I think that after the brilliance of last week's episode, pretty much anything was going to be a let down, and for me personally this was very much so. It was a so-so episode, one with a fairly strong story line, but not one I found overly enjoyable - another middle of the road one. It lacked its usual chemistry, it was rather too bitty.
It was interesting to learn more about Nikki Jardine, which makes you wonder if we are being 'led' into thinking that she'll be joining the team. No Jenny in this episode, but she did say last week she was taking a couple of week's personal leave, so we again had Leon Vance - the Assistant Director - which again could be 'leading' us into thinking he'll become Director.
I also had a problem with the amount of changes of scene from NCIS HQ to Baghdad - I kept getting jolted from the story, but that's something I tend to find with shows and books.
The red herrings as far as the murderer, or the person who had arranged the murder, were not very 'red' they were pretty obviously not the baddies, which again left the baddie pretty clear.
So we began in Baghdad with a group of Marines playing basketball and suddenly there is a mortar attack. After it Marine Captain John Rankin is found dead.
Back at HQ, Ziva brings McGee a coffee, as he brought her one last week - she then kisses him (squee time for McGee/Ziva fen). And then she talks about the length of the tongue and the kiss McGee is looking at on his screen. Enter DiNozzo who tries to find out who McGee is kissing, Ziva teases him about it being McGee's personal life and then flashes up the picture onto the plasma - it's McGee and 'Jethro'
It is. Down in Autopsy Ducky (sans Jimmy) has a body, but not only a body, but the body of Marine Captain John Rankin - Sec Nav pulled strings to get the body to Ducky rather than just any ME. Ducky then talks about a time he was almost killed by a mortar attack and starts to describe it in great detail, until he is aware of the look Gibbs is casting his way. Thus, he trails off and makes a comment about digressing, gets his own Gibbs's 'you think' look and turns his attention back to this mortar attack. He shows Gibbs a drawing of where the shrapnel was and demonstrates by bending over just what position Rankin would have been in. He then drops the bombshell, the actual reason he called Gibbs down: Captain Rankin was not killed by the mortar, but by a bullet. A nice little scene - the only Gibbs & Ducky scene we get.
Back in the squad room, DiNozzo is teasing McGee about his 'girl-friend', but when McGee reminds him the dog is called 'Jethro', DiNozzo then starts to tease him about his 'boyfriend'. However when DiNozzo starts to use his keyboard, dog barks are heard - someone, and McGee says it wasn't him (and he appeared genuine) has 'fixed it'. DiNozzo, of course, pushes it even further and sits on the edge of the keyboard thus causes lots of barks and guess who appears? Yes, Gibbs - who isn't exactly pleased, and asks McGee what he has.
He brings up photographs of Baghdad and the meant-to-be-secure zone (where the Marines had been) and we learn that DiNozzo has been in one of the Baghdad palaces after liberation. Whereas Ziva has too, but before liberation. It appears as if someone had deliberately set the mortar attack up. We learn that Rankin is extremely rich; he's made millions from Real Estate; he's a reservist and married - a reference to 'trophy wife' is made and in the background, behind the team, you can see a woman - ooops, guess who that is? Oh, yes, Mrs. Rankin herself - the trophy wife, as she calls herself.
Gibbs is interviewing Mrs. Rankin, it was her who got Sec Nav to pull strings and get her husband's body to Ducky as she believed he was murdered and she thinks it was his business partner, Kelvin Ridgeway. We learn that Rankin and Ridgeway were going to buy a piece of land together - Clover Fields - but that Rankin was sent to Baghdad, he had the contract forwarded to him, signed it but then didn't send it back - he was going to pull out of the deal. She then talks about her husband having a 'gut feeling' and asks Gibbs if he ever had those *smiles*. He says once or twice.
Then we move to Gibbs and Assistant Director Vance in MTAC talking to the Major Ike Varnai, out in Baghdad about the murder - Rankin's murderer had to have had security clearance to have got into the zone. Varnai doesn't seem overly concerned by Rankin's death, but then again as he reports he has since then lost two more men, and I guess when you live and work in constant fear of your life, a degree of detachment has to happen, otherwise you couldn't survive it. Sec Nav want NCIS to handle the case.
