NCIS Review: Murder Swap Bingo

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Isn't it great to know that the angst NCIS fans have had about Tony's yo-yo behavior over the past few episodes was justified?  

On NCIS Season 10, the ongoing discussion was about the "Tiva" dynamic: we wanted to know when the unspoken chemistry between Tony and Ziva would finally be addressed.

This season the focus has changed. Now it's all about Tony and whether the cheese might be sliding just a little bit off of his cracker. And that was planned and - so far - executed perfectly by the show's writers.

Tony's Odd Behavior

The case of the week on NCIS Season 11 Episode 8 revolved around a puzzle that was reminiscent of the board game "Clue" as well as the movie "Throw Momma From The Train."

The premise for the murders was believable: the three A.A. members conspired to swap kills to their mutual benefit. Sergeant Justin Dunne would kill a bookie, who was owed a lot of money by Wendell Kaiser. In return, Kaiser would murder Olivia Chandler's elderly husband, so that she and her lover - Dunne - could live together off of the old man's fortune.  

The murderer in each case could not possibly be linked to their victims and each therefore had an iron-clad alibi. Which was pretty much what "Throw Momma From the Train" was about.

They might have gotten away with it, too, had Dunne's truck not been stolen and used in a drunken hit-and-run accident. He still might have escaped justice, except for the fact that his lawyer - Carrie Clark - had a conscience as prickly as Gibbs'.

Once we had a sense that Dunne had killed the bookie, I got a little impatient with Gibbs. Why not just give up the details to Detective Dockry and hand him over? Why drag it out?

Then it became clear: Clark had broken confidence with her client, albeit subtly, by calling Gibbs from a payphone near the murder scene. She did this knowing full well he would trace the call and begin to put the puzzle pieces together. Gibbs, ever the lawful conspirator, wanted to find a way to bring justice to Dunne without giving her away and having her disbarred.  

I still think he could have proceeded anyway. Certainly there would have been a few side glances thrown at Clark, but at the end of the day, she did nothing wrong. She went completely by the book.

Kudos to Gibbs for being the stand-up guy and finding a way to get justice down without implicating her. Maybe it wasn't just mere friendship motivating him, though. Especially when he said to her I think you and I have a few things in common.  

Looks like we might be seeing more of Ms. Clark.  

Which brings us back to Tony.  What is going on with him?

McGee: Tony what's going on? Do you have a drinking problem?
Tony: No. No, I just....I joined this men's support group. Meets in the church hall two nights a week.
McGee: You serious?
Tony: Uh huh. I know - it doesn't sound like me. But, with the past year I just wanted to shake things up a little bit. Meet some new people. This guy at the gym told me about the group and I thought it sounded like a good idea. And it is. It's fun. The Rev drove me to Quantico the other morning. Interesting guy. He's helping me be less judgemental.

Frankly, I don't believe Tony. I don't buy that he "just wanted to shake things up a bit."

For one thing, he's been hiding his activity from McGee and the team from the get-go. It's only by chance that he got outed, and that was only because he and McGee were tailing one of their suspects who happened to be attending an A.A. meeting at the same church where Tony was attending his men's support group.

The man is all smiles about everything - and that alone raises some suspicions, doesn't it? Tony's smile can hide a lot of torment, I think. In this he's similar to his boss, except that Gibbs hides his angst behind a facade of stone.

I do buy his new-found interest in people, however.  

If nothing else, it gives him a focus that perhaps removes him from the pain of separation from Ziva. If he acts the playboy in the future, it won't be the same dynamic as before. He won't be the insincere immature guy, out for a good time. He'll be the guy trying to bury himself in activity - anything to help him forget.  

This strange and more complicated Tony is a guy we can appreciate. I'm looking forward to watching him work out his issues.  

Final thoughts:

  • There was a subtle irony in the case of the week: essentially the murder conspiracy, planned by co-A.A. members, was undone by someone who drank too much.
  • Tony enjoys public transit... because he likes to watch people, because they're fascinating. This is really curious. 
  • McGee thought Tony was blowing smoke when he mentioned that he needs to be in love before he commits. I think Tony was dead serious.
  • Note that the complicated puzzle in the case of the week is captured in its entirety in one of the NCIS quotes for this episode.
  • Get ready for NCIS Season 11 Episode 9, where we finally meet the next new regular NCIS team member: NSA Analyst Eleanor "Ellie" Bishop, played by Emily Wickersham ...

So what did you think? Did you buy the premise of the crime? What are your thoughts about Tony? What's going on with him? Are you looking forward to next week?


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.2 / 5.0 (125 Votes)

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



I liked your review, but I think you missed a very important point: Tony's car issue. He hasn't bought himself a new one, instead has been driven long distances by the AA group supervisor and suddenly claims to enjoy public transport. To me there's a pretty strong suggestion that Tony is avoiding driving a car because he has a drinking problem. It'll be interesting to see where this will lead in future episodes, but also painful because I really like Tony and hate to see him in such serious trouble.

