NCIS, Ep. 10.04, “Lost at Sea”: Intriguing premise let down by mild execution

NCIS, Season 10, Episode 4: “Lost at Sea”
Written by Christopher J. Waild
Directed by Tony Wharmby
Airs Tuesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

Season X continues its run with the return of Diane Neal as the Coast Guard’s equivalent of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, agent Abigail Borin, the “other Abby”.

The case of the week focuses on the disappearance of a helicopter and its crew. NCIS is called in for a joint investigation with CGIS when the flight crew, with the exception of the pilot, reemerge having spent days at sea stranded on a dinghy. Borin’s people have no luck finding a wreckage, but McGee and Tony manage to recover the body of the missing pilot, apparently killed from a gunshot wound. With the mobile crime scene unavailable for forensic analysis, the team must determine if the accident was caused by a treacherous passenger or if the pilot himself was to blame. The concept of a helicopter lost at sea serves as a decent mystery, as does the single fatality being caused by a bullet rather than crash-related injuries, but the story quickly loses momentum after the team fulfills their weekly quota of innuendo-laden banter that includes Ziva’s betting against Tony and Tim, a challenge that the boys are destined to fail.

After hearing about the guys’ night on the town, Ziva masks her loneliness with forced disbelief at the two’s ability to pick up women when serving as the others’ wingman. They’ve done it before, or at least attempted to (“Guilty Pleasure”), which makes Ziva’s intrusion all the more out of character when her role as the ‘tough as nails’ former Mossad assassin is also taken into consideration. Fleshing out the character by developing her relationships with her peers is one thing, but the show has not only smoothed out Ziva’s edges, it has completely dissolved them, resulting in a character tailor-made as a love-interest for Tony. In addition to altering the very fiber of her being, a person known for her  unique strengths,  spotlighting the excessive flirtations between agents David and DiNozzo throughout the series has taken its toll on the team dynamic.

The personal lives of each individual have been put on the back-burner just long enough that the emotional distance is hard to overlook. No one appears to be genuinely interested in the events in this episode. Whether it’s a fault on the actors’ behalf or lazy scripting, the scenes plod along in sequence without any real suspense or motivation.

At the scene of the helicopter crew’s return to dry land, Ziva challenges Tony and Tim to get a date with the first girl they see, which turns out to be Agent Borin. While Borin resembles Gibbs in her team leadership skills, her character has begun to reveal a more playful personality than the stoic marine. When we last saw her, (“Safe Harbor”), Borin had no problem mingling with the MCRT; her nonchalant recovery after being caught by her NCIS counterpart in a compromising position with Agent DiNozzo showed just how comfortably she slips in with the cast. It’s obvious that Neal is game for whatever the showrunners throw her way and she is most welcome when she comes to play.

Unfortunately, the fun doesn’t continue beyond a few awkward words with Tim during his attempt at asking her out and a surprisingly earnest conversation with Tony that has her hinting at what the audience already knows: that Tony and Ziva were made for each other (literally). Not only is Borin absent when she would have been most appreciated- such as in a scene depicting her teaming up with Ziva against Tony and Tim- but the lack of a complete Coast Guard team makes her presence feel more like a guest appearance simply for the sake of bringing back a familiar face as opposed to a necessary storytelling element.

The half of the story that deals with the investigation has long lost its appeal when it is finally revealed that the pilot may have been suicidal and purposely caused the helicopter to crash. The cold open never shows the victim, so viewers are force to sympathize with the survivors, any of whom may be the killer. Overrun by multiple interrogations and interview scenes, the sluggish progression is further dulled by a lack of action. There is a scene where Ducky manages to sneak into a hospital, lab coat and all, to help Gibbs acquire secure documents vital to the case, but it only adds to the synthetic nature of the performances in the episode. Ducky has become accustomed to working outside of the office, but it is in autopsy where he belongs. Why would a respectable medical professional be sleuthing around when he could ask a former colleague or acquaintance to assist in attaining the files? The endeavor is meant as an explanation for the files, but it also gives Ducky an extra scene in a story where he would understandably only be present for mere seconds.

In an effort to distort the facts with ambiguity, writer Christopher J. Waild’s script is too vague with certain details to take advantage of the talent of the regular cast and guest stars. It later abandons its original game plan by bluntly spelling out all of the characters’ intentions and tying up any loose ends too neatly for realistic crime solving.  The closing moments make for an uninteresting conclusion that fails to compensate for the bland journey leading up to it.

Amanda Williams

By Amanda Williams

Amanda is an avid reader and occasional writer of film and television commentary. When not transfixed with the world of entertainment, her daily life serves as a "down to earth" look at the humor in living with disabilities, best expressed through tweets that she hopes either inspire or amuse. Her love of serialized mysteries began with "House M.D." and continues to this day with the countless network procedurals that enable her binge-watching habit, but anything Whovian, Conan Doyle, and Edgar Wright is fair game for a marathon of its own. Her favorite movies change by the hour. The book is always better.

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