Saturday, October 13, 2007

TV Review: NCIS – Navy Criminal Investigative Services - "Family"

“Family” first aired Tuesday, October 2, 2007

”Family” opens with a gentleman in formal attire driving and, ill-advised, speaking on his cell phone. The well-dressed-man encounters another fast-moving car that fails to yield and the two collide. Our temporary protagonist bumps his head and subsequently breaks his nose when the safety airbag inflates. Apparently late for some formal engagement the gentleman speaks into the cell phone he is still holding, looks out the driver’s side window into the side-by-side barrels of a 12-guage shotgun just as it releases its soft lead pellets into his face, killing him instantly. The game is a foot.

Typical of most NCIS episodes, following the credits, the scene changes to elsewhere, in this case NCIS Headquarters. Mossad Agent-on-Loan-to-NCIS Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) and Special Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) are properly antagonizing Special Agent Timothy "Tim" McGee (Sean Murray) by, in turn, questioning him about his virginity status (McGee in the past had a tryst, if one can still call it that, with NCIS Forensics Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette)) and super gluing McGee’s fingers to his computer keyboard. Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) enters, informing his team to mount up, NCIS has a dead Navy Petty Officer to tend to.

At the scene of the crash, NCIS Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) examines the remains, discovering that the dead petty officer’s formal attire peels off like a basketball player’s shooting warm-ups, concluding that the petty officer was supplementing his income as a male stripper on the side. Next Ducky notes the shotgun insult, turning what Gibbs thought was a “hit and run” into a “shoot and scoot.” Furthermore, the car’s body damage and petty officer’s body injuries and position don’t add up, sending ducky into the woods to find the body of the projected, a woman.

The scene returns to Headquarters where the team inspects the evidence (the car belongs to one Nicholas Barnes (Owen Beckman)),lending them clues pointing toward the dead woman boyfriend, who turns out to be the son of an auto mechanic, Joseph Barnes (Nick Searcy). The dead woman is identified as Heidi, a well-known grifter with a mile-long police sheet. Ducky's autopsy reveals that Heidi died before the car accent due to blunt-force trauma and that she had very recently given birth, the baby missing. Gibbs is briefed and sets Abby to work.

Abby identifies from amniotic DNA that the Nicholas Barnes is not the father of Heidi's missing baby. McGee identifies a series of bank checks regularly deposited to Heidi's bank account by one Adrian Nelson. When questioned Mr. and Mrs. Nelson deny all knowledge of Heidi, but when Gibbs happens to speak with Mr. Nelson in private, the latter admits to having known Heidi and claims that she purloined and forged the checks. Unbeknownst to the Nelsons, McGee purloins DNA evidence from the couple to use to compare with that Abby has isolated from Heidi’s amniotic fluid.

Further investigation at Headquarters reveals that Heidi did not forge the checks, Mr. Nelson’s signature being legitimate and thus he is prevaricating. Tony investigations into Heidi's past victims reveal their (and there were several) uniform distaste for her because of her grafter treatment of them. Gibbs group considers the possibilities. Duck finds no baby’s deposited at orphanages or hospitals. The team begins to conclude that the killer was Nicholas Barnes.

In the laboratory Abby determines that the Nelsons are actually both the parents of the baby and Heidi is not the mother, only acting as a surrogate carrier. This begs that question whether the Nelsons murdered Heidi. The team returns to the Nelson house to find the occupants quickly exited, a baby’s room completely outfitted for an expectant infant. Gibbs and Ziva inspect nursery. Ziva and Gibbs have a dramatic character development scene regarding having children, while Gibbs returns to Headquarters to find McGee locating the Nelson’s car by GPS coordinates in their car.

In turn both McGee and Ziva confront Tony about Jeanne (the later by following Tony into the men’s toilet (something she is making a habit). Ziva points out that Tony did not think through his relationship with Jeanne. She tells him to control his emotions and Tony accosts her at this advice coming from the person who fell in love with the dead man walking Dead Man Walking. Ziva yanks up Tony's zipper (or squeezes his privates, hmmm.) and stalks out informing him he has “stepped over the line.” Tony says Ziva is the pot calling the kettle black and Gibbs enters.

