It’s bad enough that the NSA has ruined the internet. They had to go an ruin one one my favorite TV shows too. The new NCIS character, NSA Analyst Eleanor “Ellie” Bishop, so completely dominates the rest of the NCIS team that everyone else might was well not show up for work. Even Gibbs is superfluous in her presence.
CBS describes Ellie Bishop as “a mysterious mixture of analytic brilliance, fierce determination and idealism who specializes in international threat assessment and global preparation.” But after hearing me rant about why she’s such a problem for NCIS, my wife introduced me to a fandom term that captures exactly what’s wrong with the new character. As written and portrayed in the show so far at least, Ellie Bishop fits the definition of a “mary sue,” a character that is so perfect she is annoying.
We first see her when the crew has to visit the NSA as part of a murder investigation. Ellie is sprawled out on a floor listening to her ipod, deeply concentrating on some papers. Look! She’s edgy! She doesn’t sit at a desk. Ooooooo. Turns out, of course, she literally wrote the play book that the week’s evil mastermind is following. So only she can truly understand the motivations of the killer and get to the bottom of it. Gibbs is so impressed that he asks her to join the team at the end of the episode. But wait. Turns out she beat him to that too, having previously applied for NCIS several years ago. All Gibbs had to do is pull her old application out of the files and put it in front of her.
In one recent episode, the crew is in the NCIS office discussing the known facts of the case. But Ellie can’t join the team. She’s sitting on her desk, not at it of course, that would be too conventional, deeply engrossed in her laptop. Gibbs keeps trying to get her to join the team but she refuses. This level of insubordination from anyone else on the team would have earned her a good gibbslap. But not Ellie. Oh no. She’s “special.” And as it turns out, all the work that the team had done was completely superfluous because she remembered some minute something that she’d read at the NSA a long time ago and sure enough, bingo. There’s the bad guy on her laptop. In their world they could save a lot of money if NCIS would just outsource everything to the NSA.
There is another scene, having to do with an abandoned car, in which Ellie upstages Gibbs himself. The team has located the car, I think even impounded it. I forget what the team decides to do but Ellie comes up with the idea to put the car back and wait for the villain to return to it. It doesn’t bother me that Ellie Bishop came up with a good idea. What bothers me is that Gibbs acknowledges it as a better idea. If a similar scene had been played out with any other character, either Gibbs would have silently acknowledged that’s the right thing to do by giving the character one of his famous silent, ‘what are you waiting for” stares or we’d find out that he’d already given the orders to someone else to do what had been recommended. But not in Ellie’s case. She has to be the new top dog in the office which everyone revolves around.
The one head nod given to hint that maybe, Ellie isn’t completely perfect is that she’s a little bit awkward and ham-fisted in social situations that require a little finesse and empathy. In one of the recent episodes a couple is watching their kid die from some unknown mysterious disease and Ellie proceeds to accidentally talk about all the gruesome things the kid might have within earshot of the parents. This of course upsets the parents even more. But of course Ellie Bishop can have no imperfections. She can’t have character flaws that she has to live with like the rest of the team. By the end of the episode she confronts the parents again, apologizes to them and by the end of her monologue the parents not only forgive her, they love her.
The “mary sue” phenomena is almost always the result of a “self-insert” into a story. I.e. it’s an ego stroke to someone who wants to be perfect in the fictitious world. So this raises the question in my mind, who inserted them-self into NCIS? I suppose it could have been one of the writers. But the writers have a ten season track record of shuttling both major characters and minor characters in and out of the milieu without upsetting the fundamental balance of the show. So I have a hard time believing that the writers fumbled so badly on the Ellie Bishop character.
My theory, and it is just that, a theory, is that somehow the NSA is the one who self-inserted themselves into the story. After all, they are the ones with the tarnished image these days and therefore most susceptible to the mary-sue mistake. I’m not suggesting that it was anything nefarious per se. But I can imagine someone coming up with the idea of wanting to have a positive portrayal of the NSA in pop culture and made a few calls to the right execs at CBS who might have suggested to the writers that the new character replacement for Ziva be “a mysterious mixture of analytic brilliance, fierce determination and idealism who specializes in international threat assessment and global preparation.” I mean doesn’t that sound like how the NSA would describe itself and not how a real writer would summarize a real flesh and blood human being?