NCIS, Season 10, Episode 17: “Prime Suspect”
Written by George Schenck and Frank Cardea
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr.
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS
The entirety of this episode is a balancing act: maintaining the heart of the matter in the midst of a complex series of constructed events. You have Gibbs juggling two cases, each with its own set of unusual circumstances, Director Vance’s return as head of the agency, the introduction of an “old friend” of Abby’s, but most importantly, the return of Probationary Agent Ned Dorneget.
Because the team is already hard at work on a case when the show opens at Gibbs’ local barbershop, the first case concerning money missing from a military base doesn’t have a chance to present itself in the usual fashion that engages viewers from the start. It simply sets up the scenario that requires Tony and Dorneget to go on an undercover mission to the Bahamas. Though it ends up being more of a snatch-and-grab recovery operation and less of a “whodunit?” mystery, their time in the Caribbean does give Dorneget (played by Matt Jones) the opportunity to have field experience with a senior agent. Tony taking advantage of the situation by hazing Dorneget isn’t surprising, but it also isn’t very funny. The hazing is comparatively mild in contrast to the pranks and slew of nicknames McGee has endured over the years, which fits with Tony’s development into a (somewhat) mellowed investigator, but the abrasive attitude Tony has towards Dorney’s respectful newbie approach is just as off-putting as it was with McGee. Tony’s flamboyant charisma only works on a playful level for so long until it runs its course and strains to earn laughs.
It makes sense that the writers chose to pair the two since Ned’s last field-trip was with McGee in last season’s “Need to Know”. It’s a smart move to mix it up and see how characters react to a shift in team dynamics, but the relationship between McGee and Dorneget is far more interesting to watch. We’ve already seen how Tony treats the “new guy” and there is no reason to stir up his antagonizing spirit even if there is a fresh face to target. McGee, on the other hand, has been the subject of Tony’s displays of mock hostility, but never a full-fledged leader. He’s had intermittent teaching moments with Jimmy Palmer in times of crisis and Ziva when she’s needed a crash course on the American social contract, but never with a junior agent completely at his mercy. Dorneget offers McGee a chance to rise in the chain of command and strive to act in ways that reflect his training from Gibbs despite contradicting leadership skills he’s learned from Tony. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of McGee in charge the next time Dorneget reemerges from the evidence locker.
It is important to note that McGee isn’t completely idle back in DC. McGee teaming up with Ziva to assist Gibbs in a low-key investigation into a slasher killer case is conceptually promising, but the case quickly loses the original appeal it earned from the barbershop conversation when it all comes down to a desperate reporter in need of a “big story” in the form of the murder investigation. One of the few genuinely funny moments comes from Gibbs’ frustration at having to pry information from the overly-excitable Abby and her temporary aid from the metro crime lab, her former college roommate Ramsey Boone (Keir O’Donnell). They are a fitting pair, but it would have been more beneficial to have met him earlier in past seasons when the MCRT worked with metro police more often; throwing a friendly, albeit unfamiliar, face into the story doesn’t seem necessary and will only prove to be if the writers decide to bring him back.
For not being an Abby-centric episode, this episode gives Abby quite a bit to do. Not only does it pair her with Ramsey, it also gives her a few great scenes with Vance. It’s not unusual for them to interact, but now we see Vance as a more approachable person, accepting Abby’s condolences and offering her a chance to channel her compassion into a constructive way to help his family. And we also see a mischievous side of the boss in issuing Tony a phony audit on Dorneget’s behalf, a sensible and safe prank for someone so high up in the ranks to pull; it’s not especially satisfying, but it’s the thought that counts.
While it succeeds in keeping all the plates spinning, “Prime Suspect” fails to define itself as an emotionally-charged episode by quickly falling into step with similarly-staged events of the past. Unfortunately, the intended poignancy of the final barbershop scene isn’t the most notable quality of the episode, a disconnect caused by the underdevelopment of the father and son characters. Instead, the directorial vision invested in several scenes, beginning with the slasher movie-inspired cold open, begins a series of dramatized shots that are visually interesting and unique. From a technical standpoint, James Whitmore, Jr.’s directorial style brings character to the show through the lens where the script fails to bring character to a complicated story overrun with oversimplified distractions.