Season 11's third episode of NCIS, ‘Under the Radar’, showed a return to old fashioned teamwork when it aired on October 8th. And teamwork, it turns out, is just what the medical examiner ordered. 'Under the Radar', directed by Dennis Smith and written by George Schenk and Frank Cardea, began with an investigation into a booby-trapped apartment, and was soon elevated to a national security concern.
The episode starts out with a problem: McGee (Sean Murray) apparently lost his federal agent credentials. But what seemed like a throwaway element was actually a plot device on which the whole show revolved.
The apartment of a Junior Grade Lieutenant has been rigged to explode, killing the building manager, and the Lieutenant is nowhere to be found. While the MCRT tries to track down the motive and Lieutenant Terrance Keith (Tyler Wolfe), Special Agent Vera Strickland drops in to spend her last two weeks before retirement at Headquarters.
Roma Maffia guest stars as Strickland, who was the late Mike Franks's last partner. To her chagrin, Strickland ends up assigned to help the MCRT with this case. Strickland is paired with DiNozzo and hilarity ensues. Strickland moans and groans, and treats DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) like the trouble magnet he is; it was a nice return to normalcy. Maffia gets some great lines and spits them out deliciously.
"I only have two weeks left. I shouldn't even be in the same room as this moving target." - Vera Strickland about being partnered temporarily with Tony DiNozzo.
McGee’s new girlfriend Delilah (played by Margo Harshman) is absent from this episode, giving he and Abby some time to bond as friends and go to a Sterile Puppets concert. The excursion’s impact was twofold; McGee realizes the lost credentials may have dropped at the concert and is afraid to officially report that they’re missing. His sweating it out during the majority of the episode added some well-placed levity and good intereaction with DiNozzo.
More importantly, the true plot device: Tim and Abby (Pauley Perrette) talk through how to find the Lieutenant and Abby realizes the Puppets are very connected to their fan base by social media. Why not work the case via Twitter? Using the hashtag #findthisplane, Puppets's fans in the Twitterverse help track the Lieutenant's plane, which is carrying enough explosives to take out the aircraft carrier Ben Franklin.
The #findthisplane search was a clever way to weave social media and popular technology into what started as an ‘old school’ investigation. Of course, the Twitter connection spawned some script gems; a quip by DiNozzo, "#thiscouldworkboss"…and the deadpanned line “What’s a hashtag?”uttered by technology Luddite Gibbs (Mark Harmon).
"What's a hashtag?" - Leroy Jethro Gibbs
Of course, not to be overlooked is that "Under the Radar" is the first episode since the departure of Cote de Pablo at the end of last week's “Past, Present, Future.” However, during the first 20 minutes or so, de Pablo's character Ziva David was referred to several times and it was clear the team could not just dismiss her from their memories. The references were nicely done, especially DiNozzo answering Ziva's phone and sadly declaring "She doesn't work here anymore," Abby giving Ziva’s scarf to Tim “to make him feel better," and the three male Agents quickly and simultaneously shooing Strickland away from sitting at Ziva's desk.
Gibbs, DiNozzo, McGee and Abby have nice moments together and separately in "Under the Radar," DiNozzo shows off his eerily accurate marksmanship by taking out the tires of a moving truck (see video), and the investigative team is summoned to the White House for saving the day. The episode also gives a glimpse into Palmer (Brian Dietzen) and Breena’s adoption process, which is a storyline expected to gain some traction as the season progresses.
It would have been nice to see DiNozzo visit Gibbs in the basement to talk out some of what happened in Israel. Do we presume it already happened in the week DiNozzo came back? Will it be a future scene? Perhaps it is just one of those off-camera situations that remains outside of canon and left to the imagination.
Overall, “Under the Radar” was a solid and satisfying episode, and Maffia's abrasively funny Strickland was a welcome diversion for both the team and the audience.
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