NCIS’ PTB Fail, Fail, Fail

A couple years ago (oh, the time flies!), I cringed and whinged about several new female characters on NCIS. While one of them toned down and grew on me (Ziva), the other’s bar was set so low one would have thought it impossible for her to get worse. Yet she did.

I’m talking about NCIS Director Jenny Shepard. Spoilers for the S5 finale will be included in this post. You have been warned.

I was genuinely excited at the prospect of a woman in a leadership position of a lesser-known government agency, even fictionally. I thought it was about time, and something that could be explored with great results. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we got.

Director Shepard came on board with baggage – a previous relationship with one of our field agents, Gibbs. This alone wouldn’t have caused irreparable harm, but for the fact that every single scene of hers, at the beginning of her tenure, included flashbacks of her and Gibbs in bed together. This was coupled with a distinct lack of respect from Gibbs, and the fact that the opening storyline included some terrorist going after the womenz in Gibbs’ life. She was a little woman who needed protecting – i.e., her being there was really, really all about Gibbs.

Eventually, TPTB weaned way from the flashbacks, thank goodness. Gibbs finally seemed okay with having a woman in a position of power. Her role was relatively unobtrusive for a while. Not what I wanted out of a female director, but at that point I took it.

Then, though, they created a new awful storyarc for Shepard: a vendetta against an arms dealer responsible for the death of her father. It became all-encompassing and clear that she was using her position for her own gain more than anything else. She put one of the agents in super-secret undercover operations to bag this guy. Not because it fell in the confines of her job, or her agency’s, but because it was personal to her. Instead of getting flashbacks of her shagging a now-subordinate, every time we saw Shepard it was to demonstrate her growing obsession. That one ended, finally, with Shepard flat-out murdering the guy. And having Gibbs cover her for it. *head desk*

Enter the S5 finale, in which we learn a bit more about the flashbacky sex scenes. Shepard and Gibbs were on an undercover mission at the time of that tryst, in which they and one other agent each had a mark to eliminate. Somehow, it got all fouled up and years later, someone was after the three agents. Want to guess how it got fouled up? Yeah. Jenny Shepard didn’t kill her mark. She let her go, and the mark now sought revenge.

The demise of Jenny Shepard was officially in a gunfight in the middle of the desert, where she is holed up with a retired agent (friend of Gibbs’). Before the gunmen come for her, she discloses one of her greatest regrets was letting Gibbs go, romantically, in the pursuit of her career.

The real demise of Jenny Shepard happened when the writers conceptualized her so poorly.

Do I need to recap all the ways NCIS’ PTB failed with this character, or is the summary of events enough?

Comments

  1. SunlessNick says

    There’s also the jealousy about Gibbs’ relationship with his army counterpart (who just had to be called Mann). And the way the scriptwriters do compare her obsession with this French guy to Gibbs’ with Ari – but only to insist that it’s completely different from when Gibbs does it. I agree: fail.

    I do like Ziva though. I have some suspicion that the early scripts were due to the PTBs trying to insist that Kate fans like her, not realising that the easiest way to do it was just to make Ziva cool, and let her be Ziva.

    (Could be considered the Jonas-Ziva effect).

  2. sbg says

    There’s also the jealousy about Gibbs’ relationship with his army counterpart (who just had to be called Mann). And the way the scriptwriters do compare her obsession with this French guy to Gibbs’ with Ari – but only to insist that it’s completely different from when Gibbs does it. I agree: fail.

    Oh, I’d blocked those bits out. :(

    I do like Ziva though. I have some suspicion that the early scripts were due to the PTBs trying to insist that Kate fans like her, not realising that the easiest way to do it was just to make Ziva cool, and let her be Ziva.

    What makes me moderately nervous about Ziva is the PTB seeming to shove UST with Tony at us. Not necessary.

  3. gategrrl says

    Ah, but it IS necessary for those famed inveterate shippers who require some sort of het-hook for their shows.

    Just sayin’.

    I did start watching NCIS *just before* the Director appeared on the show, and then I threw my hands up and gave up on NCIS. No way was I going to get hooked into a show with a sham of a female character.

  4. Nialla says

    Browser crash ate my original post. [pout]

    The short version is I’m getting tired of programs that “show” women in positions of power, yet they truly have no power other than what the men around them (including TPTB) give them.

    Women who are supposedly in charge are still women first and boss second in most cases. If they’re not nicely subservient to the men around them (even her own employees), well, then she’s just a ball-breaking bitch.

