“Put your game face on.”
When you have the highest-rated drama on television, there is a temptation to milk it for all that you can. We’ve seen it happen with both the Law & Order and CSI franchises. The results tend to be mixed, with some capturing and even exceeding the popularity of the original. Others never quite seem to connect and are gone while their mother ship is still on the air. NCIS: New Orleans became the first to fall after seven seasons. Dwayne Pride (Bakula) is a native of New Orleans. His family has history here. His father (Keach) is in prison for various fraud activities. His daughter Laurel (Caswell) is in college studying music, a passion she and her father share, although this season we discover she’s not quite so passionate as her father. He’s now divorced and starting to settle in for himself. He goes way back in his defense of the city and considers protecting it as his own private responsibility.
The team is a lean one compared to the other NCIS shows, but grows by one this season. Pride’s long-time friend and right-hand man is Alabama native Christopher LaSalle, played by Lucas Black. LaSalle has the old southern charm and some redneck tendencies. The team’s medical examiner is Dr. Loretta Wade, played by The Shield’s own favorite CCH Pounder. Her assistant is the geeky conspiracy nut Sebastian Lund, played by Rob Kerkovich. He’s absolutely the comedy relief on the team and usually explains too much and makes the requisite science fiction or conspiracy references that tend to annoy his colleagues. Last year the new member of the team was transfer Agent Meredith Brody, played by Zoe McLellan. She’s bounced around from place to place, not feeling confident enough to lay down roots. When things got rough in the past, she usually ran away to a new assignment. She’s trying to become a member of this family, though, and is slowly letting her guard down. But two years in, she still hasn’t unpacked her boxes. Last year Daryl “Chill” Mitchell’s Patton Plume was a recurring character. This year he moves up to a regular spot. He’s a wheelchair-bound computer whiz who ups the comic relief with his boasting. You get the impression that he also goes way back with Pride. The completely new character is a transfer from ATF. Agent Sonja Percy still has a lot of the street in her. She’s small but loud. She’ll get in your face and is pretty much just learning to play well with others.
I love Scott Bakula and was a fan of both Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise. He adds that command-authority mixed with caring-father-figure here that he delivered as Captain Archer. One of the big issues, however, has to do with his New Orleans accent. He still travels in and out of it so much that it’s actually getting distracting. Last season they appeared to kill the accent, but instead it is rather toned down. I suspect it really drives the New Orleans people crazy.
The set is another good detailed environment. It is set up very much like the one from the LA show. You have a bullpen area with ornate rugs under the desks and an upper level with a railing. I have to say it looks too much like the LA set. That’s were any familiar elements end. The show takes full advantage of its New Orleans setting. From the music to the local culture and architecture, the series has tied the atmosphere of New Orleans rather solidly to the stories and action. It’s the second show I’ve watched in recent years set in New Orleans. The other was The Originals, and while both do a superb job of bringing in the city, NCIS: New Orleans does a more masterful job.
The cases also have a New Orleans flair to them. From the cemetery culture to a second line funeral parade, the stories take us into the heart of the city. The aftermath of Katrina figures into episodes, as do the week-long St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Here’s where it’s so important that we have a character who understands the heartbeat of the city so much. Brody serves as our stand-in, because this is all new to her. A vital character to have, just rather poorly written and portrayed. And that’s certainly not something I have ever said about any NCIS show before.
In the first season Pride’s nemesis is Douglas Hamilton, played brilliantly by Steven Weber. We just don’t see Weber enough these days, and he works well as a kind of foil for Pride. Too often these kinds of characters are loved by everyone, and it’s just not realistic for Pride, who absolutely has had to step on toes along the way. We get the idea that Hamilton can be a good or bad guy, but it’s always dynamic when these two characters share the screen. This time both are kidnapped by a grieving man who blames them for the death of a family member. It’s the best show of the season, because here there is incredible chemistry.
That season has a huge shadow cast over the team. The first episode has Pride go undercover in a violent militia organization. When he’s discovered, a bounty is put on his head, and it gets mentioned a lot during the season. There is an episode where his daughter is attacked, but they build this thing up without a really proper release. I suspect it will carry on into the third season, where it will explode over several episodes. I hope this isn’t as far as they’re going to take such a big buildup.
That season sees a crossover between NCIS mother ship and NCIS: New Orleans. A plane shows up in-flight with a dead crew, and someone has to take it down before it crashes into a population. Finding the answers behind the dead crew brings together the crews of both shows. Abby’s brother is suspected among the dead, and we finally get to meet her sibling.
