Tony said the NCIS faerie left his performance review under his pillow. He really shouldn’t kiss and tell.
Of course the Faerie would decide to come back from her alter ego’s work-induced hiatus in a firestorm. This week’s episode of NCIS features the return of very special probie Ned Dorneget and not without controversy. Ned Dorneget is gay.
According the the CBS Insider’s blog, the writers of “Need to Know,” George Schenck and Frank Cardea, were tasked with the assignment of teaming up Special Agent McGee with Dorneget. Probie gets a Probie. Whether or not they were also assigned the task of creating NCIS’s first known gay agent, they had a wide open place to explore: the Probie they created back in the episode “Sub Rosa” now has a probie. We remember how DiNozzo treated McGee in the early days. How would McGee handle now being in charge?
We’ve gotten a couple glimpses when Lee was his probie, when he was assigned a less-than-interested intern, and when Ziva was a new agent. This, though, is Probie 101 from the one we know the best. With this assignment, the Padawan has become the Master, and his first rule: “Never lie to Gibbs.”
The faerie might be a sucker for a G&F episode, but she sees the introduction of a new recurring character as a good thing. She don’t have a problem with sharing precious screen time with another character if the end result is we get to learn more about the regulars. Some of the best character development in this series has occurred between Gibbs and Vance or Gibbs and Fornell. Dorneget gives us that chance with McGee.
We know how Gibbs and DiNozzo handle a probie. How will training a probie affect McGee? Will he treat him as an equal? Will he resort to DiNozzo-ian methods? Will he have a ghostly apparition of the Master Yoda of NCIS, Mike Franks. The faerie is looking forward to more Dorney to find out.
Now that “Newborn King” has aired, I’ll admit that when I saw the previews for this episode I thought I smelled a shark. Generally speaking, when writers pull out the storyline where the main character delivers a baby, it’s a desperate attempt to tug at the audience’s heart strings. We usually are spoon fed some pablum (does anyone remember what pablum is?), patted on the heads, and sent to bed after a mushy bedtime story. Not the case here. I thought I smelled shark. What I really smelled was Christmas cookies and testosterone.
For an episode dealing with the birth of baby, it had a very manly feel. In some ways, it reminds me of “Three Godfathers,” the 1936 John Wayne film where three bank robbers end up caring for a newborn and must return to the scene of the crime for the sake of the child. The men grow up during that story. They face who they are and do the right thing. Like in the movie, there is a lot of growth in “Newborn King.”
The obvious growth is in Palmer. Standing up to his future father-in-law to defend his job and his coworkers took courage; and he gave the audience, not to mention Ducky, confidence that he’s not going anywhere. Dare we hope that he’s going to finally be a series regular?
As a McGeek, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I love it when the writers give us confident McGee. I know many people aren’t fond of season 6 McGee, but he’s my favorite. By season 6 he was confident. He was comfortable with his identity and was self-assured enough to stand up to Tony and be his equal. McGee’s been awkward again of late, however in “Newborn King”, McGee once again seemed comfortable in his own skin. This is how I enjoy seeing McGee. Oh, and McGee and Tony tag teaming in interrogation? Yes, please. May we have some more? I’ll bring cookies.
The actual birth of the child has to have been one of the least sentimental scenes of its kind ever filmed. Against a bed of “Silent Night,” Tony and McGee race to the scene in treacherous weather, Ziva takes the perimeter against the remaining bad guys, while Gibbs plays midwife in the back of the car. To sell the idea of a woman on point and a man delivering the baby, they had to let Ziva’s Mossad assassin skills out to play. Honestly, before I saw her with both barrels blazing, I knew I’d rather have her on perimeter, but talk about manning up. My heart raced during this montage.
Finally, the scene in Gibbs’ basement at the end of the episode is nearly as powerful as the scene in “Semper Fidelis” between SecNav and Gibbs. It doesn’t have the same Shakespearean quality of Jesse Stern’s episode, but this scene is more personal, more revealing of Tony and Gibbs’ characters and where they are heading. Gibbs continues to deal with the aftermath of the choices of his life and Tony faces the realization that maybe he doesn’t want to grow up to be just like Gibbs. In fact, Gibbs tells him not to repeat his mistakes but instead to learn from them. This, if Tony takes his advice, is a major change of heading–one that the audience needs to remember when Tony starts acting as he hasn’t acted in the past. He’s going to take Gibbs’ advice and man up. This promises to be an interesting direction for the rest of the season.
Chris Waild wrote “Newborn King.” I think this is his strongest episode to date, and I’m starting to get a feel for how he draws the characters. When I think back at “Safe Harbor” and compare the two, I see some common threads. If you have a chance to watch both episodes again, please share your thoughts.
Let me get the obvious part out of the way. Yes, the timing for this week’s episode was awkward after authorities reopened the investigation into Natalie Wood’s death, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with the appearance of Hollywood legend, Robert Wagner in this week’s episode of NCIS. We fans adore RJ, we adore Anthony DiNozzo, Sr., and we were thrilled to have both back. When it was all said and done, it was “a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” Let’s move on.
