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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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I thought the episode stunk. Gibbs, who smashed an "interviewee" against the interview glass for a lesser crime acted like he was interviewing his mother. This man just murdered Mike Franks and kidnapped Ziva and Gibbs showed no emotion. Big mistake.. Then this killer they have traveled the world to get, gets in the elevator with handcuffs and 1 guy???? Along with Palmer and another person???Come on,,, he would have been in chains with three people guarding him..... Very Weak Episode, Very disappointing.....

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Our compliments to the directors and writers of NCIS. They could not have formed a better group of actors than those on the NCIS team. We love the cohesiveness, comradry, scripts, and overall acting of everyone. Tony and Ziva are marvelous, McGee and Abby, Ducky and Palmer are magnificent. We hated the loss of Mike Franks, but was not that enamored with Jenny.
We hope NCIS continues for a long time.
Also, the NCIS Los Angeles is a bust. The characters do not appear as professional in the way they dress, and the cast of character just do not mesh. Sorry, but maybe a new list of characters would improve their ratings, but we just cannot get into the program.
Thanks

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I just watched this episode for the 2nd time. I don't understand why so many people die on this show. I loved Kate, but have to admit like Ziva better. I like Jenny and had hoped she and gibbs would have a little romance now and then. But, why you would kill off Mike Franks is beyond me. He added so much with his crusty marine attitude. When you killed Pachy it was not so bad because we didn't have much of him and his life, but now what happens to Mikes daughter in law and grandchild? Keep up the good work. This is my favorite show. My husband and I even watch the reruns on channel 33, especially when they have the marathons. I do wish Ducky would have more on his love life and I hope Jimmy does get married..

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Vmoquigley - "I don't understand why you killed off Mike Franks. I really cared about him." Pulleeze! You 'cared about him'?!? Yep, he was my favorite character... did you get that it was a CHARACTER! It is time for you to step away from the remote. :O

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I am angry with the people who put on NCIS. Mike Franks was a
refereshing off beat character, this show survives because of its
off-bet characters, and this far into the series, you shouldn't
risk killing off any of them. A bad mistake. I never will watch
this rerun. The show is poorer for this stupid plot.

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NCIS is my favorite TV show. All the characters bring a lot to the show. Mike Franks was a character I always enjoyed watching and I was really upset when he was killed off. Will be looking for him in flashbacks.

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I didn't mind when they killed off Kate; I actually prefer Ziva. Jenny's death was harder. But Mike Franks, that was sad. The problem with killing off characters is that means we won't see them again - except in flashbacks I suppose. Plus, there won't be that many more characters from Gibbs' past. And who cares about anyone else's past, except maybe Ziva's.

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was the actor who played mike franks ok? is that why you killed him off? i agree with all, it was a mistake. you don't always have to kill a lead actor in the last episode.

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Maybe he will still be around like Dexter's Dad.

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I watched the show wondering who was in the body bag,Da! I STILL CAN'T believe you killed off Mike. I guess his daughter in law will just fade away too. I like Ziva , but Kates death was tough to take, and now Franks. BAD NCIS, BAD.