Wow. Now this really was a first class episode. Yet another one that was completely worthy of being a Season One or Two, with the case being *the* main focus of the episode. (Hey, curly_the_sue, remember we've been talking about the 'good old days' when they actually went onto ships and subs? Well, they *were* on a ship!). The only tiny downside(s) to this ep was that Abby didn't have a very large role, in fact it was teeny and there was no Jimmy, but other than those two things it was a top-notch episode.
Okay, so the bad guy was obvious from the second we saw him. I noted down his name and put 'baddie' by it as soon as he appeared. But given the nature of the 'crime' and the whole focus, that didn't matter at all. In fact for most of the episode I actually forgot about him as such. The episode did have 'spooky' and 'supernatural' overtones in it, to tie in with the date of airing, but that again wasn't made a big thing of (it was ten times better than the rather mediocre Halloween episode from last season).
DiNozzo wasn't nasty this week with his teasing and pranks, so that was another very positive thing, and one I hope will continue as his 'healing' goes on. There were some lovely ship moments, again for more than one pairing, in particular there were a lot of Gibbs/Ducky moments, but also a touching DiNozzo/McGee scene and flashes of others.
Jenny continues to finally be what she's meant to be all along: the Director of NCIS, and she is now doing a good job and focussing on what she should be rather than all the other stuff.
The only thing that started to irk me was DiNozzo's constant references to films. Admittedly they all 'fitted' with the whole episode, but I felt that they did go a bit OTT with them. OTOH, they gave some good feed lines. So . . .
Anyway on with the actual review.
We begin with a shot of a ship in the fog, which generally gives the impression of a 'ghost ship' (which ties in nicely with what happens shortly). We then move inside the ship where we see the crew complaining about the food and we meet the three 'players' from the crew: Lieutenant Ferris (as I said above I immediately noted him as the baddie); Lieutenant Commander Satoshi Takada (the soon to be dead guy) and Mitas (the ship's cook). I actually have no idea why Ferris screamed 'baddie' at me, it wasn't as if he really did anything 'hinky' but something did trip my spider sense. Takada starts to have a fit, a nose bleed, throws up all over Mitas's apron and dies.
A very powerful start to the episode.
Immediately after the credits we are in the squad room where DiNozzo is playing one of his childish (oh, I do miss the mature Tony of S4) games and is blowing a straw wrapped at Ziva, both wet and dry and says he's doing 'paper work'. (It was actually quite amusing and at least although we had 'immature Tony', we did not have 'nasty Tony').
Abby comes bouncing in in typical Abby fashion to remind them that 'Brain Matter' (a group she knows) are playing that night and that they had all agreed to go with her to see it. Ziva and DiNozzo get out of it, but when McGee tries to do the same, Abby 'threatens' him with her spiky bracelets and he is about to agree to go (this really could count as an Abby/McGee moment, because she knows she can persuade Timmy to go with her).
At that moment he is 'saved' by the appearance of Gibbs announcing there's a dead body and he tells them to get their full gear. He then tosses a bottle of pills to McGee - they're motion sickness pills - and tells them a chopper is collecting them; McGee tosses them back saying he's fine on a chopper; Gibbs throws them back again saying the chopper is taking them to a ship the USNS Chimera, and that they'll be briefed before they go.
Gibbs: "I'll get Ducky. Pack a toothbrush, we'll be there awhile." (Gibbs/Ducky fen note the 'I'll *get* Ducky'. Not 'I'll call Ducky' but *get* him. Hmm, now that's the kind of thing Ducky does, physically hunts Gibbs down; Gibbs is more inclined to call. And quite often we see one of the kids call Ducky. So my G/D 'heart' went pitter-patter at this bit).
They all pack up and leave, one by one. Poor Abby she is so dejected as they all go. She definitely needed, but there was no one to give her one, a hug.
It turns out that the Chimera is not on any of the navy lists, anywhere. DiNozzo talks about a 'black ship' and Ziva thinks he says 'black sheep' (this reference is repeated a couple of times later on).
At the briefing they are told by Commander Skinner that the Chimera is a top secret research vessel.
McGee: "Researching what?"
