For this to make sense, you have to understand that I have always been someone who is not that fond of crime shows in general. Sure, there's the odd one here and there that I like to have running in the background, that's "easier to bear", for lack of a better word, but I've never actively seek them out on TV. Especially all the CSI variants and stuff that equals them? Sorry, there's no faster way for me to turn off my TV.
NCIS, though, has always been the one exception to that rule. Every time I went zapping through my programs and I happened to stumble over NCIS... I always ended up shrugging and saying, oh, hey, let's leave that one on.
That's the way I saw most of the episodes. That's how I saw the end of season six. That's why I suddenly sat there, staring at my screen, not willing to believe what a "simple crime show" had just thrown at me. "Aliyah" left me gutted and reeling with emotion. I had no idea a show like that... could come up with emotions like that. I didn't expect it.
Two days later I couldn't stand NOT knowing what happens after that, and so, for the first time ever, I downloaded the next ten episodes in the original version. Up until then I had always just watched the German dub (it's actually one of the better ones, so I didn't mind all that much). Up until then I had never cared enough to bother with downloads. Up until then, I hadn't been in love with this show.
So yeah, for the first time ever I stumbled into a show where I bit my nails while I waited for the next episode to air. Oh, I've been involved in quite some fandoms before NCIS. But was it ever this bad? Hell, no. I got a few spoilers over the net, and two months or so, until a friend came up with the tapes, wasn't that long a wait. I could cope easily. I'd get to see it eventually. (Yeah, I know. My current self looks at the words I just typed and shakes its head, laughing gently and saying, "There, there...".)
But halfway through seventh season (I think around the time of "Jet Lag") I found myself getting itchy and vaguely dissatisfied. Yeah, we had some okay episodes, some nice moments, but was there anything in them that touched me quite the way Jenny's death had? Or the way ToC had? Or "Heartland"?
Sadly, no. The storytelling seemed to be all over the place suddenly, it was a bit here, a few pieces there, and it sure was nice and fun to watch, but by the end of season seven I had settled for the fact that my show, who had pulled me in with a promise of such incredible, intense emotions... would probably never live up to that promise again.
At that point, it made me sad, but it was also the thing that ended up being responsible for me turning into such a prolific writer. Because without all the little plot holes or the missing emotional impact, I probably would have never needed to fill that void myself. (It's long been a weird fact that the more flawed a show is, the more fanfic it seems to generate, if the characters tickle the audience just right.)
Towards the end of last season, a bunch of us started chatting about that, and I voiced quite a few times that there was a noticeable shift in storytelling ever since 7x04 "Good Cop, Bad Cop". It was such a palpable change that after a while I was sure that behind the scenes the showrunner had changed - that, unbeknownst to us, Gary Glasberg had a lot more influence than they had let on up to this point, while Shane Brennan was busy with play with his new baby "NCIS: L.A.". I've seen stuff like that happen before on shows, every time the people behind the scenes switched - the most noticeable rift was back in the "Buffy" days, when Joss Whedon left to play with "Firefly" and let Marty Noxon crash his show into the nearest wall, but even on comedies I've experienced it, like back with "Will & Grace", which had a subtly different feeling ever since season four. (Only later I learned that was the moment the original creators had left the show over a lawsuit.)
By the middle of season eight I found myself getting vaguely angry because the downward trend continued and just rubbed me completely the wrong way. And yes, I started getting angry at Gary Glasberg because it was beginning to feel like he was doing a job he just wasn't up for. (Granted, early interviews where he admitted he hadn't seen all the episodes (yet) didn't help with that impression.)
And really, he was the only thing that had changed behind the scenes, right? So that sounded like a logical conclusion - blame Gary for the problems in storytelling. For the bad roadblocks that Ray and EJ seemed to be at first. For the way the P2P killer arc seemed to meander out and not really lead anywhere. For the way "Pyramid" started out as one thing that wasn't half bad, but then turned into something that completely sucked and didn't close the Ray and EJ storylines, like promised, but kept them open and running instead. And just like most fans, I sat there at the end of the season and said, "The fuck is this?!"