Collectively Gibbs’ team locates the dead petty officer's car checks it, finding washed-off blood stains belonging to the petty officer and, oddly panda feces. Keeper of all things mundane, Abby points out that panda guano used to be used in paper manufacturing and that only one paper mill dealing with such was to be found "within 100 miles". The team drive to the mill where they find the Nelsons and realize too late that they interrupted the money-baby exchange. The Nelsons have the money and the kidnapper, the baby, while he or she drives off.

Gibbs and his team have a tense conversation where the Nelson’s become clean. The Nelsons explain the surrogacy arrangements with Heidi who had a viable uterus but no eggs, whereas Mrs. Nelson had eggs but no viable uterus. As paid surrogacy is illegal in Virginia, the Nelsons did not alert authorities of the baby’s kidnapping. Mrs. Nelson ends by threatening Gibbs if the baby dies, a weak dramatic flaw considering the previous legal ramifications of paid surrogacy.

After further emotional sparring between Ziva and Tony regarding love lost, prompting the intuitive viewer to wonder when Ziva and Tony take their relationship to a more intimate level, Abby rises to discover that the car originally carrying Heidi before her death had a new set of brake pads replaced with faulty pads, so the brakes would fail. This leads the team back to the garage and father and son Barnes. While the boyfriend, Nicholas Barnes, provides an alibi, his dad, Joseph Barnes, does not and it was his car seen at the paper mill and he also possesses a dise-by-side double-barrel 12-guage in his workshop. Joseph Barnes is arrested and Gibbs squeezes him for the baby’s location. The elder Barnes resists and Gibbs hands his badge to Ziva giving the elder Barnes a clear indication that Gibbs will proceed with his interrogation outside the purview of the law. This encourages Barnes to put a be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) on Nicholas Barnes, who has the baby.

Gibbs and Tony divine the fact that the father did not know the brake pads had been replaced with bad ones. The team finds Nicholas Barnes in the Barnes’ house, in the nursery, holding the baby. He explains that he and Heidi had planned to keep the baby but his father wanted to extort more money from the Nelsons.

Nicholas Barnes confesses that he loved Heidi and they planned to run away with the baby. The father intervenes taking the baby and killing Heidi, staging her death while Nicholas impotently did nothing. The brakes failed early Nicholas’ car wrecking with the petty officer. Joseph Barnes murders the marine. Nicholas queries Gibbs — "Am I in trouble?" Gibbs quiety responses that the "Prosecution's going to call it attempted murder: you're going to call it self-defense." Nicholas then asks Gibbs, "What do you call it?" Gibbs quips "Family." Nicholas is arrested and taken away and the Nelsons are united with their child.

In a jerking end, Tony sodden from the sprinklers having come on at the Nelson’s house moves over to the fire place and sits, alone, by the flames, looking Nelson’s with their baby. Tony pulls a letter from his jacket. He opens and reads it, "Tony, I am not coming back. You need to choose. Jeanne." Tony flashes back to Jeanne, both happy, in bed. He looks at Ducky with the parents and the baby. He looks back to Gibbs, McGee and Ziva and deposits the letter into flames, and walks towards the team. Ziva and McGee watch Tony but Gibbs watches the ignited letter.

”Family” is a splendid if lightweight second season episode that further develops our characters but at no rate to crow about. The episode had plenty of levity and intricate humor and allusions and stands heads and shoulders above the closing episodes of last season. The writer change has definitely benefited the series, but this writer expects much bigger and more compelling surprises as Season Five commences.


Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon)
Special Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly)
Mossad Agent-on-Loan-to-NCIS Ziva David (Cote de Pablo)
Special Agent Timothy "Tim" McGee (Sean Murray)
NCIS Forensics Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette)
NCIS Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum)
NCIS Director Jennifer "Jenny" Shepard (Lauren Holly)
NCIS Medical Examiner Assistant Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen)

Guest Stars:

Joseph Barnes (Nick Searcy),
Nicholas Barnes (Owen Beckman),
Adrian Nelson (Rick Otto),
Margaret Easly (Sara Nelson),
P.O. Christopher Munoz (Schuyler Yance)

Written By: Steven D. Binder
Directed By: Martha Mitchell

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007