Eddy Chen/CBS


S15 E12
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January 09, 2018 at 11:25 PM EST

Here’s a thing I never expected to type in an NCIS recap: Fifty Shades of Grey does not offer accurate insight into the psychology of the BDSM community. Unfortunately, following one of the show’s saddest cold opens in recent memory, NCIS wanders down that same kink-shaming path as it explores the apparent suicide of a JAG officer.

The episode opens with Melissa Newhall’s parents letting themselves into their daughter’s home to fill it with cake and balloons as a surprise for her 30th birthday. Instead, they find her body hanging from the kitchen ceiling.

NCIS didn’t discover a note, and Melissa’s grief-stricken parents insist that she was happy with her job helping people and serving her country, and that she was looking forward to her upcoming wedding. So could it have actually been murder?

The autopsy suggests this is a possibility when Palmer finds both old and fresh bruises on Melissa’s body and Diazepam in her system. So either she took it to relax herself before making that final decision, or her murderer drugged her into compliance.

Melissa’s phone offers up a clue when it reveals several calls to a burner phone; Bishop calls it, and a recording of a sexy-sounding woman named Rita invites her to leave a message.

Melissa’s CO Bud Roberts (hi, Bud!) is shocked by her apparent suicide and offers up the red herring of an angry defendant who’d recently been released from prison. But the defendant has an alibi, and this was an oddly brief appearance to bring Bud back for. We want more and better Bud in the future!

When Melissa’s fiancé David returns from a day trip to New York, he’s shocked to learn that Melissa’s body was covered in bruises. The agents are skeptical until he explains that they’d agreed to remain celibate until marriage.

This news surprises Abby and Palmer, who’ve just confirmed that Melissa had sex in the last 72 hours. And then this news surprises Melissa’s longtime best friend Kerry, who says that Melissa was never interested in having a boyfriend until David came along — so much so that Kerry wondered if Melissa might’ve been asexual.

Meanwhile, McGee’s cracked Melissa’s laptop and discovered five years of video diaries running up to three days before her death. He and Sloane get to work reviewing them and find that she’s overall upbeat and excited about the upcoming wedding. But when Bishop hears Melissa make one especially sleepy entry, something in her voice pings in Bishop’s brain, and she asks Abby to confirm her hunch: Melissa and Rita are the same person.

This prompts the team to track Rita’s still-active phone (ummm, shouldn’t they have been doing that already?) and it leads them to a skeevy hotel/boarding house where the proprietor’s shocked to learn that “Rita” was in the Navy. In her room, they find Melissa’s Diazepem prescription, along with skimpy clothes, sky-high heels, a scarf-draped lamp, and, oh yeah, a closet full of bondage gear.

The burner phone is full of phone numbers for men, listed by their first names only, and it also has the same video diary app that Melissa used on her laptop. The only difference is that these entries feature a well-pleasured “Rita” exulting in the pain she’s just been dealt.

Sloane reviews them, even matching entries that Melissa and “Rita” made on the same day, and says that while many people lead a double life, very few feel the need to keep them separate in such a dramatic way. Furthermore, Sloane says that this type of double life is almost always because of an acute traumatic event, and that Rita’s pleasure-in-pain MO is likely Melissa seeking punishment for something else. (Next page: The local paper brings bad news.)

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