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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen CBS’s highly underrated drama, “NCIS,” ended its fourth season, it did so with a hell of a cliffhanger. A major ongoing plot thread throughout Season Four found Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) on an undercover assignment to which he’d been assigned by Director Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly): dating Jeanne Benoit, the daughter of a major arms dealer nicknamed La Grenouille (Armand Assante) in order to get as close to him as possible. The last thing we saw before the credits rolled was Tony getting into a limo with Jeanne and her father. Did La Grenouille know that he had an NCIS agent in his midst? Based on the way he spit out DiNozzo’s undercover name – Professor DiNardo – it seemed like a very real possibility that he did.
Though the lion’s share of the La Grenouille storyline is wrapped up within the Season Five opener, the episode served to pay off the several-month wait that the fans had to endure by making it seem that DiNozzo had indeed bought the big one. Even though there was never any real reason to suspect that he wouldn’t survive, this is, after all, the show that unexpectedly (and shockingly) killed off one of its main characters, Special Agent Caitlin Todd, in the final moments of its second-season finale. In other words, no one’s safe on “NCIS” – a fact which is proven yet again in the two-part episode that closes Season Five. But, then, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Although the fifth season of “NCIS” was its first without creator Don Bellisario serving as show runner, the series certainly didn’t suffer creatively as a result of the transition. If Season Four was a year of lies and mistrust, then Season Five shows how those lies can come back and bite you in the ass. Director Shepard’s handling of the La Grenouille case leaves Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his team uncertain of her motives. The formerly flirtatious DiNozzo tones it down considerably as a result of having invested a tremendous amount into his relationship with Jeanne, refusing to acknowledge that he did indeed truly care for her. When she reappears later in Season Five after her father’s body is found, DiNozzo assures Jeanne that nothing that happened between them was real, but it’s clear that either he’s lying to himself or he’s lying to her in order to provide her with a clean break. Office Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) finds herself closer to Tony than ever before, due to her sympathy over his situation, and it becomes clear that she’s crushing hard on him, even if she’d never give him the satisfaction of admitting it.
As in previous seasons, the producers of “NCIS” make a point of trying their best to give each character their own episodic spotlight at some point during the season. Abby (Pauley Perrette) is fantastic in “Dog Tags,” where she desperately follows her instincts to prove the innocence of a canine that’s been accused of murder; Gibbs is reunited with one of his former wives in “Ex-File” and is forced to relive the death of his daughter when one of her childhood friends requests his aid in “Requiem”; Ziva makes a poor romantic decision in “Recoil”; and even Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) gets a chance to shine in “About Face,” when he’s the only witness to a shooting. The latter episode is particularly entertaining due to the difference between Mr. Palmer’s methods and those of the NCIS team, but it’s important because it manages to flesh out the character of Jimmy Palmer more in one episode than he’s been in the 100-plus episodes that preceded it. (Actually, Season Five was a consistently good year for Jimmy’s character, as we also learned in “Dog Tags” that he has a history in the veterinary sciences.) One of the most illuminating moments about Gibbs’ political stance comes in “Corporal Punishment,” where a Marine returns from Iraq a hero but continues to have visions that lead him to violently relive the war; when a military spin doctor asks Gibbs if he supports the war, he responds that what he supports are the soldiers.
There are several really interesting one-off episodes during the course of the season, including “Lost and Found,” where McGee (Sean Murray) brings a Boy Scout troop on a tour of Abby’s lab and, when she shows one of them how she can search his fingerprints through the NCIS database, it’s discovered that he was kidnapped years before. The Halloween episode, “Chimera,” is appropriately spooky, and “Leap of Faith” spreads the wealth throughout the ensemble when everyone on the team has a different theory about why a Navy lieutenant was murdered.
The Season Five finale ends up being some of the most powerful drama offered up by “NCIS” since that aforementioned moment at the end of the second season, with Director Shepard meeting her demise in a hail of gunfire before she could succumb to a terminal disease and her replacement, Director Vance (Rocky Carroll), reassigning Gibbs’ team elsewhere. Will they find their way back together before the Season Six premiere is over? As ever, there are no promises with “NCIS,” but it’ll be worth tuning in to find out.
Special Features: Sadly, the commentary team of Michael Weatherly and Pauley Perrette isn’t together this time around, but we do get an interesting treat when Weatherly teams with Patricia H. O’Hara (AKA his mother) to comment on “Bury Your Dead.” Additionally, Mark Harmon joins writer Shane Brennan for “Requiem,” David McCallum and Brian Dietzen tackle “Dog Tags” together, and Cote de Pablo discusses “Recoil” with director James Whitmore, Jr. There are also several featurettes here, most notably “’Requiem’ Revisted,” which discusses how crucial the episode was for the character of Gibbs, and “From Pauley to Abby: Hairspray, Lipstick and Tattoos,” detailing the transformation required to create television’s cutest researcher. There are also two further backstage looks – “The Dressing Room: The Costumes and Wardrobe of NCIS” and “NCIS on Location” – along with another entry in the consistently enjoyable series of season wrap-ups (“NCIS Season 5: Stem to Stern”). Shame there wasn’t another cast roundtable where they answered viewer questions, but you can’t have everything.