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NCIS Season Premiere Review: His Navy, My Team

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The ninth season premiere of NCIS was slower-paced and more complicated than expected, but provided a compelling conclusion to Tony's mole hunt while setting up a new foil, and a new enemy, for Gibbs.

It takes consistently strong writing and characters to pull off an episode like "Nature of the Beast" without making certain plot elements - interdepartmental politics, temporary amnesia, Scott Wolf - feel hokey.

That's NCIS for you, though. Just when you think you have it figured out, you don't. Not by a mile. Time and again, we're thrown curveballs that not only change the game, but the rules it's played by, and the players who call the shots.

Tuesday was no exception, and it was superb.

Vance, Gibbs Picture

The episode struck a serious tone from the onset, and was devoted entirely to tying up the mission Tony was assigned in May, which itself was an offshoot of the P2P Killer storyline they just resolved.

What resulted was a very strong episode and plenty of questions answered, but also more loose ends to say the least. The mystery of the Phantom Eight goes deeper than anyone (but Gibbs) realizes.

So what did Tony spend his summer doing? We certainly didn't find out in haste, given that he woke up in the hospital, literally, with blood on his hands, not to mention a bout of short-term memory loss.

Michael Weatherly, of course, sold this well enough to make it work, alternating between goofy DiNozzo, cracking jokes while barely conscious, and starkly recalling the chilling memories of where he'd been.

With the help of Wendy McKenna's Dr. Rachel Cranston, he put the pieces together. The flashbacks were all effective, even if it made for drawn-out storytelling and much less action than I anticipated.

Cranston felt a bit out of place to me, even though I like the character. Yes, Tony and Gibbs have a relationship with her, but given her connection to Kate, it almost felt like she was a distraction last night.

What also felt strange to me was the team's disbelief that Tony was assigned a secret mission. Isn't that what they do? It would be a little unusual, certainly, but not out of the realm of possibility.

Gibbs being peeved that Tony was being used without his knowledge - let alone manipulated as a pawn in a high-stakes chess game and put in grave danger - I can see. But the rest of the team?

For half the episode, we were led to believe Tony was targeting E.J. and may have even killed her, especially due to the trauma he suffered. He was indeed after her, but there was obviously more to it.

The nuances of who knew what and when were very hard to follow, but entirely realistic. This felt more like a murder mystery novel than a TV show at times, but the action eventually picked up.

Tony and E.J. Picture

E.J.'s shadiness in stealing the microchip wasn't as sinister as we were led to believe. She was fulfilling a request given to by her fallen agent, Levin, while people far above her pay grade had other ideas.

Tony eventually realized, quoting Rule #36, that he was being played. So were E.J. and Cade - later revealed as the agent in the photo. SecNav Jarvis basically confirmed as much. But by whom? And for what purpose?

Scott Wolf's faux FBI agent felt dirty from the start, and even dirtier the second time he showed up to finish the job. Gibbs smelled it a mile away and Fornell (fun that he got a mention) confirmed it.

Agent Stratton was working with Latham, head of the ONI's Watcher Fleet. The extent of their machinations wasn't overtly explained, but they're selling classified information, and thanks to Mike, Gibbs is on it.

When he basically told DiNozzo, by evoking the episode title, that he could be collateral damage, SecNav Jarvis showed his true colors. It'll be interesting to see Gibbs clash with him again, which I'll bet happens before long.

Vance may be a company man, but I never took him for a true backstabber who's out to get Gibbs, despite their differences. Jarvis may be a different story. And then there's Stratton, or whatever his real name is.

How do you think he'll be brought back into the fold, which the chilling, episode-ending montage teased so eerily? He seemingly got away without a trace, and would want nothing more to do with NCIS.

Of course, we know it's never that simple, especially with Leroy Jethro Gibbs onto you. Seeing him in the photo was a terrific conclusion to a season premiere that, despite a few flaws, was still rock solid.

A few random thoughts on last night's episode before I turn it over to your feedback:

  • Wendy McKenna looks like she could be related to Sasha Alexander.
  • The discussion of Tony's "complicated relationships" was priceless.
  • "You two are cut from the same quilt." - Amazing.
  • Rules cited last night: #3, #5, #36.

What did you think of the NCIS season premiere? Leave a comment below!

Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
  • 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.4 / 5.0 (339 Votes)

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

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This episode was boring and unrealistic. The chips are worthless. No govt agency would allow the chip to be the only authentication method. Usually at least need a pin if not a username and password. Additionally, once unaccounted for a simple user profile update renders them worthless. All this urgency and the secnav could have simply called the sysadmin and had the issue sorted in two shakes.inusually let them get away with silly tech stuff but this is an epic fail.

