The episode opens on the unfortunate new NCIS spin off crew, in a two episode effort to introduce to you the spin-off of a spin-off… so, really the Bellisario version Law and Order: Criminal Intent or CSI: New York… in other words, practically doomed to fail from the start. After the credits roll we move back to DC, with Tony and McGee in a typical banter. With Ziva taking a private call, it can only be assumed it is setting up for her leaving the country later in the season. Why? Any time music is cued on NCIS with a Middle Eastern tone it is related to a David and is never good (see seasons 1, 2, and 3 with Ari Haswari, Ziva's brother). More set up to a possibly devastating season ending is the fact that the dead body of the episode, Chandler, is linked to Los Angeles. In the world of NCIS Los Angeles is a dreaded place. The last time the crew was there former director Jenny Shepard was killed. Let it be said now that if Ziva dies, at the end of this season or in the season opener next season, the creators will be breaking a very specific pattern. While women tend to die on the show (Caitlin Todd, Paula Cassidy, Jenny Shepard) the two women, leads who survive, Ziva David and Abby Scuito, survive because they are strong women. More could be said about this relevant theme, but now is not the time for twenty pages of analysis.

On with the episode: Director Vance orders Gibbs and McGee to go to LA to look into an arms dealer case possibly related to their current dead body case. Thankfully Abby voices the same concerns I had with LA, "Gibbs, its just that the last time you went to LA one of you didn't come back." Tony checks on Ziva, who lies to him and is currently sitting with Michael, someone her father has "sent". Another worry, when Daddy David steps in there is only devastation in his wake. McGee and Gibbs arrive in LA to meet the new spin-off crew. Apparently there is some bad blood between Gibbs and Lara Macy… women involved with Gibbs also tend to die. Time spent with the new crew and not with any of the veteran cast of the original series is not on screen is time wasted for me. The touch screen technology, blatantly highlighted by LL Cool J's character, Sam Hanna, brings back my nightmarish experiences watching CNN trying to use their "hologram" technology during the elections. Leave that distraction with Criminal Minds. If they are trying to make the spin-off the antithesis of Gibb's NCIS then they are passing with flying colors. Callen (Chris O'Donnell), the "rogue" agent Macy's group is looking for is talking with Gibbs. Their conversation stinks of an attempt at molding Callen into a younger Gibbs. Note to creators: as there is only one Mark Harmon, there is only one Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

The Ducky/DiNozzo conversation in the morgue about Ziva discusses the earlier episode of Ziva's undercover operation in Morocco that almost led to her death. Tony's first move is to watch the news footage of Ziva being loaded into an ambulance. DiNozzo works with Abby to find the identity of the man in the news reel, and it is Michael. This is a fantastic call back to one of the first episodes in the season, keeping season arc narratives extremely tight. Meanwhile, Ziva finds a lead and the two investigate, to find that the construction brothers Benji and Stefano tortured and killed Chandler under the order of Liam. The case is solved by the Gibbs/Macy joint operation and Callen is brought in to take Liam's place. Tony questions Ziva in the elevator, the place of confession, and Ziva admits to talking to Michael. Two-parter cliffhanger has Callen-as-Liam attending Liam's next meeting, only to find out that it is Ziva's Michael. And with that we get the standard back and white still with "To Be Continued".

Overall, this was not a good episode, and I assume "Part 2" is just as awkward. The reason why NCIS works so well, and has gained impressive, steady ratings and viewership is because of the well oiled machine that is their tight, ensemble cast. Without Gibbs, DiNozzo, McGee, Abby, Ducky, and Ziva there would be no reason to watch the show, no emotional tie to the characters. This necessary closeness to the characters is clearly visible in other crime shows as well, the best example being the success of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit over the other L&O varietals. SVU is the most popular because of Benson and Stabler. The episodes sans this famous partnership cause heavy ratings drops. The lesson: stick to what works instead of bleeding a franchise dry.

McGee nicknames: McContrary, McGoo, McProbie, McChitty Chat,
Tiva moments: 5
McAbby moments: 0
Ducky/Corpse Convos: 0
Gibbs' Slap: 0
Tony's Film References: 0

Overall Episode Rating: 2/5 and only because of Tony and Ziva.

NCIS cast: Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Sasha Alexander, Pauley Perrette, Pauley Perrette, Alan Dale, Lauren Holly, Cote de Pablo, more

Story by Sarah Lafferty

Starpulse contributing writer