The episode opens with Navy Lt. Roni Seabrook (Jennifer Lynne Wetzel) testing a robotic Hummer prototype named “Otto,” in preparing for a demonstration to the Department of Defense. The outcome of this demonstration will provide the developers of “Otto” with an exclusive contract guaranteeing the company the much needed capital to get fully off the ground. Lt. Seabrook vocally directs the vehicle through several test scenarios, recording her results and observations to the project laptop. While parking “Otto,” Lt. Seabrook attempts to disengage her seatbelt, setting off a sequence of events where the seatbelt tightened on her, the doors locked, the windows rolled up and the car directed its exhaust to the vehicle’s interior. Unable to reach the kill switch, Lt. Seabrook perishes.
At NCIS, the team is attending a required sexual harassment seminar being presented by a humorous woman who color codes personal contact as green, yellow, and red. This sets up the comedic allusions for the rest of the episode. The instructor is not used to the likes of Forensics Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette), who she tells must now ask before she hugs the team, Special Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), who wants to know if it is inappropriate to slap his co-workers on the back of the head Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon)-style. When describing the most inappropriate “Red” behavior, Ziva licks the reclining Tony’s neck, prompting him to make a scene at the same time that the team is called into action for the death of a Navy officer at a DOD subcontractor candidate facility.
The DOD subcontractor is populated with the requisite oddballs. Project Leader Dr. Russell Pike (Lawrence Pressman) is from the Ken Lay school of benevolence, fatherly and clueless. There is the arrogantly Teutonic Torsten Anglers (Peter Giles), associate and rival of Lt. Seabrook, a blonde-haired blue-eyed anvil German. And mechanic Jaime Jones (Kevin Alejandro), with whom Lt. Seabrook carried on a lively and violent tryst, captured on camera getting rough with the Lieutenant the night before her death. He is found tied up in her bed by Mossad Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) and Tony, who just returned from the hospital seeing his sweetheart, Dr. Jeanne Benoit (Scottie Thompson). Ziva suspects that Tony is not telling her something, though she is on the major wrong track.
Brainiacs Agent Timothy "Tim" McGee (Sean Murray) and Abby figure out that a small bit of assembly computer code was added to the bios of the AI system that runs “Otto” instructing the vehicle to behave as it did when Lt. Seabrook tried to remove her seatbelt. Tim listens to the mp3 files recorded by the Lieutenant in the closing minutes of her life while Abby regenerates those same closing minutes almost losing her life except for her rescue by Gibbs. Then they found the chip used to insert the code.
Meanwhile, Dr. Pike wants the car back and it is discovered to have been driven off by remote control. The team tracks it down and finds the chip (a copy of the original that is in the NCIS safe) gone. Abby and team track the remote control to the DOD subcontractor candidate site and to the particular computer used to drive “Otto” out of NCIS. Just when it appears that uber-German Engler is the murderer until Gibbs pulls a fast one with yet another memory chip that he gives to Dr. Pike. Pike erases the disc and claims there was never anything on it. Gibbs points out that the original disc is back at headquarters and what Dr. Pike had erased were Gibbs’ pictures. Case closed.
On the character development front, the ever removed Ziva is finally closing in on the fact that Tony has a love interest that is not her, though she is not quite there yet. Despite her always talking a good game, the viewer may now suspect her being disingenuous about her feelings for Tony. Tony is still moonlighting for NCIS Director Jennifer "Jenny" Shepard (Lauren Holly), conducting surveillance of several international crime operatives. In a bit of awkward foreshadowing, it appears that Tony’s disguise is uncovered by one of the criminals, potentially putting him in danger in future episodes. Abby is aware that the gentlemanly Tim is interested in her and she continues to playfully tease him. No sign of the diminutive Marty Pearson (Michael Gilden), Abby’s new friend from episodes “Smoked” and “Once a Hero.”
While definitely not one of the better episodes, “Driven” makes up for the weak plot with the evolution of relationships. This is the most entertaining cast of characters in what can now be defined as the crime scene procedural. NCIS rightfully will never be considered great television in the same way St. Elsewhere, Mash and Miami Vice were 20 years ago, but it is steadfast in not taking itself too seriously as do Criminal Minds and the CSI family. It is in that fact that NCIS has its charm.
Forensics Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette)
Special Agent Anthony "Tony" Dinozzo (Michael Weatherly)
Agent Timothy "Tim" McGee (Sean Murray)
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon)
NCIS Director Jennifer "Jenny" Shepard (Lauren Holly)
NCIS Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum)
Mossad Agent Ziva David (Cote de Pablo)
NCIS Medical Examiner Assistant Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen)
Navy Lt. Roni Seabrook (Jennifer Lynne Wetzel)
Regine Smidt (Sandra Hess)
Parviz Najar (Ajay Mehta)
Trent Kort (David Dayan Fisher)
Martin Quinn (Corey Stoll)
Tracy Taylor (Deidrie Henry)
Jaime Jones (Kevin Alejandro)
Torsten Engler (Peter Giles)
Dr. Russell Pike (Lawrence Pressman)
This review was first published in Blogcritics.org© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006