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NCIS Review: Turned Around

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There was a sense of relief attached to NCIS Season 11 Episode 7.

The case of the week involved the killing of Marine Sergeant Michael Dawson in what at first appeared to be a robbery gone bad. 

After a bit of misdirection and an interrogation of Dawson's off-the-wagon Narcotics Anonymous friend, the team discovered that the store owner (weirdly referred to as "Spiffy") where the sergeant was murdered was the NA friend's drug dealer. They discovered that Spiffy was the shooter.

However, the dynamic between Gibbs and his father proved to be the more compelling story.

Gibbs Helps His Father

Don't know about you, but when Jackson told Gibbs that he was on his way to visit an old friend, I anticipated a scenario where the friend had actually died years ago and that Jackson was suffering from dementia. 

The jury's not completely out on that: Jackson mentioned that he had gotten "turned around" after finding the gas station closed.  Of course, we all get a little turned around sometimes when driving in a strange town, and maybe the sun wasn't out, which would have made it even more difficult to figure out directions. 

Dementia is only one of many possibilities. Yet, that's where the writers took Gibbs, I believe, and where we were intended to go as well.

It was clear that Gibbs was acutely worried about his father, even though his face gave nothing away - except when he spilled his worries on to Ducky:

Gibbs: There's no right way to be his son.
Ducky: Just as there is no right way for you to act as his father. The pain of watching a parent age is unlike any other. I vividly remember the first time my mother needed help brushing her hair.
Gibbs: It's backwards.
Ducky: It certainly feels like that. But in the end, well, it's simply life.

I can't think of another such complicated - and therefore real - father-son relationship on TV right now.  Gina Monreal - who wrote this episode - deserves high praise for getting it right. 

Exasperation, worry, anger and ultimately respect and love all made an appearance between these two fine actors. The captivating performances of Mark Harmon and Ralph Waite warrant a high rating for this installment.

We learned more about Gibbs through his father than we would normally see.  Beyond the worry and concern there's a core of regret that came through. We saw it every time his dad said a variation of "can't you just stay with me for a bit?" 

Regret and guilt kept Gibbs by his side, and regret in particular made an appearance here when Jackson spoke of his own past and Gibbs empathized with him:

Gibbs: Dad, German? That's the most important part.
Jackson: No, son. The important thing was that we were both fliers. We were brothers up there. We were the same. We're all the same. But we keep fighting each other. Walter told me that he saved me that day because he wanted to remind himself who he was. He's dying, and all he can see is the people he killed, over ideas that weren't even his. He can't forgive himself.
Gibbs: That's not an easy thing to do, Dad.

I think that a lot of guys who were close to their fathers felt the pride and pain all wrapped up in the final hospice scene when Jackson introduced Walter to Leroy Gibbs. What son wouldn't want to hear those words? He's a good man. He's the best person I know.

Yet, as always, Gibbs was inscrutable, preferring to keep his visible emotions in check. Classic. Completely in character.

The third storyline in the episode had to do with Tony and McGee. Seems like their sibling rivalry dynamic is coming to a head:  whereas Tony has always seemed to play the alpha in their relationship, McGee's precarious patience with him has come to an end. 

That thing with the yogurt was deliberate: McGee's not the type of guy to take food from the fridge that doesn't belong to him. I'm guessing he knew it was Tony's and ate it anyway.  

You may have noticed that only once did Tony refer to McGee with a McName. Most of the time he referred to him simply as "Tim."

This is a signal - although it's hard to know what exactly it signifies. Is it a maturity thing with Tony, a reduction in his "team clown" deal? Or does it signal a change in his stance toward McGee? Or maybe it's both? My money's on the maturity angle. 

Tony wants to be taken seriously and just doesn't find as much joy in ribbing McGee as he used to. He still does - it's become a bit of a habit - but it's not as intense. The resolution of the power struggle, where they both agreed to take point on the case, and where they spent part of a night watching Beaches together was both funny and interesting. 

