Judge Jim Thomas' wife, upon arriving home from work: "Hey, put on NCIS, will you? I gotta get my Gibbs on."
Our reviews of NCIS: The Complete Seventh Season (published October 21st, 2010), NCIS: The Complete Eighth Season (published August 23rd, 2011), NCIS: The Complete Ninth Season (published August 24th, 2012), NCIS: The Complete First Season (published June 26th, 2006), NCIS: The Complete Third Season (published May 2nd, 2007), NCIS: The Complete Fourth Season (published January 9th, 2008), and NCIS: The Tenth Season (published August 26th, 2013) are also available.
Who do you trust?
NCIS premiered six years ago to little fanfare and middling ratings. As the years progressed, the ratings slowly climbed, until the show was not only consistently in the top ten in ratings, but the parent of a spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles, set to premiere soon. As Season Seven approaches, Paramount brings us NCIS: Season 6. Let's cut it open and see what it has to tell us.
Facts of the Case
Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon, The Presidio) is a top NCIS agent. His investigative instincts are phenomenal, and his background as a Marine sniper means that if he draws his weapon, woe be unto his target. Gibbs has a motley crew at his disposal: Special Agent (SA) Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly, Dark Angel), former homicide detective and the world's oldest frat boy; SA Tim McGee (Sean Murray, This Boy's Life), computer geek extraordinaire; Mossad Liaison Officer Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), beautiful but deadly; Chief Medical Examiner/Forensic Psychologist Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.); and Forensic Specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette, The Ring), a Goth chick addicted to caffeine. In charge of this unruly bunch is NCIS Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll, Chicago Hope), who was promoted after the death of Director Jenny Shepherd at the end of Season Five. His first action was to reassign the team members and give Gibbs a new set of agents. Gibbs was not amused.
The set contains all 24 episodes (recommended shows are marked with an asterisk):
"Last Man Standing"—Director Vance informs Gibbs that a member of his new team is a mole. Having been dismissed from her NCIS position, Ziva turns up singing in a nightclub, wearing a slinky blue dress to spectacular effect.
"Agent Afloat"—Now stationed on the carrier Seahawk, DiNozzo finds that a Navy lieutenant's apparent suicide may be connected to a larger, deadly scheme.
"Capitol Offense"—NCIS investigates a murder involving a U.S. Senator, a former marine officer who served with Gibbs.
"Heartland"*—A pair of Marines are ambushed outside a nightclub, leaving one dead and the other in critical condition. The investigation leads to Stillwater, Pa., the hometown of the surviving marine—and of Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Ralph Waite (I>The Waltons) guest stars as Gibbs' father.
"Nine Lives"—Gibbs and FBI agent Fornell (Joe Spano, Hill Street Blues) reluctantly join forces in a murder investigation. Meanwhile, as Ziva plans for a vacation in Tel Aviv, Tony snoops around and finds a picture of a shirtless man on her desk, piquing his interest.
"Murder 2.0"*—NCIS investigates a series of murders by a serial killer who posts videos of the crimes on the Internet—videos that contain clues to the next murder.
"Collateral Damage"*—Gibbs and team are assigned a Probie (a trainee, or probational agent) to help investigate a bank robbery at Quantico. Gibbs starts to have second thoughts about the identity of the mole in NCIS.
"Cloak"—An attempt by the team to test the security at a naval installation is revealed as part of a scheme to uncover the mole in NCIS.
"Dagger"—Gibbs uses the mole to flush out an attempt to steal classified naval data.
"Road Kill"—The team investigates the death of a petty officer and discovers an underground fight club.
"Silent Night"*—Fingerprints at the scene of a double homicide are matched to a petty officer (Peter Coyote, Sphere) believed to have died fifteen years ago.
"Caged"—While interviewing a murder suspect, McGee becomes trapped in a women's prison after inmates riot and take over.
"Broken Bird"*—When Ducky is attacked at a crime scene, the NCIS team uncovers some disturbing secrets about his time as a doctor in Afghanistan.
"Love & War"—The team investigates the murder of a Navy captain and uncovers possible treasonous acts he committed that may have led to his death.
"Deliverance"*—A young marine turns up dead neat a gang-infested neighborhood. Gibbs' Marine ID, written in blood, is discovered at the crime scene.
"Bounce"—Tony is put in charge of the team when a murder is tied to an embezzlement case that Tony ran several years ago. To his chagrin, Tony discovers that the sailor he helped convict had been framed.
"South by Southwest"—The death of an NCIS agent leads Tony and Gibbs to the desert to track down the one woman that holds the answer.
"Knockout"—Gibbs digs into Vance's past after the Director borrows Gibbs's team for an Investigation into a friend's murder.
"Hide and Seek"—A revolver is found in the effects of the 12-year-old son of a naval lieutenant commander. Things get complicated when Abby finds brain matter on the weapon.
"Dead Reckoning"—When shady CIA agent Trent Kort calls in a favor, Gibbs agrees to meet him at an abandoned warehouse. When Gibbs arrives he finds two dead men, whom Kort claims shot each other before his arrival.
"Toxic"—When a government scientist goes missing, Abby is recruited to complete his work. The team worries that she may meet the same fate as her predecessor.
"Legend, Part 1"—Gibbs and McGee fly to Los Angeles to work with the NCIS Office of Special Projects-Los Angeles team to solve the murder of a marine. The episode introduces the team of the NCIS spinoff NCIS: Los Angeles.
"Legend, Part 2"—Tony is forced to question Ziva's loyalty to NCIS. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Gibbs and McGee work with the L.A. team to uncover a terrorist sleeper cell.
"Semper Fidelis"*—An ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent, part of a security detail, is killed at the Secretary of the Navy's house.