As the third season begins, the unit is under investigation by the FBI. There is consideration that the team is too rogue and needs to be broken up. It’s a common plot point on these kinds of team shows, and you always know they won’t really be taken down. That FBI team is led by new recurring character FBI Assistant Director Raymond Isler, played with presence by Derek Webster. He’s been bouncing around many television shows, most notably a similar position in The Mentalist. Isler’s top agent is Tammy Gregorio, played with some fire by Vanessa Ferlito. She’s a New York agent with the accent and the attitude. She’s not liking New Orleans, but she’s being dangled in front of us as Brody’s replacement for half the season.
For the first time the series uses two story points to separate the season halves. The first arc is a big tie-in to the FBI team in town to investigate the NCIS team. They are also after a huge drug cartel that has imbedded agents in the New Orleans area. That’s the excuse for Agent Gregorio to remain and even work with NCIS for the first part of the season. The big target here is Javier Garcia, played by Julian Acosta. He gets too close at times to the team and even shows up as engaged to an old friend of Pride’s. As the team closes in on Garcia, they accidentally uncover a connection to Mayor Hamilton, played nicely by Steven Weber. That’s where the baton is passed, and Hamilton becomes the big fish for the second half of the season. While there are still some standalone episodes, this season is far more serialized than previous years in the franchise. By the last few episodes of the year, Pride ends up going rogue to bring down the man who has really been a kind of nemesis since the show began. Bakula and Weber share great chemistry, and it’s a treat to see these characters go head to head with the gloves off. The result will change the team, and perhaps the series a bit going into the next season.
The fourth season begins with the consequences of the previous year’s big story. Dwayne Pride (Bakula) took some pretty big risks to bring down a conspiracy that included the city’s mayor to destroy a low-income area of the city by flooding it and killing thousands. They wanted to use the land for a port project that would have brought millions of dollars to the city, but mostly their pockets. Now Pride is paying the price. A local news blogger has gotten some of his case files and has published incidents of Pride going rogue and “bending” the rules, even beating and kidnapping suspects. Once again a season starts with the unit under investigation and in danger of getting shuttered. Yes, that’s exactly how Season 3 started. This time it isn’t going to be resolved in just a handful of episodes. This story is going to dominate the season.
This season offers up a chance to visit with some of the show’s more endearing recurring characters. When last year’s conspirators start dying, we find out there was a bigger fish than Mayor Hamilton, and each ends up dead when they attempt to make a deal. That means we get to see Steven Weber return for a couple of episodes as Hamilton, and the chemistry he has with Bakula is always good stuff. Last season it was FBI Agent Isler who was charged with investigating the team. Now he returns from time to time as a more friendly FBI connection, and that means several episodes with Derek Webster along for the ride. Matt Servino was the FBI agent investigating Tony Soprano back in the day. Now he’s a captain of the New Orleans police force as Captain Estes. He gets to become a crucial piece of the puzzle this season. Chelsea Field is the real-life wife of Scott Bakula, and she returns as his love interest Rita Devereaux. Rita is back from Washington to let Pride know that someone big in D.C. is after him and behind many of the really bad things that are happening to Pride and his team. That all leads up to a wild two-part episode season finale.
There are some new faces to be found this season. Amanda Warren plays the city’s acting Mayor Taylor. Loretta will end up splitting her time with the team to help her campaign for the job full-time. She brings a character that has some tension with the team but potential to be more cooperative. Desperate Housewives star Doug Savant is a deputy Attorney General who figures into the big story as a nemesis for Pride and the team. Mark Gessner is Oliver Crane, the blogger who ends up bringing the pressure on Pride, turning his city against him.
There are some standalone cases that help to balance the season. There’s a Halloween episode that features a 150-year-old ghost and a trip to a midnight graveyard. Some headlines-ripping episodes include one about a printed gun, and the city turning against Pride certainly touches heavily on the police/community relations that have caused too much news of late. Jimmy Buffett appears in the premier episode to help Pride reopen his bar that was torched last season. There is no crossover this season with any of the other shows. Star Trek fans should check out a pretty quick Easter egg. When Pride is talking to the chief on the conference video screen, the message is identified as NX-01 when it concludes. That was, of course, the registration number for Bakula’s Enterprise. You get 22 episodes on six discs with a few extras. There’s the traditional CBS half-hour season wrap-up. You get a profile on Patton/Mitchell. There’s a short feature that asks the actors what’s the most common question fans ask you. It’s all tied up with a sit-down between Bakula and Fields.
The finale is a pretty fast-moving affair that gives you some wonderful build-up. Unfortunately, I have to say I was disappointed with the climax and resolution. It looked too much like those run-out-of-time endings that wasn’t quite up to the buildup. The final minute of the finale launches us into a whole new aspect of this story with a sudden cliffhanger. Next year will end up being three years that this show has pretty much milked the same story thread.
