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NCIS - House Rules - Review: "Mixed feelings"

Even a week after NCIS' Christmas episode, I still have mixed feelings about it. It was described as "a love letter to the fans" but it didn't feel that way after having seen it. Since a recap of this episode would be very short ("A cyber hacker causes an internet shutdown and McGee's father died of cancer") I am jumping immediately on to the review, describing what I liked and what I didn't like.

What I didn't like
Let's just start with what was bad about the episode. First of all, what was really bad in the episode was the case. Seriously, I cannot believe they actually went ahead with this case. It was just plain boring and it was solved mostly off-screen. Apparently the internet was shut down but it was back online before we even noticed. The hacker was arrested before we even knew who it was. Also, Heidi Partridge flipped sides a little too quickly for my taste. I understand that they needed to incorporate a case in order for the other regulars to appear, but they could have left it out for any other reason.

Besides that, the episode felt a bit disjointed. It was confusing to jump back to one week earlier when the case made its way to NCIS and then to years earlier in flashback scenes. It would have been better if the case was the present and from there we would have flashbacks to previous episodes, sort of like "A Man Walks Into A Bar". Or again, they might have scrapped the entire case completely. They could have shot unseen flashbacks with the regulars mentioning Gibbs' rules.

Also, they wasted so much potential by ending the storyline with McGee's father. We first heard that John McGee had cancer in the season 10 episode "Squall". Ever since then, not once did McGee mention him or talk about him. Not with Abby, not with Gibbs, not with Delilah, he didn't say anything about it. We never saw him visiting his father in the hospital, or at the very least calling his father to ask how he was doing. I cannot even call this a storyline because the only episodes that we ever heard about John's cancer were "Squal" and "House Rules". We could have seen how McGee was dealing with his father's health issues, how his father was slowly giving up hope and then how he eventually passed away. And, more importantly, we could have seen McGee's family again! Lily Tomlin never made a return appearance as Tim's grandmother, we haven't seen Sarah since season 4 (that was 8 seasons ago!) and we haven't even met McGee's mother yet. We could have seen all of them simply at John's funeral, but we never saw a glimpse of that. Were they even present at the funeral? I'd like to believe so and I also hope Delilah returned from Dubai to stand by McGee at his father's funeral (and later to hopefully celebrate a little bit of Christmas with him).

Anoter criticism was the appearance of John McGee in the coffin. In "Squal" John was portrayed by Jamey Sheridan, but in this episode it was obviously a very different actor. According to IMDb, the John McGee in "House Rules" was portrayed by Rick Deats. He sadly didn't even remotely look like the John McGee in "Squal". Perhaps Sheridan had scheduling conflicts or perhaps they didn't want to ask him back because it was only one scene in a coffin, but either way they shouldn't have done this "recasting". I would have preferred if the coffin stayed closed with a photo of Sheridan's John McGee at the top.

Something else I wasn't so happy about, is the fact that the death of McGee's father was predictable. Not only while watching the episode did it become obvious that John wasn't in good health, but the promos kind of gave it away as well. If you have McGee standing in a suit crying and saying "I just wanna thank you for everything", it becomes evident that McGee is saying goodbye to someone.

Lastly, I once again missed seeing Vance. The last time he appeared was in episode 4, which is six episodes ago. Also, he wasn't even included in the flashbacks but I'm pretty sure he must have mentioned one of Gibbs' rules somewhere.

The things I liked
Despite the very weak case, I did enjoy seeing the three criminal hackers help the team out. They obviously didn't want to help but they ended up doing so anyway. It made for some pretty funny moments and it was really great figuring out what side they were on. They provided a nice touch of humour to balance out the episode's dark final moments.

Another strength of this episode is the acting of Sean Murray. Throughout the episode, it was pretty clear that McGee was struggling with his letter due to the relationship with his father. Also, the final scene is a pretty emotional one as McGee says goodbye to his father. Sean Murray is such a great actor, and he really delivered in this episode.

Plus, it was lovely to see flashbacks from earlier episodes. The writers included scenes from some pretty classic NCIS episodes, like "SWAK", "Kill Ari Part I", "Requiem" and "Truth or Consequences". There were also scenes from some lesser-known episodes like "Twisted Sister", "Nature of the Beast" and "Psych Out". Needless to say, seeing the old footage brought up some nice memories for me as a viewer, and likely for other viewers as well.

That's really all I have to say here. I am sorry for a not-so positive review here, but I really can't write anything else but my own honest opinion. I have seen positive reaction to this episode and I hope my review doesn't ruin that. But in my opinion, this is the weakest link of an otherwise great season. The narrative was a nice try, but it sadly didn't work out for me. I'll just stick to "A Man Walks Into A Bar".

What did you think of this episode? Do you agree with my critical review or did you actually enjoy the episode very much? What did you think of the case of the week? How great was Sean Murray in the last scene? And which old NCIS episode will you be rewatching during the Holidays after having seen these flashbacks? Please feel free to tell your opinions in the comments below.

The next NCIS episode airs January 6th 2015 on CBS. The episode sees the introduction of Gibbs as of yet unknown second ex-wife, and also the return of his first ex-wife Diane.

About the Author - Daniel van der Veer
Daniel van der Veer is a Dutch university student studying Psychology. On SpoilerTV he is a reviewer of NCIS, The 100, Stalker, Madam Secretary and the upcoming shows Battle Creek and Odyssey. He also enjoys LOST, Arrow, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, Nikita, The Blacklist, Scorpion and How To Get Away With Murder.
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