It's not quite art imitating life, but it is awfully coincidental that the investigation into the unexplained drowning of Robert Wagner's late wife, movie star Natalie Wood, was just re-opened after 30 years, with the actor's actions during one infamous, booze-filled night the week of Thanksgiving arousing suspicion.
No one is implying Wagner was responsible for Wood's demise - he wasn't a suspect then and isn't now - but his NCIS character found himself at the center of a similarly mysterious case in "Sins of the Father."
This time, Tony DiNozzo, Sr., was accused of murdering a business colleague, and the seriousness of that offense made for a more subdued encounter than Wagner's previous two free-wheeling appearances.
It was still a strong episode, however, thanks primarily to Michael Weatherly, whose command of the whirlwind of emotions experienced by "Junior" throughout the evening was pitch perfect.
Weatherly and Wagner pull off the father-son dynamic brilliantly, even if their relationship is anything but conventional. This hour showed each actor at his best, both individually and playing off the other.
In the middle of the DiNozzos was Gibbs, not only the lead investigator but Tony Jr.'s de facto father figure. Gibbs showed again why he's such an effective leader a in a case that was as messy as they get.
He sidelined Tony, but had his back. Chastised him for getting too involved, but understood completely. Didn't give Senior the benefit of the doubt by any means, but showed him mercy for Tony's sake.
Weatherly was terrific as the flustered agent and son longing for answers from his ... regarding this case and so much more. Mark Harmon, as usual, was the steady hand, the man the team looks up to.
There was no B story or side plot tonight. It was all about Tony Sr. from the opening credits to the conclusion, with the whole team immersed in the case of the late Lt. Massey, found dead in Senior's Rolls.
Rented, of course. For a deal that never ended up happening.
At first I was skeptical that the elder DiNozzo would be the focal point of a case, again. Once the details were spelled out, however, it actually seemed like the kind of thing he would be involved in.
While it was near impossible to believe the NCIS writers would make our very special agent's dad a killer, things didn't look good after he admitted being hosed by - and threatening to kill - the deceased.
He had motive, means, opportunity, way too much to drink, no recollection of what happened and a history of various shady (if not illegal) dealings. Not exactly a recipe for clearing one's name in a hurry.
Even Senior knew he was up against it this time. Rather than acting like he was above it all or pulling his usual salesman schtick, he seemed as desperate for answers as his son, who was off the case.
Luckily, Junior is a fine investigator and Dornigan a poor handler (likable fella, at least). Even if it meant going against orders, Tony wasn't about to let the old man go down for a murder he didn't commit.
It's hard to tell what bothered Tony more, his father's tribulations or being held back from the case. Clearly both ate away at Junior, who tried anything and everything to be involved, from failed attempts to bribe Abby to full-on wrestling files out of McGee's hands in full view of other colleagues.
Gibbs made the right call in his attempts to distance Tony as best he could, even if that proved futile. Gibbs was also right to ignore Tony's breaches of protocol after the fact (did Vance even have to ask), and earlier, when he bluntly stated that his understudy deserves much better than this clown for a father.
Entertaining as Senior (and Junior's stories about Senior) can be, it's hard not to feel bad for the younger.
Instead of chasing women and money, he could have been with a son who just wanted a dad. Even now their relationship is not exactly emotionally transparent ... though their exchange at the end was a start.
The scenes at Chez Gibbs - so many memorable moments seem to take place there, with a wide range of characters, late at night - were among the episode's finest. Who didn't laugh out loud at him heating up some warm milk for his guest? Or at the sight of Senior in Gibbs' familiar USMC sweatshirt?
Those two form quite the odd couple. Hopefully Fornell doesn't get too jealous.
I had a feeling the old man was creeping at the end, too, when Tony began pouring his heart out to his boss about the deep affection he has for his dad. Apron on, cooking utensils at the ready, he appeared out of nowhere to interrupt a mortified Junior at the most awkward of moments ... classic stuff.
Senior's innocence was eventually established in a bit of a hasty conclusion, thanks to Tony and Abby's sleuthing - he was drugged and framed, apparently - but seeing him vulnerable and not in control for 50-plus minutes added a new dimension to the character and made for a good episode overall.
I just hope they invited the rest of the gang for Thanksgiving at Gibbs'.
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