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Character Development: Tony DiNozzo’s Reason for Becoming a Cop, NCIS “Rekindled” 

Photo Credit: Jaimie Trueblood/CBS

Love that the name of this episode of CBS’s number one drama is “Rekindled.” The definition of “rekindle” is relight (as in a fire). A second definition is revive or renew. Both meanings came into play in this latest NCIS. A few blasts of fire ended up rekindling one of the arcs of this ninth season and that’s the business of the Watcher Fleet. Plus, a relationship was rekindled between an arson investigator and an NCIS agent, which led to some major character development.

Both occurrences are unexpected. Thus begins the push to the season finale. Not sure how all of this is going to play out, but it will culminate at some point around the time of Jimmy’s wedding. Hopefully, the road to the season ender will be rife with suspense, action and great dialogue. Emphasis on action. This whole Watcher Fleet and the fact that three men have died from the group is intriguing. The fact that these U.S. naval ships with bad wiring are being targeted due to some sort of terrorist influence is intriguing as well. Will Agent Casey Stratton make another appearance before the finale? Inquiring minds want to know.

Photo Credit: Jaimie Trueblood/CBS

On to the character development. At the scene of a fire, Tony comes across Jason King, a Baltimore arson investigator. There’s clearly some history there. But, it doesn’t seem like it can be anything good. There is a sense of one upmanship and resentment, mostly on Jason’s part. And Tony’s not someone who’s going to back down. There’s even a scene where Jason saves Tony from a blast and he explains how they almost got caught in a trap and follows that up with: “So, we’re even.” Those words don’t have any sort of friendly connotation.

Devoted fans of NCIS know this guy must have had something to do with Special Agent DiNozzo’s Baltimore PD past. That this was “the kid from Baltimore” that was first referred to in last season’s “A Man Walks into a Bar…” episode and reiterated in the Season 9 premiere “Nature of the Beast.”

But that’s not how things turned out, did it? Ziva and McGee see how bothered Tony is in the wake of this surprise reunion. They spot him going hardcore working on his case reports. They choose to confront him and drop a newspaper clipping right in front of him. It shows a man (whose face was covered) carrying a boy to safety. They ask if it’s him. Even at this point, it still seems like this could have happened when he was off duty back in the day. But, no.

Tony tells the story of how he was in Baltimore for the Final Four, which means he was playing basketball for Ohio State (or should I say The Ohio State University). He was in college! Anyway, he was out for a walk, trying to get focused for the game, when he saw a building up in smoke. He valiantly went in and found a 9-year-old Jason in a closet; and as he started to get him out of there they both heard someone’s cries. Jason knew his 4-year-old sister was trapped in her room. When Tony tried to go after her, all hell broke loose and fire was everywhere. It was either get out of there and save one kid; or stay in there and they would all perish. Tony made the decision to get out of there and, unfortunately, Jason’s sister died that night.

So, Jason’s resentment is understandable, but it’s wrapped up in all these emotions from when he was a child. He couldn’t see that sometimes you can’t save everyone. And that’s what Tony tells him in what is arguably the episode’s Moment of Goodness. The conversation takes place in Gibbs’ conference room also known as the elevator. After getting some much needed encouragement from his boss, he’s able to confront Jason about that night, after King accuses Tony of giving up once again, just like he did the night of the fire:

Jason: “I heard her screams.”
Tony: “You weren’t the only one. I learned something that night, Jason…you can’t save them all. Sometimes…you have to pick one. I picked you. Otherwise all three of us would have died that night and you know it.”
Jason: “She was my baby sister. I was supposed to be taking care of her.”

Tony: “A lot of things changed that night. I decided to become a cop because of a kid I almost lost in Baltimore. But didn’t. And that’s you. For the first time in my life, I made a difference. I did something that mattered. I’ve been trying to do that ever since.”
Jason: “Me too.”
Tony: “I know. And look at what you’ve become. She’s gone. We’re not. Focus on the ones we can still save.”

Jason: “I’ll try.”

It was a tragic and heroic event all wrapped up in one. But it perfectly gave an explanation to why he’s never been able to forget “the kid from Baltimore.” It gave Tony a purpose. It gave Jason King a purpose in his life, too. Anthony DiNozzo the frat boy jock never would have become a cop and never would have become an NCIS special agent without it. Being a 20 year old who had to make such a difficult and heartbreaking choice shaped who he was going to be. It’s why he takes everything to heart. And while he’s learned you can’t save everyone, he’ll always feel the guilt from his actions. Let’s go back to the previous episode (“The Missionary Position”) and the conversation he had with Navy Chaplain Maria Castro. She had been feeling guilt over her decision to back out of the Colombia mission and then finding out her replacement had been kidnapped:

Tony: “Listen, you can’t put that kind of weight on yourself. Cause if you keep piling it on, one day…you can’t move. Take it from me. I carry a lot…every day. So cut yourself some slack, alright?”

The guilt from having to choose not to save Jason’s sister has been weighing on Tony ever since he rescued Jason. It doesn’t matter that he was pretty much a kid himself when it happened. It doesn’t matter he wasn’t even a cop that could rely on his cop instincts yet. He was hard on himself especially knowing how Jason felt about him.

Photo Credit: Jaimie Trueblood/CBS

Gaius Charles (Smash from Friday Night Lights) was excellent in “Rekindled.” A lot of times, the characters who come in to work with Gibbs and his team, are impositions. But Jason King wasn’t. He fit in well with everyone, especially Abby. It would be great if he could become a recurring character that they all work with time to time à la Fornell. Would love to see Jason and Tony forge a friendship out of this. Michael Weatherly was great too (of course). Love getting all this insight to his character. It explains so much. Well done, NCIS.

NCIS returns with the final three episodes of the season starting on Tuesday, May 1 on CBS at 8/7c.

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