Down in Abby's lab we have a swift Abby & McGee scene; McGee is desperate to go to Baghdad as he's the only member of the field team who hasn't been; Abby asks him why he'd want to go, after all it's highly dangerous, she sounds concerned for him. He then makes a very convoluted speech about how DiNozzo told him that if he wants to go he shouldn't volunteer, but that means DiNozzo thinks he will volunteer, so he won't volunteer. Abby looked as confused as I felt by the end of it and she does call him 'Timmy' (a very small Abby/McGee moment).
We then move to Nikki in the ladies room where Ziva joins her. Nikki has written out a five point list as to why she should go to Baghdad. Ziva tries to tell her that it will be dirty and full of germs, etc. etc and hopes that Nikki enjoys competition more than she enjoys handles - Ziva has just wiped her hands all over the door hand leading from the ladies room, but then Ziva herself opens it.
We then move to a scene in Ridgeway's office, Gibbs has taken Ziva with him. Ridgeway is obnoxious, the kind of man that you really dislike - which meant that it wasn't him who'd killed Rankin, because it would be too obvious and too neat. Ridgeway mentions complaining to his wife about women he works with and says he bets Gibbs complains to his wife about Ziva. Gibbs stands up and leaves saying that he wouldn't mess with Ziva (waves to curly_the_sue, your favourite moment, I would venture to guess?) and when Ridgeway asks Ziva why, she throws back a ball they'd been tossing around and she has squashed it. I most certainly would not mess with Ziva either!
Back to HQ, McGee and DiNozzo are talking about the assignment and McGee is telling DiNozzo he didn't volunteer. Then Vance appears and both Ziva and Nikki hurry over to him to try to persuade him that she should be the one to go. Ziva talks Arabic, but Nikki talks Arabic and another local language; Gibbs said he'd told Vance. Vance then calls McGee's name and poor McGee looks excited, until Vance tells him he's the only one who didn't volunteer basically saying he should have. Naturally DiNozzo, despite what he told McGee not to do, did volunteer - McGee still has stuff to learn; he still hasn't got a full handle on DiNozzo. Vance also says it's not safe for Ziva to go and sends Nikki - telling DiNozzo to make sure she gets back safely.
The next scene shows McGee coming in to find Ziva checking the world clocks, she's Mother Henning DiNozzo, and he tries to talk himself out of his disappointment about not going to Baghdad. Ziva is sure that Ridgeway is guilty of something more than just being a pig. And we learn that prior to his death Rankin made three phone calls: to his wife, to Ridgeway and to a man named Stenner, who runs a soil testing company.
We then get our first visit to DiNozzo and Nikki in Baghdad, they are being billeted in 'overflow accommodation', i.e. they'll be sharing, possibly with other people too - Nikki isn't that happy, she thought she'd at least have her own room. She also is about to go off and shower, but as DiNozzo points out, a) crime scenes won't wait and b) even he wouldn't shower in the water that comes out of the tap - it's filthy. Varnai returns to see if they are ready to go to the scene of the crime and Nikki takes everything with her - much to DiNozzo's surprise and slight 'cockiness' - including her helmet. He asks her why she is there and she claims it will look good on her resume; he doesn't believe her, but as he follows her out, he grabs his own helmet.
DiNozzo and Nikki then meet the Marines who had been playing basketball with Rankin and DiNozzo asks them questions; did thy notice anything odd; what was Rankin like. He was apparently a good Marine who was well liked. DiNozzo reconstructs the scene, getting into the same place as Rankin was when the mortar attack happened - he was facing the ball hoops and ascertains that the shot must have come from high up from one of the buildings around the area. Apparently there was someone around who might have seen something, but unfortunately he's dead.
