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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s taken awhile, but at long last, “NCIS” has finally finished playing catch-up with its DVD releases. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 came out gradually, presumably as CBS / Paramount took the time to determine whether or not the show’s fanbase was really all that interested in possessing their very own full-season sets of the series. Now, everything’s on track, and we’ve been gifted with the release of Season Four just as Season Five has made its debut.
When we last left Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), he’d actually quit NCIS, having grown increasing dissatisfied with the organization. In fact, he’d quit the U.S. of A. altogether, having headed off to Mexico to join his former mentor, retired NIS agent Mike Franks (Muse Watson), in a lifestyle involving little more than kicking back, drinking cerveza, and letting his facial hair grow wild and free. It’s an enviable existence by most people’s standards, but Gibbs’ peace is shattered when he receives a frantic call from Ziva (Cote de Pablo), who’s being framed in an assassination plot mostly because she’s a Mossad operative. Never one to leave his people in the lurch, even when they’re technically not his people any longer, Gibbs returns to the States and helps clear Ziva’s name, but he remains adamant that he won’t be returning to NCIS anytime soon. He does, however, return to his house to finish getting his things in order before heading South of the Border again. Before he can depart, he’s dragged into another case, this time by Special Agent Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano), his longtime buddy over at the FBI. It will be far from shocking for you to learn that, eventually, Gibbs does decide to be reinstated into NCIS, but you might be surprised to hear that when he shaves his beard, he keeps his mustache for a few episodes. (DiNozzo – played by Michael Weatherly – refers to Gibbs’s resemblance to Wilford Brimley, and it must be said that it did indeed make Harmon suddenly look like more of the elder statesman in the cast than David McCallum).
As with previous seasons, the producers of “NCIS” continue to develop the back story and current lifestyles of the characters even as they solve crimes, but Season Four definitely provides more meat for DiNozzo, who gets a love interest in the form of Jeanne Benoit (Scottie Thompson), a physician at Monroe University Hospital, in Washington, D.C. He’s forced to lie to her about his occupation, however, because he’s in the midst of an undercover operation to bring down her father, a notorious terrorist operative named La Grenouille (Armand Assante). But we don’t know that’s why he’s lying until the last moments of the season finale. Watching DiNozzo’s personality change gradually throughout the season as he falls in love with Jeanne will be familiar to anyone who’s been through the throes of romance, but having to lie to her wears on him, leading to tension within their relationship. The subplot with La Grenouille runs through the entire season, with Director Jenny Shepherd (Lauren Holly) taking it extremely personally, and it dovetails at one point into an episode which requires Ducky (McCallum) to go undercover and meet with La Grenouille, pretending to be the designer of a Pentagon targeting system. McCallum provides an element of class to every episode, but it’s this one (“Blowback”) that really gives him an opportunity to shine. (It should also be noted that McCallum does equally phenomenal work in “Smoked,” where Ducky and Gibbs finally have it out over why Ducky’s been so pissy towards him since his return to NCIS.)
The other characters get the spotlight this season as well, with McGee (Sean Murray) getting a solid turn in “Twisted Sister,” when he unabashedly defies NCIS regulations to prove his sister innocent of murder. Later in the season, we discover that McGee not only finished his book – “Deep Six: The Continuing Adventures of L.J. Tibbs,” featuring thinly-veiled versions of himself and his co-workers – but found it becoming a best-seller, resulting in a chilling episode with an obsessed fan who begins killing some of the lesser “characters” before targeting those closest to McGee. Ziva and Abby (Pauley Perrette) both find and lose love during the course of the season, though Ziva’s lasts for a decidedly shorter length of time -- namely, a single episode. Abby, meanwhile, falls for a scientist who’s decidedly short in stature. Onscreen, we find that the relationship has ended because her coworkers have to deal with her dark mood, but in real life, the sad reality was that Michael Gilden, the actor playing her new beau, committed suicide. There is, at least, some lasting, untainted romance in the world of “NCIS,” with Ducky’s long-suffering assistant, Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen), and new agent Michelle Lee (Lisa Lapira) responsible for some of the funniest moments of the season as they try to sneak around and have sex in various places throughout the building without anyone finding out.
It’s another successful season for “NCIS,” make no mistake, but it does sometimes feel like there’s almost too much personal stuff going on this year. Not that we don’t like to know about the characters, but this is the first year where it almost felt like they were getting in the way of the crime-solving within the show. Let’s hope Season Five remedies the situation a bit.
Special Features: Given the previous season sets, it’s no shock that the producers have put together another well-made collection of special features, including commentaries (yes, Weatherly and Perrette are together again!), but a couple of them aren’t terribly enthralling, mostly because the on-camera experts are a little dry with their delivery. Still, fans will no doubt still enjoy “Behind the Set: the Production Design of ‘NCIS,’” “Dressed to Kill: Dressing the Sets of ‘N.C.I.S.,’” and “Picture Perfect: The Looks of ‘NCIS,’” simply because they provide further insight into the backstage goings-on of the series. The examination of the year as a whole – “Season of Secrets” – offers a very nice wrap-up after watching all 24 episodes, and the brief look into “Ducky’s World” is also nice. The greatest enjoyment, however, comes from the two-part “Cast Roundtable,” where the seven primary cast members go out to dinner and answer questions that have been sent in by the fans. It’s loose, relaxed, and you quickly discover that most of the cast are surprisingly similar to their characters. (No shock here: the most prominent similarities lie with Weatherly and Perrette.)