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NCIS Review: Mike Franks' Swan Song

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From the opening scene, you knew this would be not just an unusual episode of NCIS, but a somber, dark and gut-wrenching installment that would leave viewers reeling.

The aptly-titled "Swan Song" began with Gibbs stoically standing in the rain, helplessly watching a body bag carted off. As promised, the victim was a major NCIS figure.

Even as the story unfolded in reverse, with dots connected throughout the night, the identity of the person ins the bag and the toll this loss took on Gibbs were obvious.

Gibbs and Franks

NCIS doesn't usually try methods such as having Mike (or the memories of Mike) talk to Gibbs throughout the case, hovering over his shoulder, as if he were really there.

For a time, of course, he was. But the Mike Franks we first saw last night spoke to Jethro from beyond the grave, shrouding the episode in both mystery and emotion.

If there were any doubts that Jethro's mentor was the victim, they were cleared up during Duck's autopsy. Gibbs was present, yet absent, like Mike in a different sense.

Perhaps the fact that it was so different made it all the more effective. Rather than having Franks killed as a shocker at the end, we were left wondering how and why.

It worked extremely well not only because many fans guessed Franks would be this week's victim, but because it set up a terrific "Swan Song" for this great character.

Like the old dog he referenced, Franks knew his time had come, and he went out in style, picking a fight the Port-to-Port Killer never saw coming and nearly winning it.

Mike looked noticeably pale and unwell, not to mention noticeably older, in human form than in Gibbs' mental images. You can't help but wonder if he was gravely ill.

That may also explain how Gibbs lives with what happened going forward. Had he not called Mike, he would be alive today ... or would he? Not if he were terminal.

Instead, perhaps Jethro offered the man who took him under his wing a fitting sendoff, and in a tangential way, broke open a case that flummoxed him on many levels.

That doesn't mean Mike's murder wasn't brutal to stomach for Probie or anyone else. For Gibbs, letting go of Franks would be like everyone else letting go of Gibbs.

The scene where the elevator opened and McGee was holding Abby just as Tony was with Ziva, and Tony telling them to "bring it in" for a group hug was powerful.

Given everything that's gone on - and is still going on - viewers probably felt they needed a hug too. After all, the monster who did this to Franks is still on the loose.

Franks' death became the latest chapter in the hunt for the P2P, who we now know by name (Jonas Cobb) and received a full bio on thanks to a one-eyed Trent Cort.

The shady CIA agent's role filled in a number of blanks.

Swan Song Photo

First, it explained the eyeball. It was his, which made sense, given the Company's propensity for gaining access to everything. More importantly, it legitimized the P2P.

Making viewers fear Cobb on a show in which murderers are hunted every week is a difficult task, but Cort's description and thoroughly disturbing videos did the job.

The P2P is a trained assassin, crafted by the CIA to do its "wet work" while remaining undercover as a run-of-the-mill serviceman. Only after his first kill, he went rogue.

After making a mockery of military hierarchy by slaying his first group of victims, the killer is now evolving, tracking the people tracking him. But Franks wasn't a target.

Cobb was conducting "research" on Gibbs, lurking inside NCIS and outside his home. Just as Gibbs and Vance study each other, the killer observes. He learns. He waits.

Interestingly, it was when Gibbs confronted Vance about their personal battles that he gained insight into why Cobb came to his house - and where he went next.

Franks forced Cobb into a kill-or-be-killed situation, but the P2P didn't want Gibbs. He wanted Barrett and her team members, baiting them into a terrifying trap.

Despite widespread animosity for E.J. and the new guys, you couldn't watch this and not feel awful. She walked right into this haunting, deadly trap and had no idea.

Will E.J. survive? It doesn't look good, but Gibbs and Vance are on the same page now. Jethro's running point, fueled by the demise of his mentor. It is ON next week.

Presumably because of its format, NCIS doesn't get much Emmy love, but that should change, because this was one of the most superbly written episodes of TV you'll see.

Weaving this complicated web in such compelling fashion, with precise attention to detail and continuity years in the making, is no easy task. Kudos to everyone involved.

I'm drained after watching, then writing about these events that evoked so much emotion and so many thoughts. It's hard to do them justice. So I turn it over to you:

What did you think of last night's NCIS? Discuss below!

Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (1044 Votes)

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.

