McGee learns that it sometimes takes a killer to catch a killer
Keep Your Enemies Closer
Credit: Eddy Chen/CBS
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S15 E15
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NCIS brings back not one but two unsettling murderers this week, proving that two of pretty much anything is better than one.

As you’ll recall, suspected serial killer Gabriel Hicks now walks free thanks to Gibbs, who rues the day he testified on the man’s behalf and exposed Fornell’s misdeeds. And with Hicks’ attorney dead in a car bomb blast shortly after she quit representing him, Gibbs and company are even more committed to linking Hicks to a series of murders marked by the victims’ blood-smeared driver’s licenses.

But when the team pulls Hicks from his barista job to question him, he swears he wasn’t involved in Jessica’s death and has no idea how to make bombs. He spends the whole interrogation creepily staring at Fornell through the two-way glass.

Vance eventually calls Gibbs off until he has actual evidence against Hicks, since NCIS doesn’t need any more bad press surrounding this case. As he leaves, Hicks expresses sympathy for Jessica and murmurs, “Who knows who could be next?” He leers at Fornell on the way out and tells Gibbs this is “strike one.” My word, this guy likes to make a big, dramatic scene.

Abby’s discovery of an electronic bug in the remains of Jessica’s cell phone clues the team in that Hicks was listening to her calls, one of which set up a DOC interview with an inmate that took place hours before her death.

The inmate, Hicks’ cellmate immediately following his conviction, is a familiar face: Paul Triff, butcher of humans and former owner of McGee’s apartment, where he left a mummified body under the bedroom floor.

When McGee and Sloane arrive to question him, Triff’s first question is how Hicks found out that he’d met with Jessica. Then he says that as a fresh fish, Hicks tried to impress his cellmate by bragging about all of his crimes.

He proves the value of his information by warning them that Hicks may want to tie up a loose end in the form of an elderly female witness. Sloane points out that Mary Smith was only a witness in the McConnell case, which Hicks can’t be retried for, but Triff argues that fellas like Hicks don’t need an actual reason to kill somebody. And sure enough, by the time NCIS make it to Mary’s nursing home, she’s gone, having been forced into a stolen car by a man matching Hicks’ description.

Fornell takes it upon himself to wait outside the coffee shop, where Hicks shows up 20 minutes late for his shift. Hicks obliquely threatens Fornell’s daughter, so Fornell punches him, causing Gibbs to break it up. “Strike two,” Hicks smugs. But the joke’s on him; Fornell planted a tracker on his coat.

Meanwhile, Triff has some demands in exchange for the rest of his information: He wants a 48-hour work furlough to assist with the case, during which he’ll be in McGee’s company at all times, and he want reside at his last residence during that time period. Yep, that’s McGee’s current home.

A shell-shocked McGee agrees to the demands and sends Delilah and the kids away without sharing any of the details of the case. I strenuously object to this; Delilah’s a tough cookie who deserves to know what’s happening with her husband and her house!

Having hidden all evidence of his children (and also the cutlery, just to be safe), McGee’s ready to receive Triff, who arrives in ankle chains and a straightjacket and is immediately locked in a cage in the middle of the living room. “Home sweet home,” he says, announcing that the place looks the same but smells different. McGee attributes this to the lack of bodies in the floors. It’s all very Hannibal Lecter and absolutely bananas.

Reeves arrives to assist in the questioning, and Triff suggests they search the inside of the van Hicks was driving during his original arrest. And even though the FBI went over every square inch ten years ago, Gibbs finds a pipe in the rear door with Hicks’ fingerprints and blood profiles matching all of the unsolved serial murder cases involving the bloody driver’s licenses.

Hmm. I guess when the original arrest happened, nobody suspected that Hicks was a serial murderer, so they maybe wouldn’t have torn the van apart quite so zealously. But he was still on trial for one murder, and it’s odd that Gibbs magically finds the perfect piece of evidence in such a relatively easy-to-search location.

But whatever. Moving on. As this discovery comes at the 30-minute mark, we’ve obviously got twists and turns ahead of us, beginning with Hicks ditching his tracker-laden coat in his apartment with a note reading “strike three” pinned to it. Then Mary Smith returns to her nursing home clutching Hicks’ phone; he took her, tied her up, kept her in a trunk for a bit, and then let her go, stating that those who talk get what’s coming to them. (Next page: Awkward bonding with a caged man)

At McGee’s, Triff sniffs the air and says the scent of spit-up indicates the presence of children, specifically a boy and a girl. That’s hella spooky. Then for some bizarre reason, McGee starts confiding all of his parenting woes to Triff. Why, Timmy? Why are you saying all of these personal, fatherly things out loud to a brutal killer? Triff assures him that it’ll all work out if McGee just loves his children. Or not. After all, Triff’s dad didn’t bond with him, and he turned out fine.

