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TV Review: NCIS – “Brothers in Arms”

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“Brothers in Arms” first aired April 24, 2007.

The Le Grenouille storyline on NCIS has its roots in earlier episodes “Suspicion” and “Blow Back”. “Suspicion” had NCIS Director Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) directing Special Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) in an undercover operation without the knowledge of DiNozzo’s boss, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon).

DiNozzo was covertly watching a group of alleged international arms dealers. In “Blow Back”, we were introduced to Le Grenouille (Armand Assante), a major ringleader in the arms trade, who is associated with the group under DiNozzo’s earlier surveillance. Seasoning the storyline is a CIA operative in deep cover with Le Grenouille, who saves the arms dealer’s life at the end of “Blow Back.” Early hints of a personal relationship between Shepard and Le Grenouille were revealed in her pathos surrounding her covert operation.

“Brothers in Arms” opens with Shepard meeting a man alone in homeless community. The two speak by cell phone as Shepard approaches the site of the meeting. She and the man exchange words and she assures him he is doing the right thing. As the director exits her car, a second car starts up and speeds past, riddling the scene with automatic weapons fire. The director empties her pistol through the back window of the retreating car, and asks her contact if he was hit. He fails to answer because of the bullet holes in his head and throat.

The NCIS team arrives at the crime scene. An expensive cell phone is recovered from the scene, while Mossad Agent-on-Loan-to-NCIS Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) queries DiNozzo about whether the director was working on a covert operation, doubting the veracity of DiNozzo’s negative answer.

The director tells Gibbs her contact is named Troy Webster (Peter Birkenhead). She then approaches the team, who are trying to find witnesses to identify the car. The director provides everything but the VIN number and the question is raised as to who was the target, Webster or the director. Back at headquarters, the team discusses Webster, who was an accountant closely associated with Le Grenouille’s operation. The director asserts that Webster possessed information on Le Grenouille’s past, present, and future arms deals. Webster was having a change of heart and was going to provide her information that would lead to Le Grenouille’s arrest.

Special Agent Tim McGee (Sean Murray) turns the discussion to Webster’s cell phone, which could provide valuable information. The director immediately begins barking orders over Gibbs to send the phone to Forensics Specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette). She later apologizes to Gibbs while he begins to divine clues about her obsession with Le Grenouille, learning only that the director is completely focused on the arms dealer’s capture. The two spar over investigative methods and Gibbs directly addresses her personal feelings toward Le Grenouille. Shepard frames her intentions toward the arms dealer by comparing her intent with Gibbs’ single-mindedness in pursuing Ari Haswari (Rudolf Martin), Ziva’s terrorist half-brother, finally neutralized in “Kill Ari, Part 2.”

Meanwhile, NCIS Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) converses with the dead Troy Webster about Mata Hari and her role as spy in World War I when Gibbs enters. Ducky explains that he noted that Webster was perfectly executed with two shots to the chest and one to the head — in other words, he was the target. Ducky reasoned had the assassin wanted the kill the director, he or she would have.

Ducky also noted an elevated cerebrospinal protein that supported the discovery of an inoperable brain tumor that the doctor suspects would have killed Webster within six weeks. Gibbs opines this may be why Webster had a change of heart, but Ducky counters that the deceased may have unaware of the tumor as his medical records did not indicate the presence of a tumor. About this time, the lights flicker, extinguish, and are replaced by a back-up generator. It turns out that Abby was trying to extract data from Webster’s phone which was electronically booby-trapped to destroy itself and any computer being used to access the data by creating a power surge that causes the shutdown. To the director's horror, all of the data was lost and she reacts with uncharacteristic anger towards the team.

The scene then shifts to Gibbs in the director’s office, learning that she has called the CIA to contact their man under cover with Le Grenouille. Gibbs doubts the director’s power to influence the CIA. But lo and behold, the CIA sends FBI Agent T.C. Fornell (Joe Spano), under the auspices of his authority in the Office of Homeland Security, to meet with her. After a brief jurisdictional discussion, Fornell reveals that he is there because he drew the short straw when the Agency was deciding who to send. The director informs Fornell that she needs to meet with CIA operative Trent Kort (David Dayan Fisher). Fornell is skeptical of the Agency’s desire to cooperate and the director informs Fornell that the Agency owes her and should he want to know why, he should ask them.

Meanwhile, Abby has summoned DiNozzo (who brings Ziva and McGee) to discuss her findings while processing the assassin’s shattered rear window and the director’s car. She tells the team she found blood on the glass of the shattered rear window, indicating the director hit the occupant because the blood was not Webster’s. Before the team can leave, Abby adds she found something sensitive in the director’s glove compartment: a pair of women’s underwear. Abby reasons that this item should not show up on a government inventory log (to which Ziva agrees) and the team discusses who will return the item to Shepard. Abby bows out and tells DiNozzo that it his responsibility. Before DiNozzo can object, he is interrupted by a call from Dr. Jeanne Benoit (Scottie Thompson) who tells him that her mother is in town and he is to meet them for dinner. Once back with the team, McGee points out that as the senior field agent, DiNozzo is obliged to approach the director with this delicate matter. As the senior field agent, DiNozzo orders the team to draw straws… and draws the short one.

