NCIS Round Table: Is McGee Too Rules-Oriented?

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Tuesday's NCIS Season 12 Episode 10 was one of the more unusual offerings of this year, as it told the story from McGee's point of view as he wrote a letter to his deceased father.

The case of the week - involving a hacker who siphoned intel from a government server to sell it on the black market - took a back seat to an exploration of McGee's character.

In terms of his motivation and in who he is, as enabled by both his father and Gibbs, we saw sides of Tim we'd never seen before, or at least from a different vantage point.

We got to see glimpses of Ziva, Mike Franks and Jenny Shepard in a number of flashbacks, as they provided illustration for some of Gibbs' rules.

Join TV Fanatic panelists David Taylor, Tanya Moat, Christine Orlando, Kathleen Wiedel and Douglas Wolfe as they discuss all of the above. Then be sure to chime in with your comments on the questions raised in this week's Round Table.

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How would you describe this episode, in a few words or a sentence?

David: That moment... when all the rules make sense.

Tanya: My Two Dads' Rules

Christine:  Making it up as you go.

Kathleen: Rules for Life

Doug: A Rules-Based Existence

What quote or scene impressed you the most?

David:  I'm not sure I was impressed, but I kinda liked the dynamic of the 3 cyber-criminals; two were in cahoots bordering on sociopathic, and the third was their foil as "the nice one."  They could have easily had them all adopt the same attitude, but that probably would have been boring

Tanya: It was nice to have an episode focused on McGee, as I think he sometimes gets shuffled to the background. The moment where he flipped out and yelled at everyone after finding out his father delayed his surgery was nicely done, as was Gibbs telling him to go see his Dad.

Christine:  Definitely McGee finally going off on his unruly group of hackers and letting his personal turmoil show through. McGee is normally so nice and polite. It's unusual to see him lose his temper and those three definitely deserved it.

Kathleen: I enjoyed McGee and his meltdown - he so rarely expresses his anger, frustration, and fear in such a public and emotional fashion, as Christine mentioned. Losing his temper like that in front of everyone shows just how serious the situation actually is!

Doug: Despite the fact that I found the episode disjointed and choppy, I like the fact that the writers attempted to shake up the NCIS procedural formula once more. The fact that it was largely character-based and the focus was McGee only made it better.

I also like the fact that though he asked Gibbs to give the job to someone else, he actually indicated it wasn't a request when he turned his back on Gibbs and walked back to his desk. That's unusual behaviour for him, and it made me respect him just a bit more.

What, if anything didn’t work?

David: (meow) Saucer of milk for Heidi; I can't believe her calling was to educate children and I didn't buy her emotional turnaround towards the end of the ep. 

I'm also curious why we were peppered with phone calls from McGee's sister if we weren't going to see her; why couldn't she have appeared in the final scene instead of the priest? 

And speaking of the final scene--what a total holiday buzzkill! Yes, there are people who have lost loved ones around Christmas, but those who haven't would rather not think consider the prospect.  I would venture to say that those who have PROBABLY don't want to be reminded because now they have to deal with it twice--once on TV and again in real life.

Tanya: I did not like that it ended with McGee's father being dead. I wasn't expecting a Christmas miracle and for his cancer to just disappear or anything like that, but as David said, it was a major buzzkill. It honestly felt wrong, given this was their Christmas episode. It also felt out of place because this was a fairly light episode with the focus on Gibbs' rules and the three hackers. I would have rather seen McGee and his father come to a place of respect and understanding, given that we know their relationship has always been difficult.

Christine: Heidi's turn-around was sweet, but just too quick and complete to be believable. And I found the hackers to be more of an annoyance than a fun distraction. I would have preferred the episode focused more on our core team and them helping McGee through a difficult time.

Kathleen: I'm with David and Christine in that it did seem strange that Heidi was so easy to convince, though I suppose I found the hackers more entertaining than Christine did!