This episode was written by my favorites, George Schenck and Frank Cardea. I know I’ve flirted with the idea that Jesse Stern is my favorite, and Steve Binder comes really close to the head of the list, but George and Frank, as I like to call them, consistantly deliver. And, after all, they are the ones who gave us McGee. How could I not love them for that alone?
George and Frank are known for their stand-alone episodes and many of them are fan favortites, like “Dead Man Talking,” “Mind Games,” “Probie,” “Stakeout,” “Inside Man.” They also wrote “Flesh & Blood,” introducing us to Tony’s father, and “Broken Arrow.” It’s the RJ trifecta.
In this episode, they also introduce us to probationary agent, Ned Dorneget. He’s sort of a baby McGee and an interesting addition to the mix. After 8 years, McGee is too experienced an agent (and too smart a guy) to keep playing the noobie. Ziva, while lowest on the totem pole (or highest as Ducky would say) when it comes to Special Agent status, is still very knowledgeable . Bringing in a new agent for the team to teach and torment is a wise decision. The only concern is getting the cast so bloated that screen time gets shortened. We saw that with EJ’s team, and by the end of the arc, we were ready for them to leave so we could have the A team back.
Being the new guy doesn’t come without its hazards. We know how Tony treats probies. McGee’s been there and done that. Gibbs doesn’t like strangers. And frankly, redshirts are targets. Look what happened to Lee and most recently to Levin. Dorneget has potential. I’m looking forward to getting to know him and to getting to know the regulars through the interactiion with him. Don’t get comfortable, Dornie, but welcome to the wonderful world of NCIS.
Anyone can achieve their fullest potential. Who we are might be pre-determined but the path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears, or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can’t be changed, but it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single man.
“Endgame” starts and ends with these words. We hear them when Tony plays McGee’s motivational CD. We hear them again as a voice over by McGee at the end of the episode. I’ve often wondered about the use of this quote in this particular episode, which is Gary Glasberg’s first time out as a writer on NCIS. I was reminded again of these words in another voice over. In “A Man Walks into a Bar,” Dr. Rachel Cranston writes to Vance, “Sometimes we defy other’s expectations” and we see McGee under fire. Whose expectations are we talking about and why are we hearing these words in connection with Timothy McGee? In light of “The Penelope Papers,” we may finally have an idea where Glasberg is heading.
At the time “Endgame” aired, the expectations that came to mind were those of McGee’s partner, Tony DiNozzo. During the episode, Tony made fun of McGee “drinking the motivational Kool-Aid.” In that context, Tony is the most likely candidate. However, in “The Penelope Papers,” we learn that McGee’s father has expectations that Tim cannot easily meet.
We know that, unlike his father and his grandfather, he didn’t join the Navy, which probably was what his father expected of him. He comes from a family of very motivated, strongly opinionated people. They have a firm sense of right and wrong, and are not afraid to put themselves in harm’s way to fight for what is right. Knowing that Penelope planned to blow the whistle on Telles regarding the Anax Principle and knowing that she influenced Tim, it’s no wonder that he decided to go into law enforcement and science. But in doing so he must have been a disappointment to his father. This very well may have been the reason that they hadn’t spoken for seven years.
Now we have some background for the Admiral. We’ve hardly heard mention of him in 8 years and there has been much speculation about McGee’s family. “The Penelope Papers” gives us some idea of what to expect when we finally meet him and actually gives us the hope of meeting him. After all, why give us this much information if we’re not going to use it? Gary likes tug on strings others have left behind. This is a series of strings he’s left for himself.
I owe you a write up on “The Penelope Papers.” One would think that, since McGee is my favorite character, I would have written copious posts on the subject. One look at the tag list and you’ll see that’s not true. Honestly, in this case, I’ve been mulling over a particular scene in “Penelope Papers” for a couple weeks. It struck me as pivotal and required time to ponder. That scene is the one outside interrogation after McGee stops Gibbs’ interrogation of Penny and Gibbs tells McGee to go home.
We’ve seen this sort of scene before. In “Twisted Sister” Gibbs sends Tim home saying he can’t work his sister’s case. McGee’s response is that’s he’d work the case anyway. In “Mother’s Day” Vance and Gibbs have the same discussion over Gibbs’ investigating his mother-in-law regarding her involvement in a murder. In both cases, it’s a matter of whether or not the men can set aside their feelings and do their jobs. In “Twisted Sister” McGee tags along and isn’t allowed in interrogation. In “Penelope Papers,” however, McGee watches as Gibbs questions his mentor, the woman who means the world to him. What we witness in the scene in the corridor is one of Gibbs’ teaching moments. By season nine we don’t see these very often, but it’s not that the team doesn’t have anything more to learn. All the characters, even Gibbs, are learning and growing.
As I watched Gibbs manipulate McGee into burying his feelings and getting his grandmother to talk, I was reminded of another scene dealing with the same topic: Two men alone at night discussing their jobs, their feelings, and their friendship. Gibbs has just lost his mentor. He’s been passed over for a “rookie,” and the man who has become his friend has disappointed him. He confronts Vance, who replies,
“I’m your boss, Gibbs. We’ve been tight. Sometimes tight like a damned noose, so if I backed off on our friendship maybe I had to step back take a deep breath and do my job.”
