NCIS Season 17 Finale Review: The Arizona

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That's how to present history.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was brought to life through one old sailor's efforts to be reunited with his brothers at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean on NCIS Season 17 Episode 20.

Christopher Lloyd, best known as Doc Brown in the "Back to the Future" movies, was great as Joe Smith.

Served Onboard - NCIS

At first blush, Lloyd seemed too young to play the 95-year-old Joe. But Lloyd is 81 now (just five years younger than David McCallum), so it's not that much of a stretch.

Joe was a crotchety character who was determined to write his final chapter his way.

Identity in Question - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

So it was little wonder that he and Gibbs bonded when no one else was able to break through Joe's defenses.

Joe is Gibbs in 30 years if Gibbs doesn't change his lone-wolf ways.

The crime that opened the episode almost appeared victimless at first.

Joe only hurt himself when he broke into the Caplingers' home and stole the Purple Heart.

The act was magnified simply because the admiral couldn't find his wife for a short time of time and feared the worst.

False Alarm - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

Which is why NCIS got called in for what appeared to be a garden-variety break-in.

The incident went back to being comical when Gloria was found and the robber invited NCIS to come to get him.

Even Gibbs was smirking by the time Joe was leading the charge to his own arrest, refusing to talk until he got a root beer.

But Joe badly miscalculated when he chose an item to steal. That medal was a family heirloom, awarded to the Caplingers' daughter killed in combat and engraved with a message from the admiral's late father.

What appeared to be one old man's tomfoolery got serious quickly.

Strange Identity - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

Joe was a wily old coot. He had written the admiral three times about his situation and felt that the admiral was blowing him off.

So Joe somehow found out the admiral's address and broke in to grab something valuable to the admiral to get his attention.

Mission accomplished!

It was strictly transactional as far as Joe was concerned: A letter allowing him to be interred at the Arizona Memorial with his fellow sailors killed in the attack in exchange for the Purple Heart.

It must be the clarity of age, to think that could be accomplished so easily. But then Joe didn't have time to work through official channels anymore.

Talking It Out - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

The team tried to attack this like any other case, checking out Joe's story while attempting to find the medal on their own.

The problem was threats of prison weren't going to scare a man staring death in the face. As Joe pointed out, he had all the leverage.

Yes, it was surprising that agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service knew so little about the United States' most crushing naval loss.

Joe was right to toss Torres and Bishop out of interrogation. They did their homework after that, didn't they?

Joe was smart to demand to see Gibbs, someone who could more readily relate to him.

Unusual Tale - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

Gibbs understood what Joe was saying about coming back from war with a hole in his heart and how he wanted to end life interred with his brothers.

That's why Gibbs forced Joe to travel back to Pearl Harbor in his memories.

First, they bonded when old electrician Joe was able to repair the slide projector which Gibbs had purposefully broken.

(Didn't you love the look of disgust on Jack's face when Gibbs dragged that out?)

The team tried to prove Joe had been at Pearl Harbor, even though he had enlisted with his older brother Henry's birth certificate.

Checking Documents - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

Palmer found the burns on Joe's arms consistent with those sailors on the Arizona would have received, whereas Henry's autopsy revealed no such burns.

But that was still nothing definitive, unfortunately.

Gibbs went to bat for Joe, ignoring Vance's order that Joe be arrested at the admiral's insistence.

It was like theater as everyone piled in to watch Gibbs force crucial information out of Joe that could prove he was at Pearl Harbor.

It was a heartrending scene as Joe remembered the event of Dec. 7, 1941, when many of his shipmates died.

Investigating Story - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

It made everyone present feel like they were there.

Gibbs gave Joe what he wanted: A letter granted permission for him to be interred at the memorial. It was only symbolic but it was enough for Joe that someone cared.

Joe's sad story which he had been withholding came out after his heart attack. Not only was he dying but he was losing his memory as well.

No wonder he felt such urgency that he would go to such desperate measures.

Quiet Time - NCIS Season 17 Episode 20

Joe was right in the end as DNA saved him. It was the ship's DNA, not his, but it did prove that he was on the Arizona that fateful day.

Gibbs learned something from looking in the mirror that was Joe, talking to McGee about his war experiences before he took off for Hawaii.

It was touching to watch the ceremony with Gibbs as Joe was finally laid to rest back on the Arizona.

The dual dedication at the end was powerful, remembering the victims of Pearl Harbor while thanking those battling the coronavirus on the front lines today.

To revisit the effects of war on Gibbs, watch NCIS online.

How did you enjoy Joe's story?

Was Gibbs following Joe's path?

Shouldn't the younger agents have known more about Pearl Harbor?

Comment below.

The Arizona Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (47 Votes)

Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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NCIS Season 17 Episode 20 Quotes

I'm not going to say a damn thing until I get a root beer.


Bishop: We got a dead body?
Gibbs: I don't know what we got.