me about it. It's funny - never stops me from trying. | permalink

I almost missed it myself. When Tony hesitated and then said tell me about it you sort of knew he was referring back to Ziva. Then, when you add to that his statement that it never stops him from trying, it may mean that the Ziva story is not over. Sure, nothing's happening in the near future, but I think this is the writers letting us know that the door is still pretty much wide open.

Some final notes:

  • We got to see Delilah again. She seemed to fit right in like a glove didn't she? Joking when she shouldn't (maybe her jokes will go down better once Tony gets some shut-eye); finally getting under Abby's skin; and making friends with her. And we saw McGee smile a few times at her. She's not taking Ziva's place but... maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad thing if she did? 
  • Christopher Silber, who wrote this episode, made good use of a single item which served to act as a hinge between the Tony of today and the Tony of 15 years ago: a piece of grape-flavored Choward's Scented Gum. Nicely done. Even Delilah got in on some of that.
  • Gibbs (concerning Deliah): she's just trying to be nice.  Abby: I know. It's freaking me out, man
  • As always, check out our extensive list of NCIS quotes for this episode.

Over to you: what was Tony's real issue? What was it that kept him awake, and more importantly, how was he able to sleep after the case was solved? Was Anton a proxy for Ziva? Was it that if he couldn't resolve the Ziva question, he at least could bring Anton and his sister together? What did you think of the overall episode?


Editor Rating: 4.4 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.2 / 5.0 (180 Votes)

Douglas Wolfe is a staff writer for TV Fanatic Follow him on Twitter



to the people that keep bringing up kate,are getting to be too much,she has been gone for 10 yrs. tony & kate didnt have what he had with ziva at all. kate knocked him more then ziva did. from day one tonys mouth fell open when ziva walked in to the bull pen. sha also ask tony if she was attractive & tony said yes but not to him----remember that,you people say enough of ziva,i say enough of hearing about one knows why cote really left & perhaps we should stop with the comments.ziva did a great job with her role & knock kate right out of the bullpen thats my feelings,& remember vance knew her father before she came in & jenny wanted to keep her.& she didnt believe that ari ki8lled kate & when she did she had to kill him,just like tony told her in her last ep. yes we have to move on from ziva but stop putting her in the grave------shes not dead is she.& tony is in love with her,how could he bring her back when she was leaving the show ,what the heck are you watching are you sure its ncis mic


Don't agree. Show I love is flailing. Ziva is gone and perhaps that the goal-to make us feel the team struggling. Not a good feeling. The Delilah character just does note do it for me at all. Need the writers to step it up! as for thev actors-wonderful as always.


I thought Michael Weatherly gave a beautiful, layered performance, and I loved the ep. My favorite so far this season.


Tony has always been the caregiver on the team. He's always been very protective of them, from following McGee to say goodbye to Kate's body in Kill Ari and trying to offer his DiNozzo style comfort to him in Probie when McGee killed the cop, to always having Gibbs' six (Requiem, Rule 51,etc). He was the one who went to Gibbs, twice, in S10, when he was worried Ziva was on a path of revenge against Bodnar, and searched for 4 months to find her in Israel. So it makes perfect sense to me that he would worry that he had made some mistake by leaving Ziva in Israel, just as he worried he had somehow messed up the case with Anton years ago. Under that comic mask is a guy who takes on a lot of guilt for any perceived mistake. But as Tony told Gibbs, the decision wasn't his to make. Ziva chose to stay in Israel, just as Anton made his own choices 15 years ago. He didn't leave her, she pushed him away. I hope they let Tony go forward from here, because he deserves some happiness. I thought Michael Weatherly gave a beautiful performance, and I loved the ep, my favorite so far this season.


When we saw Delilah sitting at the desk from behind, I knew this was yet another tiresome - Tony thinks about Ziva moment - but when they showed her in profile, she did indeed resemble Kate for a moment. Since Kate died such a tragic and traumatic death, I thought that wondering which of these ladies he saw was a nice piece of theatre. I took away from this episode that Tony feels an inordinate amount of responsibility when he feels that he has somehow failed people that he cares for. Gibbs faith in him seemed to help him turn the corner. I really enjoyed Gibbs being supportive and concerned for a change. I am still hoping for a Tony in danger episode this year since he's gotten very little action in the last few seasons, but I did enjoy Once a Crook.


as usual, a terrific episode - love the flashbacks of Tony - to those who constantly knock the show, please simply change the channel.


Indeed.......She looked like KATE not Ziva.........


I love it when MW gets a chance to showcase his fine acting abilities. I really felt for Tony in this episode - he seemed so lost. He's definitely struggling without Ziva - and I was a bit miffed that Gibbs wasn't more understanding initially. I too, thought Delilah looked more like Kate - and I don't think that was entirely accidental. Tony has now 'lost' two partners he was very close to. Yes, the show hasn't yet hit its stride since the loss of Ziva but I feel you can't force these things but I'm feeling like I'm ready to move on from Ziva, as much as it pains me to say it. I want the fun times back again and I'm looking forward to seeing who Tony's new sparring partner will be.


Michael Weatherly was fantastic in this episode. I saw Tony's sleep deprivation as feeling as though he failed. When he left Ziva on the tarmac in Israel he had a clear conscience that he'd done the right thing. He tracked her down and made sure she was safe, he'd helped her make her new life goals list and he'd begged her to return with him. On returning to the team, though, no one was mentioning her name and Gibbs seemed to be angry and standoffish with him. All this made him second guess his decision and start to feel like he'd failed her. Which he hadn't - he couldn't have done any more for her over the years if he tried. Same goes for Gibbs.
Tony's always needed grounding and reassurance from Gibbs and once he got that then he'll sleep like a baby. The Gibbs/Tony scene was awesome. More please!!! I think we'll see a much happier and more confident Tony moving forward now. Ziva is one of the success stories really, she left by her own free will and not in a body bag for once. I LOVED Abby in this episode. She added so much to the humor and I hope we see much more of her (and fun Tony/Abby scenes) this season. I loved that she and Deliah eventually hit it off. Deliah is great! I hope we see much more of her too!


Funny you should say that about falling asleep at Ziva's desk - I thought that too! I also wanted Gibbs to say "I'll trust you anytime....Tony" but maybe that's just me.

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NCIS Season 11 Episode 5 Quotes

Tony: Maybe I was wrong about a lot of people.
Gibbs: Are we still talking about the case?
Tony: It's so interesting. No one will say her name. Have you noticed? It's like she's dead. Every time I look at her desk, every time I close my eyes....I just feel like I made a mistake. Like I made the wrong decision. Only it wasn't me who decided. So yeah - I'm probably wrong to think Anton's innocent in all this.
Gibbs: I'll trust you any time.

Tony: I want to help.
Anton: One thing I've learned, Tony. Just because you want it doesn't mean it's going to happen.
Tony: Tell me about it. It's funny - never stops me from trying.