Billy Dee Williams on NCIS: Review

Most of you, I’m sure, are like me right now and hoping and praying that the election results hurry up and get in so we can all get back to normal lives. For me, normal on Tuesdays involves episodes of NCIS, but since we’re missing my favorite procedural for election coverage tonight, I thought reviewing last week’s episode, which guest-starred Star Wars favorite, Billy Dee Williams, might make up for the lack of show.

Billy Dee Williams (left) as Leroy Jethro Moore and Mark Harmon (right) as Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

This episode is particularly special, as it is dedicated to the Montford Point Marines, of which Williams’ character is a fictional member. The Montford Point Marines were the first African-American marines in the United States military and served with distinction during World War II. Surviving members received the Congressional Medal of Honor in June of 2012, nearly seventy years after their service, only after Congress passed legislation in 1996 correcting an injustice that had prevented soldiers of racial minorities from receiving the honor up to that point. For this reason alone, this episode of NCIS is a special one.

Unfortunately, the episode didn’t quite live up to what it could (and should) have been in honor of these brave men. Spoilers after the jump.

The episode itself is a fairly run-of-the-mill NCIS case–dead petty officer found out in the woods; Williams comes in as Leroy Jethro Moore, the namesake of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, when the team is at a pawn shop, trying to find where a weapon was sold, and discovers that Moore has attempted to pawn his Congressional Gold Medal (in order to raise money to fix the lift at the senior center). This is the only interaction between the A and B storylines in this episode, which while it is a nice change from usual episodes in that we never have to worry about Moore being part of the investigation into the petty officer’s murder, it did make the episode very choppy, and didn’t lend any real drama to the episode. It also meant that we didn’t get to see Williams until the second half of the episode, as most of the first part of the episode is either devoted to the case or to Gibbs trying to get his father to tell him exactly why
he no longer speaks to the original Leroy Jethro.

It turns out that Gibbs’ mother, when dying of cancer, chose to take her own life, rather than stay in pain and had confided in Moore before she did so. He, not wanting to see her in pain, said nothing to anyone and let her make the decision, which Jackson Gibbs, Gibbs’ father, discovered, causing the rift in their friendship. This is what takes us the second half of the episode to discover. It’s somewhat difficult to hear, especially if you’ve ever had someone in your family afflicted with an illness that significantly reduces their quality of life.

What disappointed me was that we didn’t really get to see Billy Dee Williams exercise his acting chops. The drama wasn’t terribly dramatic. And let’s face it, when we heard that he was going to be on NCIS, the moment we were all waiting for was for him to show up at NCIS headquarters and suddenly use those Lando Calrissian smooth tones on Ziva and Abby. Because he’s Billy Dee Williams, and if he’s going to show up, that’s what we expect. There were a few times when hints of his voice could be heard, but for the most part, if you didn’t already know, you’d never have guessed who was playing Leroy Jethro Moore.

And I suppose that’s not a bad thing. Certainly, in an episode dedicated to the Marines of Montford Point, it should be serious. But NCIS isn’t a show that takes itself all that seriously, and giving Williams either a chance to really show off his acting chops or to do what he does best and ham it up (or both) would have made this episode a lot better.

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