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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
  • 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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sad to loose mike. excellent character. it would have been better to leave the door open for even less occassional visits if he had not been killed off. the future ratings are unpredictable so either the end of the series is nigh and cbs know this or they were shortsighted. hope it is the latter as i enjoy the series very much and hope it stay's around for a good while longer

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Gibbs was shown with the coffin he was in the process of making more than once before Swansong and during Swansong he re-read the letter from Mike Franks explaining that he could no longer run due to these lungs and he had about four months left and he intended to live every one of those months. So guessing he had lung cancer and was already terminal and he chose to fight with P2P killer and go out that way than to wait for the cancer to end his life. The character EJ Barret was the niece of the Secretary of Navy and hence her ability to be in charge as Director Vance had no choice if he wanted to keep his job. Gibbs somehow knew this and kept his eye on her. She also removed a tracking device from her dead team member and I believe this is who Tony is supposed to investigate as I believe everyone knew he was sleeping with her. And if they have to kill off any more characters I hope it is Kort. He has been a thorn in everyone's side for way too long. And I hope CIA Ray does not destroy Ziva. I think he has a hidden agenda also. He may love Ziva or it may be a good showing to try and learn everything he can from her for insider information. It did show her telling him about her day at the office but he could not really return the favor now could he. At least Gibbs saw through him and hopefully will be there to protect her from Ray if he needs to be.

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Smart writers! Too bad the politicians won't get their heads out of the sand and recognize the enemy.

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NCIS is my all time favorite. Mark Harmon is the best. He really has it going on. The whole group absolutely "rocks"! They are so great together. I see this show going on and on. This is great TV! I live for reruns, too. I simply can't get enough. This from a 68 year old gal, who knows great TV.

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Considering the political direction this show has been taking, the Franks character was an embarrassment to Harmon and crew. Here you had a genuine John Wayne type good guy who knew that our contry's enemy is not some squid or jarhead who kills an innocent charactere becaus he's afraid of being caught for stealing/embezzling/sleeping with the wrong person. FRanks knew that the barbarians are truly at the gate and sometimes extraordinary measures need to be taken to protect us from terrorists. It's amazing how the slant of this show has changed since the 2008 election.

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NCIS is one of the few "real" shows that mimics real life in that people come and go ... If you want to have your gut wrenched out by characters coming and going, take a look at the British show Spooks (MI-5 in the US). Characters are ROUTINELY killed off, not gratuitously but because people die in the line of duty.

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Find a way to bring Mike Franks back

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I love Mike Franks! Please bring him back or give him his own show unless of course he is really sick in real life :(

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Is the guy Mike really ill? Is this why he left the show?

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So many people feel the same way that I do and you do about the mistake made in killing Mike Franks off NCIS, that the spoiler has already leaked out that CBS has seen the light and is bringing the Franks character back, BY POPULAR DEMAND! Whether it's made to look like a bad dream, PTSS delusion, etc., the fans won't mind and they WILL accept it. As long as Mike comes back from the dead. As great as the cast is, the show was always better when Franks was featured!