The fifth season begins shortly after the end of the previous season. Dwayne Pride (Bakula) has been shot by the hit-lady Amelia Parsons (Hollman), and he’s in critical condition. He’s fighting for his life while the team tries to deal without him. It’s actually a good episode if you’re new to the series. While you missed the shooting itself, the episode quickly gets you up to speed on what happened. What makes it a rather easy jump-in point is that the crisis allows you to really get to know these characters. How they handle their worry is revealing, and you really get to know Pride because we get to travel inside his head and see moments from his past that helped to form his own character. Meanwhile, you can enjoy getting to know characters the rest of us have gotten to know over those first four years.
No regulars have been lost this season, so you know who they are. Christopher LaSalle is played by Lucas Black. He’s the down-home southern guy. He’s known Pride the longest of the team and functions as his right-hand man. Sebastian Lund is played by Rob Kerkovich and is one of the team’s tech guys. He used to be a morgue assistant who worked closely with the team and is now a fully trained field agent. He’s the more socially awkward team member who has the least confidence in the field. He’s teamed up with a relative newcomer to the show, Tammy Gregorio, who is played by Vanessa Ferlito. She’s a Brooklyn native complete with the accent and attitude. She and Sebastian have a growing chemistry where they love to fight and ride each other. This season when Tammy needs a place to live she moves in with Sebastian, an idea that actually came from the actors themselves, and it leaves even more material for that interaction. She’s an M&M. She’s got a hard, tough shell but is somewhat soft and sweet inside. Daryl Mitchell is the complete tech wizard of the team. He calls himself PPP, which stands for Patton P. Plame. Like Mitchell, he’s wheelchair-bound and a bit arrogant. His character is usually the comic relief, but he gets a heavy episode this season when his best friend is killed because of a spy ring operating out of a veterans’ rehab center. Rounding out the group is CCH Pounder as medical examiner Loretta Wade. She’s also shared a long relationship with Pride, and while not really a part of NCIS, she prioritizes their cases and lends a personal touch. She gets a love interest this season in the form of the show’s long-time director and chief engineer of the Enterprise, Levar Burton.
While no one left the show this season, there are two quite large additions to the cast. When Pride finally rehabilitates himself from his near-death experience (more on that later), he is promoted to be the senior agent in charge of the southeast district. That means there needs to be a replacement as head of the team. That position is filled by Necar Zadegan as Special Agent Hannah Khoury. She has international intelligence background, and we learn she’s been involved in a controversial operation in cooperation with the CIA. It’s a mission that will come back to haunt her and the team. She has to find a bit of patience in order to win the trust of the team. It also doesn’t help her that Pride isn’t spending too much time at his HQ desk, but rather keeps inserting himself in the team’s cases. Zadegan does mix with the team well, and I was a bit surprised how quickly she felt like she’d been there all along. She has an estranged family that she has fought to keep safe from the dangers of her job, but there wouldn’t exactly be a lot of drama if it went according to plan.
The other new cast member comes in the guise of Jason Alan Carvell as Jimmy Boyd. The fifth episode is the show’s 100th, and it’s a pretty big milestone episode beyond that magic number. Stacy Keach returns as Pride’s wayward father, and Pride discovers that he has a half-brother. Jimmy’s not so happy with the discovery himself, but as the season progresses the character settles into Pride’s life and becomes his partner at the bar.
The season is dominated by three basic plot points. The first moves this series a bit into the world of the supernatural. Pride’s near-death experience has changed him. He spent some time inside of his mind dealing with a woman who is apparently the Angel of Death. She spends quite a bit of the pilot trying to get Pride to “cross over”. When he finally recovers, he discovers that he’s having premonitions of danger that ends up saving team members and his own life. The Angel, played by Amy Rutberg, continues to appear to him as well. Where are the Winchester boys when you need them?
His pursuit of his would-be assassin leads him to a secret shadow organization that calls itself Apollyon. They are targeting him and his family to retrieve a file that could uncover their activities. Killer Amelia Parsons has the files, and that’s how Pride gets drawn in. It’s no surprise that his quest to bring down Apollyon ends up becoming an obsession that eventually converges with Hannah’s troubles. It’s all leading to a season finale two-part episode that finds the team in the Russian Federation trying to clear both troubles. Thankfully it does not end with a cliffhanger. While certain elements remain open enough that we’re sure to see Apollyon return soon, there’s nothing like last season’s shooting of Pride.