Doug: There were a number of problems with the episode that I won't re-hash as most of which were covered in my review. I agree with you all - but in particular would like to point out that there were two characters that we heard about, neither of whom showed up on screen. The first was McGee's sister, and the second was Krampus himself. To devote so much of the episode to this hacker and not produce him on screen (but instead have some far-off FBI agents pick him up) didn't seem right.

I get that bringing those two to the screen would have made an already weighty episode even heavier (what with all the rules and flashbacks they elected to air), hence my conclusion that it was just too choppy of an episode overall.

Is McGee too rules-oriented?

David:  It's difficult to say.  On the one hand, he grew up with a father in the military who built a life on principles of order and discipline, and McGee's technical knowledge seems grounded in the limitations of how computers and networks function (e.g., challenges in hacking through high-security firewalls).  However, McGee always seems to find a way to subvert the system (often with Abby's help) and so he ends up breaking the rules where technology is concerned. Still, he does have his OCD moments--his mini-meltdown towards the end over the monitor set-up was classic McGee.

Tanya: I actually never considered McGee to super rules-oriented. He is probably the one who is most concerned about breaking the rules and the consequences of doing so, but he also follows Tony into whatever scheme he concocts and hacks various government sites regularly so he is willing to bend rules. What will be interesting if this makes him more rules conscious or less so.

Christine: I agree Tanya. I've always seen McGee as always being aware of the consequences of breaking the rules more so than a strict follower of them. But I am curious to see if all of this changes his perception of Gibbs' rules from here on out.

Kathleen: From my observations, McGee is more or less trapped between rebelling against the strict rules his father raised him on, and leaning on pretty much the same concepts which Gibbs drilled into him over the years as comfortable and familiar. That sort of internal conflict can lead to the meltdown that David mentioned.

Doug: Before this episode, the question would never have crossed my mind. But McGee himself seems to be wound up tighter than a clock most days, and this episode explains why. The rules. Gibbs' rules, his dad's commandments. It's all there.  The reason Tony jokes with him so much is he knows he can so easily get to him. (Although that happens a lot less now than it used to).  I don't remember McGee ever laughing out loud.

What are your thoughts on the flashbacks?

David:  I liked them.  Not having seen the very early seasons (except in syndication), I thought it was a good primer / reminder of "the rules" and it was nostalgic to see some characters who were written out of the show

Tanya: They were okay. A good reminder of when a rule came into play, but as a whole, this was not one of my favorite NCIS episodes.

Christine:  I enjoyed them and it was great to see glimpses of Kate and Ziva. Plus, even though I've watched from the beginning,  there were some story points I'd almost forgotten after so many seasons, such as McGee being willing to turn in his badge and gun to protect his sister. I also liked the recap of Gibbs' rules. There are some good ones in there as well as some that are frequently broken. Overall it was great fun.

Kathleen: Like David and Christine, I enjoyed the flashbacks. It was nice to see callbacks even to the very first episode of the series, "Yankee White" for Gibbs's original rules number one, two, and three. It really does give a little perspective on just how many rules are out there, and how long they've been such an important part of NCIS!

Doug: I like episodes that feature flashbacks on just one character, sprinkled throughout the show. When they did it with Mike Franks, it was done well. It would have been great to see a show dedicated to flashbacks of Jenny Shepard - I really miss her. But these multiple flashbacks just to illustrate Gibbs' rules just were unsatisfying. It would have been better to leave them out.

Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter

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NCIS Season 12 Episode 10 Quotes

Tony: Notice anything different McGee? We installed the new computer monitors.
McGee: You touched my desk?
Tony: It was their idea.
Kevin: We wanted to thank you.
Khan: No we--don't say that out loud.
McGee: No no no, this monitor should be more to the left.
Tony: Okay let's go to the van. Nobody needs to see this part of Tim McGee. C'mon IT Kevin.
McGee: Come on. Didn't even bundle all the cables.

Every moment with you from growing up to these last few days. It meant something to me. It takes a man to make a man. You've helped make me one. Before I say goodbye dad, I just want to say thank you for everything. Merry Christmas dad. I love you.

McGee