Back at HQ we have Gibbs and Stenner - a very, very, very nervous Stenner, he asks if he can go to the bathroom and Gibbs says no. He appears a 'nice' man, genuinely nervous of Gibbs and so eager to please, almost too nervous and eager. He tells Gibbs Rankin wanted soil tests carried out on Clover Field and they showed the land was contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, all dangerous to humans. He assures Gibbs he only produced one copy of the report - for Rankin - but promises to email Gibbs a copy. He then asks again if he can go to the bathroom, again Gibbs says no, but this time he's only kidding - he lets Stenner go.
Back in Baghdad DiNozzo and Varnai are in a room overlooking the basketball court; he's sure that's where the shot came from and he finds a shell case - not a Marine issue one. Down on the court Nikki is making a phone call, not in English. DiNozzo calls her to join him. He wants to know who had access to the room, but Varnai says there isn't an interpretor - cue Nikki who does the job. They learn that the man who had lived there is dead, and the only other person who had a key was his brother Ali - but he hasn't been there since the mortar attack.
We flash back to HQ to a tiny scene with Gibbs again leaning over McGee as McGee shows him the report and proof of the lead.
Back in Baghdad, they are off to find Ali; DiNozzo and the Marines are armed, Nikki is not - DiNozzo tells her to stay close and she agrees. However, they are too late: Ali has been taken away in handcuffs - but not by the police - and it's believed he's been taken away to be executed.
Then we have one of 'those' lets-try-to-be-misleading-and-make-them-t
Finally she admits that two years ago her brother, a Marine, was out there and he was shot, they were very close and she wants to see where he was shot - okay, she still wasn't telling 'the whole truth and nothing but the truth'. And we learn too that, despite her obsessiveness with being clean and hating germs, she is actually extremely untidy - a slob even.
We then get a video link to Abby's lab and see Abby, Ziva and McGee. Abby asks DiNozzo how he's getting on with Nikki's obsessive tidiness and DiNozzo says she isn't tidy, but she is there. At that point Abby talks about them sharing a room and turns to Ziva and repeats it; DiNozzo says they aren't exactly sharing a room and Ziva gets very flustered and goes on about 'either they are or they aren't what does exactly mean' (she's still in love with him). We learn that the fingerprints on the shell were indeed Ali Madule's (sp?) He is a maintenance man in the zone, whose brother was indeed killed.
Varnai wants to know why DiNozzo and Nikki are there. Nikki says that one of her contacts is in the same tribe as Ali and calls him; it appears her contact can take them to Ali. DiNozzo wants to go right away, but Varnai says it's too dangerous (we are meant to think that maybe Varnai had something to do with the death, he is another not very good red herring) to go at night and they'll go in the morning.
Back at HQ we again have Gibbs leaning all over McGee looking at Ridgeway's phone records and Ziva joins them.
And again back to Baghdad. When the truck they are in stops Nikki jumps out, thus causing much consternation for all concerned and Marines and DiNozzo with guns surround the area. But Nikki has seen someone - it turns out to be her contact Jameel who saw her brother shot, but he also knows where Ali is and will take them, with him is his sister, who no longer, since the death of their father, goes to school. Jameel, who speaks English, tries to help her - it's significant that we see her and learn this little fact, not just something thrown in.
Back at HQ, Gibbs and McGee are interrogating Ridgeway. He denies knowing Clover Field was contaminated and also denies having killed or arranged for the killing of Rankin. Gibbs says he'll soon have proof when he gets a phone call.
Back to Baghdad DiNozzo and Nikki find Ali.
Back in HQ, Gibbs's phone rings. It's DiNozzo. Ali's tongue has been cut out.
Back in Baghdad, we learn the guard didn't check on Ali since the night before after he took him his meal, despite hearing Ali crying out. DiNozzo doesn't believe him. Nikki does. DiNozzo thinks it's tribal, but Nikki explains that cutting out a tongue is not something that tribe does - instead it's likely to have been done by someone who knows little about tribal matters and thinks NCIS won't either - but Nikki does.