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@Debra: as explained in the episode, swans sing (make a sighing noise) when they know they are about to die. Franks was visibly ill during the episode and I'm sure the writers wanted us to think he was terminal. So his "swan song" was picking a fight with the PTP killer, firing his gun, injuring the killer, and alerting Gibbs. He knew he was going to die soon, so why not go out with a bang? I am wondering if the injury will make the killer limp and make him easier to catch....I admit I hated these 3 people who took over Gibbs' and the crew's duties...I need for Vance to explain more clearly who made that decision....After all, who is higher up than him in NCIS??? None of the other agencies are his boss...

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I watched it when it aired and missed lots of details because of the way Franks' living person and ghost were woven into the story. Just watched it again on demand and I teared up. Truly one of my favorite characters on the show (they all are really even the ones who are no longer on). I think this is a terrible mistake on the part of the writers if this is the last we will see of this character. If it was the actor's choice (Actor Muse Watson is on Twitter and has his own website), then I respect it. But as much as one can feel a loss of a TV character, I FELT this one :(

Sue-ann

@ Adam -- This is the definition of "supercilious". su·per·cil·i·ous   /ˌsupərˈsɪliəs/
[soo-per-sil-ee-uhs] –adjective
haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression. So, what were you really trying to say about the previous 128 posts by people who actually do care about this program and the figments of some writer's imagination? (Now, THAT is supercilious.)

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Talking about characters who are the figments of some writers' imaginations? Fascinating and surreal but then supercilious in the end.

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Loved this episode. Hate to see Mike Franks go, so I hope they bring him back in "ghost' form for Gibbs to talk to. Mike was a great character, he will be missed! Can someone explain the swan story to me, I am confused. What was Ducky getting at? And why did Gibbs say perfect when Ducky said the swan doesn't sing when he dies...he doesn't make a sound. I've been trying to figure out the whole purpose of this story

Tonygurl

hi editor. sadly its true Jesse Stern is leaving NCIS he said it was his swan song. but hopefully w someone who stays true to the charters and the fans

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Ohh news...I just read on the Insider Blog that Jesse Stern is leaving as writer and producer NCIS..ahhhh...so sorry...I loved all of his stories..Truth or Consequences, Cloak, Heartland..lots of good ones...I will miss him as I am sure his BFF Michael Weatherly...and how appropriate "Swan Song" is for him then eh ? Bye Jesse. You AND Mike Franks will be missed !!!!

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I am thinking that Mike may very well be ill and he knew it. He came into Gibbs house coughing and we have always seen him in the show smoking. But, I thought maybe when he was out in the middle of the street in the rain and realized that P2P killer was there watching... maybe..just maybe Mike took him on thinking he could take him down to save Gibbs in the house from getting hurt? So, Mike stepped up and took one for his probie ? I like to think that was what Mike was thinking. Bless you Mike Franks. Ziva will not save Barrett as she is captured by the same P2P killer that Barrett didn't take down at the end of the scene. I think that either her two clown team mates recover from their wounds to run to her rescue or Gibbs and team save her. Not that I want her saved. I can't stand the sight of her stupid face! I want her gone fast, but not killed. I want to see her shamed by all her stupid mistakes and orders not taken and for Tony to turn on her, realizing she is responsible for Ziva being in trouble. That could be a good scene - who doesn't love intense angrey Tony ??? I do !! I'd be satisfied with that and I might be on the road to forgiving Tony for his bad decision in the first place since One Last Score!!! There is only one more person to be killed - next week - and I have a feeling it may well be CIRay!!! But not killed by Tony..boy Tony seems to kill all of Ziva's boyfriends. That can't be good...By the way, IS this Jesse Stern's last writing assignment ? Why ? He's usually the best ? and fyi I do not think the B Team (ha like BAD Team) will be gone gone gone by end of Season 8 !! Here's hoping

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Swan Song was every bit as gritty and yet emotional as "Kill Ari," where Kate was killed, "Hiatus" where Gibbs resigns, and "Judgement Day," where Jenny was killed. It shows that while all of these agents are tough as nails professionals, they are after all human -- with human emotions. Decker's insurance policy is what Franks brought to Gibbs. I think we will find that Franks knew his time was near and he wanted to go out like Jenny, in a blaze of glory, rather than as a sickly invalid in a hospital bed. Kudos to the writers.

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I think that NCIS is a great show!!! In the Swan Song, I think one of the reasons that the Team was so upset is that they know how much Gibbs loved and respected Mike. Part of what they are feeling is sadness for Gibbs, who they love like a father. They know that he is devistated and in pain over Mike's death. I have all of the DVD's from all 7 seasons and continue to watch and enjoy them. Each time that I watch an episode, I see something that I missed before. I hope that NCIS is on for a long, long time.