NCIS isn’t your typical action drama. Much more than it’s peers, NCIS focuses on the sometimes complex and always amusing dynamics of a team forced to work together in high-stress situations. It’s the perfect writing and character portrayals that make NCIS so much better than any other procedural drama on television.
When I started writing this post, I was expecting to simply highlight the five episodes that I enjoyed the most since the series began seven years ago. But I found my qualifying list of episodes to be nearly twenty shows long and eventually settled on a Top 10. But even that wasn’t enough and I threw in some honorable mentions at the end.
The show really doesn’t make any bad episodes, simply ones that are less awesome than others. From murder and espionage to terrorism and stolen submarines, Gibbs’ team is the best TV has to offer. So, onto my ten personal favorite episodes, spoilers and all.
10. Frame Up — Season 3, Episode 9
When the team finds a pair of legs on a Marine base, every piece of evidence points to DiNozzo being guilty of murder. After forensic evidence seems to confirm DiNozzo’s involvement, Abby works overtime to prove his innocence. Part of the genius of NCIS is the character development and this episode explored the dynamic between the entire team as they worked to clear the name of one of their own.
9. Judgement Day — Season 5, Episodes 18 & 19
For the purpose of my Top 10 list, I’m considering all two-part episodes to be one, albeit extended, episode. I never really enjoyed Jenny Shepard as the director of NCIS. She just rubbed me the wrong way (as she did many of her colleagues) and by this point of the series, she had become almost intolerable as she used her position as director to settle old personal vendettas.
In “Judgement Day” Shepard ditches Tony and Ziva and goes rogue with Mike Franks. They end up in an abandoned diner where they are tracked down by four hitmen. Franks and Shepard manage to take out all four, and the team scrambles to explain themselves while Gibbs covers up the director’s death.
The team members are all reassigned to different divisions by the new director at the end of the whole saga which wraps up the fifth season. After what I thought was a subpar season, the writers sent Jenny out with an impressive shootout and wrapped up her convoluted story arc. I don’t know whether I liked this episode because it was a good episode or because it finally ended Jenny’s tenure on the show. She just never grew on me like all the other characters did.
8. Bait — Season 3, Episode 18
When the son of a Marine straps a bomb to himself and holds his high school class hostage, Gibbs volunteers himself as a hostage to get eyes and ears inside the school. The dynamic of the team gets a new look when DiNozzo takes charge of the team in Gibbs’ absence.
Gibbs figures out the boy with the bomb was not acting of his own accord when the boy demands to see his mother who has been confirmed dead. DiNozzo takes charge of the team in Gibbs’ absence and McGee eventually saves the day with some impressive technical traps.
I enjoyed this one because it showed the team having to deal with unnatural responsibilities. With their strong leader mostly out of the picture, the rest of the team is forced to trust their own instincts, rather than Gibbs’ and they come through with flying colors.
7. Under Covers — Season 3, Episode 8
In Under Covers, when NCIS discovers that two married assassins, who were fatally wounded in a car crash, were planning an assassination at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Tony and Ziva have to pose as the married assassins in order to find out who the couple had planned to assassinate and who had hired them.
The episode lacked intense firefights, fantastic forensic work or any of McGee’s technical genius but was excellent for reasons other than what normally makes NCIS great. There has always been tension between Tony and Ziva, sexual or otherwise – and forcing them to pose as husband and wife and stimulate sex was fun.
Tony and Ziva really got to look closer at their chemistry together and the ending scenes showed that the two of them are a lot more fond of each other than they sometimes let on. At this point in the series they’ve only been working together for a very short amount of time, and their relationship will continue to develop with peaks and valleys over the next five seasons. But in this one, their dynamic was excellent.
Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo had been working together for only a handful of episodes at this point, but worked together as if they had been doing this for years.
6. Chimera — Season 5, Episode 6
The team is sent to investigate a death on the USNS Chimera, a top-secret naval research ship. When they get onto the ship, they discover it abandoned except for one dead scientist who died from viral hemorrhagic fever.