The other thing holding this entry back is that they have pretty much fallen into a bit of a rut. This season begins like three of the others, with either Pride (Bakula) or a member of his team (last season it was the entire office) under review from some big shots about the way they do things. This time the reviewer is an against-type Richard Thomas as NCIS Deputy Director Van Cleef. He’s a typical thorn in the side for the team, but it’s not Pride or his team he’s really after. It’s Special Agent Hannah Khoury (Zadegan), who was put in charge of the team while Pride took a promotion last season that didn’t work out. We always knew he’d be back in charge, and he pretty much was anyway, neglecting his new office duties. At first I just looked upon this season start as a way to set things right for the coming season. In order for Pride to get back officially in charge, Hannah is going to have to be demoted. That’s exactly what happens, of course, but I credit the writers for not just using the event to set things right. The relationship between Van Cleef and Hannah will build toward a serious confrontation and new mission in life for Hannah. It’s the end of the season we get the payoff, but not quite as quick satisfaction as we would have gotten. COVID-19 stopped production early and that story was just getting to the payoff when it was unfortunately preempted by the production shutdown. We get an unintended cliffhanger that will be resolved in the first episodes of the sixth season.
Sandwiched in between these stories you’ll find many of the usual cases to confront the team. There are two notable exceptions to the routine. The first involves yet another cast member leaving the show. It was no secret that Lucas Black decided to leave to spend more time with his family that the New Orleans location shooting didn’t really allow. His death is no spoiler to anyone paying attention. But he gets to do some emotional stuff before his exit, and his leaving is a serious blow for the series. He was my favorite character on the series, and it won’t be the same without him. You will get some quality time with Christopher before he goes, and huge credit to the writers for making it a compelling story arc.
The second big story is some fallout from Pride’s kidnapping and torture the year before. One of the ways he was abused was being dosed with LSD. He’s not only dealing with the stress of the ordeal but some bad mental results of the drugging. He’s having disturbing dreams about a mysterious man dressed in red. He’s not getting any sleep, and it’s making him sloppy and his friends worried. He takes some huge medical risks to attempt to resolve the issue, to discover it was related to a suppressed memory out of his childhood. It gives us another nice piece of the puzzle that is Dwayne Pride. It also resolves over several episodes.
Another peek into Pride’s past occurs when he must return to the New York town where he was a sheriff’s deputy some years before. He stirs up a little trouble when he begins to doubt that a killer he busted was the right guy. It’s another complicated issue that has more forward reaching implications, particularly for his daughter, who falls for New York Detective David Cabrera, played by Lenny Platt. Pride is going to have to get used to the guy, because his daughter decides to marry him. It brings up all of the bad blood between Pride and his own ex-wife over how hard it is to be married to a cop. That just got a lot worse.
Other episodes deal with UFO’s, an international femme fatale, killer drones, and a terrorist hacker who likes to blow stuff up by manipulating gas lines to explode any place in the city he wants. There’s some interesting real-life foreshadowing when a cop is accused of killing an unarmed black man and racial tensions get out of control. There’s even a crook who steals Christopher’s inactive identity and crosses paths with the team. Sabastian decides he needs more action in his life, so he trains to become a member of NCIS’s REACT Team, which is the Navy’s version of SWAT. Wade’s adopted son wants to be a cop, which worries her to no end when he decides to go on a police ride-along. Hannah deals with new challenges when her ex-husband finds a new lady and Hannah worries she’s being replaced, particularly in her daughter’s life. Of course, the team must deal with Christopher’s death and getting the arrogant, slippery guy who killed him. The season also brings us the inevitable replacement for the deceased officer.
Enter Charles Michael Davis as Special Agent Quenton Carter. He’s the direct opposite of Christopher. He tends to stay in assignments for short periods and move on. So he’s not interested in getting close to anyone, although he ends up being nice to Wade. He upsets the team by pushing out Christopher’s stuff and taking over his desk before the team was ready to deal with it. He showed up earlier than he was supposed to. He’s more than a little arrogant and likes to dress in expensive suits. Obviously that casting was intended to shake things up a bit.
Finally after seven seasons and 155 episodes, the show has gone away. It’s making room for NCIS: Hawaii, and next year around this time we’ll see where that fits into the franchise. With this set you get all 155 episodes on 39 discs. You get all of the extras from each season which includes deleted scenes, crossover and spin-off episodes, and plenty of short features on various aspects of the show from cast to action scenes. It’s a nice collection and a fitting send-off for the series. It’s been a lot of television to watch sometimes in a short period of time to get the scoop out to you guys. “Sometimes it sucks being good at what you do.”