If you walk through the world with a smile and an open heart, does that make you a force for good? Or does it make you an easy target for predators? In tonight’s two-part NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans crossover, Abby’s brother learns the perils of living a life in which your faith is bigger than your fear.
The trouble begins when a private jet headed from New Orleans to D.C. stops communicating. “Hell of a day to quit smoking,” quips the captain on the ground. It’s unclear if she’s referencing Airplane!, and the young’uns around her certainly don’t get it. Kids, man.
The plane is full of fuel and barreling toward New York, Philadelphia and Boston, and the fear is that hypoxia due to depressurization might have killed everyone on board. The plan is to shoot it out of the sky while it’s over an uninhabited area, unless NCIS can find a safer way to bring it down.
It’s impossible to remotely control an airplane, which we can all agree is generally a good thing, but Abby realizes that directional data comes from satellite, which she can control. She hacks it and sends the plane false data, prompting the autopilot to crash land in a reservoir.
Dwayne Pride from the NCIS NOLA team has been monitoring the developments, and he compliments them on a job well done. Vance responds, “It was a team effort.” Um, no, it was Abby. Anyway, the various NCISes are involved because the plane manifest shows Naval intelligence officer Gil Lively was on the plane, along with an exec from military tech firm Blye Industries, along with the pilot, co-pilot and Blye’s executive chef, Luca Sciuto — Abby’s brother.
Despite the manifest, Abby’s sure her brother is fine. “If Luca were dead, I would feel a disturbance in the Force. It’s very strong in my family.”
Sidenote: This is the second Star Wars reference of the night. DiNozzo and McGossip are chatting about Tony’s recent split from Zoe (!!), and DiNozzo claims he caught the breakup bug from Bishop. But when Bishop asks what they’re talking about, the guys say in unison, “Star Wars!” (To be fair, that’s actually been the bulk of most of our conversations over the last few weeks, right?) Also, what do we think of this breakup news? In light of Emily Wickersham saying there’s some fun stuff with Jeanne Benoit coming up, does a Tony/Zoe split clear the way for a Tony/Jeanne reconciliation? Iiiiiinteresting, particularly in light of the bummer news about Michael Weatherly that broke earlier today.
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Okay, back to the case. The team enters the plane, and they don’t see wrinkled or discolored fingers on the bodies, which would indicate hypoxia as a cause of death. They also find a badly burned body wearing a coat that says Chef Luca. Well, that’s not good.
Abby arrives in Ducky’s morgue with hand sketches from memory of her brother’s dental records and birthmarks, ready to ID the body. Ducky pulls the burned body out of the freezer slot, and she immediately knows it’s not him because the earlobes are attached, while Luca’s are free. Listen, I love my brother and sister more than just about anything in this world, but I have no idea about the shape of their earlobes, their birthmark configurations, and their record of cavities. Does this make me the weirdo or Abby?
In New Orleans, the crew’s investigating Luca now, and they find tons of photos of him and Abby. Percy wants to know why all the photos are taken on Halloween. No, that’s just how she dresses, says DiNozzo, who’s consulting via phone. Snerk.
Christopher LaSalle strolls on scene then, and since I’m not a regular NCIS: New Orleans watcher, I’m amazed all over again at the power and magnitude of his accent. That accent is Southern. It’s so Southern that it’s stoically enduring the humidity while eating a bag of boiled peanuts on a veranda next to a sweating glass of sweet tea.
Luca’s apartment turns up a stash of cash, two guns, and a high-tech bug. Between that and Lively setting up a mystery meeting with the secretary of defense for the next day, hence the plane to D.C., things are starting to look downright suspicious. In light of that, Vance asks Gibbs to bring Iron Man — a.k.a. Jenner Blye — in for questioning. Gibbs either doesn’t understand the reference or doesn’t appreciate it. Hard to say. But he heads to Blye Industries, where the head of security, Blake Huxley, tells him that Blye went missing after his meeting with Lively.
NEXT: DiNozzo makes an awkward arrest
Meanwhile, Abby’s gotten a mysterious text from her brother that leads her to an amusement park in North Carolina. DiNozzo, Abby, and Abby’s parasol spend several hours at the park and, after a Scooby Gang-ish search through an abandoned section (those meddling kids!), they finally find him.
Unfortunately, the team has just learned that the people on the plane died from poison on the utensils, and footage from the hanger shows that Luca was the last person to touch the silverware.
As DiNozzo’s getting this news via phone, Luca’s explaining to Abby that he prepped the food for the flight and then woke up in a hotel with no idea how he got there. He heard about the crash and the search of his apartment and came straight to Abby. He’s upset that she brought the cops, but she corrects him: “Tony’s a friend with a badge.”
Just then, Tony hangs up his phone and says, “It’s nice to meet you, Luca. You’re under arrest.”
Oooh, Abby is steamed. During questioning with Gibbs, Luca immediately asks for a lawyer, and Abby bursts into the room and yells, “I told you that Gibbs hates lawyers!” Luca replies that Abby’s always told him to ask for a lawyer in a situation like this, but Abby says this is family and reminds him he’s accused of poisoning everybody on the plane. YES, WHICH IS WHY HE SHOULD HAVE A LAWYER, GOOD GOD. He may be Abby’s brother, but nothing about Leroy Jethro Gibbs says that he’ll go easy in his quest for the truth.