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I LOVE TONY AND GIBBS I LOVE THE WHOLE CAST - I DEFINITELY DID NOT LIKE KATE AND HER BETTER THAN THOU ATTITUDE - WAS THRILLED TO SEE HER GET SHOT - I THINK HOLLY WAS GREAT AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A GREAT TEST OF FEELINGS FOR HER AND GIBBS LETTING HER GO AND FRANKS WAS A BIG MISTAKE - BUT YOU ARE GETTING AWAY FROM THE FAMILY INTERACTION WE ALL LOVE SO MUCH - A LITTLE BULLY NOT MEAN FROM TONY IS GOOD BUT NOT CONSTANTLY - DONT KNOW A COMPANY THAT WOULD KEEP SOMEONE LIKE HIM ON IF IT WERE REAL - ANYWAY I AM NOT CRAZY ABOUT THE NEW SEASON

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PLEASE PLEASE GIVE TONY A GROWN UP CHARACTER - INSINUATING HE WAS NOT ATTRACTIVE IS RIDICULOUS AND DEGRADING FOR HIM TO BE OVERSEXED AND A BULLY IS GETTING REAL OLD - LOVED HIS ACTING AS A DETECTIVE EXAMPLE THE SECRET DOOR ON THE EPISODE WHERE THE AGENTS GOT BLOWN UP AND THE ONE WHERE HE MEASURED THE DOOR AND THE GUNS WERE IN A HIDDEN SPOT - HE IS GREAT BUT I CRINGE EVERYTIME I SEE HIM PLAY BENEATH THE TALENT HE HAS - AND AS FOR TIM PLEASE THIS EXTRA SMART PERSON THAT LOOKS SO DUMBFOUNDED AND HAS TO BE TOLD TO DO IT NOT JUST TALK - IM SURE IM NOT THE ONLY ONE WANTING TO SEE A CHANGE IN THIS - OTHER DONT CHANGE THE TEAM AND ZIVA IS A DOLL MY WHOLE FAMILY AND FRIENDS LOVE HER

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@fan-dango you wrote ziva lost all credibilaty because she called her father papaanyway shes not an israeli anymore she prefers to be american. people like you should stop watching ncis or lighten up its a tv show.

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zxCZXCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCaSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSI thought this episode was awesome! A season opener is supposed to lead you to have many questions, it makes a storyline with answers possible all throughout the season! I am glad Tony is okay, I'm not surprised that Gibbs I remembered the file with the photo that frank had on phantom eight. I loved seeing Kate's sister, it brought back a lot of the fond memories I have of Kate being on the show, I really miss her character! I can't wait to see how the new SecNav feels when he realizes he's being played and that his niece is being made a target by someone he is supposed to trust! Can't wait to see this unfold in coming episodes!! To those of you who think this episode was awesome, you clearly don't know what makes a GOOD, well written, federal crime drama! Go watch Dancing with the stars or something! lol

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This WAS a great show - it has lost its edge and us as devoted viewers