@ Cassy

Good point. Tony might well be prevaricating by talking about his "men's support group" - and by lying to McGee when he was asked whether he had a drinking problem. I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now, anyway.

@ Douglas Wolfe

I don't know. The Reverend should never had said anything in front of Tim if Tony was part of an AA group- as Olivia Chandler said - "That's why they call it anonymous." Having said that, Tony has turned to alcohol in the past (Jenny and prob Ziva's "death") and he has said Sr. is an alcoholic and made a comment to Ziva how his mother confused his sea monkeys for her mint julip. Alcoholism does have a familiar tendency, but I hope they don't do that. He has enough baggage already.


While the reviewer mentions the "Throw Momma From The Train" plot, while watching I said "Strangers On A Train" - the 1951 Hitchcock movie which as referenced in Throw Momma as the inspiration for the murder swap (one of the characters came up with the idea after seeing the movie).

@ BobR

I thought about referencing that movie but figured people might be more familiar with "Throw Momma". You're right though.

@ Douglas Wolfe

I have no problems with you mentioning Throw Momma as a plotlime reference. As I noted, while watching I spotted the plot as from the Hitchcock movie. As to not mentioning Strangers, you could have said both Throw and Strangers (to cover your bases). That way you hit the most well known of the movies that have used this much recycled plot. I am at an age where my references tend to be of the original use when the idea has been recycled later. I like that the writers toss off movie references (usually by Tony) for the fans even when they may not be recognized by everyone watching.


I loved this episode. The writers are so clever. Great job, all.


Nice to have the badass Gibbs back not daddy Gibb


The writers are brilliant. Not only are they showing much Gibbs has changed and mellowed (and the flirting with Sally Richardson's character made me happy happy), they are showing that Tiva is far from over. Tony is reconciling things within himself the same way that Ziva is; we just get to see Tony do it onscreen. And I don't think he's going to go back to his old playboy days (which I never thought was as extensive has he made it out to be); Tony might date, but it will only be to kill time.
And Gibbs...I would love to see what he's building in the basement to work through the grief of Ziva not being in DC.
All that plus the case was interesting too.
This is what happens when you let the writers have fun and get out of their way.


I am still sad that Ziva left. Gibbs needs to address her departure with the new unexpected depth of feelings he has exhibited of late. Just a short and to the point heartfelt statement for everyone. It will really help in the process of accepting this new person (and I am looking forward to the new person) but appreciate the elephant in the corner that still exists.

@ Sally

That will be interesting to see but since Mr. Harmon himself has been less than generous in his support for Cote's decision, I doubt we will see anything of substance.


"No one care": I never appointed you as my spokesperson so just zip it. And in answer to your second question: yes there is such a thing as attorney/client privilege; Just as a Priest cannot reveal what is said during confession.

@ Guest

That not what he ask he ask if murder was cover by it which it is not

@ elle

Well then the writers really screwed the pooch on this one since that was the whole premise of this story,


I think they will continue to explore the depths of how Ziva's departure has affected Tony. Next week should prove interesting to see how they all react to the new girl......

@ Terrie

good comment terrie I think you are right.

@ Terrie

I don't think so I think were done with that finally I think they know no one cares

@ Michael

You don't speak for me


It was perfect a nice change really enjoy it I think the writers have really step up their a game. My only questions is if someone confess to a murder to their lawyer is that really cover under attorney client privilege

@ Michael+

Yes,it is. It's the same as would be if you confessed to a priest,or told your doctor or psychiatrist. Morally wrong,IMO, but legal.

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NCIS Season 11 Episode 8 Quotes

McGee: Tony what's going on? Do you have a drinking problem?
Tony: No. No, I just....I joined this men's support group. Meets in the church hall two nights a week.
McGee: You serious?
Tony: Uh huh. I know - it doesn't sound like me. But, with the past year I just wanted to shake things up a little bit. Meet some new people. This guy at the gym told me about the group and I thought it sounded like a good idea. And it is. It's fun. The Rev drove me to Quantico the other morning. Interesting guy. He's helping me be less judgemental.

Tony: Sgt. Dunne, Olivia Chandler and Wendell Kaiser all have one thing in common. They all go to AA meetings.
McGee: Probably where they met.
Tony: The sergeant and the trophy wife are lovers. The desk clerk at the Chevy Chase Lodge said that they were regulars. It's just like that movie "Body Heat". William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. God. She was really something, boss. A head turner. Anyway, they were young lovers and they wanted the rich husband's money and him out of the way.
McGee: On the other hand, you've got Wendell Kaiser who's deep in debt to his bookie and needs him off his back.
Tony: So they help each other and switch murders.
McGee: While Kaiser was in New York, Dunne killed the bookie with Olivia's help. She drove him. Her car was in the vicinity. Who would ever suspect them? I mean there's no connection, no motive.
Tony: Tomorrow, Sgt. Dunne is going to deploy. Olivia Chandler's off to Jamaica. And I'm betting that while they're away, her husband's going to have a terrible accident at the hands of Mr. Kaiser here - a man with whom he has no connection.