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NCIS Review: Going Down in Flames

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NCIS' season-ending story arc continued Tuesday in an unpredictably complex installment that sent the team in a half dozen different directions with an elusive terrorist mastermind always one step ahead.

If not more. Few shows would leave their main character so flummoxed at such a crucial juncture, or send the team down the wrong path for the better part of an episode as "Up in Smoke" did this evening.

That's part of what makes this arc (and NCIS in general) so good, though. Every chapter fits into a broader narrative, keeping you guessing as to what's next while remaining entertaining on its own merit.

A depraved financial mogul convinced he's a hero. His embezzling second-in-command. A night watchman serving as the go-between. A rogue dentist. A middleman gunned down in a parking lot.

All of these would-be adversaries played a role this week, but none hold a candle to Jamie Lee Curtis' Dr. Ryan when it comes to secrecy. To say she's hard to read is be like calling Tony a cutup.

For one of the good guys, Ryan plays everything too close to the vest. Even before Gibbs openly questioned the brain-gamer's motives in the closing moments, 19 million viewers likely did the same.

Gibbs and Ryan Pic

Was her hunch about the faulty artillery shells innocently and legitimately wrong? Or designed to throw Jethro off the trail? It's hard to believe Ryan would want Vance kidnapped, but who knows.

With the investigation taking its darkest turn yet, so has her character. Gibbs may be a man of few words, but what few words he utters aren't going to be flattering unless she comes clean in a hurry.

Ryan was probably not wrong about one thing, however. A bug inside Gibbs would totally pick up mostly wood-sanding noises. Okay, two things. She also seemed to peg Dearing's torment of Jethro.

Dearing (played by the outstanding Richard Schiff) may not have a personal vendetta like the Reynosa cartel had in the Season 7 finale, but he's made Gibbs the personification of his adversary.

He won this round, too, by a longshot.

With the very real possibility that Vance is in grave danger, he's upped the ante heavily. Is he after Vance? Gibbs? The SecNav? All of the above? Money certainly isn't his driving force.

Anyone pulling off what he has so far qualifies as a Grade A villain - even if the "my son was in the Navy and he died, and now I'm targeting NCIS' top agent" explanation is currently thin.

If he can get his hands on one of the Watcher Fleet's microchips - you had a feeling those would resurface at some point - there's no telling the extent of his malicious reach, or his endgame.

That, along with Ryan's motives and level of involvement, remain to be seen, but perhaps a surprising ally will come to Gibbs' aid. See our NCIS season finale spoilers page to learn more, but let's just say he was put away this season after playing a key role in last season's Phantom Eight storyline.

While the roster of guest stars - Schiff, Curtis and Matt Jones as the maligned Dorneget - was certainly impressive, it meant less screen time for the core cast this week, which was one downside.

Although we did see Palmer's bachelor party. Sort of.

It was pretty fun seeing the celebration of Palmer's impending marriage seamlessly morph into an undercover operation, even if the man deserves a real send-off (whether he wants it or not).

Palmer's Bachelor Party

Tony's two words were totally on point: Abby Sciuto.

You don't make her the best man without expecting some crazy stuff to go down, Jimbo. That outfit was one for the ages, even for her. One can only imagine what she originally had planned ...

One gets the feeling that his wedding may be similarly overshadowed by the case, but such is the nature of their work. Sometimes that means apple juice shots instead of other beverages. With a criminal of Dearing's caliber at large, and themselves the target, NCIS can't help but be on high alert around the clock.

As long as everyone makes it out of "Til Death Do Us Part Alive," count your blessings.

Like the previous two episodes, "Up in Smoke" ended with more questions than answers. Some of the details were a bit oversold by the characters, but the mystery deepened and the plot thickened.

There will certainly be some backlash against Curtis' enhanced role, but nevertheless, when the producers commit to complex, compelling storylines, the core characters still make the show one of TV's best.

With a few exceptions, the writing has been sharp and the plot nicely paced these past three weeks as the emotional stakes rise. NCIS is always a Navy show, but rarely is the entire fleet the target like this.

With the possibility for catastrophic loss heightened for the military at large, the chances of something happening to one of the team members also grows, especially with Gibbs & Co. directly in the line of fire.