Which leads us to the beginning of season nine, starting out with the press release that Gary would take over officially as showrunner.
Yeah, you can imagine my face when that was announced. =_=
I feared the worst, to be honest. I feared this would turn my beloved show into a whole season of "Pyramid"s and it would end up ruining a good show.
Imagine my surprise when it didn't.
Okay, so "Nature of the Beast" was a little wonky in parts, but it still showed promise. And that promise got fulfilled more and more as the episodes progressed, with all the things coming true that Gary had already announced during the end of last season - that the team would come closer together than ever before, that the small looks would hold more weight than the big scenes at first.
Within the first four or five episode, Gary had cleaned up good behind Brennan shitting all over the place, basically fixing almost every complaint the fans had uttered about the show for months: too little team interaction, too little McGee, Abby didn't feel like Abby anymore, not enough friendship, let Tony grow up, we want a more sassy Ziva again, we want Tony in casual clothes... the list goes on and on. (I'd just have to go back to my long rant that proceeded my fallout with certain parts of the T/Z fandom to list more.)
I think by the time they aired "Engaged, Part 1" I found myself leaning back and thinking, "Okay, now that's weird." Because if my previous theory had been correct, the episodes should have gotten worse, right? Not better, and not in these big, fat leaps.
And in essence, I have since then formed a new theory. One that, in my opinion, makes a lot more sense than just "Gary screwed it all up before". Because he did pitch some of the good storylines, apparently, among them the original P2P arc - and let's face it, the start of that was pretty good. It was mostly during "Pyramid" that it fell totally apart. So what gives?
So, my current theory is rather simple - Shane Brennan might just be the biggest cockblock of them all.
Yeah, so maybe Gary isn't the best writer on this planet. But I do think he was doing his best to keep the show together, and I do think he actually intended to do all the things he announced in his interviews (since he has proven them to actually happen, even though he was a few episodes late), and I do think he knows what's good for the show... he just couldn't do his best for the past two seasons because Shane Brennan was mostly involved with L.A. but still continued to severely mess with the 'mothership'. I think more than once Brennan exercised his veto right as the head cheese to keep things in a state of chaos rather than letting them settle. And while everyone screams at Glasberg for keeping Ray and EJ around after "Pyramid" because he was "sooooo in love with his own creations"... I don't really think that was his choice, and I don't really think they were his creations. Because these two turned out to be so effective a disturbance that I believe Brennan exercised his veto right and told them to keep these two on board, to mess things up even more. And that works a lot more with Brennan's style than with Glasberg's.
You see, these two have very different, distinctive styles in telling a story. Brennan always reminds me of one of my old roleplaying gamemasters: the kind who wants to really, severely mess up your character and just wants to hurt them, deconstruct them - make them suffer, essentially. Because yeah, that was the biggest part of the push and pull the T/Z fans complained about all these years: every time it looked like these two had pulled themselves together a little, as if they could get their shit together... something always happened that brutally ripped them apart. And for a while that was okay because - as Bob Ross used to say - you need the shadows to really appreciate the light. But after a few years, it gets old. (Side theory, completely unsupported by anything I could point at: it might also be one of the reasons Jesse Stern left, because his style in storytelling is much closer to the "destructiveness" of SB - he likes to tear things apart a lot better than he likes putting them back together.)
Now, Glasberg, on the other hand... I like what I have seen of his style so far, and I think he entered the scene at just the right moment. Because Glasberg doesn't want to hurt his characters or deconstruct them. He wants to let them heal.
That has been the one, prominent theme throughout the episodes so far: face the things that make you hurt, face the things you have run from so far, face your past, face your fears. And then get over it.
Every single one of the characters has gone through different stages of this journey during this season, and in the end, this makes them stronger, it brings them closer together... it lets them heal. It leaves them, eventually, with a good chance to be truly happy. Because that's the one thing none of them is right now... well, maybe with Palmer as the one big exception, hee. ;)
So yeah, this is where I openly apologize to Gary Glasberg for thinking he was a bad choice. He isn't. He'll make our guys happy. And you know what? I think he'll do a kickass job at that.