Skinner: "That's need to know. And you don't."
Ducky: "That would be the top secret part, McGee." He gets a quick, fond look from Gibbs at that point - clearly neither man is impressed with what they are being told.
Skinner then tries to tell them how to do their jobs that they are to go in, get the body and get out (oh, yes, Skinner, Gibbs is going to do that!) Needless to say, Gibbs is not playing that game and points out they have a murder to investigate; Skinner tells them to take witness statements, but not to ask any questions above their pay level (cutting, Skinner, and it won't go down well with Gibbs). He goes on to say that whilst they are the only Federal Agency with clearance to go onto the ship, they do not have clearance to know anything about it (that's not going to make solving a murder easy, nor is it how Gibbs works). He tells McGee not to take the camera as he is not allowed to photograph anything; Gibbs tells McGee to take the camera. Gibbs wins! He does not play games or politics; he has a job to do and he'll do it.
When they arrive at the ship, they can't raise anyone on board - it really is a ghost ship. They all go down to the ship and start to walk on the deck, Ducky states the obvious by saying: "This is very unusual, Jethro," and the kids are very uneasy. Gibbs tells the guys in the chopper to contact Skinner and tell him they can't raise anyone, but adds the they are staying. Of course they are, whatelse would LJG do?
The group split up: DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva together in one direction. Ziva is not impressed with the ship, especially given that it is meant to be this super-duper-highly secret ship; DiNozzo adds that it's more like a tramp steamer and it's meant to mis-lead people.
Meanwhile, Gibbs and Ducky go off together in another direction.
Ducky: "I'm beginning to wonder if they dropped us on the right ship."
Gibbs: "Right ship; wrong night."
A nice little reference to the fact that the episode was aired the night before Halloween.
Meanwhile the kids come across the abandoned crew room. An Ipod (found by McGee) is still playing; someone has abandoned a wonderful hand of cards (duly pointed out by DiNozzo) and someone else has stopped writing a letter mid-sentence (Ziva finds this). It is all very spooky and again ties in nicely with the theme of Halloween without going OTT or being 'same old, same old'.
Meanwhile Gibbs and Ducky are still talking about the lack of people and more importantly, the lack of lifeboats.
Gibbs: "Ship was abandoned."
Ducky: "In a hurry, it would seem."
Gibbs: "Too much of a hurry to send a May Day?"
Ducky: "Now then, Jethro, now questions beyond your pay level."
Another nice moment and they share one of their many looks and smiles.
They then hear a noise of someone groaning - but it is only McGee, who has been sick. He has also found a VERY impressive lab. Gibbs asks Ducky what they are researching and Ducky says rats by the look of it. With it all being so top secret and classified, McGee ponders that it probably isn't very humanitarian.
Ducky: "I doubt it's even human."
He then goes on to list and talk about the equipment and concludes with the rather startling news that: "Whatever it is, it's not visible to the naked eye." Once again he addresses his remarks to Gibbs. Once again the old friends exchange a look.
Then we hear noises. McGee suggests, with more hope than anything else, that it could be the metal of the ship contracting. However, DiNozzo thinks the noise is coming from above them in the cargo hold.
Gibbs: "Ducky, you're with me." Looking at the others: "Check out the cargo hold." (G/D moment again - yay! Ducky is with Gibbs, it's 'official' - sorry).
DiNozzo: "I was afraid you were going to say that."
As DiNozzo, McGee and Ziva start to look around, DiNozzo starts to sing 'Baa baa black ship', which earns him a withering look from Ziva. She then says that there is someone or something else on the ship with them. There is: a rat! And DiNozzo, much to the amusement of Ziva and McGee, is afraid of it. He gets some, I must say, deserved ribbing, especially from McGee. DiNozzo says he used to love rats, but ever since he contracted the plague (again it's the first of a few references to 'SWAK'), he has been scared of them, with good reason, because traditionally rats were said to carry the plague. (Actually, it was the fleas on the rats, but let's not split hairs here).
Ziva talks about Mossad training and how they have to be open to what they cannot necessarily see; she is still convinced that there is someone or something still on the ship with them, and she doesn't mean a rat. There is more to things than can be explained by the natural world. McGee asks her if she believes in ghosts.
