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NCIS - "Death from Above" - Review

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15.18 - "Death from Above"
Directed by Rocky Carroll
Written by Christopher J. Waild
Reviewed by KathM

We begin this deceptively quiet day in the bullpen, where copies of the first five chapters of Ducky’s book abound. Bishop and McGee are reading away, impressed that the book also contains some of Ducky’s exploits as well as the case studies they thought were going to be in there. He wrestled a Python and met David Bowie? On the same day??? How have we not heard that story? I want a Ducky podcast right now. He should really write two books: the more technical one he’s working on now and his autobiography. The cover could have a picture of him standing next to David Bowie, who I envision looking like Ziggy Stardust. A shed python skin is jauntily hanging around their shoulders.

Bishop and McGee are enthralled by what they’re reading, but Torres not so much. He hasn’t read it, what with there being 311 pages (and that’s only the first five chapters!) and no pictures. But as Ducky hurries through the bullpen Torres lies that he couldn’t put it down. Gibbs hasn’t had time to pick up yet, so Ducky suggests that he use this unusually calm day to plow through as much as he can before they all send Ducky their comments later that day. Because he and Kasie are revising the chapters that evening and he needs to know what they think.

I wonder why we don’t hear anything about McGee’s writing anymore. Remember when he was a well-known published author? I guess the producers don’t think they need to include that part of his life as background anymore, considering that he has Delilah and the Cherubs. It would be fun to hear about how he’s trying to fit in an hour or two here and there at the typewriter in between midnight feedings.

While the team (sans Torres) are dutifully reading away, we hear unhappy electrical noises and everyone looks up to see a the shape of a body on the skylight. Did anyone know they had skylights?

Looks like they don’t need to grab their gear, since the body is only up stairs. Jimmy is pleased with the commute as he checks the body out. His driver’s license identifies him as Carl Higby, an HVAC specialist. It seems like a straightforward accident at first (transformer blew while he was working on the AC and then ouch!). Sure that this will be a pretty quick case to close, Bishop plans to go find information to contact his family while McGee is going to talk to Higby’s company about the accident. Before they can go, however, Torres has found something important: an NCIS bolt hole. It has a beautiful view and AstroTurf, a comfy chair and an umbrella to keep out the sun. You can also smell the goodies being baked at the bakery on the corner AND you get four bars of cell phone reception. Four. Bars. Torres wants to know who’s been keeping this paradise from him, but neither Bishop or McGee know. They’ve never seen it before.

Back to work, where we find out that that Higby’s company doesn’t exist, and neither does he. Abby is running fingerprints to see who Higby is and shows Bishop a detonator that was found in his toolbox. Higby died because the pipe bomb he had was poorly made and went off prematurely, which caused the transformer to blow and kill him. Idiot.

Senior in the house! He’s looking a bit worse for wear, but everyone is happy to see him. Tony and Tali are fine (I wish they’d move back from Paris), and he’s just returned from a three-week Mediterranean cruise with his lady love, Judith. Unfortunately, neither Gibbs or McGee have time to chat with him, what with the bomb and all. Senior looks sad about it, but just lopes down to the morgue to talk to Jimmy.

The presence of the pipe bomb facilitates the immediate evaluation of the building until they can figure out who the target of the explosion. FauxHigby went through the front gates and got through with the bomb despite his gear being searched and the dogs giving it a sniff, so somebody hid the bomb well. Leon tells Gibbs to meet his team outside, while he runs the investigation in MTAC. How many people think that Gibbs is going to let that happen? Show of hands. You guessed right; wither Leon goest, Gibbs will go, too. Leon gives Team Gibbs 30 minutes to find out what they can on the case before they have to leave the building, so Gibbs calls Torres and hurries off.

Jimmy has a pile of evidence in a box, and he’d like Abby to take it to the Evidence Garage. But Abby isn’t in her lab, Bishop is, and while she lets Jimmy vent about how stupid the new protocols are concerning evidence storage in the event of an evacuation, Bishop asks him what his real problem is. And tells him that she helped write up the emergency evidence storage protocol when she was at the NSA.

Jimmy is worried about Senior, who is planning to quit the Sherlock Consortium despite Jimmy’s hard work to get him in (I’d forgotten Jimmy was a member). For additional Sherlock Consortium information, please see Season 13, episode 7. I mean, Senior has an oversexed, hard-drinking girlfriend and gets to try and help solve cold cases with a couple of other oddballs, how could he want more than that? While we’re feeling Jimmy’s confusion we find out from his fingerprints that Higby is Eric Barnhardt and he has a long list of offences, mainly for drugs.

