A name from his past takes Dr. Mallard on a bittersweet trip down memory lane

By Sara Netzley
December 14, 2016 at 04:12 AM EST
Sonja Flemming/CBS

NCIS

S14 E10
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After weeks of Ducky one-liners, we finally get the Mallard-centric episode we’ve been waiting for! It’s the second Christmas episode in a row where we get a lump-in-the-throat look at his family’s past. It’ll also make all of our moms nervous about rideshare services again, and just when we’d convinced them they’re actually safe!

Cpt. Mason Green attended a performance of the Nutcracker with his daughter and son-in-law, whose sketchy goatee immediately pegged him as the bad guy for me, then he ordered a rideshare car from a company that is most definitely not Uber or Lyft. After unwisely accepting bottled water from the driver, he ends up dead in a trash-strewn vacant lot.

NCIS learns that Green was under investigation for selling classified information overseas. Weirder, he had the address of a home where Ducky used to live with his mother, Victoria, written on a slip of paper in his pocket.

Quinn suggests it was a coincidence, and Gibbs and McGee look at her as if she just set the big orange room’s Christmas tree on fire. She burbles something about rule 69, but when they tell her that’s actually, “Never trust a woman who doesn’t trust her man,” Quinn rightfully calls that out as misogynistic. “I mean, do you have a rule that says never trust a man who doesn’t trust his women? Think about it.” Then she quirks a brow and drops Rule 51: Sometimes you’re wrong.

I could not love Quinn more.

Anyway, Ducky doesn’t recognize Green, but the information that the dead man spent time in Majorca sends Ducky into a flashback. Young Ducky, clad in a spiffy turtleneck, has brought a date to his mother’s house. Unfortunately, his mom’s there, too, back early from Majorca and naked under a blanket on the couch.

Worse, there’s a naked man in the wardrobe, preserving his modesty with the help of Ducky’s hat, which I sincerely hope Ducky just let him keep. The man’s name is Balthazar Kilmeany (played by Charles Shaughnessy), and he and Victoria are in love.

In the present, Vance (mercifully) puts a stop to Torres and Reeves’ arm wrestling match so they can info-dump that Green had a secret Crimean bank account, which indicates he was selling to Russia. As they ponder what this might have to do with Ducky’s mom, Gibbs points out that international treason doesn’t really rank in Victoria’s colorful life.

Heaving learned from Abby that Green actually visited Ducky’s house, which he sold after his mother’s death six years ago, McGee and Quinn are dispatched to investigate. Although the new owners are out of town, the gardener, Mr. Rin, is there. He worked for the Mallards, then stayed on when the house sold.

Even better, McGee recognizes that the house has a fancy doorbell camera that sends video to the cloud, and back in the lab, they find footage showing Green pulling up in a car with an unknown driver days earlier. It also shows Mr. Rin bolting as soon as McGee and Quinn leave the property. Oooh, suspicious.

Flashback the second! Ducky’s visiting Angus Clarke, his childhood frenemy-turned-hotel magnate/magnificent ponytailhaver. Ducky calls him a twonk, which is now my go-to insult, then asks him to investigate this Balthazar person, who’s giving Ducky a bad feeling.

(I’m so amused that Ducky’s having these jaunts down memory lane in front of his coworkers but not telling them what’s going on. Is he just standing there mutely, staring into the middle distance? And is this alarming to the good people of NCIS?)

NEXT: Ducky hears a name from his past

In her lab, Abby’s combined Caf-Pow and eggnog into some unholy brew that she makes Gibbs sip before she’ll tell him that Green’s rideshare request was intercepted by a third party, probably the killer, so it wasn’t not-Uber/Lyft’s fault. Then Ducky bustles in with a tray of tissue samples just in time to hear Abby announce that after leaving the former Mallard residence, Green placed a call to a Balthazar Kilmeany.

Ducky drops the tissue samples with a clatter and announces that this is the name of his mother’s former fiancé. Also, for the record, that’s exactly how Ducky reacted in last year’s Christmas episode when he got word about his long-lost half-brother: He dropped a loud selection of lab equipment. Hooray for being consistent! However, the Balthazar Ducky knew would be over 100 years old today, leading us to the next Ducky flashback.

Angus sweeps Victoria away to sample liquor elsewhere in his hotel while Ducky threatens Balthazar over the dessert course. Balthazar’s an alias, and he’s actually a con man known for bilking women of a certain age out of their money. Balthazar fesses up but tells Ducky that it’s different this time. Victoria was a mark at first, but he fell in love. Ducky’s not buying what Balthazar’s selling and tells him to break things off or he’ll sick Scotland Yard on him.

