You can be forgiven if you found the theme of loyalty in this episode to be a little bit cloying.
While the idea of a story about "brothers in arms" is always appealing, it is possible to swerve over the line into maudlin. Overt sentimentality can be a bit tricky.
The one bright spot on NCIS Season 12 Episode 21 was watching Tony just about lose it in the interrogation room when he grilled Ken Ashmore.
Let's start from the top:
Captain David Landis was tortured and killed by a man who was looking for information about Qasim Naasir, a loyal sympathizer to the U.S. Marines. Qasim was on a kill hit list from his brother Rasheed, who was a convert to the Taliban.
It isn't often that we meet a character as altruistic in his intent as Qasim, but such a person is certainly welcome. Even in the short time given to him in the episode, we got to see an evolution of regard from Gibbs:
From suspicion to open admiration -- and for good reason: Qasim was all about helping the Marines, even to the extent of metaphorically "jumping on a grenade" for them.
Only a cold person couldn't appreciate almost everything about Qasim: his loyalty to his adopted Marine brothers; his sensitivity to and empathy for Bishop, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for his comrades all spoke highly to the caliber of his character.
You knew that there was no way Gibbs was going to see him come to harm at his brother's hand. The ending was therefore pretty much of a foregone conclusion: the only unknown was the map for getting there.
When Gibbs sent Bishop in alone, it wasn't clear exactly how he was going to "have her back". It's doubtful anyone hid beneath or in the car that she drove -- maybe they snuck into the hideout from the desert.
Still, that plan gave us this important exchange, which highlighted a bump in Bishop's character evolution:
Bishop: What is it you expect me to do? Take down a whole village of insurgents on my own? That's not me. I'm an analyst.
Gibbs: I thought you were a field agent.
Bishop: Gibbs, whatever lesson you're trying to teach me is going to get Qasim and Corporal Collins killed. My job is in there, not out there.
Gibbs: Your job, Bishop, is to do what I tell you to do. You can do this.
Bishop: Don't put me in a position I'm not trained for.
Gibbs: Training's not the problem - you are. I told you, I got your back. Stop hiding behind things that are familiar, Bishop. You're better than that. The answers you want, Bishop - they're out there.
I was glad to see that. And as we now know, her "frightened doctor" bit was an act that allowed her to follow Gibbs' lead when he pushed her to the ground before shooting Rasheed. The fright probably wasn't that much of an act however.
Now we come to Tony.
The man is a blast. From his disgruntlement over McGee's supposed elevation to the "new face of NCIS", to his passive-aggressive violence at McGee's cardboard cutout, to his outrage at Ken Ashmore in the interrogation room, to his pretended anger at McGee and Bishop for pranking him, and finally to his honest pleasure at being pranked....the man just shone, didn't he?
You could feel his barely repressed violence when he lightly poked Ashmore prior to threatening him. He wanted to rip the man's head off. I like how, when Ashmore appealed to McGee, the latter replied "you're on your own".
That's the Tony we've all known him to be, beneath the (thankfully abandoned) clown facade he used to wear.
His protégé Bishop has learned a thing or two as well -- plus we got a better picture of what she's about. Gibbs understands that she's used to the familiar, and that she needs to come out of that and take on some challenges. While he was telling her all that, the only thing I heard was: she's got to learn to trust her team and in particular, Gibbs.
I'm interested in seeing how they progress with her character.
- The hyper-sentimentality of the Qasim storyline had a lot to do with the music in his scenes. Usually it's not that noticeable but this time whenever the man opened his mouth, the violins began playing. We get it - we're supposed to be sympathetic to him. The writing spoke for itself without the need for that. As I mentioned: this stuff can be tricky, and it doesn't take a lot to tip the story over.
- It was a pleasure to watch Tony destroy McGee's cardboard man. I wondered, as he began stabbing it, whether he would saw the head off, and was inordinately pleased when he did. The fact that McGee didn't seem as bothered as he normally would have been, should have been a clue that he ultimately didn't care.
- The Palmer "Gibbs is such a fuddy-duddy oops he's right behind me" shtick is getting old. Time to retire that meme and give the man another piece of character to explore.
- NCIS Season 12 Episode 22 "Troll" airs on April 28.
- I had to re-watch parts of the episode to better assess some aspects of the story. You can revisit the episode too when you watch NCIS online
What did you think of the episode? Was there a favorite scene? What did you think of the case of the week? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.