I hope the writers keep taking them down that road, where they see each other as equals instead of rivals.

Final notes:

  • The episode title "Better Angels" has multiple meanings: the German angel who guided Jackson to safety; Jackson's view of Leroy Gibbs as somewhat of an angel who helps people; and Jackson Gibbs' call sign during the war: "Golden Angel." I think I'd like to add Ducky to that distinguished list.
  • Even though his work had nothing to do with his death, Sergeant Dawson's work as a code breaker at the DCS served as a viewer history lesson on the Navajo Code Talkers - a fascinating story that can consume a few hours on the internet, for those interested.
  • Jackson's back story served to put an interesting spin on the dynamic between soldiers (and in this case, pilots) during wartime, although usually that dynamic is put in terms of fellow armed forces folk fighting on the same side.  Soldiers rarely fight for a cause; they fight for each other, to get each other home safe. In this case, a German pilot saw an opportunity to bring a balance for all the death he had caused by guiding Gibbs' father to safety.
  • Delilah is well and truly in Abby's camp now, providing information on the side to her, information to which NCIS would not normally be privy.
  • This episode's NCIS quotes captures a number of interesting and illuminating moments of the show.

What do you think of this episode? What's your impression or worry about Jackson Gibbs? What are your thoughts on Tony and McGee?

Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.2 / 5.0 (172 Votes)

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

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Had many tears at the end it was beautiful

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@ Ellen Carter

I loved Ralph Waite, but hated the return of let's demean and humiliate Tony "humor". This writer is predictable, hasn't bothered to learn the show's canon, and doesn't seem able to write any humor on NCIS that doesn't involve humiliating Tony. He is the SFA and Gibbs proves once again that he isn't the least bit loyal to Tony, while Tony takes his crap week after week. I wish that the writers (please not the one who wrote last night's episode) would let Tony finally have enough of the disrespect that the team seems back to showing him.. I was hoping we were done with that "fun" after the always superior Ziva left, but apparently they've run out of original ideas.

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Can anyone set me straight on this? Does the rest of the team know that Tony did actually find Ziva on that trip to Israel? I know Ziva called Gibbs at the end of the second show, but has the fact Tony found her been mentioned?

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@ poppysmom

It was never mentioned but I think that Gibbs especially knew he had found finally found her during that last conference call but I think all of them knew because after all the months he spent looking for her, they knew he'd never come home until he did.

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I didn't consider Tony to be childish at all, nor McGee to be snarky. I see it for what it is a kind of sibling rivalry. They are not cruel to each other, not like Kate or Ziva could be, having lived with the brother thing I saw with my husband and his brother for years, it really just seems to be that. And a shout out to DM and MH for hitting it out of the park in the autopsy scene, that really hit home for me. Finally father and son also have made a peace. I loved it

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So, who are you blaming now for Tony's childish, insufferable behavior?
Every week people on these pages blamed Ziva for Tony's dumbing down so that her character could look superior. Seeing that she is no longer on the show, whose fault is it now? Can we finally place blame on the shoulders it belongs on-the writers. All the diatribes against Ziva and here it really had nothing to do with her but was always the fault of the writers. It will be interesting to see if this will continue with the addition of Bishop. Will she be superior to Tony, too? Only time will tell.

Julia64
@ guest

No I just blame the writers. I fell in love with NCIS back in season 6, I've since bought all the DVD's, and happily watched every episode until S10 - when for me it became guess what Tony will do this week depending on who wrote the episode. I never could understand why we couldn't have smart Tony and Ziva as we did when she first joined. Bishop has been described as being "smart and intellectual" like you I'm just hoping that that doesn't mean they'll make her "superior" to Tony. I'd just like to see a little more of "the best young agent I've ever worked with" (LGG - Flesh & Blood)!

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@ Julia64

I don't think Tony's behavior is childish and insufferable just for the sake of being so. He uses it as a deflection and a fake out. People see him as immature and don't take him seriously until they get smacked in the face with just how smart he is and then it's too late to back pedal. His behavior with Tim is just like any sibling growing up. At some point the ribbing and joking around becomes less and less as you mature, but it's never going to go away because that's what you do to the people you love and respect. Since they are never cruel, it works.