There it is. That same moment that tears at each of the characters at some point, and the one that Mark Harmon plays so well. The moment where Gibbs squelches his feelings and pulls the trigger, makes the bust, leaves the team member behind. The moment where he takes a deep breath and does his job. In this case, in “Penelope Papers,” it’s McGee who takes the deep breath and does his job. We see the gleam in Gibbs’ eye and the slight smile when McGee passes the test. Still there is a sadness knowing that McGee has learned to put up that Gibbsian wall around his feelings and do his job.
I’ve often entertained the notion of McGee following not in Gibbs’ footsteps but in Vance’s. A conversation with Rocky Carroll on Twitter supports this idea to some extent. I’d mentioned that I think that Vance has a soft spot for the geeks (specifically McGee and Nell Jones). Rocky replied that Vance does have a soft spot for the geeks because he is one. I’ve thought that McGee rising to director would be a good thing, until I see the barriers that Gibbs and Vance have had to build to survive. I’m not sure I’d like to see McGee make those sacrifices, and I wonder what Vance would have been like if he hadn’t followed that path to NCIS.
The writing duo of Frank Cardea and George Schenck are known for writing stand alone episodes on NCIS. These are generally arc-less stories and therefore they have the time to spend on character development, which makes many of their stories fan favorites. They introduced McGee to us in “SubRosa” and also brought us classics such as “Probie,” “Stakeout,” and “Recoil.” “Inside Man” teamed upDiNozzo and McGee and made us crave even more of them as partners. “Enemy on the Hill” feeds our craving. It also gives us more time with the team and less focus on one player. Finally, it gives us some much needed development for one enigmatic character.
The DiNozzo/McGee relationship has its ups and downs. It goes from brotherly love to animosity and back, but when it really shines is when they are partners. We discovered this fact in Jesse Stern’s “Truth or Consquences.” With Ziva out of the picture, the two teamed up and the fans loved the dynamic. “Enemy on the Hill” revisits this dynamic when Ziva is on protection detail and Tony and Tim partner up again. Their rivalries still show, as in the case of their phoning Gibbs showdown, but it’s playful and no one is attacked. Both men hold their own. Even their bickering over who gets to interrogate the suspect is more brotherly than some arguments. For those of us whose enjoyment of NCIS doesn’t revolve around Tiva, having Tim and Tony work together is thoroughly enjoyable.
Putting Ziva on the protection detail also meant that we got to spend some time with the boys. Gibbs joined DiNozzo and McGee in scenes that would usually be reserved for DiNozzo, McGee, and David. Getting Gibbs in the mix, especially post-Mexico, is a treat. I’m sure that Tony and Tim’s reaction to watching an equally silver-haired vixen hit on Gibbs mirrored the reaction of the audience, and Pauley Perrette’s comment on Twitter that the actress ad-libbed the “I wouldn’t count on that” line seals it. The sparkle in Gibbs’ eye is back ladies.
Don’t discount Ziva’s importance while she’s off by herself on the protection detail. She’s one tough cookie who shows off her lightning quick ninja skills against the potential attacker in the corridor. Doesn’t everyone want to take down a Washington lobbyist like that? So what if she let her protectee escape? What member of the team, Gibbs included, hasn’t lost someone they were supposed to be keeping an eye on. For those who didn’t have enough Tiva, Frank and George threw them a bone. Ziva pretended to be talking to her boyfriend when talking to DiNozzo. Perfect opportunity for a valid Tiva moment, and she even called him “Sweetheart.”
I was happy to see silly Tony was back but in a good way. This is going to be the trickiest thing the writers will need to do. Fans want more serious Tony, but putting Tony and Michael Weatherly in that box would be like packaging a tornado. Besides, Tony is silly. What we don’t want is for his silliness to show at inappropriate times. I cringed when Tony started up with Sportelli in the squadroom. Not that I wasn’t enjoying it. I was bracing for the Twitter flack, but Tony turned off silly and went for the jugular. It was brilliant! So was McGee blaming the coffee maker for Tony’s silly way of announcing he’d found the money. Giving an explanation for Tony’s tangents, even as a snark, makes them fit.
The secondary story, the one CBS didn’t promo at all, was Abby’s story. Abby has been an enigma from day one. We’ve gotten little pieces of her character, and as was mentioned in the writers special feature on the Season 8 DVDs, you can write anything for Abby. She’s a mystery that is discovered, not by peeling off layers like Gibbs, but by watching her flit from interest to interest. While we have never really known who Abby is, we find out that Abby also doesn’t know who she is. Undoubtedly, we’ll be taking that journey with her. When I think of the journeys that Gibbs, DiNozzo, and Ziva have already taken, Abby’s has the potential to be one of the most enlightening.
So far season 9 is off to a great start. Of course, we’re still on the first round of at bats for the writing staff. It’s when the routine hits that the challenges present themselves. I have no doubt they are up to the challege, but with these first four episodes, they have set the bar pretty high. As always, I’m just along for the ride. Or as Abby once told McGee, “Your tat is real and you don’t disappoint me.”