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DVD Review: NCIS Season 4

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Called the “Season of Secrets” by the producers of the series, NCIS Season 4 actually turned out much more complicated than most of the actors, writers, directors, and fans wanted it to be. For the first time, the series sought to build ongoing storylines that would elevate NCIS to a soap opera level that wasn’t much appreciated.

The season was too busy. Too much plotting demanded watching every episode in sequence rather than casually dropping in for entertainment. Even with devoted attendance instead of a casual approach, these extended storylines took far too long to develop.

I got irritated and impatient with all the split plotlines and romances. When I watch the crimes shows I keep up with, I depend on them to be entertaining and intriguing, but not to the point that I have to keep notes. I didn’t watch Heroes in its first season run for this very reason, and it’s also why I abdicated 24. I picked those shows up in DVD and squander weekends of marathon viewing on them.

I watched episodes throughout season four of NCIS and enjoyed them on one hand, but I had some definite problems with them on the other. It is somewhat better being able to sit down and watch them in sequence and fairly close together. But the fact that the season ended on a cliffhanger is also disappointing. Thankfully, season five returns to how the episodes were initially done.

I don’t mind the two- or three-episode arcs, but I want to be casually entertained, and not driven to fanaticism or desperation.

Unfortunately, series creator and television guru Donald P. Bellisario is no longer attached to the series. Mark Harmon and many others stood against Bellisario and basically took the show over. Since NCIS is a hit and can’t survive without the actors and actresses (who were being forced into 16-hours days much of the time, according to reports), their wants were attended to first.

Mark Harmon stars as the abrasive and canny team leader, Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Michael Weatherly plays fan-favorite Anthony DiNozzo, whose love of movies constantly shows in his references throughout the series. David McCallum portrays the team’s forensic examiner, Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard. Pauley Perrette stars as the wickedly wonderful and super-smart Abby Sciuto. Sean Murray (Bellisario’s real-life stepson) plays Timothy McGee. Cote de Pablo plays ex-Israeli Mossad agent Ziva David. Lauren Holly stars as the NCIS director, Jenny Shepard.

The thing that I most love about the series is the characters. They’re all real to me, and the actors deliver a constant presentation of them. I’ve never seen a false move. Mark Harmon continues to amaze me. I actually met him on the Fox Studios lot at one time, and he’s just as generous in person as he is on the screen, a truly great guy. But the other reasons to watch the show are the intriguing mysteries, consummate action, and a pace that is almost frenetic from beginning to end. Tune in to an episode and you’re going to get the same kind of investigative goodness fans of the show demand.

As usual, the season begins by picking up the pieces of the cliffhanger from the season before. At the end of the third season, Gibbs had quit the NCIS after a terrorist attack he warned them about went unheeded.

“Shalom” puts Ziva on the run after she’s framed for murdering a high ranking government employee. At this point Tony is in charge of the team. They have to get Gibbs back, though, and the story wraps satisfactorily in “Escaped.”

Cutting edge technology gets featured in “Singled Out,” and the subject matter involving a kidnapped Navy computer specialist allows McGee and Abby to thrive in their element while driving Gibbs crazy with their techno-babble. Mike Franks, Gibbs’s NCIS mentor, returns to the series in “Faking It” and fans get more background on what Gibbs was like when he was first starting out. “Dead and Unburied” is a nifty little mystery.

The pace picks up again with “Witch Hunt,” the series’ first Halloween episode. Some of the lines and the situations Gibbs and his team delivered and found themselves in left me laughing so hard I thought I was going to die. This episode alone is priceless. “Sandblast” brings Gibbs and Lt. Colonel Hollis Mann, Gibbs’s present girlfriend, together on a case again, and it’s always fun to watch these two work through things. In a later episode, “Sharif Returns,” they get to finish the work they start here.

“Once a Hero” centers on a decorated Marine, and fans of the show know that anything involving Marines is one of Gibbs’s red flags. He’ll stop at nothing to do what he needs to do to take care of those people. “Twisted Sister” brings McGee into conflict with himself over the NCIS and his sister. “Smoked” puts Gibbs together with FBI agent Fornell in a search for a serial killer. As fans know, there’s a lot of history between Gibbs and Fornell, and not all of it is good.

Science comes to the forefront again in “Driven,” and McGee and Abby are in artificial intelligence heaven as they try to figure out how a murder was done. The murder of a Marine puts Gibbs at odds with a county sheriff in “Suspicion.” Ducky moves into the spotlight in “Blowback” when he has to go undercover in a high-tech black market ring. “Friends and Lovers” showcases a murder that turns intriguing, but it’s Tony’s undercover work that gets the lion’s share of the attention.

“Dead Man Walking” is a tug at the heartstrings as Ziva becomes involved with a dying Navy lieutenant. This episode was almost too predictable, but still watchable. “Skeletons” is the search for yet another serial killer (there are a lot of these in police shows of late). “Iceman” is a straightforward mystery with the twist of the “dead” man coming back to life long enough to point in the direction of his murderer.

“Grace Period” involves Special Agent Paula Cassidy, who’s been something of a recurring character, in a terrorist chase. “Cover Story” reveals that McGee is working on a new book (he writes fiction and his first book was a bestseller that allowed him to buy a sports car as well as other boy toys) and the murderer appears to be following some of his script. “Brothers In Arms” advances one of the many subplots of the season when Jenny Shepard starts digging into her spy father’s secrets.

“In The Dark” is a straightforward mystery again, but it’s got some neat characterizations and twists. “Trojan Horse” has a plot that reflects the title, and this one gets a little too convoluted. “Angel of Death” brings in Shepard’s father’s past in a big way, and it sets up the season’s cliffhanger.

NCIS Season 4 is a must-buy for fans of the show who collect the episodes. But it’s a great place for viewers new to the show to begin. With four years under its belt, NCIS has a lot of history, but you can catch up quickly.

I really enjoyed season four, even with all the complexity and "one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing" machinations, but I’m glad season five is returning to the standalone episodes and no ongoing plotlines. These characters are some of the best on television, and the writers are really good.

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About Mel Odom

  • Diane

    I am a long-time fan of NCIS and found Season 4 to be the weakest by far. Producer and main writer Don Bellisario did not leave the show (or was forced out) until after this season was completed, so one must assume he was the main culprit in the confusing and, frankly, silly plot lines running through Season 4. The premier of Season 5 quickly wrapped up and dispensed with those plots, thank goodness. So far the new season is a huge improvement on last year and is returning the show to it’s character-driven roots combined with solid crime cases and the trademark NCIS humor.