Now that was a first-rate episode of NCIS.
The show raised the emotional and criminal stakes again Tuesday with a case that shed light on a core character's background while setting the stage for a compelling season-ending run in May.
"Rekindled" was a fitting title for an installment in which Tony crossed paths with a boy who changed his life forever and vice versa, and we were reintroduced to the mysterious Phantom Eight.
All in the middle of a complex and wide-ranging arson case, no less.
This is how you do an "origin" episode and develop characters. Rather than simply having a guest star randomly tell us something about DiNozzo, he relived the past while working with Jason King in the present.
That night made both men who they are today - former and current members of the Baltimore P.D., respectively, as it turns out. Had Tony not saved Jason, he wouldn't have lived to serve others so bravely.
Just as significantly, it was a defining moment in DiNozzo's life.
Rescuing Jason inspired Tony to pursue a career in law enforcement, which ultimately led him to Gibbs and NCIS. The event shaped both individuals immeasurably, though not without tragic, long-lasting repercussions.
You can't save them all. We're still here, she's not. Focus on the ones you can save. The elevator scene at the end was poignant and profound in its simplicity, sage advice from the veteran cop to his protege.
Tony's right, plain and simple. Had he gone back for Jason's sister, all three would have perished. Instead, the two survived and went on to save countless others, yet carry the weight of her loss to this day.
You can't save them all, but you can't forget those you don't. Jason was bitter to this day and after seeing the old photo, it was clear how much guilt Tony had repressed, even if he believes his own lesson.
Gaius Charles was terrific as Jason and Michael Weatherly was typically solid as Tony, who has been the brunt of jokes or (somewhat forced) introspective storylines this season but really shined this evening.
Charles wasn't just a one-note guest star vehicle for Tony flashbacks. As an arson investigator, King really knew his stuff, saving the day with the airlock and helping Abby arrive at the right chemical reaction.
Hopefully there will be an opportunity for him to return. This case certainly isn't over. Not unlike the thermite, this was a slow-burner of an episode, the beginning of an arc that could take weeks to play out.
The investigation featured multiple Gibbs interrogations, took us from an electronics warehouse to a cargo ship and a suburban driveway, and featured suspects ranging from a woman posing as an author to one of Baltimore's own fire investigators, whose death was the only predictable thing all night.
Did anyone not voice "boom" out loud one second before he turned the key? The case came together too quickly for the team to nab the perpetrator(s) right then and there. This guy was merely the pawn.
The connection to the Navy was the missing piece that eluded Gibbs & Co. throughout the episode, as "Rekindled" weaved a tangled web of controlled burns and faulty wiring. Who knows where it may lead.
What we do know is that the Phantom Eight/Watcher Fleet was working to correct the wiring problems and that their AquaMarine (sp.?) mission has been heavily compromised. The question is by whom?
You had a feeling the Fleet and those shady microchips would resurface one of these days, even if they appear to be the victim(s) this time. Does this mean we'll see the return of Stratton? Or E.J.?
I wouldn't bet on either, but you never know, since NCIS arcs can be surprisingly elaborate for a show procedural in nature. With Gibbs' fears of terrorism clearly proven correct after the shocking explosion, international tie-ins with characters introduced on last week's open-ended episode are also a possibility.
As the first chapter of a saga guaranteed to continue in "Playing With Fire" (May 1, with NCIS off next Tuesday), it was an exemplary one. Hopefully I'll feel the same after watching the rest of the season.
A few stray observations before turning it over to your comments:
- The NCAA Final Four has never been in Baltimore, nor has UCLA played Ohio State in it; I realize it's a fictional show but that was an oddly descriptive set-up for the story.
- How terrifying was that locked-up arson "expert"?
- Fire doesn't destroy evidence, it creates it.
- McGee. So nerdy and so awesome.
- Rule #8: Never assume.
What did you think of this week's NCIS? Discuss below!
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