After the Navy refuses to read the team in on what the Chimera is allegedly researching, the team discovers that the ship is transporting a salvaged Russian nuclear warhead and that a mole on the ship’s crew staged a viral outbreak to clear the ship for a Russian strike team to come and reclaim the missile.
Gibbs’ team learns of the strike team’s approach and plans to counter them. They sabotage the Chimera, steal the Russian boat and escape with the warhead just before the Navy bombs the ship with the strike team still aboard to cover up any Navy involvement.
The episode moved along at a nice pace and really picked up at the end. The team’s escape from right under the more heavily armed Russian team was perfectly planned and executed.
5. Twilight — Season 2, Episode 23
Every television series strives for phenomenal season premieres and finales, and NCIS is no different. But where they do differ is they deliver bigtime when they’re beginning or ending a season.
At this point in the series, rogue Mossad operative Ari Haswari is on an apparent vendetta to kill Gibbs. Gibbs, Tony and Kate are forced into a gunfight with Haswari’s men while attempting to take the warehouse they think Haswari is hiding. The team gains the upper hand when Kate takes a bullet to her chest to save Gibbs. Tony guns down the remaining assailants and rushes with Gibbs to help Kate, who reveals she was wearing a bulletproof vest.
As they relax and laugh off Kate’s near miss, she is shot in the head by Ari, who was waiting on a nearby roof with a sniper rifle, waiting to shoot. He decided that killing those closest to Gibbs is more of a punishment than killing Gibbs himself.
The second season finale is the only television episode that has ever made me cry—and it did so twice. Not even Smallville killing off Jonathan Kent could get me teary-eyed. I grew attached to the NCIS team very quickly and Kate’s death was sudden and completely unexpected. Part of this episode’s brilliance is how it is set up with the preceding episodes and wrapped up with the following ones.
It was an emotional episode, but one that was absolutely fantastic.
4. Yankee White — Season 1, Episode 1
There are some things that eventually develop into greatness, but NCIS came out of the gate at a very high level. The series opened with the team sticking Tony in a body bag in order to fool the Secret Service and secure the body of a dead Navy Commander.
Gibbs works with Kate, who begins the series as a Secret Service agent, to figure out how and why the commander died. Gibbs’ style clashes with Kate’s but the two eventually identify the perpetrator and Gibbs takes him down on Air Force One.
Kate resigns from the Secret Service at the end of the episode when it is revealed she had been in a relationship with a colleague, but accepts Gibbs’ offer to join his team. It was an excellent start to an excellent series that did a superb job at introducing the characters and their team dynamic.
3. SWAK — Season 2, Episode 22
Just like Under Covers explored the relationship between Tony and Ziva, SWAK takes a look at how Tony’s relationship with Kate has grown. This episode is the one directly before Kate’s death and sees Kate and Tony put in quarantined isolation after being exposed to the plague when Tony opens a mysterious letter containing a white powder.
Gibbs and the rest of the team are left to figure out who sent the letter while Tony and Kate are left along in isolation. Tony ends up being infected while Kate avoids the same fate and Tony slowly begins to die. Leading Tony to believe that she too has the virus, Kate remains in isolation with him as his health quickly worsens.
Her fondness for Tony is displayed as she and Ducky share a tearful embrace as Tony succumbs to the plague. Another emotional episode that once again proved that developing a show’s characters and their relationships is just as important as heated firefights and badass butt-kicking.
2. Call Of Silence — Season 2, Episode 7
Corporal Yost, a former Marine and Medal of Honor recipient who fought in World War II, confesses to having murdered his friend during a battle in the South Pacific. Gibbs believes that there is more to the story and works to prove the hero’s innocence. The team becomes very fond of the man and attempt to piece together what happened.
Tony unearths evidence that Cpl. Yost’s friend had been high school sweethearts with the woman that Yost eventually married. People begin to believe that Yost may have killed his friend so that he could marry the girl himself.
