What’s scarier than a truck stop bathroom on Halloween? A truck stop bathroom with two bodies in it on Halloween, of course.
An angry crowd of truckers wanting to use the facilities gathers outside as NCIS processes the scene. Navy Petty Officer Tim Buckley, likely an innocent bystander, died from an expertly broken neck, while the presumed target, former Marine Anderson Kohl, had his throat slit from behind.
The clerk saw nobody come in or out, and the security footage was cut. This perturbs Palmer, who’s already a bit freaked that bodies in the morgue keep switching coolers after he leaves for the night.
Torres is also freaked out; Kohl was a friend from his FLETC class. They were competitive, always trying to outdo each other, until Kohl’s authority problems got him bounced. “How’d he end up dead in a truck stop bathroom?” Torres wonders.
It gets worse when he and Bishop arrive at Kohl’s Georgetown apartment which is beyond. Luxury cars, open floor plan, top-of-the-line electronics … and a hidden room full of passports, fake IDs, and cash, which is news to Rachel Brentwood, the posh owner of the building.
Okay, listen, no matter how bad your week has been, Kasie has you beat. “Have you ever swabbed a urinal cake?” she asks Bishop, pointing to the bathroom evidence arrayed on her table. “Because I just added that to my resume.”
She’s overwhelmed by pulling killer DNA from filthy evidence, plus cracking Kohl’s cell phone and processing a garage full of his personal belongings. Torres, meanwhile, struggles with the fact that Kohl’s condo had a dinosaur skull but no personal effects, wondering aloud to Sloane why Kohl – or someone like Kohl – would do that.
Kasie and Gibbs uncover the answer when they match names and dates on Kohl’s phone with a list of murders committed all over the world: drug lords, mafia, money launderers, even a local pawnshop employee, Jenny Wayfair. Kasie also uses truck stop blueprints to locate an old ventilation shaft above the bathroom, which explains the killer’s mysterious entrance and exit.
Kasie’s next big break is uncovering Kohl’s cryptocurrency wallet, which leads them to his arms dealer. Torres ponders how many choices away he is from going down the same road, and when Kasie assures him he’d never purchase a haladie knife, like Kohl did, Torres exclaims, “I’ve got two!”
Around this time, CIA Officer Westley Clark strolls through the big orange room to reconnoiter with Vance. Vance vaguely recognizes Clark, who chalks it up to mutual Langley briefings and explains that the CIA’s been tracking Kohl, hoping to find his handler. The agencies uneasily agree to work together.
First stop? Questioning Kohl’s arms dealer, who at first refuses to talk, worried that “they’ll” kill him. But realizing he can either work with NCIS or take his chances on the street, he says Kohl was killed for refusing to carry out a hit. What kind of assassin would do that? (My guess: He’s either in love with that guy’s daughter, or he’s got a newfound respect for life. Waaaait, wrong hitman.) In order to find out, the team decides to solve Jenny Wayfair’s murder, hoping it will point to the handler.
Jenny had an altercation with a man just before her death, but the only eyewitness is an older woman whose confusion under questioning suggests serious memory problems — until Bishop points out that the woman (Marla Gibbs from The Jeffersons!) runs a multi-employee, six-figure sweater knitting business out of her home. And just like that, her memory’s fine. Like the arms dealer, she’s worried about reprisals from the killers, but eventually says it was the pawn shop owner’s son, John.
John admits that Jenny discovered his money laundering scheme, so he called a number he was given to have it “taken care of,” not realizing it would result in her murder. (Next: Palmer gets his revenge)
This break leads them to Kohl’s hander: Rachel Brentwood, the building owner. She’s coolly sipping coffee when they arrive and confesses to having Kohl killed for refusing a hit on a member of the military. She tells Torres he reminds her of Kohl, informs them that she gave the hit list to another assassin, then picks up a gun and commits suicide by cop.
The new list of target names on her cell leads them to Adam Neil, one of the lookie-loos at the truck stop murder scene. Bishop and Torres race to the location of the top name on the list, a Navy man serving on the jury in drug trafficking case. As they attempt to hustle him out, Neil arrives and opens fire. Torres tells “Ellie” that he’s badly wounded, so she should get the target out of there, and Bishop tells “Nick” she’ll do it.
Once Torres is alone, Neil attacks. But of course, he’s actually uninjured, and the two men have an ugly brawl until Bishop pops back up, gun drawn. Turns out, she and Torres have a code; when they use first names, it means “fake a retreat and double back.” Okay, cool, so what does Torres calling her “babe” mean, huh??
The case closed, it’s time to say goodbye to CIA Officer Clark, who’s been sketchy as can be. He brought up Nigel Hakim multiple times, pointing out that he has a way of turning people, and unsuccessfully tried to get Sloane to profile Kohl’s targets for him
As Clark bids NCIS farewell, Sloane warns Vance to be careful with him, but Vance is already wise. You know, early on in the episode, I’d have bet my whole paycheck that Clark was Kohl’s real handler, there to bungle the investigation. But it’s actually so much better than that! Eagle-eyed viewers may have recognized Clark as the mysterious man at the end of this season’s third episode, surveilling Vance. Given the breadcrumbs he dropped about Hakim, is it safe to assume Clark is testing Vance’s true allegiances following his captivity?
Back to lighter fare: Palmer at his wit’s end the morgue, where bodies keep moving and voices whisper his name. At the end of the episode, he shuffles through the big orange room, planning on taking time off to deal with what’s clearly the onset of schizophrenia.
This forces McGee to admit that he was playing a prank, moving bodies and doctoring security tape, following Ducky’s suggestion of a holiday surprise. “He was probably thinking like orange cupcakes or pumpkins. EVERYONE LOVES PUMPKINS, MCGEE,” Palmer roars. He has a point, and please nobody ever hire McGee to plan your holiday parties.
Chastened, McGee apologizes and opens his drawer, and a fake bloody hand springs out, startling everybody.
Yep, Palmer was wise the whole time. He grins and tells McGee they’re even. Well, almost even.
Finally, Torres receives a summons to Chez Gibbs, where they discuss what it’s like to see a killer when you look in the mirror. Gibbs says Torres made the choice to catch bad guys, and worrying about slipping up just means he’s one of the good ones. Then NCIS’s own Mr. Miyagi puts Torres to work sanding the boat.
- All I’m saying is, we’d better see Palmer’s continued revenge on McGee. That payback was far too minor.
- How old is Bishop supposed to be? Isn’t she much more likely to refer to The Fast and Furious than Bad Boys while standing among Kohl’s amazing car collection?
- Line of the night goes to Kasie, upon learning that Gibbs doesn’t have a passcode on his phone: “I’m gonna try not to judge you right now, but I may fail.” How do you think she’ll take it when she finds out it’s a flip?
- Torres and Kohl resembled each other so much that I completely expected Torres to assume Kohl’s identity in an undercover sting at some point this week. Alas. Dare we hope that in a future episode, someone will try to hire Kohl, not knowing he’s dead, and a conflicted Torres will have to suit up as an amoral killer with a bitchin’ dino skull collection? Make it happen, writers!