NCIS recap: Return to Sender
A prison escapee with a grudge against NCIS takes out a longtime ally (and remains on the loose)
NCIS deals with the worst kind of British invasion this week — the murderous kind — but more importantly, we finally get to the bottom of an enduring mystery: How Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo affords his swanky pad.
Let’s open with the latter mystery. McGee’s on the hunt for a new apartment, and it’s caused him to question his very existence. Bishop agrees, calling it a sandpit of crushing self-realization.
“That expensive, huh?” DiNozzo asks blithely. Slowly, his compatriots realize he owns — owns! — his elegant, spacious apartment with a doorman and a view. They freak and demand to know how he could afford it, particularly because he bought it when he was still a probie.
“Loan from your dad?” Bishop asks.
“Generous cougar?” McGee guesses.
“Dead body,” Gibbs says. Oh, but he’s not playing the game. He’s telling them to roll out to a family funeral home, which took delivery of a shipping container of knockoff caskets. However, inside, they find evidence that someone was living in the container, and there’s a body in one of the caskets. “They already come with customers. That is a good deal,” the daughter deadpans. Hey, she really puts the fun in — well, you know.
The container nest is full of pillows, junk food, and fashion magazines for the two-week ocean crossing (or, as Bishop describes it, “pretty much nirvana”). The body in the casket is a woman dressed in a prison guard uniform, and when NCIS finds discarded jumpsuits, they realize they’re looking at a prison break/hostage situation.
The escapees are Cassio Chavez, who murdered his mother when she flushed his heroin stash, and Jacob Scott, a former MI6 agent officer who was convicted of espionage after trying to sell nuclear intel to a Russian buyer post-9/11. Although there’s no Navy connection and the FBI is in charge, our buddy Tobias Fornell called them as a courtesy because NCIS was the agency that put Scott in prison.
Vance consults with Homeland Senior Division Chief Thomas Morrow, who was the NCIS director when Scott was arrested and handed over to England. In the end, NCIS nabs jurisdiction. But what ho? That sly dog Fornell wanted nothing to do with the case and called Gibbs to the scene hoping he’d fight to take it over. “Are you kidding me? International and state borders? It’s a paperwork nightmare,” Fornell chortles. “Tell me how it turns out.” Ah, not so fast. Vance tells Fornell that the FBI still needs to ride shotgun. Insert Nelson Muntz laugh here.
The investigation reveals that one of Scott’s visitors in prison was Miranda Okafor, a former MI6 agent who immigrated to the United States five years ago and opened a laser tag business. Of course Fornell hates places like that. I adore that cranky little gnome. Unfortunately, they’re too late to catch the escapees — or to stop them from murdering a janitor. Gibbs moves further into Lazer Zone and announces, “It gets worse.” Man, when certified ray of sunshine Leroy Jethro Gibbs says that, you know it’s true.
It’s Okafor; she and the janitor are dead from gunshot wounds. “Tag. She’s it,” Fornell says. Weirdly, he does not put on his sunglasses as the Who wails in the background. He does, however, keep getting calls on his fancy new smartphone (Gibbs looks bummed that he’s now alone as a flip-phone Luddite).
Meanwhile, DiNozzo’s been investigating the building as only DiNozzo can: in full laser tag gear. He turns up a secret room with a busted keypad and missing cash and weapons, which explains why the escapees headed here. But if Okafor gave them what they were looking for, why kill her?
Vance and Morrow confab about whether Scott wants to get back into the espionage business. Morrow assures Vance that when NCIS caught him in 2001, his Russian buyer was killed in the raid, leaving him with no family, no country, and no allies.
At NCIS, Gibbs and Fornell board the Elevator of Schemes and Secrets. When Fornell’s fancy phone rings yet again, Gibbs stops the elevator and demands to know who the woman is. (I assume so he can marry and divorce her?) When Fornell drops the words “sex life,” Gibbs starts the ‘vator back up again. But Fornell stops it himself and explains online dating to Gibbs, guessing it’s Gibbs’ worst nightmare. “No, this conversation is,” Gibbs replies, particularly when Fornell reminds him that his wife (and Gibbs’ ex-wife, lest we forget) died a year ago.
Speaking of death (yeesh, worst transition ever), the guard’s cause of death was slow asphyxiation from asthma. Furthermore, she was injecting herself with the chemicals women take when they’re trying to get pregnant. And Abby determines she was in that container by choice since all the supplies seemed to be pre-packed and the magazines came from her house. This makes her an accomplice, not a hostage. Oh, and they also find a picture of Scott, Okafor, and an unidentified blond woman. (Like Chekhov’s gun, this will come into play later.)