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Another country heard from:
Why I keep watching? They are family. I just shrug at the bad reviews about the writing and applaud with the good reviews. This ensemble has worked its way into my heart and home, and that's all there is to it. I liked the Season 8 complexity of the ongoing PTP Killer plot line underlying their day-to-day crime solving lines. If they keep up with this complexity of an ongoing seasonal theme (the new and sinister secnav and his henchmen) underneath their day-to-day, if they can hold on to continuity issues amidst the complexity, they've got a season that will continue to attract new viewers with these multiple plot lines. Even with the on-going PTP line, there were still enough dual-episode references to keep it moving with a new energy. We can't follow too many complications, but to mix it up a bit keeps it fresh. It does lose its freshness at times, and the cases become so much same old-same old. When that happens, people move on. Still, I perceive a few things in some of the characters--a certain stagnation, even though I have not moved on. Ziva. I'm an American Israeli myself, and when Ziva called her father "Papa" in an early season, she lost all credibility as an Israeli. ANY Israeli would know that we call our fathers "Abba." "Papa" isn't even in the language vocab! Why couldn't they find an Israeli actress to play the Israeli? At least they would have the accent--and the edge-- right. I'm sure there are plenty of Israeli expat actresses in LA--at least to use as a consultant!. When Ziva-the-Mossad-agent got neutered as an American-wannabe, the character lost that great edge she had. I loved her as a butt-kicking Mossad. Her new language mistakes used to be cute, but they shouldn't define her. I liked her original 'definition' before her bland whitewashing. McGee has grown into his weight loss this year. He looks fantastic--all the way to handsome. He looks the way he was born to look. Even his voice has changed character--he sounds more assertive and 'out there'. The writers can do more with this new look and sound as he's no longer defined by his dough-boy, sweetie-pie personae. Hats off to Sean for effecting this change over a few years by steadily changing his diet and habits. It seems more pronounced to us as we see him for the relatively short time each year that they shoot for the season, but we have to realize that it took a few years for him to get to where he is now with his healthier routines. He's an inspiration to everyone who wants to get off that extra layer of fat and expose the "real you" underneath all the bad habits. Bet his family loves it, too! Abby. Can we get her away from that sappy, hug-y, weepy, "Oh, Gibbs, protect me!" thing? I liked her better in the first few seasons. Was this the character she was growing into? I'm disappointed. She has become so--predictable. MW. He can take a few pointers from Sean. You don't have get pudgy just because you get married. It's a pretty typical "new husband" syndrome that is easy enough to overcome once you get a grip like Sean did. I have not enjoyed Tony's pudgy, middle-aged, sex-addicted character side. It's seamy, not worthy of the show: the base sexual jokes are the weak point in the ensemble. Does the NCIS audience need the sex angle to keep the show lively to them? There is nothing cute about sex addiction. It's a sickness that needs serious therapy! Jeanne was the best thing that ever happened to his character. Can we bring her out of hiding? In the meantime, Magee's BoyScout/Navy-brat background acts as a balance, but does the silly-sex have to be there at all? I have no interest in seeing these characters jump in and out of beds and generally talk much about sex--makes me wince when children are in the room. I turn it off. I know, I know, they get in on the street, but not in my house. There are times when my husband and I even turned it off just for us. Gibbs? Adult supervision. The complexity. The glue. The constant edge when others lose theirs. Let's not lose him behind the crime scenes. Gibbs is in his best character when we see just a little behind the team-dad, angry-widower mask into the real guy. Going into his home with him, Jenny, the redhead in the convertible, Franks, certain female characters (Holly, the Beltway Madam), the few real friends he tends to make--they all did that for me with him. Ducky. Love him best when the writers deal with his real life behind the autopsy scene. If I hear "blunt force trauma" one more time, I'm going to yawn--again. Palmer keeps autopsy fresh. We can't lose him, yet an age-appropriate female assistant might add an intriguing dimension. At least autopsy-focused guest stars do just that. Jenny was taken off the show ostensibly because the writers had taken her character as far as they could. In my opinion, Director Vance has far less going for him no matter how much interesting background they give him. He's just not as cohesive and dimensional as Lauren was as an actress and Jenny was written as a character as a foil for Gibbs. THEY had background! LOVE the guest stars! Bring on Lily Tomlin! RW--more, more! Jamie Lee Curtis! Gibbs' dad! The Beltway Madam! Love Ziva with her ex-special-forces strong-man guy. A fantastic match, the mighty duo. This pairing brings back the old Ziva. Lose EJ. No matter what she's packing, so Barbie. No matter how they write her, to me she's just Donozzo's bimbo bed interest. As ostensibly serious agents, they both broke the no-frat rule so easily. Get her out of there. One of them needed to go, and it's not Tony. Then there's Ziva's bland, boxy CIA love interest (Steve?). Maybe he matches her white-washed new-American image. Boring. Forgettable. One dimensional. The writers can write background interest and make the situations complex, but when the actor himself doesn't fit the role, it just doesn't work. It's not that he's a bad actor, he just isn't who they write him to be. There's no chemistry with the role or with Ziva. All that said, we are still here. It is, after all, the ensemble that makes or breaks a show. What they say and do on the broad spectrum is what builds an audience, and that's up to the new writing team.

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For me the episode was best described as "fine". That's really all it was. The plot was interesting, the characters were normal, blah blah blah. It was missing the interaction between the characters, the humor and the cleverness that usually gives NCIS its spark. The hospital scenes were great thanks to superb acting from MW, MH and Kate's sister (sorry :D dont know her name) but I felt it was off for Tony to have forgotten his target when it was only Cade, a guy he really had no connection to. The script was cliche and bland, which is a problem I've been having with NCIS since the end of Season 7... really hope it improves this week >.>.

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I did not know team gibbs was missing ifact most of the show is had team gibbs in it and not enough Guest stars

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the episode wasn't phenomenal. but it wasn't crap either. better than the last season premier, definitely. it was a good start. nothing beats TORC in my book so far as far as premiers go. it was more concentrated on tony and gibbs and i missed the team interaction although there were bits and pieces here and there. it would have been better if the whole team helped rather than that Dr. it was awkward somehow. the subtle tony and ziva moment was cute(and I'm a straight guy) and not forced. nor were they insulting each other so that's a good, mature start. i'm hoping for more team interaction in the next episodes. enough of the guest characters. i miss my team gibbs.