In the present, the team’s located the man who drove Green to the old Mallard house. He’s a private investigator Green hired to look into Balthazar, although the PI doesn’t know why. He found a personal ad that Victoria took out six years ago, looking for her long-lost love. It led them to the house, which was a dead end. The PI does have a hard drive that Green gave him to hold as insurance, which, upon inspection, proves that Green was set up to take the fall for selling secrets, including that secret bank account, which was opened by someone named, you guessed it, Balthazar Kilmeany.

Turns out, Balthazar Kilmeany’s a name that pops up all around the world, used by con men as an alias through the decades. But this isn’t the news that sticks with Ducky; he’s shocked that Victoria placed the ad looking for Balthazar, particularly because she was lost to Alzheimer’s by the end of her life.

As Ducky broods in his lab, the younger Ducky turns up to assure today’s Ducky that he did the right thing all those years ago. (And also to compliment Ducky on his skin care regimen.)

Today’s Ducky worries that he took away his mother’s only chance at true love, causing her to end up alone for the rest of her life. “Even thieves fall in love,” he says. “It wasn’t our decision to make.”

Final flashback: Victoria melts down over Balthazar’s abandonment. “For the first time in my life, I was truly happy. And I know he was, too,” she weeps. Guilty, Ducky asks her to move to America and live with him. She’s resistant. “Where they mix bacon with syrup? Have you lost your mind?” But in the end, of course, she moved with him.

And Ducky’s about to learn another piece of her past. In interrogation, Mr. Rin, the gardener, denies being involved in the Green situation, but he does tell Gibbs that he and Victoria were lovers beginning in the ‘90s. “Bubbles made me swear to never ever say anything to Donnie,” he says.

He’s the one who took out the classified ad looking for Balthazar because toward the end of her life, Victoria thought she saw him at the theater and wanted to find him. “I would’ve done anything for her,” Mr. Rin says.

He ran the day that NCIS visited because the mention of Balthazar’s name made him nervous, and he wanted to be sure he still had Victoria’s diary in a secure location.

NEXT: Gibbs saves his boat from termites

The mention of the theater helps NCIS crack the case, and they arrest Logan, Green’s son-in-law, for stealing secrets and framing Green. See? Never trust a man with a goatee that bushy!

Logan’s actually the nephew of Ducky’s Balthazar, and their family of con men passed the Balthazar identity along like a family heirloom. The fake non-Uber/Lyft driver was the buyer, and he killed Green when he started to investigate. Case closed!

Except for Ducky, who spends the next day poring over his mother’s diary. Although some of the salacious details made his eyeballs bleed, he’s thrilled to learn that Victoria and Mr. Rin loved each other. “It’s the best Christmas present I could possibly have.”

And then Mr. Rin himself enters the morgue and asks Ducky to call him Takumi. They hug, and then the rest of the team gathers with gifts, food, and drinks to toast Ducky, who stands alongside his dashing younger self to receive their good wishes.

Yet again, Adam Campbell kills it as young Ducky. And yes, this makes the second Christmas episode in a row where Ducky explores a painful family secret made more tragic by the specter of Alzheimer’s stalking his family members. That’s … a weird Christmas trend. But hey, if NCIS wants to make this an annual thing, where Ducky gets lost in silent thought for minutes at a time while coworkers stare at him in concern before he blurts out backstory on a long-lost family member, well, I say they should go for it.

Before we bid farewell to NCIS for its long winter nap, let’s check in on one Tobias Fornell. He’s still living on Gibbs’ couch, and Emily is fed up. She wants him back home so they can have Christmas dinner there and she can introduce him to her new beaux, Jack, an aspiring entomologist.

But Fornell’s in no hurry to leave, so she appeals to Gibbs. Gibbs says he’s tried to get his unwanted guest out of his house to no avail. Emily asks for permission to do whatever it takes to evict him, and Gibbs gives his blessing.

So what ultimately works? When Gibbs’ basement boat is infested with termites, and his house has to be tented. Emily gets the at-home Christmas with her dad that she wanted (with a little help from her insect-wrangling boyfriend), and her dad confesses that he was enjoying his time at “summer camp,” hanging out to drink beer and watch movies with his buddy. He and Emily agree that it was time for him to come home, especially because Gibbs is, in Fornell’s words, a horrible conversationalist.

But what ho, who’s that ringing the doorbell? It’s Gibbs, who’s temporarily homeless thanks to some creepy crawlies chewing on his wood. Summer camp’s back on, boys!

Stray shots

  • Okay, which is weirder, having Ducky’s mother’s former lover there for the NCIS Christmas gathering, or eating food on a morgue table?
  • Best quote of the night: Fornell suggests it’s the original Balthazar, out for revenge on Ducky. “At 109?” Gibbs asks. “Some guys can hold a grudge,” Fornell replies.
  • On a scale of peppermint bark to rancid fruitcake, how terrible does Pow-nog sound? I’m going with “as bad as a chunk of stale, varnished gingerbread house wall.”

Episode Recaps

Episode grade: B

NCIS

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