Ziva: "I do not not believe in ghosts or demons or monsters." And she explains that in Greek Mythology 'Chimera' meant a lion headed, dragon goat.
We then get another little touch of humour (they still manage to fit some nice, more subtle than in recent episodes, fleeting humour in, again it was extremely well done). The kids hear a noise from the other side of the door and open it; it was pretty obvious that Gibbs and Ducky were going to be on the other side, but it was still a nice touch when Gibbs opens it and says: "Boo." Then tells them to go in.
He and Ducky have found the room where Takada died, and they have found his vomit; oddly enough though, they have not found him. Not only have all the crew vanished, but for the moment so has the dead body. Ducky points out flecks in the vomit that could have been caused by alcoholism or severe gastroenteritis.
Poor McGee is still suffering. He staggers, DiNozzo steadies him and says; "Steady, Probie." McGee points out it isn't him, DiNozzo should be telling, but his stomach. So in another nice touch of humour (and if you're a DiNozzo/McGee shipper a ship moment) DiNozzo bends his head and says: "Steady, Probie's stomach."
Meanwhile, Ziva has found a bloody footprint. They all (including Ducky) follow it. And lo and behold it does indeed lead to Takada's body, that once again in keeping with the spookiness falls out when Gibbs opens the door to the supply room. Ducky squeezes past Gibbs to get to the body and Gibbs tells McGee to go and set up a satellite link. Ziva is still convinced that there is someone else, alive, on board.
We then flash to Abby's lab where some thoroughly dreadful (sorry Abby and anyone who liked it) music is playing - very loudly! So loudly, that Abby can barely hear McGee shouting to her. In a nice touch of continuity (again they can do it with the small things) it turns out to be no other than 'Brain Matter'. We then have another fun conversation - they really have balanced the humour so very well in this episode.
Abby: "You guys all right?"
McGee: "Oh, yes, peachy. I'm dealing with my boat phobia. DiNozzo is dealing with his rat phobia. Ziva is dealing with her ghost phobia."
Abby: "What's Gibbs dealing with?"
Gibbs appearing: "Them." Nice - if somewhat expected.
He tells Abby to patch him through to Jenn, but lo and behold Jenn just happens to appear. Okay, so that was rather unbelievable; I know they wanted Abby to be present when Jenny talked to Gibbs, but really the probability of Jenny just happening to appear in Abby's lab at the very second Gibbs wanted her was far too far fetched to be even faintly believable. Nonetheless, apart from me rolling my eyes and noting down 'How!!?!?' it didn't really matter.
The dead man is Satoshi Takada, he's a PhD and a Marine Biologist. Gibbs tells Jenny to let Skinner know that the crew has vanished and the lifeboats have gone. Jenny asks if Ducky know how Takada died, and on cue Ducky appears.
His news is *not* good. It appears from his preliminary findings that Takada died from viral haemorrhagic fever. And that all five of the NCIS team have been exposed to it and if his diagnosis is correct, they will all be dead by morning. And we end the scene with more long and significant, and understandably so, looks between Gibbs and Ducky as Ducky delivers his shocking news.
Now what I found intriguing here and I can only assume it was deliberate, is that on Ducky's cheek, by his nose and up under the edge of his glasses is what looks like either blood, a small haemorrhage or some kind of spot - but no one mentions it then or later. And it wasn't there at the beginning. A red herring, maybe? He managed, whilst examining Takada's body to get a splash or two of blood on his face? But why then did no one (Gibbs for instance) mention it?? (Sorry, it's little things like this that tend to occupy more of my mind than they necessarily should).
We then move to MTAC with a conversation between Skinner and Jenny. She is not happy; he is stalling and refusing to tell her just what the Chimera was up to. He keeps saying that the research was classified and top secret and above even Jenny's clearance levels. He tries, very ineffectually, to lie to Jenny; now this was the red herring and a very good one it was too, I was fooled by this and the whole virus thing, and although it was clear he was lying, I thought he was just lying about the research. In fact at one point, I actually did wonder if Skinner was telling the truth, just for a fleeting second, so that was extremely well done. Jenny says she'll take it to a higher level. She says they do not run black ops to carry out mundane research.
