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NCIS: A Couple of Wags - TV Guide 12/01/10
NCIS: A Couple of Wags
Stunt casting and emotional honesty usually tend to occupy mutually exclusive realms. But that wasn’t the case with “Flesh and Bone,” the 150th episode of NCIS, which had Robert Wagner making a first-time (and, everyone should hope, not last-time) appearance as Anthony DiNozzo Sr., father to Michael Weatherly’s “Junior.” When Wagner gets his big entrance in the crew’s D.C. offices, yes, it did feel like kind of a Love Boat senior-of-the-week moment—all rise for the honorable Jonathan Hart!—but by the end of the hour, it was clear the Wag had helped make this by far the finest episode of season 7, and maybe one of the best ever.
by Chris Willman January 12, 2010 04:28 PM EST
Initially it looked like Wagner might have been employed just for the Weatherly-esque twinkle in his eye… which, honestly, might’ve been enough. There’s enough of a resemblance even if you don’t have it in the back of your mind that Weatherly played Wagner in a 2004 TV movie about Natalie Wood, and it was great fun to have the 79-year-old actor doing a slight impression of his 41-year-old “son,” making it clear that the apple didn’t fall far from the roguish tree. But what worked so nicely even in the early parts of the episode was that Wagner was doing Weatherly, but Weatherly wasn’t doing Weatherly. Or, to put it another way, we got to see how a son who adopted all his dad’s charms might drop that charm when his estranged father is actually in the room.
And the shadings got deeper, for both the W’s. Wagner dropped his charm when Mark Harmon’s Gibbs took him aside into a conference room and upbraided “Senior” for not being much of a father to “the best young agent I’ve ever worked with,” at which point we got to see Papa DiNozzo’s steely side. And then, in a brilliantly played climactic scene in a hotel lobby, where it’s been revealed that Daddy is broke and won’t be able to pay his bill, Wagner gives great vulnerability as an eternal smoothie who knows he’s fallen off his game. The whole complicated father-son relationship here could stand as a terrific metaphor for any middle-aged kids who think of themselves as victims of their controlling parents and don’t know quite how to react when they see an aging mom or dad faltering.
Does this sound like heavy emotional baggage for an NCIS? It is, but writers George Schenk and Frank Cordeo and director Arvin Brown pulled it off in such quick, deft strokes, it didn’t feel any less breezy than the show at its most ephemeral. For fans who wait through some pretty goofy stuff for this kind of character development, it was a treat just to get those few seconds of silence as DiNozzo, who’s just been told “I love you” twice by his usually withholding dad, just stands there puzzled in the hotel lobby, not saying anything in return, even though we soon learn he’s already said “I love you” in advance by surreptitiously paying papa’s bill.
One criticism you could make of NCIS is that it almost always has great character scenes within an episode but rarely has them at the finish, since there’s usually some sort of whodunit business being wrapped up or future setup being established at the close. But “Flesh and Bone” had not just one great ending but two. That was partly due to the mystery of who did the killing being wrapped up about halfway through the hour and the question of why well before 9/8c this time. That left time not just for the hotel lobby scene, but also a denouement in which Tony and Gibbs clink bottles in the senior agent’s living room. At this point we find out how much love has gone unrevealed to certain parties: Tony doesn’t know that Gibbs gave his dad a pep talk or talked him up so highly; Dad doesn’t know that it wasn’t the Arab prince but Tony that chipped in untold thousands of bucks to keep him temporarily solvent and embarrassment free. Only surrogate dad Gibbs knows all, as usual.
And in these double-endings, NCIS gets to have it both ways, emotionally: First, in the hotel, by having one father break down and confess paternal love, and then, in the living room, taking the more macho approach, where manly men share steaks while agreeing that “Sometimes it’s better to keep what you know to yourself.”
The big three here were Wagner, Weatherly, and Harmon, but kudos also for how everyone else was allowed to make at least a small impression here, whether it was Abby (Pauley Perrette)—as usual, a sort of surrogate for the most enthusiastic members of the fan base—overenthusiastically sneaking into the interrogation room to get a gander at Tony Sr., or the casual aside by Ducky (David McCallum) which establishes Wagner’s credibility by agreeing that, yes, the ribeye in the hotel rooftop restaurant is to die for. So, for faithful fans, was this episode.
What did you think of "Flesh and Bone"?
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