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NCIS - Beneath the Surface - Review

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NCIS - Beneath the Surface - Review
Written by Scott J. Jarrett and Matthew R. Jarrett
Directed by Rocky Carroll
Reviewed by KathM

Meh. Another storyline where the main tale didn’t interest me as much as the secondary ones. Marine dies in a truck stop bathroom along with another man who doesn't appear to be part of the story, just some kind of collateral damage. Over time, however, we realize that the story isn't about him at all, it's about the guy who the NCIS crew initially considered collateral damage. He's a guy without portfolio, and poor Petty Officer Buckley ended up being collateral damage himself.

That's pretty much all you hear about poor Buckley; at least Connor Reese, the Navy Lieutenant Bishop and Torres save at the end of the episode, is also a quick plot device tacked on so they could capture the killer who killed Kohl and took over his job. The rest of the story is pretty transparent, except when it's not.

I mean, the Kohl was obviously a hit man. Obviously. Even before they visited his Palace of Financial Rewards, when you hear about a highly-trained ex-Marine with no job history the word “hitman” enters your mind. At least, it enters mine. And his handler? If you didn’t know it was his neighbor Rachel the first minute they introduced her…again, really easy to spot.

Kohl’s backstory, and his connection with Torres, however, is the story worth watching. Kohl is first seen as the second murder victim in the bathroom at the beginning of the story. Torres thinks he looks familiar which, if you’ve watched enough of these procedurals, you know means that it’s someone that Torres knows somehow. When the DNA is in we find out that he’s Anderson Kohl, a friend of Torres’s from when they trained together in FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center). They were always competitive, but Torres considered him a close friend. When Kohl washed out of the program (authority issues) and Torres decided to take on Deep Cover work, they lost touch. But why did Kohl, who Torres always thought was so much like himself, end up in a truck stop bathroom? Why didn’t he have any work history, what had happened to his old friend?

Upon inspection, however, we find that just because Kohl died in a truck stop didn’t mean he lived that way. If that makes sense. Bishop and Torres find that Kohl lived in a large Georgetown townhouse filled with expensive cars and artifacts (including that dinosaur skull!). Torres is confused and envious. How did Kohl become so wealthy? The viewers know, but we’ll let it be a surprise for the Bullpen Gang. Torres is baffled. He and his friend were so alike, how did Torres end up taking the other road?

Somehow this man, who Torres considers so like himself, became an extremely wealthy murderer with Bitcoins for days. It causes Torres to reflect, again, on how he became who he is today. Throughout the episode, he compares himself to Kohl. Not in any kind of long monologue, but with comments here and there, and the way he looks more and more exhausted as the episode progresses.

Torres has been down this road before. Last season in “High Tide”, when he and Bishop were undercover. First Torres goes rogue, scoring jobs for him and Bishop on the crew of the suspected smugglers. Vance thinks that they might have been made at one point, but Torres assures him that he “doesn’t get made”, and later struts around Abby’s lab boasting “who’s the man!” to Abby and Bishop. He’s back in the game, where immerses himself in being someone else and working that game as hard as he can. It’s what he was trained to do, Sloane reminds Leon. Follow his gut.

Torres slips up, though. He feels something for the guy in the episode Torres assumes is only a flunky when he’s actually the leader of the operation. Torres spills everything to the “flunky” about being an NCIS agent, telling him that Torres can get him out of the crew and into protection if he’d testify against his boss. Unfortunately for Torres, flunky is the boss.

And the boss is good. Despite being shot and holding a gun on Torres, he still tries to recruit Torres to the dark side. Doesn’t Torres miss the work (his undercover work, not the NCIS work)? The thrill of the chase? Torres doesn’t belong sitting at a desk doing paperwork, he belongs in the field, flying by the seat of his pants and calling his own shots. You can see the longing in Torres’s face as he thinks about that life, the one he gave up, but he stays on the right side of the law despite his fleeting thoughts. He wasn’t really that guy; he just pretended to be. He is an NCIS agent and knows where he belongs.

However, Torres was in deep cover for a very long time, and he still questions the choices he made as the man he had to be then and works to reconcile them to that man he is today. Seeing Kohl’s life secondhand, a man that Torres saw as a mirror of himself, is sobering. He can do everything that Kohl has done, and Torres intimates that he’s done the kinds of things that Kohl has done while undercover. When Kasie jokes as she’s going through some of Kohl’s purchases that she’s sure Torres isn’t the type to buy a haladie knife he exclaims, “I’ve got two!” So, what makes him different? What made him turn and take the other path?

One thing that I think differentiates Torres from Kohl is the fact that Torres needs human connections. When he’s talking to Sloane about going through Kohl’s things and talks not finding any personal belongings, he wonders how someone can live like that. I think that Torres’s ability to make human connections, to want them, to have a place to come home to that is familiar and where he can showcase his possessions, is what put him on a different journey in the first place. He may have been a lot of people in his undercover past, but he never lost himself completely.

In the end, in the basement with Gibbs and an unfinished boat, Torres voices his real fear: that he’ll slip up and take the Kohl path. Gibbs assures him that it’s all about choices. Torres took that path where he catches the bad guys, while Kohl took the path where he killed them. It doesn’t make Torres feel better, but Gibbs tells him that if it did, then Gibbs would be worried about him. It makes me wonder about how much Torres really wrestles with these kinds of things; how often does he feel the need to reevaluate who he is and “check in” with himself? Hopefully, we’ll see more of that as the series progresses, as I find it an interesting aspect of the character.

Westley Clark: CIA

Let us not forget that Officer Clark of the CIA (I thought they called them agents) stopped by and paid visits to Leon and Sloane. He claims that he needs help with the Kohl case on the CIA end as they were also investigating some of the murders. I buy that as much as I bought that CIA chick from Sloane’s past who rolled up a few episodes ago needed help with her case, too. Really? Get another story, y’all. Clark is all about dropping comments to both of them about their experiences with Hakim last summer to see what they’ll say and asking Sloane to profile people for him. She profiles Clark a bit, and he is not a fan. Fortunately, Leon and Sloane recognize the game Westley’s playing, and they are not playing along. They will be watching him like a hawk and giving away nothing. Oh, and you know he was the guy in the hat talking to Mallory (the woman Leon met in the PT waiting room), right? Interesting story coming up there, I think.

Additional Random Thoughts:

  • The whole Jimmy being spooked by McGee? Wonderful, but don’t blame it on Ducky, Tim! I think you knew how far he really wanted you to go.
  • Marla Gibbs, I have missed you. Thank you for brightening my Tuesday. Loved her cameo appearance, and wish more violence would occur on her street so we could watch the NCIS crew interview her again.
  • This thought is wrong: Kohl and Torres look so much alike it would be amazing to have an episode where someone doesn’t know Kohl is dead and tries to hire him and Torres goes undercover as Kohl. Bad, BAD reviewer!
  • Throughout the episode they’re trying to find out who hired Kohl and who his targets were and his handler, etc., but why didn’t anyone want to know who gave Zaprowski’s son the phone number to call to hire Kohl in the first place? Some of this money laundering buddies no doubt, but don’t you think one of the agencies would care?
  • This is bitchy but, speaking of connections, why didn’t Torres mention his sister Lucia and niece Elena? They were the main reason he came to DC and eventually joined NCIS.
  • Okay, tell me what you think!

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