DiNozzo enters the director's office just as she's phoning for him. She questions him first but he opts for her to tell him why she requested his presence. She tells DiNozzo that one of the surveillance devices he tagged Le Grenouille's entourage bags with has gone dark. She is interested in knowing when it was discovered in relation to when DiNozzo placed it (in “Suspicion”). Fornell calls the director and DiNozzo asks about his involvement, suggesting that Fornell was chosen because he could handle her. The director informs DiNozzo that the Agency drew straws and she could not believe that her reputation was such that it caused people to draw straws on who was to meet with her. DiNozzo wisely neglects to address the director’s unmentionables as well as his own collusion in straw-drawing.

Back in Abby’s lab, Gibbs arrives for the DNA results on the blood spatter from the assassin’s rear window. Abby determined the blood spatter came from the driver, who had a rare genetic mutation that causes Gaucher’s disease, which results in a deficiency of the enzyme glucocerebrosidase. This deficiency is treated with a drug called Ceredase, for which only one local prescription could be found, supplying Abby the address of the afflicted. This sends the team to the address to discover bloodied bandages and the driver dead. The director faces another dead end in connecting Le Grenouille to arms dealing or murder.

After the break, the director is enjoying a snifterful of cognac in her office while reading Ducky’s autopsy report. Ducky arrives to discuss the results. It is immediately apparent that Ducky is there to discuss his psychological profile of Le Grenouille and not the physical findings on the dead Webster. Ducky points out that Le Grenouille is refined and educated and considers himself a businessman. Direct assassination is not his style. Ducky reasons that a man whose favorite opera is Verdi’s La forza del destino is “sophisticated and is far more likely to use that sophistication as his weapon. Violent murder is just not his style.” The director confronts Ducky’s obvious admiration of Le Grenouille and Ducky counters the director on her unresolved feelings about the man (searching for answers on Gibbs’ behalf).

The comedic interlude is anything but. DiNozzo is at the restaurant awaiting the arrival of Dr. Benoit’s mother, Dr. Helen Berkley (Sara Botsford). DiNozzo meets her alone while Dr. Benoit is in the ladies' room and finds himself under immediate and corrosive scrutiny. Dr. Berkley possesses an air of arrogance that DiNozzo is familiar with from his own pedigreed rearing but not accustomed to being subjected to. The conversation is tense and candid. It was difficult to watch DiNozzo get dismembered by Dr. Berkley. Just as DiNozzo is convinced he is Dante at the ninth ring of Hell, the scene changes to Gibbs and the director entering a limousine to meet Trent Kort. Kort supports Ducky’s conjecture that the murder of Webster was not the arms dealer’s style. If Le Grenouille contracted a murder in the States, he would use one Andre Jones (Mo Gallini), a small-time local arms dealer.

This sends the team to capture Andre Jones for questioning. Jones suspects Le Grenouille sold him out and attempts to pick up a gun leading to his shooting death. Again, the director is foiled. Back at headquarters, Gibbs has a heart-to-heart with Shepard, warning her that she will no longer be director should she not change her focus and direction in the case. Gibbs again tries to discern the connection between her and Le Grenouille. He receives a call from Abby who has been performing some space-age investigative work with cell phones, determining that the next arms shipment is to occur within 24 hours.

The director again meets with Kort, who reveals that Le Grenouille ordered no one to harm Troy Webster. Kort also reveals that Le Grenouille retains a forgery artist to produce documents legitimizing shipments. The team tracks down the forger, an art teacher, and Gibbs and the director lean on him, demonstrating their unique interrogation technique. Through several twists and turns that includes U.S. Customs and a shell company, the team identifies the dock and container number of the shipment and all head out. Once opened, the team discovers a load of squirt guns, a bottle of Champagne, and a note to Webster from Le Grenouille wishing him best wishes on his new career.

With three episodes left in the season, NCIS writers predictably turn up the plot level by an order of magnitude. Revealed here, as with a two-by-four, is the fact that the director and Le Grenouille had a significant history that only she knows about. There is also DiNozzo and Dr. Benoit’s stalker. Could this be Ziva smoldering for DiNozzo? How will DiNozzo deal with his first encounter with Dr. Berkley and his beloved Dr. Benoit’s elitist description of him to her mother as the guy “wearing expensive shoes.” Previews of “In the Dark” show an angry Army Lt. Col. Hollis Mann (Susanna Thompson) possibly giving Gibbs the relationship what-for; where might that be going? A dark embrace is seen along with more feminine unmentionables. There are so many questions and so little time.

The next episode, “In the Dark,” will air May 1, 2007.

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About C. Michael Bailey

I am sanctified and Southern fried, My mama tried and daddy cried; I tell the truth 'cept when I've lied And I like my huevos on the side...
  • lLionel Smith

    How does Micheal Weatherly get into NCIS from the Baltimore Police