Abby and Luca start talking in sign language (deaf parents, remember), and he says he’s protecting a woman. Of course, Gibbs understands sign language, which Abby knew. She explains that Luca’s drawn to strays, but he says this woman is different. They connected at a prayer group at church, and there’s no way the guns, money, and listening device are hers. But further questioning reveals that Eva mostly calls him, changes cell phones a lot, won’t let him take pictures of her, and hasn’t told him her last name. Luca’s…kind of dim, I guess? Gibbs concludes that she wanted Blye’s tech secrets and used Luca for his access as the executive chef.
Abby cleverly uses their only image, a touristy caricature of her and Luca, to extrapolate her appearance, and facial recognition pings her as Eva Azarova, a Russian sleeper agent. And then, Luca’s phone rings; It’s Eva, calling for Gibbs. She asks him not to contact her boss, Russian Counselor Anton Pavlenko, via official channels and says that things aren’t always as they seem.
Abby tracks the phone to a Russian restaurant, where they find Pavlenko, who takes a shot of vodka and explains that the Russian government stole tech that Blye developed for the American military. The people on the plane, including his agent who took Luca’s place, were planning to go public about Project Manta Ray in order to prevent war. But before he can explain further, he collapses and dies. Sure enough, the vodka bottle cap was laced with the same poison, and Bishop wonders if the Russians are behind it.
“Great. It’s the ‘80s all over again,” DiNozzo says.
Luca’s relieved to hear that Eva was working with Pavlenko, which makes her a good guy. Unless she killed him, of course, Abby points out. Luca plans to return to New Orleans because he’s in love Eva and believes she’s innocent until proven guilty.
This hour ends with Ducky and Palmer taking the off-roads in a medical examiner van under the cover of night, presumably sneaking Pavlenko’s body to NOLA to keep the Russian consulate from collecting it before they can gather evidence. And then a car whips in front of them, forcing them to stop, and men with enormous guns spill out.
NCIS cliffhanger! We now switch over to NCIS: New Orleans, which wraps up this tale of Russian espionage and a naïve man’s love life.
NEXT: Bishop takes a very strange road trip
The Ducky/Palmer situation resolves quickly when the gunmen, in a car with diplomatic plates, realize that the back of the van is empty. The next morning, Bishop arrives in New Orleans with Pavlenko’s body, admitting she that had no idea how she’d explain the dead Russian diplomat in her van if she got pulled over. And now I’m picturing some kind of wacky Weekend at Bernie’s situation.
While Wade examines the body for additional clues, Pride tracks down Luca and hopes he can help them locate Eva. Luca’s not surprised that Pride finds him in restaurant. “Abby put a tracking device in my shoe, didn’t she? It’s like college all over again.”
He’s there with Eva, who strolls out of the bathroom and walks straight to Pride, telling him she hasn’t killed anyone. But she does have a gun and threatens to shoot her way out, if pressed. Luca’s shocked by this, but she tells him, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” She escapes into the crowd of tourists outside, and Pride detains Luca at the office. Between the guns and money in his house and his association with a suspected murderer, they can’t let him go.
“Eva’s a spy. She pretended to be your friend. She seduced you; she drugged you; she dumped you in a roadside motel,” Pride says.
“You’re just like Abby! So untrusting,” he replies. Um, I don’t think that’s a faith/fear thing. I think that’s a common sense/no common sense thing, and at this point, I’m actually kind of rooting for Luca to be a Keyser Söze criminal mastermind.
Analysis of mosquito bites on Pavlenko’s body point to a place outside of New Orleans where Blye Industries owns property. Pride and LaSalle investigate and discover Jenner Blye holed up in a house, refusing to leave because he’s perfectly safe there.
“Nothing to worry about,” he says smugly, taking a swig of bottled water. Then he immediately drops from the poison. Man, what are the odds that he’d drink from the poisoned water at the exact moment that the agents are there?
Blye’s lucky and survives, at which point he agrees to answer questions about Project Manta Ray. It was an undetectable ship designed for the Navy, but when it was scrapped, a non-weaponized commercial version ended up in the hands of a shell corporation that turned out to have ties to Moscow. The theory is that Russia tricked Blye into selling them Manta Ray. They turned it into the weapon it was intended to be and put it out to sea, then sent Eva to kill everyone who knew about it, including Luca, who was there cooking the night of the Lively/Blye meeting.
Around this time, Wade realizes that Pavlenko had a transmitter embedded in his tooth, which means someone’s been listening to every word they said in the morgue. A quick trace of the signal sends Pride and Percy to Paulina Kurteva of the Russian diplomatic corps. She and Pride have a complicated history, and I love that Gibbs and Pride have glamorous, danger-tinged relationships with attractive ladies of a certain age all over the globe. They should get together and write a book.
Pride questions Paulina, who claims she doesn’t know Eva. While he’s with her, a program on his phone clones one of the Russians’ phones, so now NCIS can follow them and listen in.
