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TV Recaps

NCIS recap: 'Burden of Proof'

A new investigation into an old case drives a wedge between Gibbs and Fornell

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Bill Inoshita/CBS

NCIS

type:
TV Show
genre:
Action, Crime
run date:
09/23/03
performer:
Mark Harmon, David McCallum, Pauley Perrette
broadcaster:
CBS
seasons:
15
Current Status:
In Season
tvpgr:
TV-14

We gave it an A

Gibbs confronts Fornell, who admits to knowing Mary’s whereabouts and covering it up. Gibbs isn’t the only one who listens to his gut; Fornell’s tells him that Hicks is the murderer, and he threatened Mary so much that she lied for him and then disappeared.

Disgusted, Gibbs points out that the late NCIS agent Mason wasn’t the only one to get a promotion out of all of this. Fornell says this information will ruin his career, endanger his relationship with his daughter, and allow a serial killer to walk free. Then he accuses Gibbs of hypocrisy for being upset that Fornell took it upon himself to condemn Hicks. Then Gibbs kicks him out of his house.

Brutal, friends. Just brutal. Gibbs and Fornell have always had an Odd Couple-style friendship. Sure, there were some sharp edges, but those two men have been in each other’s lives for so long that this falling out is painful to watch.

It’s clearly weighing on Gibbs, who shouts at his team and then gets even shoutier when Jessica says she knows about Witness X and will call Gibbs to testify about their conversation. She also reminds him of the ramifications of a Brady violation, which states that the prosecution must hand over all exculpatory evidence or risk a vacation of the sentence.

Fuming, Gibbs storms into Jack’s office to accuse her of telling her new friend Jessica about Witness X, but Jack calmly denies it. Then she gets him to admit his quandary: If he tells the truth, a friend will lose everything. But if he lies, he’s resentencing an innocent man to death.

Jack then points to the wooden cabinet that’s just been delivered to her office. “I think you’re trying to distract me with a hand-crafted piece of furniture,” Gibbs says. But she launches into a story: Her dad made it for her mom before they were married. Her dad made the bottom drawers too tight to function, but her mom loved it just the way it was. Even though it’s empty, she loves having it in her office because it reminds her that even extraordinary people make mistakes. It’s the response to those mistakes that defines us. Then she leaves her office and tosses Gibbs her keys, telling him to lock up when he’s done, just the way he did the night they met.

Cut to Gibbs on the stand the following day at Hicks’ retrial. He testifies that he located Mary Elaine Smith, who identified a 40-something African American man as the driver of the van. Gibbs then says that Mary gave the same statement 11 years ago to Tobias Fornell. The courtroom erupts, and although we don’t see it happen, it appears as though Hicks’ conviction is vacated thanks to the aforementioned Brady violation.

Gibbs joins Fornell on a bench outside the courtroom, and his old friend says he’s the one who tipped off Jessica about Witness X. He’s been carrying this burden for so long that he finally transferred it to Gibbs, who’d do the right thing.

After giving a statement to the media, Hicks says farewell to Gibbs, saying he plans to get two scoops of chocolate ice cream in honor of his dad. “Vanilla, wasn’t it?” Gibbs corrects him. Hicks shrugs off his mistake, but the truth slams Gibbs right in his fabled gut.

He and Jack follow the newly freed Hicks to the batting cages, watching from the car and debating whether he’s a liar and, if so, whether that also makes him a murderer. Knowing they’re watching, Hicks transitions from right-hand batting to left-hand batting. He’s a switch hitter, and he played them. Steely eyed, Gibbs declares, “Game’s not over.”

Stray shots

  • Here’s the show we’ve enjoyed for years! Twisty and dark, with earned and valid conflict between two characters who share years of history. Oh, do I hope we get another crack at Hicks’ story, and that we see the fallout of Fornell’s decision.
  • Thanks to Torres and his too-big-for-his-shirt biceps and his (probable) weekly pedicures for a welcome spot of levity this week. And it was good to have Ducky back, even if it limited the Palmer time in this episode. Can I request that in the future, Torres spends more time in the morgue with those two?
  • For my money, this was the strongest episode of the season. Agree? Disagree? Hit the comments and let me know!