    Even if they have a theoretical position of power, how many times do they get it wholly on their own merit, and there’s no connection to the men around her? Even Shepard and Gibbs having an affair relates to that idea, since we couldn’t just have a female director who came in as an independently created character, we had to have one who was also an ex-lover of the male lead.

    Besides, don’t we all know that “strong female character” just translates to “able to kill bad guys while wearing a skintight outfit and stiletto heels, while maintaining perfect hair and make-up”?

  5. says

    I’ve only recently seen this show in the form of USA marathons in the background while doing something else. The UST attempts with Tony and Ziva make me hurl.

    one of her greatest regrets was letting Gibbs go, romantically, in the pursuit of her career.

    OMG! OMG! No, you don’t have to explain anymore, this one sentence would’ve done it for me. ARGH!

    I’d like to see 10,000 women characters declare their dying regret to be “I let go of my career to hold onto my husband.”

    or

    I’d like to see 10,000 male characters declare their dying regret to be “I lost the love of my life because I put my career first.”

    Until at least one of those things happen, you absolutely cannot have a woman character saying she regrets losing a man to keep her career without being rightly accused of being a rung down on the evolutionary ladder.

    You doubly can’t do it if said woman has been incompetent at her career because of how you wrote it!

    OMG, whoever’s responsible for this, go volunteer yourself for lethal medical experiments right now. You’re no use to the planet any other way.

  6. sbg says

    Gategrrl said:

    Ah, but it IS necessary for those famed inveterate shippers who require some sort of het-hook for their shows.

    Oh, jeez, don’t get me started on how much I do not understand that. If it’s there and believeable, great. But it does not have to be there, and forcing it where it isn’t is painful.

    I did start watching NCIS *just before* the Director appeared on the show, and then I threw my hands up and gave up on NCIS. No way was I going to get hooked into a show with a sham of a female character.

    Much like Nick, I’d watch for Ducky and Abby alone, though I do still love Tony and McGee and Ziva isn’t terrible aside from the ship angle I hope they never push more than they push any other angle.

  7. sbg says

    Nialla said:

    The short version is I’m getting tired of programs that “show” women in positions of power, yet they truly have no power other than what the men around them (including TPTB) give them.

    And I say yes to your whole entire post.

  8. sbg says

    I’d like to see 10,000 women characters declare their dying regret to be “I let go of my career to hold onto my husband.”

    or

    I’d like to see 10,000 male characters declare their dying regret to be “I lost the love of my life because I put my career first.”

    Heh, right. It wouldn’t be so bad, because people do have regrets, except this I-wish-I’d-kept-my-man-and-had-babies card is always pulled out for women, isn’t it?

    Does no one believe there are women out here who are perfectly content as single, childless human beings? That our fulfillment in life comes from elsewhere?

    It would just be nice to have this represented more often, and not in a way that paints such a woman as another horrible, stupid stereotype.

  9. Patrick says

    Let’s not forget that Gibbs’ friend stressed (twice!) that Director Shephard’s action right up to her death were taken to protect Gibbs. So even in an episode supposedly focused on her it was still about the men.

  10. Nialla says

    Let’s not forget that Gibbs’ friend stressed (twice!) that Director Shephard’s action right up to her death were taken to protect Gibbs.

    That totally made no sense, either. A killer is coming after three agents, and the first one is dead. So the second goes off the grid and doesn’t so much as mention to the third he’s a target? Um, yeah, I can see how that would protect him. Er, wait, no I can’t.

    I know there was supposed to be some subtext of it was her screwup that started this, so she was going to end it, but leaving Gibbs blissfully unaware of the situation with assassins having his name on the list was just as bad as the original screwup — being too girly to kill a target, then lying about it for years.

    I still think a lot of the really weird stuff we saw this past season and back a bit beyond that was due to the administration. When Bellasario left as an active part of TPTB (after Harmon supposedly threatened to walk, which he denies), I recall an article in TV Guide that talked about how different the show was, as in less stress for everyone. Apparently Bellasario was turning in scripts at the last minute, which left them scrambling for places to do location shoots, time for actors to learn lines and this snowballed into late starts for filming late into the night.

    The last season was without Bellasario, but he left a lot of random plot stuff lying about, especially of the romantic variety, and I think the new regime was trying to clean up as much as possible this season. They ditched Mann with no fanfare at all, Jeanne with only a parting shot at trying to pin her father’s murder on Tony, and the real killer, Jenny, going out in a blaze of glory. Taking Jenny out of the picture left a lot of questions unanswered, such as whether her father is alive and if he was connected to the frog, but since it was truly only important to her, I doubt it will come up again, at least not beyond a passing mention.

