We gave it a B
A body in a barrel in the back of a twice-stolen van kicks off the action in this week’s episode, which showcases the rarely seen emotions of Leroy Jethro Gibbs.
Navy Cmdr. James Willis vanished a week ago after visiting his mother in hospice. Then a car thief hot-wired a van, got pulled over, and realized he had some gruesome cargo in the back. The van was originally stolen from the owner’s house 10 days ago, which roughly matches Willis’ disappearance, so who stole it first, and how did Willis end up stuffed in a barrel in the back?
His widow, Sarah, reports that he never made it home from the hospice the night he disappeared, and his mother died two days later. “Do you ever just feel like it’s all too much?” she asks Reeves, frustrated that nobody, not even the PI who came to her house looking for James, could help her. Reeves immediately wants to know about this PI.
Sarah offers up his card, and Gibbs arrives at the address to discover that his old friend Tobias Fornell is now a licensed private investigator with a garage office. “Ain’t life grand?” Fornell asks the man who testified about his wrongdoings in court, ended his FBI career, and then stopped answering his calls.
Next we see Gibbs bursting into Vance’s office to insist, “He is right behind me, and you’ve got to say no.” Then Fornell enters to explain that he was hired by a high-interest loan company to track down Willis a few days ago when he dropped off the map with a significant balance still due. Vance is pleased Fornell’s willing to share any information he’s already gathered and tells a displeased Gibbs to play nice.
“I’ll run the briefing from my office,” Fornell beams. But when said meeting happens, it’s only the Young Turks in attendance. They’re impressed when Fornell pushes aside his wall-of-crime corkboard to reveal a high-teach touchscreen behind it. Who knew Fornell would be a 21st century PI?
When the briefing ends, Fornell tells the team he’s over any hard feelings, and in fact, Gibbs did the right thing in testifying against him. So why is Gibbs avoiding him? The young’uns all vehemently decline his request that they look into this issue.
Sloane doesn’t have to do any investigating, though, when Gibbs enters her office and straight-up tells her that he can’t bear to look Fornell in the eye anymore. Remember, Fornell monkeyed around with evidence to make sure Gabriel Hicks was convicted of murder, Gibbs testified about Fornell’s actions, and Hicks was released. But it turns out that Hicks actually was guilty as hell, so Gibbs ruined Fornell’s FBI career when Fornell was right all along and he hasn’t yet told Fornell that last bit of information.
It’s complicated, in other words. And Gibbs wasn’t kidding around; when Fornell arrives in the big orange room for an update on the Willis case, Gibbs immediately exits.
Sloane’s still working the Hicks case by maintaining a friendship with his lawyer, Jessica Schaffer, although Gibbs suggests that Sloane’s not pushing her friend hard enough. But when the two women meet at the diner, Jessica accuses Sloane of using her for information that she can’t give because of lawyer/client privilege.
Sloane immediately apologizes and says Jessica’s her only friend who also watches reality TV. Hey, it’s important to surround yourself with people who share your questionable taste in entertainment! And also have access to the guilty man you helped set free!
In autopsy, Gibbs finds Palmer making small talk with Willis’ corpse about bees, because he read in Willis’ online bio that he dabbled in beekeeping. He also calls Gibbs “Jethro” in a way that sounds increasingly natural and Ducky-like. Palmer says Willis died from a bullet to the head, and his feet had been dissolved by lye in the barrel, although the amount in there was too small to eliminate the whole body.
Abby, meanwhile, matches the bullet to two unsolved murders for hire, indicating that Willis was killed by a hitman. The only possible reason NCIS can discover is Willis’ recent service as foreman of the jury that convicted Albert Hathaway, who ran Madoff-style Ponzi schemes.
When Bishop and Torres visit Hathaway in prison, he blames his assistant for his crimes (pig!) and claims not to recognize Willis due to a form of PTSD from the trial (jerk!). Torres isn’t amused, but Hathaway insists he doesn’t know any hitmen. Bishop tells him they’ll be reviewing all of his phone calls anyway, just in case something turns up.
Back at the lab, Abby’s found a crime scene cleaning company that uses both the high-end microfiber rags in Willis’ barrel and the special cleaning solution that was on them. When the agents arrive at Crime Scene Tru-Clean, the woman there says the night Willis disappeared, brothers Michael and Joey Barrett didn’t show up for work. Also, they stole a floor buffer, lye, and cleaning supplies, so she fired them.
She then directs the agents to the Barretts’ favorite restaurant, Slices & Fries, where people are lined up out the door for pizza and fried taters. In the stakeout car, Bishop wonders if the food really is that good, but Eeyore Gibbs declares, “A lot of times, people are idiots.”
He then asks Bishop how Fornell seemed, and suddenly Tobias butts into their conversation via the comms. He used his other NCIS contacts to inform him about the direction of the investigation, got himself a table outside the restaurant, and hopped on NCIS’ frequency, which he’s familiar with after 15 years. (Next page: The birds and the bees, but mostly the bees, crack the case)