NCIS's 300th episode features a powerful turn by Taye Diggs as a wounded veteran
Credit: Jace Downs/CBS
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S13 E18
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Happy 300th episode, NCIS! You don’t look a day over 250.

Not only is tonight’s episode a powerhouse showcase for Taye Diggs as a vet who needs healing even more than Gibbs, but it’s a welcome spotlight for a real-life program that provides innumerable benefits to America’s wounded warriors.

We begin with the usual team high jinks: DiNozzo, McGee, and Bishop had a pact to start spring cleaning, but McLazy chose instead to devour the seven-layer breakfast burrito that Delilah made him that morning. Bishop, who loves spring cleaning, is displeased. Ugh, of course she does.

DiNozzo hit pay dirt in his cleaning spree: a gift certificate to an Italian restaurant that’s a two-hour drive away. He plans to rent a motorcycle and pick a lucky lady to accompany him for Lady and the Tramp-style spaghetti. (He rejects Stephanie, Sarah, and Angelique, eventually leaning toward Cheryl.)

Then Gibbs shows up with four coffee cups in a holder. His underlings are touched by his thoughtfulness until he announces they’re all for him because he was up all night. He won’t say why, though. “If I wanted you to know, I would’ve told you,” Gibbs gibbses.

When Palmer gets wind that Gibbs had a sleepless night, he compliments him for looking so alert. “It’s like you’re some kind of superhero, like a…Captain Wolf-Eyes.” Ha! Naturally, this earns him a cuff to the back of the head, but after Gibbs stalks out, Palmer confesses, “Every time he does that, I feel special.” Palmer is all of us!

Okay, to the case of the week: Off-duty Chief Petty Officer Dodd, her husband, and their Iraqi guide were killed by an insurgent firing an advanced sniper weapon. Abby discovers that the bullets were made by the U.S. military, and this leads them to sniper Aaron Davis, played by Taye Diggs (or Hollywood’s Taye Diggs, if you’re one of the six people who remember NBC’s Ed as fondly as I do).

Davis is the sole survivor of an RPG attack two months ago that cost him a leg and left him with scars, impaired vision, and PTSD. He’s recovering at Walter Reed, where he’s closed off and refuses to talk about the attack. Gibbs needs him to, though, because his unit was testing prototype XR-30 rifles with a computerized tracking system that takes the guesswork out of hitting a moving target. The Marines thought all the weapons were destroyed in the attack, but the Dodd killings indicate otherwise.

Grace Confalone, Taft’s therapist from the previous episode, says Gibbs could be the one who gets Davis to open up. “I suggest you talk to him, sniper to sniper.”

So Gibbs knocks on Davis’ door to ask for his help identifying the people who might have the rifle. Davis exerts the only control he feels he has over his life by kicking Gibbs out of his “sad little borrowed room,” as he describes it.

At HQ, McGee and Bishop are interviewing Davis’ daughter, Riley. She visited him only once after his return home; he told her not to come back until he was better. She recalls that her father used to be happiest when he was singing, but of course, there’s no music left in the guy we see now.

On her way out of HQ, Riley stops to talk to DiNozzo. She notices the Angelini’s gift certificate and reminisces about the perfect night she spent there with her dad and grandma. “It’s all about family, right?” she says.

And now we cut to a family of musicians who are making music together, and as the camera pans the room, it becomes apparent that they’re all wounded soldiers, many of whom are missing limbs. Grace tells Gibbs that this is MusiCorps, which provides purpose, confidence, and improved functioning for injured soldiers as part of the recovery process. (MusiCorps is indeed a real program, and the musicians featured in this episode are real soldiers who participate in the program.) Grace then tells Gibbs that Davis has been coming for three weeks but only to watch.

In the meantime, the team realizes that the attack on the Dodds wasn’t random when the husband’s passport was scanned at Dulles Airport the day after the murders. “Let’s Abby the hell out of this thing,” DiNozzo says, and before you know it, they’ve uncovered airport surveillance footage and a cab trip to a motel. There, they find boxes that prove the XR-30 was illegally shipped into the country. So now a powerful weapon is in America, but who’s the target?

NEXT: To catch a sniper, to heal a man

Gibbs, meanwhile, spends the night in the hallway outside of Davis’ room re-living his own sniper days, including killing Pedro Hernandez. Still, when Davis invites him inside, Gibb admits he slept better there than on his couch. Davis wonders if his wife kicked him out of bed, but Gibbs explains that “the bedroom was ours, you know. And…well, she passed away.”