Gibbs, with a few tricks up his sleeve and the help of a former Japanese Imperial Army Lieutenant who runs a local sushi shop, helps Yost remember what happened. In a heartbreaking scene, Kate, Yost and the prosecuting Commander end up in tears. As Yost relives the scene, he gradually recalls that his friend was in severe pain from the attack and was moaning and yelling. Japanese troops were moving nearby, and the noise was putting the entire team at risk. Yost hit him in the head to knock him out so that he would be quiet, which accidentally killed the man, but saved the rest of the teams’ lives. The episode ends with Yost and the Japanese Lieutenant, once ferocious enemies, raising their glasses to each other over a shared sushi meal.
Call Of Silence is one of the most emotional television episodes that I’ve seen. Charles Durning does a phenomenal job as Corporal Yost and their are numerous touching moments throughout as the team bonds with him. When officers come to arrest Yost, DiNozzo reveals the Corporal’s Medal of Honor and the officers spring to attention in respect of the award.
This one had me close to tearing up, and I thought that if this wouldn’t do it then nothing would. But I would find out that the powerful writing of NCIS would get the better of me just a few months later, in this season’s finale.
1. Truth or Consequences — Season 7, Episode 1
Season six ended with Ziva leaving NCIS because of a breakdown in her relationship with DiNozzo. The sixth-season finale ends with Ziva being captured by a terrorist in Somalia and her fate in serious question.
The seventh season premiere picks up four months later and shows that DiNozzo has also been captured by the terrorist Saleem Ulman. The episode uses a time lapse formula and focuses on Saleem’s interrogation of DiNozzo. Under the influence of a truth serum, DiNozzo recounts the happenings of the NCIS team after Ziva’s departure.
In doing so, he introduces each team member and recounts their attempts to find a suitable replacement for Ziva. The team considers several qualified candidates, but finds fault with each one and eventually realizes how much they miss Ziva. DiNozzo reveals that while the team feared her to be dead, an MTAC conversation led Tony to begin to think otherwise. McGee, DiNozzo and Abby begin to track Ziva’s movements since she left NCIS and eventually place her on the Damocles, a cargo ship that went down in a storm off the coast of Somalia with no apparent survivors. Still clinging to hope that Ziva is somehow alive, the team tracks Saleem’s camp by following his shipments of Caf-Pow. But the NCIS director refuses to authorize a military engagement on foreign soil without first confirming Saleem’s presence.
DiNozzo then procedes to volunteer himself and McGee for a “secret fact-finding mission thingy that’s not secret in the Sahara” in order to confirm that Saleem is where they believe he is. The two agents allow themselves to be captured by Saleem in order to facilitate an extraction.
Saleem then reveals that he is holding Ziva captive by bringing her into the room, visibly beaten. He tells them that one will tell him what he wants to know and the other will die. Saleem returns after leaving briefly and puts a knife to Ziva throat ready to kill her. Tony quotes “True Lies” and tells Saleem he has 30 seconds to live. Saleem laughs and reminds Tony that he is tied up and therefore unable to kill him. Tony responds by reminding Saleem that he’s under the influence of the truth serum and can’t lie.
“Remember I told you my boss was a sniper?” are the last words Saleem hears before Gibbs takes him out with a killshot to the head from a nearby hill. Tony and McGee half-carry, half-drag Ziva with them out of the room and meet up with Gibbs.
The team returns to NCIS headquarters battered and bruised. The ride the elevator in silence and enter back into the squadroom. Everyone looks at them, including Director Vance who is standing on the stairs. Vance begins clapping and everyone joins in. Ducky and Abby are waiting for the team and Abby walks up to Ziva and draws her into a hug as they exit the elevator. The episode ends with Tony sitting down at his desk and making eye contact with Ziva over Abby’s shoulder.
