The eight season of CBS’ Navy cop show NCIS concludes tonight. Does the season finale “Pyramid” live up to those of past years?

NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service has been following an uncharacteristically intense multi-episode arc as of late. It centers around the infamous “Port to Port” serial killer, who the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has been looking into for the last four episodes. The CIA, via Ziva’s boyfriend Agent Ray Cruz (Enrique Murciano), is also assisting in the investigation. E.J. Barret (Sarah Jane Morris, Brothers & Sisters) is a guest field agent who’s been tracking the killer for months.

Considering this is the finale review, expect spoilers for ‘NCIS’ Season 8 as well as the finale. Read on at your own risk.

At the conclusion of last week’s episode, we learned the identity of the Port to Port killer: former Lt. Jonas Kobb (guest star Kerr Smith).

After being discharged from the Navy, Kobb was handed off to the CIA for intensive experimental training – for undercover mercenary ops, dubbed “Operation Frankenstein”. (Man, those military industrial types love their portentous code names.) Several NCIS agents are murdered at the hands of Kobb, including Mike Franks as well as Gayne Levin – and E.J. is taken hostage with moments left to live.

“Pyramid” opens right where the previous episode left off: with Agents Gibbs (Mark Harmon), David (Cote de Pablo), and DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) breaking off pursuit of the killer to tend to their wounded and dead. E.J. is rescued and recovers, and the entire team must band together to stop Kobb before he murders again.

Kobb is certainly the best villain that NCIS has seen in its eight years. Like John McClane gone rogue, he runs circles around the investigation team, coming and going through DC military facilities as he pleases, leaving ominous clues and kidnapping agents only to mysteriously let them live. Kobb creates a feeling of real fear for the characters that stems from the murders he’s already committed. It’s rare to see a procedural devote this much time and effort to a singe “big bad” and the tension in the finale is a worthy pay-off.

And what’s more, he’s a sympathetic villain. Kobb was driven into an intense state of post-traumatic stress disorder after his vicious training and service, and seeks to strike back at those who “made” him – including Navy Secretary Davenport and NCIS Director Vance. While I wasn’t exactly rooting for Kobb, I was intrigued to see how his story ended.

Which was the only real downer of the episode. Kobb spent five episodes running around the team like a murderous Roadrunner, and the end his story is concluded in an extremely anti-climactic fashion. You can take it one of two ways: either the NCIS was slacking off for the last few weeks, or Kobb simply allows himself to be beaten – neither of which is very satisfying.

The other fun character that’s been an essential part of the arc is Trent Kort (David Dayan Fisher). Now possessing only 50% of his maximum number of eyeballs, Kort is still up to his weaselly tricks, leaving the viewer to wonder whose side he’s on this week. As in seasons past, Kort steadfastly refuses to die.

There’s still plenty of time to spend investigating the characters in the squad. NCIS does a good job of juggling a tense atmosphere with romantic entanglements and a tangible feeling of loss. Most cop shows have a hard time showing genuine grief at the loss of a character, but surprisingly it’s Pauley Perratte’s flustered performance that drives the point home. The funeral scene at the conclusion is tastefully done, with some nice call-backs to meaningful moments from previous seasons.

While the “Port to Port” storyline is concluded, it wouldn’t be NCIS without a summer cliffhanger. The nugget at the end of “Pyramid” is well-done. It leaves viewers wondering at the allegiances of key characters – without diminishing the emotional ride that they’ve been on though the last 200 minutes of showtime. Look for the secret, and Tony Dinozzo’s involvement therein, to be a major arc this fall.

Overall it’s a solid end for NCIS. The ambitious story arc is a welcome one among other episodic shows that prefer the one-and-done approach, and the writers played it smart by giving the characters and the audience some closure during the hiatus. While not as action-packed as previous NCIS finales, “Pyramid” and its connected episodes are worth watching for the Kobb character alone.

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