NEXT: Forget about the murders — what’s the deal with Tony’s apartment?
Back on the DiNozzo apartment mystery: Bish and McGee have learned that Tony bought it for way below market value, so they suggest watching the Lazer Zone footage at his place and then send him out for food so they can search for what’s wrong with it. Other than the piano’s awkward placement in front of the double doors, they can’t come up with a single reason he got it for a song. Naturally, they start to wonder about blackmail or some sort of underworld connections.
Oh, but they also do some work on the case, discovering footage that shows the two escapees separating outside of Lazer Zone — which Vance is about to learn the hard way. He’s waiting in the drive-though line for his morning donut (respect!) when his assistant calls to chide him for being late for the conference call with the British prison warden. He tells her to start without him, and then the call is cut off when Jacob Scott slips into his car with a cell phone jammer and a gun. He threatens Vance’s children and tells him to drive.
At NCIS, the call with the warden is cut short when a security breach triggers a system reset, knocking the Internet out. The network alert came from a nearby data center, where Vance entered a duress password, which is only to be used when there’s a metaphorical or literal gun to his head.
The team creeps into the data center and finds Vance locked in a secure room. He’s fine, but Scott escaped with stolen intel. It’s one file from 2002, featuring a list of six NCIS operatives who were involved in a classified operation with MI6. It’s just names, no info, so why murder two people to get it? Bishop starts hacking to uncover why.
But never mind that. McGee’s cracked the case. No, not the murders. Tony’s apartment. It was the scene of a triple homicide in which the victims were hacked to death with an electric carving knife. DiNozzo happily agrees. “Amazing what a good paint job will do.” The only problem was the blood that wouldn’t come out of the living room floorboards, which is why the piano’s there. “It was Gibbs’ idea,” DiNozzo says.
McGee takes it in stride, reasoning that their jobs would take away the stigma of living in the middle of a one-time bloody murder scene. Oh, but it doesn’t if Tony’s pensive face is any indication. It really doesn’t. And I’m calling it right now: DiNozzo’s giving that apartment to McGee and Delilah when he leaves the show.
Okay, fine, back to the actual case. The guard’s financial records show that she gave money to a fertility clinic in the U.S. and used a local address with an alias. Gibbs and Fornell stake it out and engage in more uncomfortable relationship talk. Fornell admits that, though he’s got ladies of a certain age blowing up his phone, he can’t get up the courage to go out with any of them. He wants to know if it’s too soon after Diane’s death. Gibbs gives his blessing in the most curmudgeonly way possible.
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Before things get even more uncomfortable, the escapee shows up, but not the one they’re expecting; it’s Chavez. Gibbs gives the order to take him down, and a silent, hilarious scene unfolds as half a dozen agents in full SWAT gear spring out of clumps of tiny bushes. It’s like watching a clown car empty. Seriously, how did all those strapping agents hide in tiny foliage so effectively? For my money, this is the funniest scene in NCIS this season.
Anyway, they take Chavez in for questioning and realize the baby and the apartment were for him and the guard, Sandra, who was the love of his life. When he describes watching her die over two days while trapped in the shipping container, you almost feel sorry for him…until he admits to being the one who murdered the people at Lazer Zone. Okafor originally gave him and Scott a little bit of money and sent them on their way, but Chavez got high and came back for the rest of the money and weapons.
Oh, and even though Chavez says that he and Sandra planned the escape, Gibbs quickly ascertains that Scott orchestrated the whole thing by introducing Chavez to Sandra two years ago so he could get the prison break ball rolling and just tag along. “He’s been playing you,” Gibbs says.
Furthermore, Scott didn’t escape to get back into the spy game. No, he’s out for revenge. See, his Russian buyer in 2001 was also his wife (she was the blond in the aforementioned photo), and he wants that list of agents because they’re the ones who executed the raid that led to her death. It’s a hit list, and Morrow’s on it.
The team races to his house, but it’s too late; Morrow’s dead from a bullet fired through his study window.
And then, you guys, this show has the temerity to tell us it’s to be continued — with no new episode next week! So. Apartment mystery solved. Case not solved. And it’s the best kind of case, with a surprise whodunit and a deeply personal motive for a much larger crime that’s revealed in the final minutes.
- So long, Morrow. You’ve been with us since the JAG days, and you (and Alan Dale’s gravitas) will be missed.
- Is Gibbs not the angriest relationship advice-giver ever?
- I JUST realized that Gibbs was playing (and winning) the “how did DiNozzo afford his apartment” game when he contributed “dead body.” Pretty slick, Jethro.