    I have hope this clean up will allow next season to go back to more traditional NCIS stories. Well, as traditional as they ever get. *g* I love the characters, though I have to invent a blind spot when they have Ziva pining over Tony.

    I’ve realized recently that while I say I love “character stories” versus “plot stories” I think what I really like is a plotty story that allows revelation of characters. When a show’s been on for very long, they tend to shift away from their “routine of the week” and focus on individual characters to the detriment of the show overall.

  11. SunlessNick says

    But [UST] does not have to be there, and forcing it where it isn’t is painful. - sbg

    Both Ziva and Tony strike me as the types to fancy experts, but experts in a different field from themselves. Which means going for each other strikes me false. Especially if they’re going to make it entirey Ziva wanting Tony; that doesn’t just strike me false, it strikes me aggravating.

    Then, though, they created a new awful storyarc for Shepard: a vendetta against an arms dealer responsible for the death of her father.

    Thing is, I have no problem with an arc running in the background of several episodes until a cliamax, and the hunt for a dastardly* arms dealer makes a good arc for NCIS. But why isn’t the fact that he’s dastardly* a good enough reason to hunt him? Why does Shepard need a personal reason (especially one that revolves around her mistakes)? Why shouldn’t her principles account for her interest in taking him down? But then female characters rarely get to act on principle; only react to trauma.

    * I do apologise; I just love the word dastardly.

  12. sbg says

    Especially if they’re going to make it entirey Ziva wanting Tony; that doesn’t just strike me false, it strikes me aggravating.

    Indeed. I think they’ve made strides in trying to humanize her, after introducing her as Practically Perfect in Every Possible Way. Unfortunately, those attempts have generally revolved around romance – the guy who died, for example, or the man she slept with while feeling fragile and vulnerable because she wasn’t infallible in a terrible situation. If they keep making her seem as if she’s pining after Tony…well, that’s not the kind of development I personally think best for her.

    Thing is, I have no problem with an arc running in the background of several episodes until a cliamax, and the hunt for a dastardly* arms dealer makes a good arc for NCIS. But why isn’t the fact that he’s dastardly* a good enough reason to hunt him?

    Precisely right. I don’t think that particular arc was well suited for NCIS as an agency, though I could have overlooked it if it hadn’t been less of an arc for the show as it was a personal revenge storyline for Madame Director. All it did was demonstrate why she wasn’t really a good example of a woman in power.

    Also, dastardly is indeed a good word.

  13. says

    I don’t tend to analyze things as well (or as often) as you guys do, but Director Shepard made me crazy from the beginning. I’ve been chanting dump her pretty much from day one, but it got worse as the seasons progressed. Now at least, I know why she always jumped on my last nerve – everything you said above. Ugh.

    As for Tony and Ziva, maybe I’m blocking, but I don’t see it as UST at all. I think Ziva is looking out for her partner. She thinks Tony is irresponsible/dangerous to himself and she seems to be trying to keep him on the map. (But I could be in the Land of Big Denial. It wouldn’t be the first time.)

  14. says

    Jhianna, about the perception of UST. NCIS reminds me a lot of Stargate on this front, which in turn reminds me of a few shows. What they all had in common were:

    –Fans who thought the two people were meant to be
    –Other fans who felt the show was trying to suggest that, and didn’t like the idea
    –Other fans who had no idea what the above two groups were talking about

    It seems to me what producers try to do is put UST across for part of the audience (the ones who like it) while maintaining plausible deniability to the rest. From what I saw of Ziva and Tony (I’ve seen the show more than a few times, but am not a loyal viewer), I felt the producers were going for UST or at least a juvenile sort of flirtation. But I go looking for UST (not because I like it, but because it seems to strikes me as a cynical attempt to manipulate viewers), so naturally I would be more likely to perceive it.

  15. sbg says

    I don’t tend to analyze things as well (or as often) as you guys do, but Director Shepard made me crazy from the beginning. I’ve been chanting dump her pretty much from day one, but it got worse as the seasons progressed. Now at least, I know why she always jumped on my last nerve – everything you said above. Ugh.

    It was such a disappointment. I was willing to overlook my dislike of Lauren Holly if the character were good. Unfortunately, my twitchiness only continued to grow the longer Shepard was on. I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t stick with the “fatal illness” story and dragged out her departure for longer. Instead we got the “oh, well, she was going to die anyway” ending. Ugh.