While Jimmy was looking for Abby to move his current box o’evidence into the garage, Abby has her brings her own box to the morgue and wants him to do the same. Great minds, etc. She and Senior have a huggy moment but when he tries to explain what’s wrong and why he wants to leave the Sherlocks Abby notices that Jimmy is waaaay more behind in his work than she is, because he left a body out for everyone to see on an autopsy table. So, what does she do? She tells Senior that the two of them will put the body back! And Senior would love to help, wouldn’t he? She hands him a lab coat so that he doesn’t get “fluids” on his cashmere sweater. Fluids.

In a storage room Torres shows Gibbs a ladder to the skylights that Barnhardt likely used to get onto the roof. Nobody notices the maintenance guy going where he should be going, right? Gibbs finds two more sets of coveralls and, crap! There’s more than one of them. Gibbs and Torres are going downstairs to get their weapons when the power goes out. Fortunately, Gibbs has a flashlight.

In addition to a power problem, the system decides to lock everyone in where they are in the building. This puts Jimmy and Bishop together in Abby’s lab, Abby and Senior in the morgue, and McGee, Sloane, and Leon in MTAC. Gibbs and Torres are not locked in anywhere, as they were just in a maintenance closet and are the only ones who can roam freely throughout the building.

MTAC has some bigger problems than being locked in though; the system seems to have been locked down so that nobody can use anything, including McGee. Which, come on. McGee can totally get them out of there, especially with the slightly baffled but largely blasé tech that’s trapped in there with them helping. They’re locked out of the system entirely, which controls pretty much the whole of NCIS’s systems. Like the elevators and locking doors so people are trapped in the building, for example. And due to past bombing of the Navy Yard the building, has new security measures in place, like blocking cell phone reception. So, they have no way to contact anyone outside of the building. The hack can only happen with someone using the system from inside NCIS Headquarters. The lockdown is coming from INSIDE the building! Yeah, had to do it. Sue me.

I found one of the “repairmen”! He’s just pushed the doors to the morgue open and points a gun at Abby. The corpse is his brother, Eric Barnhardt nee Higby, and Senior tells him to take the body and go. But AliveBarnhardt, who for some reason is called Burke, isn’t going anywhere; but he is taking someone with him. He first tries to take Abby as a hostage, but Senior convinces him that he’s Dr. Mallard and much more valuable. He tells Burke that Abby’s an Intern, which is believable when he points out what Abby is wearing. Burke agrees to take “Ducky” with him, then points his gun at Abby again. Senior steps in front of her.

Gibbs and Torres have made it to their floor, where they watch Repairmen Number Three skulking around with a big gym bag and an even bigger gun. Both Gibbs and Torres have their guns locked in their drawers, but Torres has an idea about how to get them back. Meanwhile, Bishop is trying to rewire the door in Abby’s lab, so it will open, and Jimmy reads in Eric Barnhardt’s file (he has a file now?) that he’d been working for Adrian Fincher, the “Drug King of Baltimore”. And guess what? NCIS just took over a case from the DEA about Fincher. Jimmy’s right, there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

Bishop has no idea what she’s supposed to do with the wires now that she has them pulled out of the door mechanism, so Jimmy gamely tells her to try and use the blue and yellow wires because blue +yellow= green, and green means go. Thank you for not going into an Educational field, Jimmy. Bishop cuts the wires because Jimmy’s logic works for her, but instead of opening the doors they instead cause a small fire which destroys Major Mass Spec. I’ve been wondering how they’re going to write Abby out, and the untimely death of her beloved piece of equipment may be the last straw.

McGee has been doing techie stuff in MTAC, but the system is still broken. Leon is frustrated, and Sloane seems to be holding off a meltdown. She is NOT happy about being locked in; she tells Leon that she doesn’t like “cages”. Considering what we’ve learned about her background, I get it. They decide that there must still be something the “repairmen” must do; otherwise, they’d just have left the building long ago. And since all tech is locked down, the only thing they can use to communicate are two-way radios. So, McGee puts something together that will let him monitor the repairman/terrorist’s conversations, if he can find the right frequency.

