NCIS, Season 10, Episode 9: “Devil’s Trifecta”
Written by Steven D. Binder
Directed by Arvin Brown
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS
“We’re working on an IRS fraud case. You sleeping alone is more interesting.”
Truer words were never spoken. Tony can almost be credited for reading viewers’ minds when he comments on the case-of-the-week and McGee’s love life, comparing the routine procedural to the potentially-riveting “sexual escapades” of his co-worker. The return of Gibbs and Fornell’s ex-wife has brought tension to the squad room and rumors to the mill.
The last time anyone saw Diane Sterling (Melinda McGraw), she was professing her undying affection for Gibbs, realizing that she would never be to him what his first wife was, his one true love. Here she returns with a surprise for all: a badge. Now a member of the IRS crime division and an equal to her NCIS and FBI agent exes, she is assigned to work with both agencies after they catch on to her undercover operation.
The opening has Fornell (Joe Spano) in his car at the fictitious Beltway Burgers drive-in where he is shot at but manages to shoot back, killing the attacker. Thanks to time bought by his bullet-proof vest, Fornell is spared a tragic end. The episode dives right into the case, forgoing the traditional post-elevator-chime bullpen scene, and continues the morning after as Gibbs arrives on the scene. Besides Gibbs’ friendly relationship to Fornell, there appears to be no connection between the shooting and NCIS until they discover that the shooter was Navy, a detail that excuses a joint-investigation.
They trace the shooter back to a bar where he worked as a bouncer. Diane makes her entrance and is caught in her undercover lie, having convinced Gibbs and Fornell that she was auditing the bar while telling the owner that she wanted to purchase the business. Once at NCIS, Diane is not amused at being thrown into interrogation with Tony, who himself is less than thrilled at being trapped in the small enclosure with the woman not known for pleasant exchanges. Rocky Carroll returns after a multiple-episode absence as the Director, interrupting Diane’s insult-spewing verbal rampage to release her from custody. The truth not only sets Diane free, it also gains her new-found respect from Gibbs and the confidence to assert her dominance as she assumes lead of the case.
The case unwinds ever so slowly, leading from the shooter at the drive-in (who was hired to take out Diane when her cover was blown), to a missing accountant (who is later found stabbed- obviously not the mastermind), to a house filled with crates of frozen fish and a body. Fornell assists viewers by stating the not-so-obvious, the nearly unrecognizable dead man was a guy they had previously met, sitting drunk at the bar. The bar turns out to be the home of a identity theft operation; the dead man being only one link in a chain of throwaway characters that includes Fornell’s shooter and the missing accountant.
The frozen fish add an element of inquiry for a brief moment when Abby finds that each of the tuna contains a cell phone which the MCRT easily track to their origin. In a decisive move, Diane volunteers to once again rely on her iffy talent of undercover work to get close to the leader of a pack of fraudulent businessmen. Her cover is quickly blown (again) when she mistakes her target for the boss, who is actually another middle man. The real mastermind is a previously-interviewed nobody, of course. The show is at a creative roadblock where only a few guesses on the viewers’ behalf can correctly deduce the identity of the weekly antagonist. The writing fails to excite or intrigue, only eliciting a few short-lived chuckles with its subplot.
Gibbs and Fornell enlist Tony, Ziva, and McGee to deal with Diane, an effort to keep their ex as distant as their duties will allow. Each agent has their own unique experience with the woman; Tony has his aforementioned face-off in interrogation and Ziva learns about Diane’s troubled marriage history when the two go to unknowingly interview the man behind the whole scheme; but McGee gets the most screen time than he has in recent episodes when he sleeps with the ex-Mrs. Gibbs/Fornell.
When Gibbs and Fornell realize that Diane was the intended target of the drive-in shooting, they insist that she stay in a safe house. Since neither is willing to play host, they force McGee to take her home with him. In a moment of awkward emotional distress, Diane asks for a hug from McGee, who declines at first. Gibbs and Fornell walk in the next morning to Diane asleep in McGee’s arms. It doesn’t appear that “something” happened, but McGee spends the rest of the episode trying to convince Fornell, who is notably suspicious about his ex’s personal life.
Due to his character’s decreased presence, Sean Murray almost comes across as a recurring guest star, suddenly back in the familiar spotlight. His dialogue is written so that his reaction to Diane’s constant pestering makes him rude and abrupt, unlikable even. And although he has grown over the course of the series, the most recent seasons have diminished his importance to the team dynamic. Ziva, Tony, and Abby have learned most of his tricks, all having had their moments of tech genius, so that he’s not required to complete the team. His scenes with Fornell are light and funny, mostly because of Spano’s deadpan stare, but Murray can only do so much when his poorly-devised storylines limit McGee’s appeal.
The idea sounds like a fool-proof recipe for entertainment: mix a few exes with a criminal investigation and an ambiguous night on a couch and you get a tasteful blend of spontaneous comedic moments and juicy action and danger. In a disappointing twist, the only surprising thing about this serving of bland writing and neglected characters is just how unsatisfying it is.