We then get a scene where DiNozzo calls Ducky and Ducky is about to talk him through how to ascertain the exact time of death; he needs a thermometer and a knife - both of which Nikki gives him - the latter because he'll have to cut into the body. Varnai then appears; he wants to go; but DiNozzo is determined to find what happened (oh and he makes one of this film references). DiNozzo says he'll have to call Ducky back, but Nikki comes up trumps and says she'll do the test - she has her latex gloves :-)
DiNozzo accuses Varnai of being involved with Rankin and Ali's deaths. He says Varnai had never liked Rankin because he was only a reservist and not a real Marine; that he says he doesn't understand Arabic, but clearly does. Varnai quotes the Marine code 'Semper Fie' saying he'd never kill a fellow Marine. DiNozzo is still pushing him when Nikki turns up with the evidence that Ali was killed a mere four hours ago. Four hours ago Varnai was with DiNozzo and Nikki - he couldn't have done it. DiNozzo apologises.
As they are walking away Nikki is slightly wobbly and DiNozzo asks if she's okay; she mentions the oppressiveness of where Ali was. He thinks she means the stench of death, but she doesn't; she smelled a chemical, one that always affects her - turpentine. And she last smelt it on the basketball court. Turpentine is used by construction workers, and there was one present.
DiNozzo calls HQ and McGee puts him on speaker phone. They track down the man - Allan Hayes - and learn he has a police record and is also under investigation for giving bribes. He didn't bribe Ali, he paid him to kill Rankin - the only question is, why? We also learn that Hayes has left Baghdad; Gibbs orders DiNozzo and Nikki to return on the next flight.
We discover that Ridgeway did call Stenner.
Nikki asks if they can detour slightly and Varnai agrees - he's not such a bad guy after all. He takes them into a very dangerous area and we learn that it was where Nikki's brother was shot. We then learn the rest of the truth. A local man had seen her brother shot and had run out to do CPR; Marines had seen him, thought he was attacking her brother and killed him. The man was Jameel's father. Nikki can't ever make it right, but she wants to give him something so that they can have contact with the outside world - she gives him and his sister a laptop. The sister hugs her and after a split second, she hugs the little girl. It was a very moving and emotional scene (I'm not sure about the laptop thing really, about how long it would last, batter-wise and connection-wise, etc. etc. but practicalities aside it was touching).
Back in DC, we discover the contract Rankin signed was not amongst his personal effects. We also lean though that Rankin did his own research on Clover Field. Gibbs takes McGee with him to meet Hayes and tells Ziva to find Stenner.
Gibbs and McGee go to the airport and McGee is still thinking it is Ridgeway - but we know it isn't :-) And lo and behold Stenner is meeting Hayes. Ridgeway had paid Stenner to lie to Rankin about the survey, and when Stenner learnt Rankin had done his own research he knew the deal for the field would be off and he couldn't afford that, so he hired Hayes to kill Rankin. Hayes in turn hired Ali and then he killed Ali himself.
The final scene is Nikki going to visit her brother. And he's in a coma. She talks to him about Jameel and his sister, she talks to him as if her brother is listening; she tells him she told Jameel he was well. And she puts on a CD and talks about family memories - again it was a very moving scene.
Far too bitty for my liking, I found myself losing track more than once and got rather bored (as this review probably shows).
It was a reasonable story-line, a genuine case. It had some very touching moments especially involving Nikki; showed DiNozzo in a good light, and had a few teeny touches of humour.
However, the usual chemistry of the team was missing. But that's probably because really the main story-line involved DiNozzo and Nikki, and she isn't really part of the team, away from the other team members.
Very little for any shippers to get excited about. The odd moment, but pretty much ship-free.
Very little Ducky - *sigh*
Very little Abby - *sigh*
No Jimmy - *sigh*
No Jenny, so no more on the whole 'did she/didn't she' 'is she ill/isn't she' 'is daddy still alive/isn't he' saga.
Not a great episode, but as I said after last week I think it was always going to be disappointing.