When Reeves (thankfully) redirects the conversation to where Hicks might be headed, Triff says he doesn’t know, “but if he should send a postcard form Zihuatanejo, I will be sure to let you know.” Ha! Funniest line of the season! Then he makes it creepy again by calling McGee his best friend.

Sloane’s gotten her hands on Hicks’ juvenile records that show he was abused by his father, and she speculates that his taste in murder victims — men in their 30s with strong builds — is a way of exerting control over his father. But now he’s killing with an agenda, and Gibbs realizes that Hicks returned Mary unharmed and with his phone to split them up.

Gibbs calls Fornell, but it’s too late. Hicks is already there with a baseball bat, telling Fornell he’s been looking forward to this for a decade. Fornell doesn’t even flinch, but Hicks has something grander planned than a quick death by bat. “Two birds, one stone,” he says.

By the time Gibbs, Bishop, and Torres arrive, Fornell’s garage is empty, although Hicks left Fornell’s bloody driver’s license behind. When Reeves reluctantly leaves McGee alone with Triff to help in the Fornell hunt, Triff tells McGee that no wild animal will willingly return to his cage after a taste of freedom. “Are you talking about Hicks or you?” McGee asks, and Triff rattles his cage, congratulating McGee for catching on.

Then NCIS gets word that Hicks’ stolen sedan is parked outside of McGee’s apartment, and we cut to Hicks getting the jump on McGee by just…ringing the doorbell. Oh, Tim.

Triff, calling himself Hicks’ mentor, proceeds to mess with his former protégé’s head, chiding him for trusting a fellow convict, telling the younger man he took pity on him, and calling him “disappointingly inadequate, as usual.”

Yep, he knows exactly how to wind Hicks up, and when Hicks approaches his cage, Triff slams into him with the unlocked door, diving on McGee and taking a bullet when Hicks opens fire. Hicks flees, McGee demands to know how long that cell door was unlocked, and Triff begs for a towel to keep his blood from staining the 200-year-old French oak floors.

Okay, so how long was the door unlocked? And how? What was Triff’s master plan here?

Speaking of mater’s plans, what exactly is Hicks trying to accomplish at this point? He rushes out of McGee’s apartment to find all of NCIS waiting for him but somehow gets away in his stolen car with Fornell still in the trunk.

He speeds away with eerie calmness as Fornell frees himself and crawls through the backseat to choke Hicks from behind, plowing them into a row of parked cars. Fornell crawls from the sedan and pulls Hicks out. They grapple, and Hicks is furiously choking the life out of Fornell when Gibbs rolls up to shock him with Fornell’s new Taser, which he bought to replace the one Gibbs destroyed in the previous episode.

With Hicks now back behind bars, McGee calls Delilah and tells her to come home, although he omits crucial details about how close he came to being shot. NOT. COOL. Then Reeves pushes a wheelchair-bound Triff through the big orange room. He was happy to take a bullet for his BFF and the man who safeguards his Venetian plaster. He also offers to be the McGee twins’ godfather, which McGee turns down, although Triff doesn’t acknowledge his “thanks but no thanks.”

At Chez Gibbs, Fornell arrives with the Hicks file and thanks Gibbs for correcting his mistake from 10 years ago. The FBI offered to reinstate him, but Fornell likes being his own boss. He even invites Gibbs to join him as the “associate” in Tobias Fornell and Associate Private Investigations. Then he hands Gibbs a bill for services rendered, including dry cleaning.

Oh, Fornell. Never change.

Stray shots

  • I’m a little sad the Hicks is story line is over and even sadder that he went out with a whimper of daddy issues and a slightly confusing endgame. Still, it was a compelling story line to weave throughout the season.
  • Who else wants more Triff in the future? Turning this vicious murderer into a quirky oddball is a strange choice, but it’s hard to quibble when French Stewart’s clearly having a ball chewing the scenery and slipping in and out of that menacing persona.
  • So, friends, I’ll leave you with this question: Would you rather hear more about Torres’ undercover car bomb-making history, or have McGee serve you one of his fine-looking sandwiches?

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