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NCIS, Ep. 10.07, “Shell Shock (Part II)”: Extended story respects its subject but distracts with unnecessary subplot

NCIS, Ep. 10.07, “Shell Shock (Part II)”: Extended story respects its subject but distracts with unnecessary subplot

NCIS, Season 10, Episode 7: “Shell Shock (Part II)”
Written by Gina Monreal
Directed by Tom Wright
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

Previously on NCIS…

Captain Joe Wescott attacked a man out of paranoia from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. NCIS was called in to investigate when Wescott’s best friend ended up dead after the attack. When they took Wescott into custody for the murder of his companion, Gibbs recognized that Wescott is suffering from PTSD and worked to get the man proper psychiatric help. When it turned out that the other man in the alley on the night of the fight was actually a member of a foreign rebel group, the search for a real killer begins…

Gibbs approaches Wescott (Brad Beyer) with the hope that he will further assist in the investigation as a witness to help track down Randall Kersey (David Hoflin), the man Wescott attacked in the alley. Though Wescott is initially reluctant to continue to involve himself in the case, one that continues to bring back painful memories of his time overseas, he agrees to stay.

Here we see Gibbs even more concerned with Wescott’s emotional state. He reaches out and lets Wescott stay at his house, which is not too uncommon for the softening marine, but what is really unusual and moving is that Gibbs seeks out Wescott’s Navy-appointed psychiatrist for pointers on figuring out how to help Wescott recover. It’s obvious that the writers wanted to further explore the effects of PTSD, but they go beyond cold hard facts by giving Gibbs a personal mission to learn how he and others can help Wescott and others like him. Every word Gibbs speaks is on behalf of any citizen willing to make a difference.

Emotional trauma acts as the main case- how to best carry on after a traumatizing experience and integrate back into society. The actual case, the search for Kersery, isn’t as crucial to the episode’s overall impact. The team connects every dot and follows every lead until they find him. The first episode of the two started with a much different structure, highlighting Wescott’s personal struggles and letting the procedural aspects simmer on the side. In this episode, the show struggles to balance the two. It continues to focus on Wescott while having to remind viewers that there is a case to follow. The pay-off is almost unrecognizable. The stakes are so low that it’s easy to forget Kersey’s purpose as an antagonist. Originally introduced to add shock value to Wescott being right about Kersey, the realization that Kersey really is working with ‘the enemy’ loses its initial intrigue. The lack of urgency, even during a bomb threat near the finale, leaves the criminal elements uninteresting and only necessary in properly giving closure to Wescott’s journey.

The only thing left to entertain during the search is Tony’s fascination with Ziva’s plans to go to the opera. In yet another episode that uses everything but subtlety to foreshadow the inevitable pairing of the two agents, Tony begins an unreasonably determined search to identify her date. After questioning Ziva and asking McGee to do it in his absence, Tony learns the truth. Ziva tells him in an intimate moment similar to their lunch break conversation from last week that she goes to the opera every year in remembrance of her deceased sister who dreamed of performing on stage. Ziva’s plans are seemingly ruined when the opera is sold out, but Tony makes a CD for Ziva to listen to in the bullpen after work where she takes a moment to honor her sister before Thanksgiving dinner.

Without Gibbs’ personal life to analyze, Tony and Ziva are left as targets of the show’s tendency to require a distinct character piece in each episode. Instead of letting the team put themselves in the case and relate to it, the show contrives a way to add a soulful story just in time for the holidays. Because Tony and Ziva are always partnered together, it would only seem fitting (and predictable) to focus on Ziva after last week’s story about Tony’s memorializing photos. And while the sentiment in the writing is genuine, Cote de Pablo fails to make a connection to her character’s grief as she sits lifelessly in her chair, listening to the music produced by her future lover.

The decision to focus on Tony and Ziva leaves little spotlight for the forensic goth and the forensic nerd. Abby and McGee are sidelined for yet another week without any development, though Abby has significantly more to do throughout the episode than McGee. Abby and Gibbs employ different methods to piece together Wescott’s recollection of both the ambush in Afghanistan and the alley attack from the previous episode. Abby attempts to jog Wescott’s memory with a high-tech simulation program to fill in the blanks of the night of the ambush while Gibbs’ technique is a little more “old school”, having Wescott retrace his steps from the night of the attack in the alley when he first saw Kersey. Gibbs’ method proves more productive as it leads to a few runaways who serve as messengers for Kersey, delivering packages containing bombs to their intended target. Once in custody, Kersey’s resistance in interrogation and his loyalty to his fellow terrorists deprives him of any hope of redemption and so ends his short-lived story arc.

“Shell Shock (Part II)” concludes with a message from series stars Mark Harmon and Pauley Perrette concerning the need for veterans to receive support and treatment for PTSD. Though the closing statements most likely won’t be included in rebroadcasts, it’s apparent that NCIS has done its part in spreading the word. The cause that the two-part episode strives to acknowledge is far more worthy of screen time than the additional side stories presented only to mark the holiday. The material provided to elaborate on Wescott’s condition alone could have made for a decent hour-long episode. But when it comes to generating awareness for those in need, anything less than a television event would have come and gone, fading out of memory much like the rest of this season.

Amanda Williams