A few additional thoughts and stray observations before turning it over to you:

  • On The West Wing, Schiff's character Toby Ziegler was arrested (and later pardoned) for leaking classified information about the government's plans to potentially weaponize the space program. While Dearing is infinitely more extreme, his sense of moral superiority draws an interesting parallel.
  • Anybody afraid of the dentist before tonight is likely even more so now. Holy molar, indeed.
  • The Kelly boat replica? Talk about eerily hitting close to home.
  • Is Ryan right? Is Gibbs completely unable to "turn it off"?

What did you think of this week's NCIS episode? How do you see everything playing out in next week's Season 9 finale? Tell us in the comments!

Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (275 Votes)

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

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Agree with your post Kerrylynn. They have really sacrificed Tony to give us superior queen Ziva. MW is such a handsome, charismatic and gifted actor, but tptb have diminished him to the point that he has been demoted from Senior Field Agent to the agent who needs to be insulted, one upped, and outdone nearly every week, so Ziva can shine. What a shame.

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Glad to see that I have plenty of company on the "I hate Dr Ryan" wagon! I am hoping that next week will be the last we see of her. The character has no chemistry with Gibbs, she's too sneaky and dishonest. His gut is telling him not to trust her. I suspect she is involved with Dearing in some way. If she is Gibbs will bring her down, or kill her perhaps -either way is fine with me as long as she goes!! I also see that several other posters here would prefer Gibbs with Borin - I think that they would be a great couple.At least Borin's character is likeable,unlink Dr Ryan. JLC needs to go back to peddling yogurt!

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I've been after the NCIS writers for years to knock off the ridiculous chiches about the show's main characters always being burdened with, cruel, dangerous or psychotic "love" interests -- and of course they never listen, but in JLC's character they have gone further down this sorry path than ever before! I have never been so completely repulsed by an NCIS character or major plotline as I am with this one!!!! They are staining the best show on television.

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@MWK
The navy brass allowed the Cape Fear to blow up with the terrorist’s bomb aboard it. Just before the explosion, an inflatable boat filled with navy men in wet suits pulled up to the ship. I imagine all were killed in the explosion. If I were a parent of one of those men and found out, through my work (Dr. Ryan?), that the explosion was allowed to occur to prevent a negative public relation situation, I think I might be out for blood, also.
I had an impression “The Good Son� was Rocky’s (Vance) swan song. If so, the writers gave him a good send off. I would not be surprised if the finale keeps “Where’s Vance?� up in the air for the next season.

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Okay, I think that if anyone is going to die on the show it is most likely Vance. He has just been kidnapped by this new villain; he has not been seen in an episode for some time now; and he is the only member of the cast we have not heard about with regards to if he will be signing a new contract. Hum… Is it just me or does that spell NCIS will be getting a new director? With the new secretary of the navy in place he will need someone that is not in cahoots with Gibbs to undermine his authority. He (sec-nav) would want to put a director in place that is willing to cover up all of his indiscretions.

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I have to agree i am getting sick of JLC and the writers not listening, she is not good for the show, she makes it all about her, and not the regular cast, its a naval crime drama, not a soap opera. I agree JLC got to go

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Simply...good epi. Not the best.
JLC...like her, don't trust this character.
Tony...needs to be treated better, he is very intelligent very skilled quit picking on him.
Ziva...when did she get so elevated...I swear she is now Queen Bi+ch. She sure thinks more of herself!
Abby...still Queen of the Lab. Never gets the screen time she should.
Tim...At least they are treating him like a grownup now.

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These days I don't know what's going on half the time, I've been tuning out every time I see JLC. I'm watching the last two episodes because I need to see what is happening next season. I agree that this whole season has just been difficult to watch. I love me my NCIS, all the guys are doing an excellent job as usual but SHE NEEDS TO GO! Perhaps she could throw herself into Dearing's black hole of evil gloom and doom, you know sort of a la volcano,she could well be a non virginal sacrifice. I will watch the last episode and then next season the 1st to see how it plays out and who remains standing. After that if the lava or smoke as it were clears and she's still standing, I'll be watching something else. Jaime your curds are a callin' and since you started your arc, my digestive system has needed some tweaking. CBS are you listening??

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Kudos to Curtis for her ability to play an extremely slimy, sneaky character. Gibbs simply can not stay romantically involved with her though I would like to see her in a recurring role as the brain gamer. Overall, a satisfying episode.

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@ Will: I agree with every single word. Great post. :)