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@ Tina

I agree with you. I love Tony just as much as I love Ziva .I totally understand why he acts like he does. It's just Tony being Tony and I appreciate the levity it adds to the show. And it never keeps him from doing his job and being a competent agent. I am just referring to how people have complained the last few years ad nauseam about how Tony was always made the butt of the jokes to make Ziva look superior or how Tony was Ziva's purse, etc....His goofy behavior was always blamed on Ziva. I was just curious about who the people who dislike Ziva were now placing the blame on. I argued for years that the writers would write Tony this way regardless of who the female foil on the show was,be it Kate or Ziva and now the female agent of the week. If the same holds true with Bishop, will the Tony lovers complain about her on a weekly basis as much as they did when Ziva was on? I am really interested to see how this plays out.

Terrie

The ending of this episode had me in tears....... Whether or not they are playing up to Jackson having dementia remains to be seen........ I wouldn't be surprised to see Jackson move in with Gibbs. I really read nothing into Gibbs giving McGee point on the case. I am wondering how Delilah will play into the rest of the season.......

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And while I'm at it... Surprisingly NOT missing Ziva... Or any other female presence as part of the team (Abbey included of course!)

Terrie
@ Alihan

In case you missed it.......there is a new female cast member ... not sure when she will be on..............

Julia64
@ Terrie

Emily Wickersham joins the team as Eleanor "Ellie" Bishop on 19th November 2013 in an episode entitled "Gut Check".

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Anyone who has, or knows someone who has PTSD would know that flashbacks and lost time are par for the course, especially with a trigger. After WW1 and WW2, everyone was expected to come back from war and get on with their lives, and to some extent, this is still expected today of our veterans. There is also a lot of guilt associated with what was done whilst serving ones country (war has changed a bit since the WW's) regardless of what side you were on. I think this was a great episode that showcased this fact brilliantly - and the call out to the Navajo Code Walkers added the final touch for me.

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@ Alihan

Sorry, Navajo Code TALKERS.

Julia64

Probably a Brit thing - but I didn't buy the whole German flyer helping out Jack. Not so much because he was German, but from a logistics point of view. One or other would surely have been shot at by other aircraft - the sky seemed surprisingly deserted of other US, British or German planes. Sweet idea but bit of a stretch. Oh and you can't see the white cliffs of Dover from France - it's 30 miles away, but I guess you could just put that down to Jack's dodgy memory…….:-)

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@ Julia64

It was a good story even if it wasn't necessarily true. IMO I think the episode was about guilt - a son's guilt, a fathers guilt, a soldiers guilt. The COTW seemed to me to simply be a way to bring up the Navajo Code Talkers, which all ties in to WW2, and to reinforce that one should never give up on a brother in arms (in this case another NA member in need of help).

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@ Alihan

There are many documented stories about pilots in both world war 1 and 2 that helped other distressed pilots on either side. (unaware of any Japanese pilots) but have several documented cases from German, French, British and American pilots.

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@ Alihan

actually is based on a true story from WW2, look it up

Julia64
@ guest+

@Alihan Well they do say life is stranger than fiction. I will indeed look it up. Thanks!

Julia64

We sat down and watched Beaches, so we're fine now boss. Really?! Okay might have worked for some - didn't work for me. I'd like to have seen Tony & McGee protecting each other in the field and therefore realising that their silly bickering was ridiculous. However, they've been working together for more than 9 years (McGee joined proper in S2) so I'd have thought literally dealing with life and death situations and protecting each others six on a daily basis they might have worked out any silly childish differences already. Sort of strangers in a foxhole become brothers kinda thing. Obviously not.... And probably just me, but I miss the old relationship between Gibbs and Tony. Despite episode 5's great scene between Gibbs and Tony in the head, these days Gibbs seems much closer to McGee than he does Tony, accentuated this week by the fact that Gibbs initially confided in McGee to help find his dad's friend and the fact that he called him Tim on several occasions. Gibbs hasn't properly called DiNozzo "Tony" since seasons 7's "Flesh & Blood" incidentally the last time we saw a steak & beer night.

