The fourth season of NCIS is finally reaching adolescence. After evolving through six fairly predictable (though possessing flashes of fine television) episodes, the NCIS staff detonate a universe of intrigue (both professional and personal) with “Sandblast.” This is the episode where the interpersonal relationships blossom and transform from innuendo and speculation into kinetic powers with their own momentum.
A Marine Colonel Frederick Cooper (David Fabrizio) is playing golf with his son, Josh Cooper (Blake Bashoff) at the Army-Navy Golf Club the day before he is deploying to Iraq. The Colonel has a lay in a bunker; he tries to blast out of this with a sand wedge and instead is blasted by a booby-trapped explosive device. The subsequent investigation brings together Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ (Mark Harmon) NCIS team with Army Lt. Col. Hollis Mann’s (Susanna Thompson) Army Criminal Investigative Division (CID), the latter of which has beaten Gibbs to the scene.
Jurisdiction at the scene is complex as the murder occurred at the Army-Navy Club, giving both CID and NCIS authority and a sturdy turf battle. Gibbs’ and Mann’s introductions are cool, reflecting Gibbs’ suspicious state of mind and old school attitude. However, the observer’s eyebrows should twitch. Mossad Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) observed, “Gibbs just found his fourth ex-wife.”
The viewers finally see Special Agent Tony DiNozzo’s (Michael Weatherly) girlfriend, medical student Jeanne Benoit (Scottie Thompson). Benoit questions Tony on how he stayed single for so long. Tony claims commitment issues and Benoit is not buying, reasoning that Tony has not looked at one other woman in spite of the fact that ample comely ones have walked by. Coyly (would Tony act any other way?) he answers, “I am patiently waiting to find the right girl.” Benoit further probes if he will ever find her. “I am getting more and more confident by the day” is DiNozzo’s provocative response.
In another budding relationship, Mann pays Gibbs an unannounced visit at his house, much to his annoyance. Gibbs is finishing his boat by naming her “Kelly” after his dead daughter. Hollis makes conversation, ostensibly because she and Gibbs lead a joint investigation. Plowing too close to the cotton regarding the name Kelly, Mann is treated to the famous Gibbs silent stare. Among all of this intrigue, Gibbs and Hollis spend ample time inspecting one another’s anatomy. NCIS Director Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly) questions Gibbs about his working relationship with Mann, foreshadowing a complex relationship triangle.
While all efforts to accumulate essential evidence continue to fail, Director Shepard reveals to Gibbs CIA intelligence pointing to a suspected home-grown terror cell revealed by a CIA informant. Gibbs is dispatched to a warehouse where he meets Mann and Tony discovers that the true target of a discovered bomb were the two investigative units. Gibbs and Mann clear the building for the bomb squad, except Ziva, with Tony tagging along, disobeys Gibbs to stay and disarm the bomb in order to protect evidence. During the humid tension of the bomb deactivation Tony and Ziva have the most deliciously flirting, tempting, titillating dialog exchange of all four seasons of the show. Tony is definitely conflicted regarding David and Benoit.
Gibbs, grateful for the evidence saved by Ziva’s bomb deactivation, nevertheless expresses his displeasure at her disobedience, threatening should she ever do such again he will “kick [her] ass back to Israel.” Mann enters informing Gibbs that the CIA refuses CID and NCIS to speak with their source directly. Gibbs dispatches Agent Tim McGee (Sean Murray) to hack into the Homeland Security computer system for the name.
McGee identifies the informant as Mamoun Sharif (Enzo Cilenti) and Gibbs and Mann pay him a visit where he reveals under great duress at their presence how he came to the knowledge of the booby-trapped warehouse. He says he hears things from a variety of places frequented by Moslems, Gibbs presses him, and the informant gives him a VHS tape depicting men discussing the assignation at the golf course as “the beginning.”
Increased chatter is detected at NCIS and it is revealed that the CIA informant’s store has been bombed, killing the informant. The informant was burned alive before he was dismembered by a bomb. Gibbs and Mann recognize that the terrorist wanted to destroy something they wished the authorities not to find – the videotape.
Abby inspects the video tape, which has no sound, reading the lips (both Gibbs and Abby are fluent in American Sign Language and lip reading) of the people entering and exiting the store. Abby identifies one suspect named Abraham Moussalah (Arnell Powell) who she claims does not mention the golf course incident but does use the rhetoric of “the day of judgment is approaching.” NCIS fills in the details and finds the suspect is off the identification grid.
The cell phone recovered from the warehouse revealed a telephone number that leads the teams to where the terror cell is on the Georgetown promenade with a similar active phone. The team finds Abraham, looking at this cell phone and not knowing that he is carrying a bomb in a knapsack chained to his wrist. Gibbs determines the detonator is not the cell phone Abraham is using and suspects a time bomb in the knap sack. Gibbs strikes up a conversation with Abraham. In questioning Abraham, Gibbs discovers that the bag was given to Abraham by the CIA informant Mamoun Sharif and calls for Ziva to deactivate it. Gibbs believes that Sharif is still in the area and in the closing shot, Mann responds, “No, not anymore.”
“Sandstorm” offers fans the most fulfilling character development of this season. There is DiNozzo’s dialectic on justice and revenge with the dead Colonel’s son Josh Cooper. DiNozzo and David share the most intimate moment with Hemingway’s grace under pressure. And Gibbs spars with the attractive and tough Mann provocatively. The season is improving.