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NCIS, Ep. 10.1, “Extreme Prejudice”: Strong premiere misses opportunities for growth, introspection

NCIS, Ep. 10.1, “Extreme Prejudice”: Strong premiere misses opportunities for growth, introspection

NCIS, Season 10, Episode 1: “Extreme Prejudice”
Written by Gary Glasberg
Directed by Tony Wharmby
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

A bomb blast has wreaked havoc on the U.S. Navy Yard.

The premiere opens right where the show left off last season. Doctor Mallard, who was last seen suffering from a heart attack on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, is alive. He and his assistant discuss the best way to aid their co-workers, of whom they have heard no news. After ten years, Brian Dietzen has earned his place in the opening credits in the role of assistant medical examiner Jimmy Palmer. The scenes between these two are bittersweet and simple, acting on behalf of the audience, asking the question that everyone wants to know the answer to- Who survived?

The NCIS building has been severely damaged, but not destroyed. Gibbs stands surveying the aftermath with nothing but a scratch to the head. Abby is alive, sitting forlorn amidst the wreckage. McGee is discovered in the bull pen, dazed, and with a shard of glass piercing his side. Tony and Ziva are shown stuck in the elevator, bickering, every movement heightening the sexual tension between the two, as usual. The tone of the episode doesn’t quite reach the levels of fear and anxiety that would seem appropriate for when caught in a bomb blast. There is no sense of loss. With weekly crime shows comes the expectation of the potential fatality of a guest star and the occasional death of a series regular, but this event requires much more focus on the psychological repercussions of facing a terrorist attack. Each actor does their fair share in the moment, but the real issue is that there are not enough moments to solidify an emotional punch. The large-scale story deserves more screen-time. Unfortunately, when you whittle away the breaks and credits from an hour-long program, you’re left with forty minutes to deal with everything that follows a bombing against characters in whose lives you’ve invested almost a decade.

Once everyone has brushed the dust off themselves (which takes a few months), the real work begins- finding Harper Dearing, who has faked his death and proves to be a formidable, albeit dull and uncharismatic, foe. Introduced last season, Dearing (Richard Schiff) is a morally deficient entrepreneur who seeks to reveal the weaknesses of the nation’s military forces as a means of avenging his son, who died a proud naval officer while defending his country. Last season, Dearing’s pursuit of twisted justice led him to Leroy Jethro Gibbs, with whom Dearing shares only the similarity of being a grieving father. Here Schiff gives an underwhelming performance in his role as a deluded mastermind that has nothing left to lose. There is a calm but stale presence on screen as Dearing fails to fall for the seduction of an FBI agent, calls the Navy’s high-security Major Threat Assessment Center via what looks like a  FaceTime-enabled device, and, finally confronts Gibbs, which leads to his inevitable demise.

Opposite Schiff, Mark Harmon is the unquestionable MVP of the episode in his role as the unflappable team leader. The most poignant moments of the season opener arrive when Gibbs’ loyalty to his team, his family, and his feelings of exposure and helplessness are expressed through conversations with Director Vance (Leon Carroll), who feels guilty for the tragedy befallen his agency, and agent Fornell (Joe Spano), whose long-enduring relationship with Gibbs provides a few opportunities for reflection . But Gibbs won’t back down. He is a man of action. There was never a doubt that Gibbs would be the one to take down Dearing, but his cold manner of killing his opponent reveals his sense of true justice and the protective nature he has towards the people with whom he spends every day working and risking his life alongside. No one hurts Gibbs’ family and gets away with it.

In the spirit of the legacy of Don Bellisario, creator of  Magnum P.I., Quantum Leap, and JAG, the tenth season of NCIS begins its run with the same fast-paced consistency of its predecessors. Unfortunately, the old-fashioned serial format doesn’t allow for as much focus on the devastation as is needed to fully comprehend the impact of the tragedy of last season’s closing moments or appreciate the triumph of survival seen here. The lighter moments typical of the veteran show seem out of place among the debris and chaos. Scripted laughter in the face of peril is not uncommon for the ratings juggernaut, but this is not a normal scenario. This is the beginning of a massive process of healing and restoration. Despite the shortcomings of limited screen time, a few predictable plot points, and the lack of an all-around remarkable script, “Extreme Prejudice” is an impressive accomplishment in television production that lays the foundation for the return to normalcy in a world where fear can only be defeated by the overpowering desire to see the good in humanity.

Amanda Williams