“Blow Back” first aired February 6, 2007
Could anyone play a dangerous foreign (never mind the nationality) operative with better than and with the effortlessness as Armand Assante? Doubtful. NCIS is graced with Assante’s virile presence, ever so brief, in “Blow Back.” The journeyman actor plays the mysterious arms dealer whose code name is "La Grenouille" (The Frog). His presence and the revelation of several side relationships marks the best, most integrated NCIS episode of the 2006-2007 season.
The story begins with the apprehension and kidnapping of an Israeli arms intermediate, Eli "Goliath" Lisack (Assaf Cohen) by mysterious forces that turn out at the end of the segment as Special Agent Anthony "Tony" Dinozzo (Michael Weatherly) and Mossad Agent-on-loan Ziva David (Cote de Pablo). Lisack, having been sedated in the kidnapping, awakens on a small jet plane with DiNozzo and Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), where he is relentlessly taunted by Gibbs and DiNozzo, who tell him a variety of tales about their destination. Ziva enters the cabin and stops short of issuing Lisack a now famous NCIS female ass kicking for being a treasonous Israeli. Just when Lisack thinks he is going to be turned over to a foreign concern to be disposed of, he finds himself deplaning in Washington DC. En route, Lisack gives up rogue American arms operative with former ties to national intelligence, Charles Harrow (Fred Tate), who, as Lisack reveals, has agreed to sell the U.S. Navy’s intelligence software, Ares, to the highest international bidder.
At NCIS headquarters, Special Agent Timothy "Tim" McGee (Sean Murray) and Forensics Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) discover more information about the mysterious Charles Harrow. Discovering his address, Gibbs sends Ziva and McGee (couldn’t find DiNozzo, who was wooing the comely Dr. Benoit on the cell phone) to Harrow’s address. DiNozzo and Gibbs begin scouring intelligence about Harrow and stumble upon a Trent Kort (David Dayan Fisher) who turns out to be a suspect that NCIS Director Jennifer "Jenny" Shepard (Lauren Holly) had DiNozzo watch in a previous episode. Gibbs notes the surprise on DiNozzo’s face at seeing Kort and asks him if he knows Kort. DiNozzo lies to Gibbs.
Visibly shaken, DiNozzo barges into the director’s office while an assistant is tending to the Director’s broken bra strap, the ensuing conversation can only be described as titillating. Getting down to business, DiNozzo informs Shepard of his discovery. Shepard is curious as to why this man was not identified earlier than now (a keen bit of foreshadowing noted). DiNozzo is expresses his fear for having lied to him. Gibbs is brought into the discussion, making the scene more awkward than the broken bra strap. Shepard asks Gibbs to call off Ziva and McGee and he toys with her. She loses her temper and directly orders Gibbs. In the meantime, Ziva and McGee are hot on the hunt. They just begin to apprehend Harrow when they are called off by Gibbs and ordered to only follow, but not approach him.
Back at NCIS, Gibbs and Shepard have a spirited discussion of Shepard’s use of DiNozzo, the Director chiding Gibbs for having quite. Gibbs brings up the distant past with Shepard and Paris, prompting the Director, in a beautifully choreographed scene of sexual tension, to pull rank on Gibbs. DiNozzo is monitoring the bidding on Ares, identifying an Irish national as one the bidders. Tony expresses his regret to Gibbs for having lied to him. Gibbs is equivocal. Ziva and McGee have their cover blown and set out on a foot chase with Harrow, who runs up a set of stairs, experiences a myocardial infarction, and promptly dies. The Director proves unimpressed with the loss of her most valuable intelligence asset.
Shepard completely loses her shit with her staff, an experience only intensified by Gibbs’ insolent chiding. Gibbs suspects that Shepard’s interest in Harrow has nothing to do with Ares. Ziva and DiNozzo are dispatched to Harrow’s house to recover anything that may look like Ares. Gibbs approaches the Director for some answers regarding this entire case. Shepard reveals that in the past she knew La Grenouille (Armand Assante) and that something personal is amiss. Ziva and DiNozzo return with the goods to NCIS headquarters and Abby and McGee find Ares among all of the stuff. The team determines when and where Harrow was supposed to meet La Grenouille (with highest bidder for the Ares program) and then realize they no longer have Harrow to make the meeting. NCIS is in need of a certain late-sixties English gentleman.
Enter NCIS Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum), who is tapped to conduct the exchange with La Grenouille. The team is assembles replete with the sniper team (Archangel) of DiNozzo and Ziva (Ziva as marksman). Ducky meets the operatives and turns over the software. He is then approached by La Grenouille with whom he converses in French about Italian opera. They seal the deal in Ducky’s car, drinking 200-year old cognac. Ducky finds the poisonously urbane La Grenouille charming who reveals his name as Rene. To help Ducky cover, he wears an earwig and is directed by McGee over the technical points. Before La Grenouille departs, Duck presses him for payment (which is in diamonds). As La Grenouille ascends into the plane, Shepard is asked by Ziva to give the kill order. Shepard receives a 911 call on her phone. She calls down Ziva and reveals that the CIA is in deep cover on the plane with La Grenouille, ostensibly in the guise of Trent Kort.
By ten lengths is “Blow Back” the best episode of the season. Finally NCIS writers have quite farting around and begun a story line with meat. What propel episodic shows are questions. What was Shepard’s relationship with La Grenouille? What is Shepard’s relationship with DiNozzo? What are Shepard’s feelings toward Gibbs? Where is DiNozzo going with his relationship with Benoit? Where does Ziva, who is now a third wheel, fit in? When will McGee and Abby re-consummate their relationship? “Blow Back” shows NCIS getting its traction and accelerating toward the season’s end.
Forensics Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette)
Special Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly)
Special 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)
Cynthia Sumner (Stephanie Mello)
La Grenouille (Armand Assante)
Trent Kort (David Dayan Fisher)
Martin Quinn (Corey Stoll)
Charles Harrow (Fred Tate)
Nick Hurley (Jim Parrack)
Charles Harrow (Fred Tate)
Max Phillips (David Batiste)
Regine Smidt (Sandra Hess)
This review was first published in Blogcritics.org
© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007