Davis thaws slightly, and they share sniper stories for a bit before Davis finally offers what he can remember about the attack. It’s awful, and he concludes that the missing XR-30 must be his. Gibbs assures him there was nothing he could’ve done. And in fact, Davis helped immensely, alerting Gibbs to the fact that one of the insurgents was recording the attack.

Shortly afterward, Davis vanishes from Walter Reed, but a ping on his cell phone leads Gibbs right to him. Davis is sitting in his vehicle with a gun on the dashboard, and Gibbs flashes back to the days he spent staring down the barrel of his own gun.

He gets in the truck. “Hey, gunny. Where are you headed?” It’s tense until Davis reluctantly laughs and admits he doesn’t know. Davis says it’s not about the captured weapon. It’s that he doesn’t want his daughter to see him like this. It looks like he’s about to say more about his life as it is now, but the words die in his throat.

Gibbs tells him that Riley talked about him all day. “When she looks at you, all she sees is her dad.”

Davis swallows hard, processing.

“You need help, gunny,” Gibbs says. “Say you’ll take it.”

It’s an incredibly effective scene, and the payoff is huge when Gibbs later walks into Grace’s office to hear that Davis’ therapist called to report that they had a good session. She praises Gibbs for getting through to him, but now she wants to know if Davis helped Gibbs. Gibbs realizes that when she told him to go talk to Davis, she was shrinking him. Therapist trickery! Question is, did it work?

We’ve got to solve the case before we find out. The insurgents’ camera turns up, and facial recognition reveals the man with the passport is a former British S.A.S. sniper who lived in Iraq with his missionary parents after the Gulf War. He grew up blaming the country’s wreckage on the oppressors. Thankfully, Abby discovers airport radio frequency spectrums in the sniper’s hotel room that lead the team to Lafayette Field in Virginia.

“Snipers: patient and stubborn,” says Gibbs as he dons a ghillie suit and settles into the hills surrounding the airport to wait for the sniper to make his move. It takes three days, and the time passes to a somber Gibbs voiceover of the Rifleman’s Creed.

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The rest of the team is restless on the tarmac, but they leap to action when a plane carrying an oil bigwig and a crony of the Saudi Arabian oil minister makes an unannounced approach to the airport.

“That’s it,” Gibbs says, scanning the countryside for a telltale flash of the rifle. And then there it is: a brief, bright glimmer amid the trees. Gibbs’ finger tightens on the trigger. All we hear is the wind, his breath, and his heartbeat. Then he recites one final line of the Rifleman’s Creed and kills the other sniper.

Afterward, he arrives at Walter Reed to tell Davis that they stopped the assassination and reclaimed the rifle thanks to him. Davis, who’s allowed Riley back into his life, is glad to hear it.

“I was fighting myself, you know. Trying to be some empty version of what I was before. But I think I need to try and find a way to be who I am now,” he says haltingly.

Oh, did you think that was moving? Just wait. We now cut to Davis singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with the MusiCorps as Riley and the NCIS family watch. Most overused song in Hollywood? Maybe. Hugely effective every single time it’s deployed? Undoubtedly. And tonight is no exception. The song is gorgeous, especially because Taye Diggs is accompanied by real MusiCorps participants.

As the music plays, we see Bishop tell McGee that any woman who makes him a seven-layer burrito before work is motived by love. Tim agrees, and his computer screen shows that he’s searching for engagement rings.

More Hallelujah as DiNozzo, Palmer, Ducky, and Vance all hop on motorcycles to have their Lady and the Tramp moment, courtesy of Tony’s gift certificate. (It must be noted that Palmer’s riding in the sidecar.)

Hallelujah continues, and we find Gibbs at home, restless on his couch. He tentatively approaches his bedroom, where the bed’s covered in plastic, sterile and cold. He lays down anyway, resting his head on a clean white pillow. His eyes close as the song ends.

It’s a season of changes, remember? The NCIS family gets closer. McGee prepares to launch a new stage of life. Gibbs makes halting steps toward healing. Hallelujah.

Stray thoughts:

  • Who wore the Caf-Pow! hat better: Abby or Palmer?
  • McGee’s spring cleaning uncovers a sketch that Kate made of him. Daawwwww!
  • How cool was Abby’s modified instrument that lets a solider with no legs play a drum kit with his hands? It reflects some of the ways that MusiCorps offers help for its participants. You can read more about the program (and even donate!) here.

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