Terrorist Number Three (I’ve decided to call him Addict) is literally pouring meds from a prescription bottle into his hand and stuffing them into his mouth as Torres comes bouncing into the hallway, dressed as a maintenance man and bitching about the “evacuation drill”. Addict can’t get hold of Burke, and now he’s distracted by the music coming from Torres’ cell phone.
Did I mention the part where they focus just enough on Torres’ tush to make it interesting? Because damn. I don’t care if they used the emergency lights to try and blind us to his movements, I put it all together. Anyway, as he dances into the bull pen. Torres is playing “Maintenance man who has no idea that the Escape Drill isn’t a drill” and is happily going about his work. His goal is to get home to his wife because the kids are at a sleepover and he is looking forward to spending some quality time with the Mrs.

Addict is yelling at Torres and telling him that he’s an NCIS agent and that the drill isn’t a drill Torres is getting closer to the drawer where his gun is secured and actually manages to get the drawer open, but Burke finally gets through to him that he isn’t NCIS and points his gun at Torres, demanding that he put his hands up. Gibbs is watching from around the corner, and I’m not sure if he and Torres can disarm Addict when suddenly Burke wanders in with “Ducky”. He’s shouting at Addict who is shouting at Burke that Torres just showed up and Torres/Maintenance guy wouldn’t stop talking and Addict guesses he got distracted. Burke discerns from a picture of a Hispanic teenager in a photo that Torres is Torres, an NCIS agent. I do not think it looks like Torres at all, but since he doesn’t have a nephew I guess we’ll have to buy that Torres is vain enough to have to look at TeenTorres occasionally. Strange.

Burke opens the drawer that Torres had unlocked and finds his gun and handcuffs. He has Addict cuff Torres, so Burke can take him along with “Ducky”. They go over to the elevator and Burke calls on his radio for someone to open it. McGee can hear the request on his two-way radio monitor and is surprised when they do open. MTAC can’t tell where they’re going, or how the system worked for them. Yet.

Burke takes Torres and “Ducky” with him into the elevator, then tells Addict to look around the bull pen for more guns and make sure that Torres was the only agent around. So yeah, Addict vs. Gibbs. This should be fun.

Since the system commands are coming from INSIDE THE BUILDING! McGee figures that he’ll look to see which terminal the command to run the elevator came from. The tech running the system, Vyas, tells McGee that she’s doing the best she can when McGee wants to use her terminal to see who else is using the system, and it immediately becomes obvious that our hacker is Vyas. It takes Timmy and Leon a bit more time to sort it out, though, which allows Vyas to back away from the terminal and grab the gun she has strapped to her leg. She fires at someone, but we’ll never know who because Sloane takes this as an opportunity to work out some of her anxiety. “GUN!” she cries, hurling herself at Vyas and pointing the gun at the ceiling. Since the gun went off it most likely went into the ceiling, which I think is an HVAC issue. But maybe isn’t the time to go there. Sloane gets to rough her up a bit more while Leon gives McGee the gun. Sloane states the obvious; they have a mole problem. Leon thinks HR will have a field day.

Reeves decides to play with the computer in the control center (tent) to see if he can be of any help, since they won’t let him in on the action. He figures out that the three HVAC workers were allowed in, including Eric Barnhart. Agent Wright has sent a team to see if they can get into the building, but they tell her that it seems to be locked FROM THE INSIDE. Okay, I’m done now. Reeves wants to storm the building with Sherman tanks, which may explain why he doesn’t get to go on a lot of missions. Then again, it could be that he had an insane amount of coffee he had that morning. Wright tells him that the Bomb Squad will be there shortly, and that they must depend on the agents inside to tell them that’s going on
Torres and Senior are outside of the evidence locker in the garage while Burke looks around. He then leads them into the evidence storage area, where he tells “Ducky” to sit down and use the computer to locate any boxes related to the Adrian Fincher case. And now we have their end game, if we hadn’t figured it out already. The terrorists want to destroy the evidence so that the case against Fincher will be thrown out. Torres figures that Eric Barnhardt owed Fincher a lot of money, which is why he and his brother and Addict stormed NCIS Headquarters; to clear his debts. Although I think Addict was just along for the fun. Torres tries to get a rise out of Burke, but all he gets for it is Burke’s elbow in Senior’s stomach. Rather than risk Burke hurting Senior further, Torres goes silent and agree to behave.

So, Abby’s lab. Let’s not forget Jimmy and Bishop, who are still trying to find a way out. Their hotwiring of various systems in the hopes of either getting out of the lab or contacting someone who can has led to the destruction of pretty much all the equipment Abby uses. And, Bishop points out, they have also found dangerous flaws in the backup power system. Way to look on the bright side, Ellie. Why don’t we try the windows? Once he’s finished with the fire extinguisher Jimmy tells her that not even God can open those windows anymore. Since the sniper (it was nothing. Ellie) they have been so reinforced that the only way to break through the glass is a pipe bomb. Oh, is that all? Emily smiles and cheerfully begins gathering ingredients.

