While the interplay between the core cast members makes every episode enjoyable, and is the primary reason this is TV's highest-rated drama, certain story arcs and adversaries have a way of raising the stakes on NCIS.
Given some of the shocking deaths in the past (Kate, Mike), you never know what might happen when Gibbs and the team are in legitimate danger. That was certainly the case tonight, and the episode was compelling.
"Housekeeping" marked the resumption of the complex Phantom Eight plot, which nearly got Tony and E.J. killed in September's season premiere. This evening, they were very much under the gun again.
Or was that a bazooka?
Having peeled back layers of espionage, treason and duplicity over multiple episodes, the show set the stage for a good, old-fashioned standoff between NCIS and the ruthless, murderous Stratton.
With Scott Wolf's character back to finish what he started, and another victim left in his wake, the tension ran high from the moment we learned the dead Naval commander had a woman with him.
Barrett. Tony knew it and so did we. She's been alive this whole time, and being hunted.
E.J. (Sarah Jane Morris) fell out of favor with Tony after vanishing into thin air last time, and her motives have been questioned by many fans from day one. Tonight, Barrett largely redeemed herself.
Rather than competing with the team or running her own agenda, she was in way over her head and was running from something - someone - even she didn't even fully grasp. She needed their help.
In that respect, she and DiNozzo were in the same boat, targeted and defensive on a visceral level, but also adrift in a broader sense, as we learned during their stint in a non-tidy NCIS safe house.
Ultimately, Barrett proved she's one of the "good" guys, and pretty funny to boot. But best of all, she made Tony open his eyes and realize that his best friend (and more?!) is right in front of him.
E.J. left on good terms with Tony. Strictly platonic. She's off to someplace quiet, and likely won't be seen again. If her legacy is bringing Tony and Ziva closer together, she'll be remembered fondly.
Ziva David may believe Pirates of the Caribbean is a cinematic marvel, but she connects with Tony and cares about him like no other. DiNozzo is definitely "in her life," and on a deep, meaningful level.
How deep? That's yet to be determined, especially after the phone finally rang.
Was anyone else disappointed that her MIA boyfriend called, or that she answered? In the end, Ziva deserves to be happy and we'll see, maybe CI-Ray will step up to the plate. But talk about a buzzkill!
The closing scene of this episode had the feeling of a major turning point in Ziva's life, and the show as a whole. Nine seasons in, something has to give. Perhaps it will, just not how we envisioned it.
The conflicted, saddened look on Tony's face said it all. Next week will tell us a lot about whether Ray sticks around long-term, and how DiNozzo responds. Ray certainly appears serious in the promo.
While the denouement provided much the episode's emotional punch, the rest of the hour certainly didn't lack for action as Stratton, cloaked in mystery, set out to dispatch E.J., and by extension Tony.
Scott Wolf never really got the chance to establish himself as a Grade A villain earlier this season, but made up for lost time, dropping three bodies in succession, including his Watcher Fleet handler.
The more we learned about Stratton (or Cole, as the case may be), the more he struck fear in us. Fortunately, SecNav Jarvis stopped playing politics long enough to lure the killer into a trap.
Letting the location of the safe house slip to Latham was a bit telegraphed, but it worked. The art of deception may be ingrained in the Watchers, but they're not the only ones playing the game.
After Latham was offed, Gibbs knew where his man would strike next. Twenty miles from Tony and E.J., it turned out. His RPG attack useless, Stratton was eventually cornered and brought in.
His capture was somewhat surprising to me (I expected him to vanish, again, and appear later) but I'm also fine with the resolution. I thoroughly enjoyed the development of this storyline dating back to when it first spawned the Port-to-Port killer, yet it feels like the right time to put it to bed.
The last we saw of Stratton/Cole - presuming he won't be back - he creepily chided Gibbs for the killing of innocent people, clearly possessing intimate knowledge of Jethro's Mexican exploits.
Can he possibly do Gibbs harm with whatever he knows, or was he simply taunting him for the sake of it? Either way, it was a fittingly uncomfortable way to kiss this character goodbye.
All in all, a strong, edge-of-your-seat episode from beginning to end, finally tying up some loose ends in appropriate fashion and hopefully paving the way for a great second half of the season.
A couple of final thoughts and observations before turning it over to you:
- How nice is Gibbs, bringing Abby lunch? It never gets old.
- Gibbs needs to name a rule after catching a ghost.
- Tony's Sean Connery wasn't half bad.
- Where the heck was Vance?
- Off the griddle? Outstanding.
What did you think of tonight's NCIS? Comment on it below!