Back on board ship Ducky and Gibbs are either side of Ducky's 'autopsy' table; Gibbs is fiddling with some piece of equipment (it almost looked like a battery driven screw-driver) and comments about 'primitive conditions'. Ducky smiles and is a little amused (a fittingly little given the circumstances). He then asks Gibbs if he remembers the tiny thatched cottage in Namibia which he used as an examination room (more history of somewhere they went together, presumably with NCIS). At least then Ducky was examining pygmies.
Behind them DiNozzo is 'playing' with the equipment. Gibbs asks if he knows what killed Takada yet, and Ducky's initial examination still concurs with haemorrhagic fever. And he says he can't give Gibbs any further progress report until "Dr. DiNozzo give me a proper blood analysis".
DiNozzo immediately stops playing and starts to try to do that thing; Abby, via the link is talking him through at a very basic 101 level how to do that thing. She's using descriptive terms like 'blue button' and 'tower'. It's another nice, gently humorous scene. Abby's a good teacher and DiNozzo is a good student as he can and does follow Abby's instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, he also sniffs the drop of blood and liquid that he's put on a slide, before Abby tells him not to. Thus from that moment on, DiNozzo is convinced he's dying.
Ducky: "Where's my blood analysis, DiNozzo?"
DiNozzo: "I'm working on it. Might be the last thing I do."
Ducky: "Let's hope not. May I?" As always, even though he was irked with DiNozzo to begin with, he falls into being the polite Ducky when moving past DiNozzo to look at the blood. The analysis ties in with Ducky's findings; there is an increased white blood count. And we have more looks between Gibbs and Ducky.
We then learn that there are rat bites on Takada's body, which could mean a diseased rat. DiNozzo now very worried thinks that would be bad. And if the rat is diseased it means that the virus is air borne, which would be really, really bad. At that moment McGee appears with a patch in to MTAC with Jenny and Skinner, they want Gibbs and Ducky. They go out, leaving DiNozzo pressing the glands in his neck.
Skinner is still not being helpful and declares he is sending people out to take control of the ship. Ducky declares it is too dangerous and when Skinner insists, Ducky says he's placing the ship under quarantine. When Skinner asks on whose authority, Jenny responds.
Jenny: "Ours. Dr. Mallard is a Medical Examiner and Agent Gibbs a Federal Officer."
Skinner says it's his ship.
Gibbs: "Not any more."
Both Gibbs and Ducky are angry (which is not something that many people would want to face), because Skinner is still refusing to listen. Gibbs leans over Ducky's shoulder to have his final say and then strides off. Ducky has his final say too by telling Jenny that he's going to try to find out what killed Takada before it kills him too. In fact before it kills everyone on the ship. He then goes.
Once again Jenny, also angry, tries to get Skinner to tell her the truth. He still tries to hold out, but she says that NCIS will investigate and suggest that he reads her in on the true story and does so by coming to her. She kills the link between them.
Back on the ship there are still noises. The kids claim to have investigated, but have found nothing; so they are off to do it again. McGee offers to stay with Ducky so that he won't be alone, but the look on Gibbs's face tells him it is not an offer he'll be taking up.
Ducky points out that he won't be alone, he'll have Takada for company. Ducky is never alone when he has a dead body.
Gibbs (holding up a walkie-talkie): "Duck."
Ducky: "Got it."
The field team leaves and Ducky talks to Takada's body about the virus.
DiNozzo thinks he is itching and finds a spot, he and Ziva bicker that it's a mole, he says he's never had a mole there, and how would she know he always had one (well he has worn short sleeves or had his sleeve rolled up, she'd have seen it, but is also a possible DiNozzo/Ziva hint). And still my mind is going back to the marks on Ducky's face (still unnoticed or unmentioned).
Gibbs calls Ducky and asks him what the symptoms of the virus are: they are paranoia followed by spots, itching and high fever. Which really does the full job on DiNozzo, he really thinks he has it. He then launches into how he never expected to go out like this, but that it would be more like Cagney in 'White Heat' and he mentions several other films (including Butch Cassidy).
