The second half of NCIS' two-part episode featuring Leon Vance and Eli David was even better than the first, melding past and present with more intricacies than most programs would attempt over the course of an entire season. Everything about it was superb.
Not the first of its kind, it turned out.
Rocky Carroll as Agent Vance, circa 1999.
Before dissecting the plot details, special mention should be made of the acting and makeup work that sold the flashbacks (primarily 1991, with one 1999 scene) so immaculately.
Rocky Carroll and Michael Nouri (Eli) looked so believably like themselves two decades ago - thinner and more fresh-faced, plus different facial hair - every scene was convincing.
The would-be-directors and Michael O'Neill (as McCallister) acted younger, too, which really sealed the deal. The actors and entire NCIS crew deserve recognition for this episode.
In the aftermath of the safe house explosion, everybody was pointing fingers. The Palestinians were dead or captured, so it had to be a leak. But was it on the Israeli or U.S. side?Suspicions and tension were running high, leading Liat to mislead Ziva about a clue left outside the safe house by Eli, a trick Ziva quickly saw through and was not happy about.
As both tracked Eli to the nearest synagogue, Ziva called for him to reveal herself - as "abba" - and after a skirmish with Liat, he emerged, agreeing to return with his daughter.
Back at NCIS headquarters, Eli revealed to Gibbs what happened in Amsterdam and we slowly put together the pieces of Vance's first assignment and their current situation.
Right out of college, Vance was recruited and sent to hunt down a Russian operative. Little did he know, he was a pawn sent on a suicide mission orchestrated by McCallister.
What McCallister didn't count on was Eli David saving Vance's life.
As he battled for his life in surgery, Leon had a "moment of clarity." The person who tried to take out Eli David and himself was someone who had it out for him his whole career.
Riley McCallister wanted him killed in Amsterdam in 1991 so that his area of expertise, the former Soviet Union, would return to prominence, fast-tracking him to the directorship.
Veteran actor Michael O'Neill delivered another chilling performance.
Enter Eli David, who helped Vance evade the Russian and take out his hit squad - with the same EID-rigged trap that nearly felled them in 2010 - to boost his Mossad credentials.
This foiled McCallister's plan, as Vance's career was the one on the rise after that event. Making matters even more complicated was McCallister pointing Gibbs toward this case.
Did he want to Gibbs to believe the same Russian was coming after Vance now for revenge. Did he simply not know that Gibbs personally killed the Russian, Anatoly Zukov, in 1999?
Either way, McCallister's attempt to frame Eli and/or the Russia spy backfired when Gibbs broke out Rule #9 - "Never go anywhere without a knife" - at Vance's hospital bedside.
Sure enough, a vengeful McCallister appeared to finish Vance off in person by upping his meds to unsustainable levels. But before he could, Vance stabbed him in the stomach.
It was a terrific Vance episode, past and present, as he's always been such an enigma. Delving into his past proved more interesting and complex than we could have imagined.
Moral clarity is so hard to find in their line of work. Beyond the plot to kill Vance, which is extreme, conflicting motives abound, even among those purportedly on the same side.
Any doubts about loyalties between Vance and Gibbs were put to rest early on last night, but with Eli David in the mix, the line between allies and adversaries becomes muddled.
Eli's role was significant, but secondary, though the concluding scene between Ziva and her father likely made more than a few eyes water. They left things on the perfect note.
All is not forgiven. No one is pretending it's going to be easy going forward, or that their relationship may ever be fixed. But the desire is there, the bond is there. It was a step.
Some final thoughts ...
- As McCallister and the Grey's Anatomy serial killer, Michael O'Neill has the murderer thing down pat. Good thing his West Wing secret service agent never went rogue.
- "How many people know how to hand-make a claymore mine?" "In this room?"
- Mark Harmon's brief appearance in the 1999 flashback was a great touch.
- A decade-long grudge over a danish? Eh, with those two, we'll buy it.
- Gibbs reminding Vance what “that tube” was for ... amazing.
- McGyver ... Tony really should've thought of that first.
- How did Gibbs get that knife past security?
What did you think of last night's NCIS? Discuss below!