A blind witness opens Torres' eyes to her many capabilities (and also busts a meth operation)
Sight Unseen
Credit: Patrick McElhenney/CBS
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S15 E20
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Happy 350th episode, NCIS! To celebrate this milestone, the show treated its loyal fans to a twisty little episode that pays homage to one of Audrey Hepburn’s most underrated movies.

The crime of the week kicks off in the wee hours when Sheriff Greg Pearson, escorting a suspect to jail, pursues a possible drunken driver and ends up plowing into the lake.

He swims to safety, but his passenger isn’t able to escape…or is he?

Yeah, he totally is. When officials pull the car from the water, they discover that Thomas Billings, under arrest for assault, managed to kick out the window.

Two siblings were camping nearby, and when Torres attempts to question the woman, Annie Barth, he gets immediately flustered when he realizes she’s blind. She’s bemused by his discomfort, and I think Torres just might learn an important lesson about what Annie is capable of before this episode is over, ya know?

She reports that she only heard one person emerge from the water, and a man in a boat nearby called out to see if everyone was fine but quickly motored away.

Billings’ CO tells Bishop that he was a disorderly sailor and their No. 1 suspect in the theft of a passel of smoke grenades and flare guns from the armory. They were about to call NCIS when Sheriff Pearson came a-knockin’ and took the problem off their hands.

NCIS also has Billings’ waterlogged cellphone and audio of him in the back of the squad car asking Pearson, “Is this about Randall Peters?” Confusingly, though, that’s not the name of the person he’s accused of beating.

Reeves and McGee find Billings’ fiancée, Louise Cabrisio, at her father’s pharmacy, where she tearfully announces that Billings just called from his apartment to break up with her. Torres is dispatched, and when he arrives, he finds Billings gone, but muddy footprints on the bedding lead him to a can light in the ceiling, where Billings has stashed $26,460 in cash.

Louise comes in for questioning accompanied, at her father’s suggestion, by the family’s comically inept attorney, Webber Silk. (When Silk offers Sloane his card, he’s holding it upside down.)

Louise claims to have no idea about the money and says Randall Peters is Billings’ business partner. She never met him but says Billings told her last week would be their final meeting. Silk tries to stop Louise from giving Sloane the password for Billings’ phone, but the one she gives them doesn’t work on it anyway.

This frustrates Abby and company, particularly when a calendar alert pops up to remind Billings of the “Randall Peters pickup.”

So NCIS has mysterious money but no phone code and no location for the drunken driver, the witness in the boat, Randall Peters, or even Billings’ alleged assault victim, who lacks a permanent address. What they do have is a call from Annie, the woman camping near the accident scene, with the promise of useful information.

Torres is doubtful that Annie can help them, being blind and all, but he arrives at her apartment to find that she’s got voice-activated lights and a law degree and can hang her own Braille map of the U.S. by placing a marble on top of the frame to tell her it’s level. (Stealing that DIY tip, thanks!) Her no-nonsense manner leaves him awkward and impressed and awkwardly impressed.

When they arrive at the camp site, she takes Torres’ arm and explains that her condition is degenerative and hereditary, and it’s not that her other senses have gotten stronger, but she does pay more attention to them. What she wants to tell him is about a noise — specifically, the tha-thunk every time a car runs over a grate on the road nearby. When the accident happened, she only heard one tha-thunk when Pearson’s car passed over it. So where was the tha-thunk from the alleged drunk driver?

Gibbs and Bishop ask Pearson this question, and he angrily accuses them of believing “Helen Keller” over him. Gibbs suggests that faking a car accident is a great way to kill somebody locked in the back of your vehicle, and then their interrogation is interrupted when a bullet flies through the window and kills Pearson.

Palmer’s autopsy reveals that the bullet doesn’t match Billings’ Glock, and he sends Abby a sample of the dark substance on Pearson’s pant leg. (Next: Ear witness to the rescue)

Meanwhile, Billings’ alleged victim surfaces. Mr. Nordstrom, sporting a battered face, affirms the details on Billings’ arrest report — the details that Pearson wrote. But he can’t identify Billings from a photo lineup.

Sloane notes that Nordstrom has a history of possession arrests. That, combined with Pearson’s four excessive force complaints, leads her to hypothesize that Pearson agreed not to arrest Nordstrom if he let himself be beaten up and then to accuse Billings of it.

The reason Pearson wanted to kill Billings becomes clear when the substance on the sheriff’s pants turns out to be red phosphorous, which is found in flare guns, smoke grenades…and meth.

Abby uses hot wax, Billings’ on-file thumbprint, and one of Palmer’s digits to unlock Billings’ phone, which reveals Randall Peters’ address: a sketchy warehouse where Billings has been bleaching all evidence of the meth lab that used to be housed there.

More pieces fall into place when they realize Randall Peters was a code name for red phosphorous, used in WWII smoke screens and sometimes known as Willie Pete. It’s also the only ingredient of the nine needed to make meth that isn’t readily available to pharmacists. And gee, are any pharmacists connected to this week’s case?

McGee and Bishop suggest Billings was the supplier, Pearson was protection, and Louise’s dad was the cook. And when Billings’ CO confronted him about the thefts, Billings told his team that their supply had dried up, and the next thing he knew, he was in the bottom of the lake.

But when Annie arrives to serve as an ear witness, she doesn’t identify Fred Cabrisio as the man in the boat when she listens to a lineup say, “Hey, are you alright?”

As Torres escorts Annie home, she explains that she helps Congress draft bills, resolutions, and motions, which impresses Torres. Meanwhile, she’s impressed by his biceps, insisting, “I’ve held lots of arms. Yours are more than decent.” Flirt game on point, girl! Torres is leaps and bounds more comfortable around her by now and is even able to say, “See you around” without flinching at the colloquialism.

At the pharmacy, Louise, wearing a wire, confronts her father about his over-ordering of pseudoephedrine, that ever-popular meth ingredient, and gets him to admit to cooking meth and trying to have her fiancé killed. He tells her he was afraid that Billings would “rat the three of us out.” But who’s the third man?

Annie finds this out when she answers her door assuming it’s Torres, and Webber Silk lunges at her! She thinks fast and takes a cue from the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, using voice command to plunge her apartment into darkness to give herself an advantage. Silk busts out his phone flashlight, which Audrey Hepburn’s character totally didn’t have to contend with 50 years ago. Although Annie tosses coffee at him, Silk wrestles her to the ground and starts choking her. Thankfully, Torres arrives in time to save the day.

The case wrapped up, Annie takes Torres out for a celebratory meal, where they bump into Bishop and McGee. Bishop invites them to join their table, but McGee intervenes, and we close on a displeased Bishop watching Torres have a lovely meal with a lovely lady.

Stray shots

  • Marliee Talkington, who plays Annie, is a legally blind actress and activist for women and artists with disabilities. Her character was fabulous, and I’d love to see the show revisit her in a future episode.
  • Not only did NCIS bring up Thomas Buckner, Bishop’s former bully, it also sent them on a date that ruffles Torres’ feathers when he learns about it. But was he jealous that Buckner didn’t call him while he was in town, or because he was squiring around the lovely Eleanor?
  • Please oh please tell me that somebody else out there has seen Wait Until Dark (or appeared in a community theater production of it, as yours truly did) and shouted, “You’re the world champion blind lady!” at the screen as Annie outsmarted Silk. Anyone? Bueller?

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