Gibbs: "Or Charlie Chaplin in 'Gold Rush'."
DiNozzo: "How did he die."
Another fun moment and DiNozzo, for that moment at least, gets the message.
Ziva then runs off after something or someone she swears she saw; but there doesn't appear to be anyone or anything; and again the red herring is tied in with the virus as we are meant to think we're at the paranoia stage for Ziva.
DiNozzo find the Biohazard area and Gibbs sets McGee to work to try to get inside. They leave him alone. We then have a nice little exchange that should make the DiNozzo/Ziva fen smile.
DiNozzo: "If you want, Ziva, I could check you for spots."
Ziva: "No, thanks."
DiNozzo: "I'm sure you've got some hot spots and warm spots."
And at that moment they find a dead rat. Gibbs, predictably, makes DiNozzo take it back to Ducky. DiNozzo isn't happy, but he does so. And then, in keeping with the spookiness, the lights go out.
DiNozzo: "Oh, good. Double jeopardy."
McGee: "Oh, geeze."
Ducky: "Oh, dear."
Jenny (as MTAC screen also goes blank): "Oh, crap."
Again this was very well done and in character, although I confess Jenny's response did surprise me a little.
This time Gibbs also hears the footsteps, but it's only DiNozzo. And DiNozzo is commenting about how all they need is a storm, and voilà, there is a noise that is meant to be storm-like, but in reality sounds nothing like a storm to me. It's poor McGee who has tripped over; Gibbs kindly pulls him to his feet. Now they are trying to find the electricity room and DiNozzo once again is talking about films, inducing Alien. He then asks Gibbs if he's ever seen 'Run Silent, Run Deep'.
Gibbs: "The run silent sounds good."
Yet another fun feed line, if maybe just a little bit forced and over-played (but I'm being hypercritical now).
And then in the electrical room they find Mitas (the cook) who, still in fitting with the virus, appears to be mad. They handcuff him to a pipe and he's talking about 'that thing', something they found in the water and brought on board. He says he knows nothing about the mission, just that the crew abandoned ship, the captain forced him to stay behind as they thought he'd contracted the disease from Takada throwing up on him and that the radio operator was meant to have sent a message about the evacuation. He says that someone hit him from behind. Now both Ziva and Gibbs (still in keeping with the red herring of the virus and still very believable) are both really angry and everyone is sweating.
We then have a touching DiNozzo and McGee scene (once again DiNozzo/McGee fen should be happy). DiNozzo is meant to be helping McGee get into the Biohazard room, but is going on about having the virus; he wants McGee to feel his head, but McGee refuses saying he's all sweaty, which DiNozzo thinks proves his has a fever. McGee points out that as the ventilation is off they are all sweating. He also says that the last time DiNozzo was dying he was more stoic (another reference to SWAK).
Then DiNozzo talks about how the last time he nearly died, someone blew up his car, and that bad things always go in threes and that he's out of 'almosts.' He is dying. McGee thinks and tells DiNozzo okay, but until he is dead, could he help him get into the room. It is what DiNozzo wants and needs to hear as it focusses him, pulls him back and he thanks McGee and toddles off to do what McGee asked him to do. He finds Lithium batteries and transponders.
Back to Jenny and Skinner, we learn that the Chimera was involved in some kind of bio-warfare research, which is illegal. Skinner's 'justification' is that they know the Russians are doing it and they want to be ahead. Jenny is disgusted - aren't we all! Skinner then claims that a medical ship with contamination unit is on its way to the Chimera; Jenny wants proof. She doesn't know Skinner well enough to trust him. He then flirts with her and tries to come onto her, suggesting they could get to know one another better. She is not impressed or interested; says other people, higher ranked than him, have tried the same thing.
Back on the Chimera we learn that the transponders came from the life jackets, to prevent the crew from being tracked. Mitas says he didn't take them off and again says someone else is on board. DiNozzo again makes a film reference, which earns him another Gibbs glare. At that point Ducky appears with the 'good news' that Takada did die from viral haemorrhagic fever, which earns him a look of disgust from DiNozzo and a 'oh that is good news, Ducky', sarcastic remark - which was well placed really.