As Bishop and Brody tail the Russians, Brody encourages Bish to talk about her divorce (yes, it’s spilling over into this show, too). At first Bishop declines, then blurts that she doesn’t feel any different. They’re still them, but they’re not together anymore. It’s sad, but it’s right. “Wow. I feel better. Thank you for that,” she says. And here’s hoping this is the last bit of closure Bishop needs to moooooove on.
The Russians enter Eva’s apartment, and when Brody and Bishop hear gunfire courtesy of the bugged phone, they race inside and find the bodies of Paulina’s henchmen. Paulina’s hiding in a wardrobe, and Eva escaped (but presumably not to Narnia).
At HQ, Percy tries to reason with Luca about Eva. He still refuses to doubt her. “I know she lied to me, but underneath—”
“—are more lies,” Percy finishes for him.
“That’s not how faith works,” Luca replies. Okay, fine, this is obviously heading toward an ending that vindicates Luca’s trust in her. But really, what a twist if he’d turned out to be the secret puppetmaster!
NEXT: What Luca and Schrödinger’s cat have in common
Pride brings Paulina in for questioning. They reminisce about the last time that she interrogated him, and Brody and LaSalle swoon over their smokin’ body language, particularly when Paulina realizes that Pride isn’t married anymore and Pride switches off the two-way speaker.
So, yeah, she denies knowing about Manta Ray or any assassinations by Eva. She says Eva was working for Pavlenko and spying on Blye, and when Russia started questioning Pavlenko’s loyalty, they sent Paulina to investigate him. Eva, however, didn’t respond when Russia called her in, which means Eva’s a spy who’s gone off the reservation.
At this point, Percy interrupts with news that Luca kicked out a back window and escaped, presumably to meet Eva. Back in D.C., Abby learns what happens, loses her mind, and yells at Sebastian, who’s working with her in D.C. “How could you let this happen?” Um, because he’s standing right next to you, 1,000 miles away from New Orleans? Sebastian tries to calm her down and says Luca’s like Schrödinger’s cat. “As long as you don’t open that box, your brother’s still alive.”
Abby and I agree that this is a terrible analogy, so he tries again: If Luca were in trouble, the universe would send her signals. This gets Abby thinking about signals and transmitters, and bam, Pride’s pushing Paulina for the the transmitter frequency for Eva’s tooth tracker. (Being a Russian spy sounds really unglamorous. That, or Russian dentistry is the worst.)
When Luca finally reunites with Eva in the museum where they first kissed, he’s somehow still surprised to learn that she is, in fact, a Russian spy. In fact, she knows Pride will track them down, and as NCIS arrives on scene, a shooter starts firing from the second floor.
Surprise! It’s Huxley, the Blye director of security. Eva pushes Luca to safety and makes a crazy dash up the stairs, Pride on her heels. Eva and Huxley fight, and he’s about to kill her when Pride drops him, then turns his gun on her.
“Time to come in, Eva,” he says.
So. Huxley was trying to kill Luca because he was the last person alive who was at the Manta Ray meeting. But Eva’s in a tough spot; either she spills what she knows and Paulina puts her away for treason, or she doesn’t and Pride puts her away for espionage.
“Let your faith be bigger than your fear,” Pride says, urging her to earn Luca’s high regard.
This prompts her to tell Pride that Pavlenko was her mentor and taught her to value the human lives on the line in their spywork. When he was killed over his opposition to the Manta Ray theft, she wanted to learn who was behind it and make it right. Also, she’s shocked to learn that she has a transmitter in her tooth.
“This is how I’ve lived my entire life. Not as a person, but as a tool,” she says, defeated. “But Luca sees me differently.”
Speaking of, they get a sweet goodbye when he urges Eva to run, but she instead kisses him, thanks him for believing in her, and lets Percy haul her off in cuffs to be debriefed by Gibbs and the Department of Defense, safe from the clutches of the Russians. Faith over fear affirmed, and okay, fine, this is better than Luca the criminal mastermind.
What Pride can’t figure out is why Huxley went on the killing spree since he’s not connected to the Russians. Aaaaand cut to LaSalle apprehending Jenner Blye, who wasn’t tricked into selling to Russia but did so intentionally, even poisoning himself to cover his tracks. With his help, they locate Manta Ray and put the wheels in motion to destroy it.
With that, Paulina bids farewell to Pride, then he and Gibbs have a wrap-up call that ends with Pride literally saying “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”
Wait, wait, wait. Do people in New Orleans really, actually say that? I always assumed that was a cliché touristy thing, like the way people in Peoria never ask one if something will play there, or the way people in New York would rather die than call it the Big Apple. Hmm.
So, there you have it. Luca was duped, but his faith was rewarded. Here’s hoping his next job will include less espionage and that this isn’t the last we see of Gibbs and Pride having their silver-fox phone conversations to relax at the end of the day. And speaking of the silver fox, did you notice that Gibbs is back to his old cut? McGee comments that Gibbs cut his hair, and Gibbs replies, “I didn’t need it anymore.” Should we take this to mean that he’s now completely healed?