While Addict is upstairs calling Burke from the bull pen, Burke is making sure that Torres has handcuffed both himself and Senior to the shelves in the evidence locker while he has a chance to meander around and see if he can find the evidence against Fincher.

It appears that Burke has a plan; more than one, in fact. Torres has figured out two of them: Plan A was to just toss the pipe bomb into the vents, so the building will evacuate, and they’ll grab the evidence then. That plan died when Eric Barnhardt blew himself up. Plan B? Have someone at NCIS help you steal what you need, by which he means himself and Senior as Ducky. As for Plan C; well, Burke says Torres will just have to wait. He’ll love it, though. Burke walks away and Torres finds something for Senior to sit on, then quietly begins to look in evidence boxes to see if there’s something they can use to get the cuffs off. Finally, Senior speaks: he’s been dying to tell someone, but everyone’s been busy. How is Torres not busy right now? Anyway, Judith broke up with him.

Addict is still upstairs, trying to get into the locked drawers to see if there are any more guns around, when suddenly the printer starts going. I had this happen to me when someone’s print jobs were accidentally routed to my printer and trust me, when you’re alone in your office and stuff seems to be acting of its own accord, it can be beyond creepy.

Addict’s solution is simple: shoot it.
Burke is looking through random things in the evidence locker that contain flammable materials while Senior talks to Torres about Judith. She was a special lady, you see. I get that; I’ve always like Jessica Walter. Senior still loves her, even when he found about her going out with the much younger Cruise Director, Cristos.

Burke is now just opening evidence boxes and emptying them onto the ground. I think he’s going for a scorched earth approach.
Torres agrees with Senior that rejection sucks as he continues to search for something he can use to get them free. But Torres can only sympathies so much, as he’s never been dumped. Ever. Not even by Bishop? That gets Torres’ attention. They’re not together, he tells Senior. But, did he hear something? Did Bishop say something to him?
Burke cheerfully shows Torres an empty gas can, which he announces is Plan C. He’ll just burn the evidence locker down. Burke doesn’t seem to care that murder is a way bigger deal than destroying evidence, and waves to the trapped Torres and Senior as he strolls out of the slowly burning evidence locker.

Upstairs, Addict is having some issues. First the printer, then the phones all start that annoying beeping and the “your call cannot be completed” message. The only recourse he has is to shoot everything into submission, which is not the option I had when the printer in my office went rogue. Fortunately, Gibbs takes his baseball bat in hand and clocks Addict, knocking him out. And Addict is out of the game! Gibbs grabs Addict’s radio and gets hold of Agent Wright, who agrees to send a team into the building to help. Before Gibbs can give her any more information, however, Burke appears with his gun.
Vyas, who is now tied to a chair in MTEC, has been listening in on, and taking commands from, the terrorists (it seems kind of sad to call them that now that we know they’re just some ragtag group of guys who accidentally took control of a federal building) since the beginning. McGee tells Leon and Sloane that the only way they can get the NCIS systems back online is with Vyra’s password, which she won’t share. Sloane looks ready to just smack the hell out of her, which I am about halfway on board with. Instead she takes the high road and begins to analyze Vyra, telling Leon and McGee that she wasn’t coerced. Vyra wanted to do this, she isn’t paid enough at NCIS and wants more attention and recognition. They gave her $75,000 to add those three names to the security gates to get Burke and Co. into the Navy Yard. She tells them that Fincher found her online, which makes me wonder whether this is her first foray into darkness.

Leon and McGee are still trying to get Vyra’s password, and she finally admits that she doesn’t have one. She locked the system out without any way of getting back in, which is easily the stupidest thing ever. She says she didn’t know about the pipe bomb which, okay. But if you’re going to help commit an act of terrorism you need to have some way of covering your tracks.

McGee ponders the oldest IT trick of all time; a reboot. It’s insanely risky, but he can unplug the entire system and hope it reboots when he plugs is back in. The only danger is losing all the digital files the system has stored over the years, which is pretty much everything. Leon thinks for a minute then tells McGee says he do it. I mean, they’re already losing evidence because of Burke’s fire, right? And once Leon learns that Torres tried to save his life and Seniors by opening a ton of evidence boxes as well, thereby destroying the chain of evidence and giving some defense lawyers a field day, they’ll have lost even more. But this is his house, and they need to get the bad guys out.