I can’t truly put into words the absolute brilliance of this episode. Far and away my favorite episode, the work put into building up to this incredible peak was phenomenal. Michael Weatherly was incredible as the truth-serumed stall man. Truth Or Consequences had humor, emotion, drama, action and suspense. It was everything a television episode ever could hope to be.
Season 8 premiered this week and while it was very good, it had nothing compared to Season 7. I want to say that NCIS will never top what they did in Truth Or Consequences, but to be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. I don’t know how, but I know they could.
Line of the episode: “Ziva’s not replaceable.”
Each show was critiqued by an anonymous contributor. Which basically means the list is worth next to nothing since the anonymous contributor could be an eight year old boy. Some of the shows on the list probably deserve to be there, and the criticism is fair.
American Idol is on the list, and I’d agree that Ryan Seacrest and Co. are probably the single most overrated show on television. Kelly Clarkson from Season 1 was the one true star that show has produced. You’d think a show who’s main purpose is to find the best singer would spit out more than one star in about a decade. The fact that the show sometimes takes up three nights a week makes it all the more overrated.
The Office is also on the list and as much of a fan as I am, I have to tend to agree. The writing’s gotten stale and the jokes just aren’t funny anymore. Not every show can be the Simpsons. The once-likeable characters seem to get grumpier with each passing episode.
Glee is also on the list and again, even as a fan, I agree. I love most of the arrangement the glee club does, but as a television show, it’s not very interesting. I never end up on the edge of my seat at the end of an episode wondering which way the writers will take the story. The kids are going to have their problems, one’s gay, one’s black, people will fall in love out of love and they’ll win sectionals. And they’ll do it while singing contemporary arrangements of hit songs. The high school storylines are grossly exaggerated (what high school kid could possibly fall for the “I got pregnant in a hot tub” line?) and the adult ones are more often ridiculous than believable. Jane Lynch makes the show a tad more watchable.
The only one that I have a real beef with is NCIS. Here’s what the critic had to say about Donald Bellisario’s masterpiece:
NCIS is quite possibly the most overrated show on this list. It receives the highest ratings of any drama out there and boasts an insanely devoted fan base, yet it seems that no one is able to explain exactly why. Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly aren’t that hot. They and the rest of the NCIS team can’t wield guns or kick ass any more effectively than any other crime-solving white knights. All of the characters are plagued by weak, unoriginal senses of humor. And don’t get me started on that annoying chick Abby Sciuto; someone should tell her that her Hot Topic wardrobe went out of style five years ago.
The allure of NCIS isn’t tied to the attractiveness of the actors or actresses – although Sasha Alexander, Cote de Pablo and Michael Weatherly aren’t exactly Ugly Bettys. The team’s ability to kick ass also isn’t a main draw for the typical fan. And anyone that finds Abbs “annoying” obviously has not bothered to watch the show for any length of time. I’ll admit, Abby was the one character that didn’t sit as well with me as all the others when I first started, but by Season 7, I can’t imagine the show without her. Pauley Perrette is the perfect actress for the perfect character. Additionally, her character isn’t supposed to be representative of the material tween demographic. She’s a quirky, honest character who’s forensic aptitude is unmatched.
NCIS receives the highest ratings because of one inarguable fact. The writing for the show is tremendous. No show develops characters and incorporates story lines as well as NCIS does. Everything that is included in an episode is there for a reason and the foresight that the NCIS writers have is unmatched in their field. And while the actors may not be the most attractive cast on television, the rapport that they have and the understanding of their characters is unbelievable.
Each actor and actress does a fantastic job at portraying their character and the timing between them is perfect. I hated when Sasha Alexander decided to pursue other interests (how has that worked out by the way?) but Cote de Pablo was quickly introduced seamlessly into the show and hasn’t looked back since.
Anyone who doesn’t enjoy NCIS obviously appreciates television for something other than fantastic writing and remarkable content. And that’s fine and up to them, but to include NCIS in a list of TV’s most overrated shows based on a review that reads as if a thirteen year old girl wrote it, is baseless and ridiculous.