NCIS, Season 10, Episode 14: “Canary”
Written by Christopher J. Waild
Directed by Terrence O’Hara
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS
“Wouldn’t it be funny if…?”
Finish that question with a variety of unlikely hypothetical scenarios and you have the basic outline for the events in this episode. What if the team dressed out of character for an undercover arrest? What if characters acknowledged viewers’ investment in the relationships on the show? What if a cyber terrorist was foiled by an elaborate old-school set up? The answers comprise a plot brimming with “been there, done that” potential, the final impression depending on the consistency with current seasonal affairs and the originality to stand alone as a solid hour of drama.
Conceptualizing a story from a humorous standpoint is a familiar strategy to NCIS, its results landing on a hit-or-miss basis. Here the big picture amounts to an extravagant allusion used as a theatrical means of extracting information from a hired hacker. The opening is inexplicably rehearsed, a snatch-and-grab arrest that serves no purpose other than foreshadowing further use of role-playing antics. The entirety of the case from beginning to (unresolved) end begs for the suspension of disbelief, ushering away questions of plausibility. While the team is caught up in their mission to crack the suspect using any means necessary, Greg Germann returns as Deputy Director Jerome Craig, lending the outrageous premise a sense of reason and reality. With his feet firmly planted in the real world, Craig asks the questions of whether their approach is legal, ethical, or even necessary at all. These questions not only should be asked but they should have a better answer than the team can supply. Simply working off of the idea that national security is at stake doesn’t justify the lengths the team goes to convince the hacker that he is being transported to Guantanamo Bay in order to scare him into giving up his boss’ information. Their performances as prison escorts pay off, but any threat of consequences for the charade deserves consideration.
Continuing on lighter notes, the script leisurely allows for moments of eccentricities. Abby’s utterance of the term “McAbby” obliterates the fourth wall from behind which fans have been pining for more attention on the two lab rats. Other than fan service, Abby’s main contribution is a uniquely awful hair calamity that sticks out as a poorly-devised gag. Downgrading her role from the last episode, Abby is sidelined in order to emphasis the importance of field work and “old-school” interrogation techniques. For a story dealing with a high-tech criminal, however, a logical assumption would be to expect an episode that tactically replenishes McGee’s vitality. Instead, the writers aim for a more self-contained sequence of events, giving Gibbs the personal goal of tearing away at the hipster hacker’s inflated sense of invincibility while sticking McGee with the task of tracking down Ebola virus samples to be used by the hacker’s employee as a weapon. But the writers go one step further. Not only do they not give the tech-savvy McGeek the lead of a hacker case, but they introduce Kevin, the IT guy. Unlike Agent Ned Dorneget, (mentioned but not seen here), Kevin doesn’t exemplify the typical “new guy” by being a support to McGee, rather he completely replaces him in the (anti)climactic finale scenes. While McGee does only get to examine (but accidentally fry) a hard drive and pinpoint the location of the hacker’s employer, his role is significantly more prominent than in the last few episodes; but he still requires attention, a direct explanation for why he’s still an important member of the ever-changing team. Otherwise, he’s just another face going through the motions and speaking dialogue.
“Canary” is an episode that doesn’t require much from the audience. As a brain-teaser, it does all the hard work, providing decent thrills while proceeding through each clue like a well-oiled machine. As a serious addition to the season arc of love and loss between the characters, it takes a break from the drama, only asking that viewers play along and appreciate the efforts that went into making it a fun if not completely far-fetched joyride.