McGee pulls the plug on the system, then plugs is back in. It works perfectly. Natch. Lights and other systems begin to turn on automatically, and McGee says to just give him a minute to get the doors open. I’d hurry if I were you, Tim. Sloane looks ready to burst. Wright’s team are sweeping the building carefully, Reeves with them. Leon and Sloan meet Wright and Reeves near the bull pen, where they’re looking at Addict and ordering him an EMT. Where’s Gibbs? He called for backup, Wright tells them, but nobody knows what happened after that. Sloane grabs a weapon and goes looking for Gibbs, while Leon takes Gibbs gun out of his drawer to arm himself.

Torres and Senior get out, obviously. Senior saves them by giving Torres his official Sherlock Consortium magnifying glass and telling him to unscrew it. There is something contained inside, I can’t tell what but possibly a blade? Regardless, it’s something they can use to get the handcuffs off and run to safety. Senior has a hard time and keeps talking about getting to Abby as quickly as they can. We’re still not sure why. Just as Torres and Senior come out of the evidence locker the sprinklers activate, hopefully saving some of the evidence.

Burke is not happy about going back up on the roof to escape, but he ordered Gibbs at gunpoint and Gibbs says that the only way our is up. They fight and struggle with the weapon, and Burke ends up victorious. But where’s Gibbs? He has a piece of pipe, which he throws at Burke but misses and instead breaks the skylight. He calls to Burke and finally faces him from another skylight, taunting him gently. Burke raises his gun to shoot Gibbs but is instead shot himself and falls through the skylight and into the bullpen. Gibbs looks down and sees Leon standing by Burke’s body, his gun in Leon’s hands. Gibbs compliments him on a nice shot.

But what Abby? Instead of killing her Abby convinced Burke to lock her in one of the cold drawers where they keep the corpses. Reeves, Wright, and Senior are all afraid that she’s suffocated by now, but apparently none of them know her very well. Abby is perfectly happy where she is; she sleeps in a coffin and therefore knows how to conserve oxygen. She used the time to take a nap. Wright tells Reece that he has weird friends and he thanks her. They smile at one another.


Let’s put all other thoughts aside as it appears that something has detonated in the building. Looks like Bishop and Jimmy got that pipe bomb to work. Not only did they break through the window in Abby’s lab, they also blew out half of the wall. Yay, them! They’re high-fiving each other until Leon arrives, stoically surveying the damage. While he believes Bishop’s assertion that the lab was destroyed for the good of their case, he’s not sure that Abby will.

Power has been restored and the cleanup begins around the building. The workers have been cavity searched at the gate and all is well. While they did lose quite a bit of evidence, including what they had on Fincher, Vyas has turned over the extensive computer files she had from her conversations with him. While she’ll go down for treason, Fincher will be facing terrorism charges, which is much worse than drug dealing.

Did you know that the terrorists were the ones that destroyed Abby’s lab? That’s the story Jimmy and Bishop told her, and they’re sticking to it. A wise decision, I think. Abby is telling the story to Senior as she and Bishop join McGee and Torres in the disheveled bull pen. Senior wants to take them out for drinks on him, but they can’t seem to find Gibbs.

It makes perfect sense that the peaceful bolt hole on the roof belongs to Gibbs. The last scene is of him setting up his umbrella, grabbing some beef jerky from yet another hidden place, and settling down to read Ducky’s manuscript. I love Gibbs.

What I’m Really Trying to Say Is: Fun episode! We saw sets of characters that we don’t normally see together. Bishop and Jimmy. Senior and Torres. McGee and Leon AND Sloane, and Reeves with someone who wasn’t one of the standard NCIS crew. I liked seeing how their dynamics played out, and everyone seemed comfortable with one another and played nicely together. I think it’s a tribute to how well the actors work together and how cohesive their characters are as a team. I particularly liked seeing Torres and Senior, especially when Senior is beginning to succumb to the smoke and Torres drops his cool act and is all, “Stay with me, Tony.” It was just nice to watch.

I am worried about Robert Wagner. In this episode he seemed very gray and was almost stooping. It may have been Senior’s sadness over this breakup with Judith, but he seems very changed since the last time we saw him.

Not that I don’t have issues with the episode, I have more than a few. There are a lot of “duh” moments to me (like, why didn’t Torres or Gibbs go up on the roof right way and use the power of four cellular bars to try and reach someone? And why didn’t Fincher just pay Vyas more so she could just find the evidence herself and destroy it? She obviously has mad skills.) that made the episode less than believable, but overall, I enjoyed it.

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