"Aliyah"*—Ziva, Tony, and Gibbs fly to Israel to answer some difficult questions, said questions being asked by the head of the Mossad, Eli David (Michael Nouri, Flashdance)—Ziva's father.
Season Five focused on undercover plans that ultimately led to the death of Director Shepherd. In the aftermath of all that double dealing, Season Six opens with an ongoing theme of "Who do you trust?" Gibbs doesn't trust his new team, because one of them is a mole; Gibbs doesn't trust his new boss, Leon Vance, for the simple reason that Vance hasn't earned that trust. As the season moves into the home stretch, both Gibbs and DiNozzo start to wonder if they can truly trust Ziva. Everyone has a hidden agenda, and Gibbs more often than not finds himself stuck in the middle, trying to muddle through when people aren't giving him all the facts. While the focus of the series is on standalone episodes, there are a couple of narrative arcs. The first one, involving a mole in NCIS, doesn't work very well (see Rebuttal Witnesses); the second, involving Ziva, DiNozzo, and Mossad agent Michael Rifkin, is handled much more effectively, with twists and turns to keep everyone guessing until things explode, literally and figuratively, in the season finale. My one concern is how Ziva will be returned to the fold in Season Six; trust is going to be a major issue.
You'll notice that the preceding paragraph said nothing about the cases investigated by the team. That ties in with a major part of NCIS's appeal. Most procedurals keep the narrative focus on the case, leaving the nominal leads almost in the background (That's how the original Law & Order was able to change cast members at will). NCIS takes exactly the opposite approach; it's the characters that keep you coming back. The team is tied together by a complex dynamic, and watching them play off one another is a real pleasure. Gibbs is the father figure from which everyone seeks approval; Dinozzo, Magee, and Ziva are the unruly kids, forever squabbling until a threat arises, at which point they are at one another's side in a heartbeat; Ducky is the favorite uncle, dispensing wisdom to young and old alike. The flip side of that coin is that because of the attention given to the characters, the investigations often get short shrift. Some of the plots don't quite hold up to close scrutiny, a fact Michael Weatherly discusses in his commentary on "Bounce." The best episodes are those in which character interplay and investigation are closely intertwined, as in "Broken Bird."
Among the standout episodes noted above are "Heartland" and "Silent Night." The former has an investigation that is handled a bit too easily, and the father-son reconciliation is handled a bit too easily, but Ralph Waite is just so note-perfect as Gibbs' estranged dad that they could have collared Kermit the Frog for the murder and I wouldn't have complained too much. The icing on the case, to mix a metaphor, is yet another insight into Gibbs' past, and his history with his first wife, Shannon. "Silent Night" is really a sequel of sorts to "Heartland," with Gibbs using his reconciliation with his father to help him convince a sailor long in hiding to try and reconnect with a family he hasn't seen for fifteen years (this episode, too, has a case that's almost an afterthought). It would be criminal indeed to not mention "Broken Bird," which gives David McCallum the best showcase he's had in the show's entire run—perhaps in his entire career. Here the case and the character slowly become one and the same, and events lead Ducky to a harrowing epiphany.
Mark Harmon anchors the show well; Gibbs is an introvert leading a team of extroverts, and Harmon allows the others to go on their merry way, with him occasionally reining them in. The supporting cast is solid. Guest stars are generally effective, though both Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J come off a little flat in the two-parter that sets up NCIS: Los Angeles, as though they didn't have a good grip on their characters. Rocky Carroll, the new addition, acquits himself well as the new head of NCIS. Leon Vance has depths that we only begin to scratch towards the end of the season, and fits the role of Director better than Lauren Holly—too often she seemed to be acting too hard.
Video is crisp and clear. The 5.1 audio mix is eye-opening, making strong use of all channels (my cable must have a bad signal for the USA Network, because hearing the theme on DVD for the first time was a revelation). The extras are plentiful, but for the most part average. Michael Weatherly contributes a commentary track for the DiNozzo-centric "Bounce"; Weatherly is game, but his personality—much like his character—works best when there's someone else to play off. "Six Degrees of Conversation," in which an entertainment reporter gets the entire cast together to talk about the season, is easily the best of the extras; the cast's strong chemistry is evident in the relatively candid setting. Of the remaining extras, the most entertaining are a nice short on the bodies and body parts used in the show, hosted by Brian Deitzen, who plays morgue assistant Jimmy Palmer, and a video of Pauley Perrette recording "Fear," a lovely blues number recorded for the NCIS soundtrack CD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The "Mole" arc, which opens the season, just doesn't work. Part of the problem is that everything is telegraphed. In the first episode, the suspected mole is killed, but we learn at the end of the episode the identity of the real mole. The arc is then dropped, the team is reunited in the next episode, and we're back to status quo for several episodes, until Gibbs has one of his patented hunches and the storyline is brought back up again. This approach dissipates the tension that should have been created by audience's knowledge that a mole was still active in NCIS. It would have been much more dramatic for Gibbs to have to work several cases with a team that he doesn't trust.
At times, the show is too formulaic for its own good. We know that at the last minute, Abby or Ducky will discover that one piece of evidence that makes everything fall into place, or that Gibbs will get a hunch that leads him in the right direction. Not coincidentally, the stronger episodes are generally the ones that depart from the formula.
NCIS may not be a groundbreaking show, but it is an entertaining one. My wife and I watch it frequently in reruns, and we have hopes that our schedules will allow us to watch new episodes this fall. However, based on the sixth season the "Sell By" date for the formula is starting to recede in the rearview mirror, and the court fervently hopes that the show will shake things up in Season Seven.
And that they bring back Ziva's blue dress. 'Cause, damn.
Not guilty (in no small part because Gibbs can put a cap in my ass from 1,200 yards).
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