However, Ducky has more: the virus was injected into Takada and the rat died from biting Takada; thus the virus is *not* airborne. All the symptoms they have been experiencing/exhibiting are 'in their minds' (but we still have the marks on Ducky's face). And we have more Gibbs and Ducky looks.
Someone wants to scare them off the ship. At that moment the lights come on; but it wasn't McGee's doing. Someone is playing with them. Ziva calls out and they all, bar Ducky, take off. Again she's convinced she's seen something/someone and Gibbs believes her, much to the surprise of DiNozzo. At the moment a load of barrels falls on, but misses, DiNozzo. Ferris appears, they give chase; he's captured (and I wasn't surprised). Mitas was telling the truth; Ferries says they'll be dead soon, but it won't be the virus.
Back in MTAC Skinner is showing Jenny the Chimera (Gibbs is also on the link) and they see a vessel heading towards it at high speed; it is not the one Skinner sent. We learn it is a small attack vessel, pirates, heavily armed, will attack and be there soon. Still Skinner won't tell Gibbs what the heck is going on. Gibbs is really angry, ditto Jenny. Gibbs doesn't care bout anything but keeping his people safe.
In the meantime, McGee has cracked the Biohazard lock and Gibbs goes in; McGee is trying to explain that it's not necessarily a good idea, but Gibbs in true Gibbs fashion ignores him, goes in and finds . . .
The assault craft is less than five minutes away, and Gibbs and the kids are arming up - not that they have much. Ducky is happily 'concocting' something red in his 'lab'.
The pirates arrive and they are foreign and very highly armed. They get on-board but it's empty. Gibbs, Ducky and DiNozzo are together staying out of the way of the man, Ziva is on deck and takes out one man, while the others search. They come across Ferris's body and he has a note in his hand telling them that the virus is airborne; the men, bar the leader, want to get off, he argues with them, they all run up on deck and they find the body that Ziva took out and the fact that their boat is missing. Gibbs has boat-napped it.
Gibbs is steering the boat, Ducky is up front next to him, the kids are in the back. Ducky drugged Ferris and the blood on him is what he was concocting. McGee fixed the ship so that it'll just go round in circles.
The pirates turn out to be Russian, but they aren't pirates; they are, in Ducky's words 'Soviet State Sponsored Pirates'. They were on a mission to get back the nuclear warhead (which is what Gibbs found in the Biohazard room). The Russians were on a black ops to recover their nuclear warhead. McGee then launches into a very convoluted explanation about the Russian pirates who weren't pirates on a covert mission to steal a Navy research ship that wasn't a Navy research ship to get back nuclear weapons that the navy thought the Russians didn't know they'd retrieved.
Ducky suggests contacting the navy to tell them they had the Russians black ship and that the Russians have their (black) ship. At that moment, however, a missile races by and blows up the Chimera.
Ziva: "How did they know we were off the ship?"
Gibbs: "Don't think they did."
And he's right; they didn't. The navy didn't care if they blew up five members of NCIS; all they cared about was keeping their black ops a secret. Scary really.
I *really* enjoyed this episode a lot. It reminded me of just why I love NCIS so much. Everyone was in character, the case was primary, the banter was good, the bickering was 'right', DiNozzo wasn't nasty, Ziva wasn't all over Tony and all in all it was superb.
There were some wonderful Gibbs/Ducky moments (sorry, being biased here). But if you don't ship G/D, they could simply be seen as more signs of the close and long friendship the two men have, thus equally could be viewed as Gibbs&Ducky moments.
There were a few DiNozzo/McGee moments, not as many as last week, but they were still there.
Also there was at least one DiNozzo/Ziva moment.
And little hints of other ships too.
Jenny is really now, it has to be said, a good Director. She is doing what she should be doing. (Again there was still no resolution about The Frog', but . . .
And no Mann and no mention, hint, allusion to her (or to Shannon and Kelly).
The lightness of Abby in the episode and the lack of Jimmy really were the only two down-side to this otherwise first rate, excellent, 'real NCIS episode.