    As for Tony and Ziva, maybe I’m blocking, but I don’t see it as UST at all. I think Ziva is looking out for her partner. She thinks Tony is irresponsible/dangerous to himself and she seems to be trying to keep him on the map. (But I could be in the Land of Big Denial. It wouldn’t be the first time.)

    I think part of it is my hyper-sensitivity to it. I was a huge Stargate SG-1 fan, and on that show I didn’t see the manufactured UST until the powers that be really started openly shoving it at us. And then certain members of TPTB made it seem as if anyone who didn’t see it as a natural progressionwas “wrong.” Now I twitch at the mere thought, especially in workplace situations.

    Fine in fanon. Please no, no, no in canon.

  16. sbg says

    Nialla said:

    I have hope this clean up will allow next season to go back to more traditional NCIS stories. Well, as traditional as they ever get. *g* I love the characters, though I have to invent a blind spot when they have Ziva pining over Tony.

    In watching early seasons, I honestly hadn’t remembered how they’d go to ships. That was pretty cool, and I’d like to see that again. Kinda looks like I’ll get to, what with Tony being shipped off. ;)

    I’ve realized recently that while I say I love “character stories” versus “plot stories” I think what I really like is a plotty story that allows revelation of characters. When a show’s been on for very long, they tend to shift away from their “routine of the week” and focus on individual characters to the detriment of the show overall.

    I feel like I’m in the minority when I say I wish a show would just wrap up before they reach this stage. I hate that Stargate toiled on for at least three years more than it should have. If not five. And, yeah, even as a diehard Daniel fan – I think I would have rather left it with him glowy. Bittersweet and painful, but at least he was still Daniel.

    Whoop, tangent. Heh.

  17. SunlessNick says

    This was coupled with a distinct lack of respect from Gibbs

    I remember in Mann’s first or second episode, she refers to his file as mentioning his lack of respect for any woman in authority – which he was demonstrating to her at the time, for her temerity in having jurisdiction over a case he wanted – and then she goes right on ahead and fancies him anyway. Then there’s the three divorces, all antagonistic (which prove nothing canine about Gibbs, despite one of his ex’s having a second divorce apparently proving something canine about her). Put all that together, and he strikes me as a candidate for this – http://thehathorlegacy.com/the-misogynist-who-gets-the-girls-is-a-male-fantasy/ – thread. Or at least as a Gary Stu, since he is also portrayed as super-sentitive, and and super-fanciable.

    I think maybe I hate Gibbs even more than Horatio Caine.

    [And in case we had any doubt about Shepard, there’s also Gibbs’ old supervisor, who reacts to her appointment by saying he’d retired at just the right time if they’re putting women in charge. Apart from that, he was painted as entirely a positive character (despite things like witholding evidence, assaulting agents, and so on). TPTB would probably say that his sexism was a humanising flaw, but it’s only a flaw when the strory does not vindicate it. Otherwise it’s more Gary Stuism]

  18. sbg says

    I used to really like Gibbs. I still can overlook some of his character flaws, but the disrespect for women (except Abby, whom, now that I think about it, he treats like a prized pet half the time) and him covering up for criminals on more than one occasion dim my like substantially.

  19. SunlessNick says

    Sorry for the thread necromancy, but the UK has just caught up with the point where Shepard killed the arms dealer, and yet another piece of fail came up, because:

    Then, though, they created a new awful storyarc for Shepard: a vendetta against an arms dealer responsible for the death of her father.

    … he wasn’t. It was that CIA guy who’d done it to maintain his cover. They couldn’t even let Shepard be right about the guilt of her vendetta’s target. They don’t miss a single level to break her down on.

    Speaking of which, Gibbs works out who really killed her father, and doesn’t see fit to tell her (or hasn’t yet).

    On a different note, I can’t help wondering, did they choose the arms dealer’s handle so that they could call a French guy “the Frog” without getting called on it?

  20. sbg says

    … he wasn’t. It was that CIA guy who’d done it to maintain his cover. They couldn’t even let Shepard be right about the guilt of her vendetta’s target. They don’t miss a single level to break her down on.

    I was so caught up in The Bad that I either blocked that out or forgot it. LOL. Honestly, Gibbs did some questionable things last year, both related to Shepard and otherwise. Things that made me uncomfortable to continue thinking of him as one of the heroes of the story.

    (That’s a running theme of the week for me, as I just went on yet another rant about SG-1 episode Window of Opportunity and Jack O’Neill’s questionable actions regarding one of his subordinates on my LJ.)

    I have to admit, I don’t get the Frog reference.

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