Following the splendid “Requiem” an equally fine “Designated Target” shows a promise of the show gaining purchase with the dramatic traction of the new writing blood infused into the series.
Navy Rear Adm. Kenneth Kirkland’s (Matt Riedy) official government car has broken down, forcing the admiral to take a cab to a high level armed services meeting to which he is bringing eyes only intelligence. The cab driver, Atif Nukudna (Demetrius Grosse), turns through a park as a short-cut when a motorcycle with two riders pulls alongside the cab, the rider shooting the driver and then the admiral. The cab crashes and the motorcycle circles around to return to the cab. Curiously, the assassins step over the dead admiral and his classified documents to pick up the driver’s wallet, extracting a card and promptly leaving the scene. At NCIS headquarters, the team is summoned into action by Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon).
Initially, the NCIS team works on the assumption that the admiral was the intended target of the assassination until NCIS Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) determines that the cab driver’s fingerprints and photo identification were taken and one of his teeth pulled. The team concludes that it was actually the driver who was the target and that his tooth was pulled for a DNA sample and his fingerprints and photo ID taken for accurate identification.
Special Agent Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and Mossad Agent-on-Loan-to-NCIS Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) are dispatched to the cab company to investigate. The dispatcher, Chuck Bayliss (Stephen Lee), reveals that the driver Nukudna was working off of the books for cash only, a common practice for foreign drivers. Further investigation by the two agents reveals a series of murders of cab drivers, all having in common the modus operandi of a tooth pulled, with fingerprints and a photo ID taken. An additional commonality is that all of the drivers are Burundian.
Through a Holmesian set of circumstances; DiNozzo and Ziva are led to a restaurant where many of the Burundian cab drivers congregate. This trip leads the two ultimately to the “Professor” Delphin Abaka (Basil Wallace), who ostensibly is interested in helping them in their investigation. Suspicious, when DiNozzo and Ziva observe Abaka making a cell phone call, they have Special Agent Timothy "Tim" McGee (Sean Murray) trace it, triangulating the call to a phone number leading to a Burundian woman newly arrived in the United States. Just as the remaining team prepares to leave headquarters to locate the woman, she, Sayda Zuri (Xolile Tshavalala) arrives at NCIS headquarters to claim the body of her husband. If this were not dramatic enough shock, when Sayda is taken by Ducky to identify the body, she claims that the dead man is not her husband.
Not requiring a huge leap from point A to point B, the NCIS team deduces that the assassins are pursuing any cab driver who resembles Sayda’s husband. He, Thomas Zuri (Jonathan Adams), was a political activist in Burundi, who fled the country into a safe exile in the United States, leaving his wife behind. There are elements in the current Burundian government who do not want to see Zuri’s return, fearing his leadership of a competing political party opposing theirs.
As it turns out, the US State Department helped Zuri escape from Burundi. The NCIS team seeks out and interviews the ex-agent, Derrick Choyce (Anthony Starke), who dealt with his case and who is now working in the private sector (through a second set of Holmesian circumstances the team later determines Choyce is still a State Department agent, a fact that later establishes he also sold information to the assassins).
Choyce considered it obsolete intelligence, but he told NCIS that he believed the center of the case was taxi dispatcher, Chuck Bayliss. Bayliss was the only individual who knew all of the Burundian cab drivers working “off the books” and could identify and stay in contact with them. This sends the NCIS team back to the cab company for a follow-up with Bayliss, where they find Bayliss recently deceased and in time to observe the motorcycle assassins leaving the scene.
Meanwhile, back at NCIS headquarters, tracking down Thomas Zuri proves to be a challenge. NCIS Forensics Specialist Abigail "Abby" Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) takes a fingerprint that the missing man left on a locket he gave his wife (on the front of a photo in the locket, so it is a well preserved print) and they began trying to match the print cab drivers' licenses. Gibbs figures out that the target would have stopped cab driving when the first murder was reported and would be considered “off meter.” Gibbs has McGee search on what are known as Burundian “gypsy cabbies” who have not been working since the first murder. From five pictures that are revealed, Sayda Zuri identifies her husband's driver's ID photo. This leads the team to an address where NCIS arrives in time to prevent the "Professor" Delphin Abaka and the Burundian assassins from murdering Zuri in his own front yard.
When Gibbs speaks to Zuri, he professes concern about his wife and child. Gibbs, totally out of character and reality, actually brought Sayda Zuri along to the ultimate gun battle with the assassins where she sensibly remained in the car. Once Thomas Zuri came up the driveway beside his house, Sayda approaches him for a happy reunion, except he is shocked to see her. The reason for his surprise and ultimately Sayda’s, Thomas Zuri’s new wife and child emerge from the house, revealing that Zuri had moved on with his life after leaving Burundi.
Thomas Zuri tells Sayda Zuri that he thought her and their son were killed when their village was destroyed in the Burundi civil war. That and the fact that she never answered his letters (she having only received one), Zuri assumed the worst. In a most painful apology, Thomas tells Sayda he is sorry at the same time indicating she will not part of his future. Sayda reacts gracefully, telling him that she is only glad he is still alive.
Earlier in the episode, Ziva had been moved by Sayda’s belief that Thomas was her soul mate. Sayda’s reaction to Ziva and Ziva’s to her made of an intriguing juxtaposition of Sayda’s love for her husband and Ziva’s unresolved feelings for DiNozzo. Ziva did query Tony whether he believed in soul mates, receiving a toss-off typical of DiNozzo. The Ziva-DiNozzo dynamic shows no signs of clearing up anytime soon.
The show is making a human interest corner with “Designated Target,” and “Requiem,” and “Family” that is showing a softening Leroy Jethro Gibbs (but far from a complete softening). Season Five seems the one where Gibbs will be the great revelation.
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)
Sayda Zuri (Xolile Tshavalala)
Delphin Abaka (Basil Wallace)
Thomas Zuri (Jonathan Adams)
Chuck Bayliss (Stephen Lee)
Derrick Choyce (Anthony Starke)
Atif Nukudna (Demetrius Grosse)
Navy Rear Adm. Kenneth Kirkland (Matt Riedy)
Woman Dierdre (Holder)
Writers: Reed Steiner
Director: Colin Bucksey
This review was first published in Blogcritics.org
© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007