NCIS Season 12 Episode 17 Review: The Artful Dodger

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Tony Senior is back! And he's ready to settle down in his son's apartment, moping over his failed engagement to Linda.

While Tony was cringing and trying his hardest to avoid his dad, Palmer and Ducky were fretting over little Victoria, who's suffering a slight fever.

The back story on NCIS Season 12 Episode 17 provided an interesting introspective on the issue of fatherhood, as seen from at least three different viewpoints.

While the opening bowed to the trope of many crime stories that involve the sudden discovery of a dead body, it was at least interesting. In fact, the scene pre-discovery of the body was far better than most.

Frankly, I've never seen such a brilliant opening start to an episode, involving a wise father teaching his son about the value of hard work. The amazingly truth found in this NCIS quote stood out strong and forceful:

People call us blue collar. I don't care what color your shirt is. You bring pride to the job, people notice. Even if they don't, you notice.

Cy White

Amen, dad! That was the first great moment in this fatherhood-themed story.

The second was Palmer and his shared anxiety over the health of his daughter. Like many first-time parents, he stressed over his ability to look after his little girl properly, even projecting his worries into the future and talking about her prom.

I found that particularly believable: it would be hard to understand at that stage that the fact that he's so worried just indicates that he's a good dad....even though he really has nothing to worry about. I wonder if by comparison Breena was sanguine about it all.

The over-arching fatherhood story involved Tony Senior and his son. Tony Junior began to brag about evolving because of his relationship with Zoe, never realizing that he truly was about to evolve because of his father.

Before we go much further, let's talk about the case of the week.

A Navy lieutenant becomes involved with an art thief...who ends up murdering him in order to obtain a work of art that's hanging on the wall of his CO's office.

She, in turn, plans to sell it to a man who's pretending to be an art aficionado, but is in reality a member of a terrorist group who wants the painting because of the miniature recording device hidden within it; a device that recorded government secrets ever since it was planted in the American embassy in Pakistan.

Leaving aside the sketchy technical details involved in all of this, the premise was otherwise believable.

The idea that the recording could not be transmitted made sense since it was so small and would have required a power source in order to transmit. It would have had to be much larger than an RF chip as well.

We'll leave the question about how the painting was tracked to America as belonging to the realm of suspension of disbelief. Let's just say they found a way and leave it at that.

The problem with shows like this is that it must be very difficult to create computer-related scenarios that will stand the scrutiny of people who work in those fields.

For example: Bishop said that the same radio frequency key card that was overwritten to allow the thief onto the grounds of the Defense Logistics Agency also contained a Trojan Horse that disabled the security cameras. 

Uh huh. No way. That's not going to happen. It presumes that the RF card is in reality a common computing device – perhaps running Windows – that can contain computer code which can activated, or that the receiver at the DLA is designed to receive coded instructions.

There's only a slight possibility that it could happen, but the logistics of it are just too far-fetched: the thief would have to have intimate knowledge of the security system (which presumably, being a military installation, could only come from an inside source). 

And that RF card would have to be much more than just a simple security card. We are talking about an "Internet of Things" device. Put simply, there's just no military reason to have such super-cards. Those are meant just to ensure that authorized individuals are the only ones who can get in, nothing more.

The other technical problem was the RF device in the painting. It was voice-activated and contained recordings of conversations at the embassy.

As small as it is, it would have needed a power source, which presumably would have been a battery. Its size was so miniscule as to stretch the suspension of disbelief to the snapping point.

They at least acknowledged the need to swap it out at some point. The only explanation that would make sense is that it only managed to record a small amount of conversation after which it went dormant until it could be retrieved, recharged and divested of its information.

Fortunately the technical questions didn't overshadow either of the A or B stories.

The two Tonys have always had somewhat of a strained relationship. I was surprised at Senior's surprise over Junior's belief that he's a con artist. Surely by now that would have been clear.

His clarification to Junior that he was an entrepreneur and not a con artist – and, more importantly, his explanation of the difference between the two – finally put Junior's qualms to rest.

In the past, when Senior referred to himself as an entrepreneur, Junior always saw that word as a polite euphemism for scam artist. Now he knows the truth: his dad is just a dreamer who always dreamed big.

The fact that he was so well acquainted with actual con artists and members of the underground economy was just a factor of his desire, his need, to succeed.

He used the tools at hand to strive for his goals – it's just a coincidence that those tools were often less than legal.

Gibbs' observation of Tony's love for his dad – presented at probably the very worst and probably most awkward moment in the episode – was spot on. The echoing of that love in the final scene rounded out the show perfectly.

Father and son will be okay. I think.

Final notes:

  • I want a pair of those goth death-head pajama bottoms. Seriously, if CBS sold them, I'd buy.
  • Though McGee did a good job with the pseudo "Blue Steel" pose, I couldn't completely buy it. He might be a stellar agent, but he still has an ambience of goofiness about him.
  • Speaking of goofy – what's with the Tron wallpaper in his bedroom, now replaced by Star Wars wallpaper? That's kind of the definition of goofy.
  • Some might wonder why an art thief would put up a fake painting that cut across the blood spatter. It was kind of obvious even before Abby pointed it out. A plausible answer would be that the thief knew it looked wrong but figured it would buy enough time for her to sell the painting and get away.
  • The theory – practiced on both Tony and to a lesser extent, Senior – that giving a grieving person some "busy work" helps them to rise above their despair actually makes a lot of sense. I like that Tony wasn't angry when he found out that's what Tim did to him when he was grieving over Ziva. I also liked that Gibbs was laughing internally at Tony's far-fetched suggestion to his dad that the caulking around his tub was recalled and that if it wasn't replaced he could get athlete's foot. Too bad Senior was so enterprising, and knew enough to hire someone to take care of it for him.
  • We have a new Gibbs' rule. Rule #20: always look under. As Tony put it, this rule is rarely quoted, widely interpreted.

What did you think? Are you convinced that Tony Senior is not a con artist? Did you buy the premise of the art theft murder case? Be sure to watch NCIS online and then let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

The Artful Dodger Review

Editor Rating: 4.2 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.1 / 5.0 (51 Votes)

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 17 Quotes

Gibbs: You know I've got a friend. He paid his dad's hotel bill once, because his dad couldn't cover it. And I said to my friend, I said "why'd you do that? Your dad never did anything for you". The look on his face. Never seen anything like it. There was more love on his face than I ever saw. I guess that his dad meant more to him than he knew.
Aziz: What does that have to do with anything?

Senior: I need to tell you something.
Tony: Oh, you don't need to say anything.
Senior: Look. I've done a lot of things in my life. I've pretended to be better than I am. I've dealt with some pretty shady folks, but son -- I am not a con artist. I am an entrepreneur. The difference between an entrepreneur and a con artist is that an entrepreneur believes in the dreams he's selling. Whether my deals fell through or not, I believed in what I was selling. There. That's the look that Gibbs was talking about.