Terrie
@ Julia64

You must not have been watching but they did the "Tony and Tim protecting each other" thing in an earlier episode this season.....The one with flash backs to Mike Franks............Tony protected Tim and Gibbs both in that episode.........

Julia64
@ Terrie

Yes I do remember that episode "Anonymous Was a Woman" but I was thinking a little more in terms of something a little more physical than just being on the end of the phone organising relief. However, more to the point and excuse me if I missed the point and "the boys" were being sarcastic which one of my friends thought, but after all those years working together did it really take just a movie for them to work out "what was important in life". And if this new found understanding is going to last longer than just this one episode, having followed McGee and Tony for over 200 episodes, I'd rather like to have seen the conversation.

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@ Julia64

you're right you can't see the cliffs from the ground in France, but you can see it from the air! And Gibbs has never felt that Tony needed coddling even though he likes the acknowledgement, Tim's background bordered on abuse with his father so Gibbs does treat him a little different, but not much. With Tony and Tim it's a friendly sibling rivalry, to please the father figure, and they have fun doing it. I have no problem with that

Julia64
@ guest

Hmmm flying high up maybe, but I'm not convinced you'd see the cliffs flying a plane as low as they were flying. Happy to be proved wrong though if you can show be different. Re Tony and Gibbs I'd just like a little more of the relationship they had back in series 7 - go watch "Flesh & Blood" and you'll see what I mean. There's never been any explanation as to why that should have changed.

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@ Julia64

I agree with you, Julia. As much as I loved the Gibbs/Jackson and Gibbs/Ducky scenes in this ep, the Tony/Gibbs and Tony/McGee scenes just frustrated me. They went from Gibbs telling Tony he'd trust him anytime, two episodes ago, to dismissing him as point and treating McGee as the favorite son. No wonder Tim doesn't treat Tony as an equal, he takes his cue from Gibbs. I really hope the reviewer is right, and this is leading towards Tony and Tim coming to an understanding and moving forward as equals. As for Gibbs/Tony, I fear the writers have abandoned their earlier dynamic, which is very sad.

Julia64

Let me start by saying I love Ralph Waite and he and Mark Harmon gave some terrific performances in tonight's episode. Gibbs can be minimalist to a fault with the result you can forget how good an actor Mark Harmon is. However, that being said I have a host of problems with this episode: Enough with the flashbacks. I don't mind the odd flashback but can we be done for a few episodes nowCan Tony please have some character continuity. Two weeks ago Gibbs was telling him he'd trust him any time, but this week he gives point to McGee, who's junior to Tony. Tony is the SFA - or did he get demoted and no one told me! I loved Tony in "Once A Crook", last week he was okay too, but this week he was insufferable and childish and were it not for the whole SFA thing I would have given McGee point too. Not only has Tony been dumbed down but sadly since the start of Season 10 it's become "which Tony will we get this week". After the first few episodes of Season 11 I thought we were over that, maybe now Tony and McGee have ironed out some of their differences we might see some consistency in Tony's personality.

NCIS Season 11 Episode 7 Quotes

Gibbs: Dad, German? That's the most important part.
Jackson: No, son. The important thing was that we were both fliers. We were brothers up there. We were the same. We're all the same. But we keep fighting each other. Walter told me that he saved me that day because he wanted to remind himself who he was. He's dying, and all he can see is the people he killed, over ideas that weren't even his. He can't forgive himself.
Gibbs: That's not an easy thing to do, Dad.

Jackson: Walter, this is my son, Leroy.
Gibbs: Sir.
Jackson: Walter, nothing can make up for the lives we took. We both know that. But what you did was more than you know. You made my boy possible, Walter. And he helps people, Walter. He's a good man. He's the best person I know.