NCIS recap: 'Exit Strategy'
A Metro police officer returns from the dead, and Ducky ponders an intriguing offer
Tonight’s episode was a taut little mystery tangled around a personal story for one of our favorite characters — NCIS’s specialty, in other words.
Torres is on a stakeout with the world’s most annoying man: Metro Det. Miles Higgins, a self-professed anxious talker who proudly displays a comb with a hidden knife and a pen with a hidden camera. When he unleashes the latter on Torres, he chucks it out the window in irritation, then leaves the car to call McGee to come bail him out.
Thankfully, the suspect they’re searching for rolls up just then, so Torres wrestles him to the ground, then realizes that Higgins has vanished, leaving his walkie-talkie and his comb-knife in the dirt. Guess he won’t have a razor-sharp part in his hair any time soon, and I’m sorry, and I’ll show myself out.
Higgins’ disappearance means even more involvement with Metro, and specifically one Det. Sgt. Danny Sportelli, whom NCIS fans have seen a few times before. Thankfully, Higgins’ pen-camera kept rolling when Torres tossed it, and it reveals Higgins leaving on foot with a woman who left fingerprints at the scene.
Said prints belong to Michelle Lane, a Metro police officer who died in 2007 while working undercover to bust crime magnate Benjamin Sotano. The night she was supposed to make her move, the ship where the players were meeting for a gun deal exploded. Witnesses placed her on board at the time of the explosion, along with $2 million in bearer bonds that were never recovered.
The agents add two and 2 million together and assume she skipped town with the bonds. Sportelli says he knew her, and she’d never do that, while Torres sneers in disgust at someone who’d abandon their undercover mission like that.
A check of Higgins’ apartment reveals he’d been back following his disappearance and left with a woman in a tan SUV with a distinctive bumper sticker on back that turns out to be in honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (Any other Lutherans in the house? Holla!)
The next thing we see is a woman who looks a lot like Michelle Lane, upset but keeping it together while she video chats with a young boy on her laptop. The camera pulls out to reveal a man’s silhouette in the passenger seat of the tan SUV with a 500th anniversary Reformation bumper sticker.
When Higgins logs into the Metro computer system, the team tracks the signal to a parking garage. They find the SUV with Higgins’ body in the front seat, a gunshot to the neck. Poor guy!
Back at the Naval Yard, Sportelli and Gibbs discuss the demands of bossdom, and Sportelli concludes, “Guys like us can’t retire.” My God, Gibbs would make a terrible retiree.
In the morgue, Palmer’s asking himself WWDD because he’s flying solo while his boss is being honored at the University of Edinburgh. Gibbs prods him to expound on Higgins’ cause of death before he’s completed the autopsy, which he does, reluctantly: gunshot, glass from the passenger side window in the wound, likely shot from above.
After delivering this information, Palmer turns to the question of what to do with the huge stash of medical supplies that have just been delivered because nobody but Ducky restocks the closet. Palmer’s right to be concerned: Those are large and endearingly persnickety shoes to fill.
Thanks to the laptop, the team learns that Michelle has been living as Jessica Pottorf, the married mother of 9-year-old Landon. She was using her laptop to visit the website of a check-cashing business that just happens to be owned by the late gun-runner’s son, Benny Sitano Jr., so that’s where the team heads next.
At his swanky office, Benny claims that after his father died two years ago, he went straight, although he seems comfortable with a little ethical ambiguity, as evidenced by the recent money laundering arrest and the IRS agents at his office during the NCIS interrogation.
He says he recognizes Michelle as his dad’s former employee and believed her to be dead in the explosion 10 years ago. Either way, he’s not concerned if she’s alive and gunning for him because of all his security measures, including bodyguard Nitro, who also makes a mean cappuccino (with fresh cinnamon, it should be noted — never forget the cinnamon).
He lawyers up when he hears about Higgins’ death, but the agents are distracted when Michelle nervously walks into Benny’s building.
In interrogation, she’s mum about why she faked her death 10 years ago but is eager to tell them that she’s being blackmailed now. Someone called and told her that her family would be harmed if she didn’t hand over the $2 million in bearer bonds, which she swears she doesn’t have. She freaked and called her former partner, Higgins, a.k.a. the only cop she could trust.
They met up during the stakeout and swung by his apartment to grab her old case files. But someone shot at them as they were leaving, and now she has the death of a good man on her conscience. She figured the blackmailer to be Benny, so she was headed to his office to beg for her family’s life.
Torres has no sympathy, telling her she should’ve gone to the cops and, you know, not run in the first place. Then they’re interrupted by a video call from her son’s number, which reveals him bound and gagged by parties unknown. By the time help arrives at her house, they find her husband injured and her son gone. (Next page: An undercover love affair, uncovered)
A bit more Bishop questioning reveals why Michelle ran 10 years ago: She was pregnant, the dad wasn’t in the picture, and the night of the bust, she was wired up but low on battery. When she left the buy to swap it out, the ship exploded, and she assumed she’d been made. It was months later that she learned the hit was actually from a rival gang.
While she was lying low and deciding what to do, she learned that she’d been declared dead, which freed her up to start a new life. She felt terrible about lying to her friends and teammates, but, you see, the baby’s dad was none other than Benny Jr., and how was she going to explain that undercover affair to everyone at Metro?
Abby points out that the Pottorfs live a frugal life and that Michelle went to school to become a Lutheran schoolteacher. The blackmailer likely made her when she appeared in the background of a video that went viral of a man at a baseball game catching a foul ball, proposing to his girlfriend, and being rejected. Michelle and family were in the second row, Lutheran school T-shirt on display.
In light of this news, they haul in Benny, who admits to the affair and knowing about their child. He was in love, and after the explosion, he hired a PI to search for Michelle, just in case. When he found her, she was happy with her baby and a new man, and he realized a fresh start was the best thing that could happen to his son, especially given the life Benny leads now because of his own father.
By now, Sportelli’s gotten word that they nabbed Michelle and is angry to have been cut out of the case. Gibbs doesn’t back down, of course, but Sportelli still arrests Michelle for conspiracy and fraud. As he hauls her away, she screams at the NCIS agents to find her son.
With Benny in the clear, NCIS turn their attention to the other person who knew about the missing bonds: Nitro the coffee-making bodyguard, whose salary just tripled. Bishop and Torres question him and learn that he’s also a personal trainer who just got his diploma, hence the salary bump. Even before that, though, he was a Metro cop who got pushed off the force when he refused to skim evidence. It’s how he ended up working for Benny, who recognized a good guy trying to beat a bad rap. Oh, and his crooked cop boss at Metro? One Danny Sportelli.
Sure enough, Sportelli never showed up at Metro with Michelle, and more digging reveals massive debts, a drained 401(k), and an old property where he might be hiding out.
When the agents kick down the door of the place, Sportelli’s holding a gun on Landon and demanding Michelle give up the money, which all seems sloppy. Surely he knew NCIS would track him there, right?
Anyway, Sportelli barricades himself in a back room. Gibbs kicks a set of handcuffs under the door and tells Sportelli to choose. Sportelli kicks the cuffs back out, and then we hear a gunshot and the thump of his body hitting the floor.
Later, once everything’s sorted, Bishop arranges a meeting between Benny, Michelle, and Landon so father and son can get acquainted, which made me feel feelings.
Now, to Ducky’s adventures in Scotland! He’s given the opportunity to lecture on an old case involving a body inside a body, which is exactly what it sounds like. He introduces the assembled students to the idea of talking to the people on the autopsy table, and when he finishes, eager Scottish students mob him with questions.
He’s rescued by Dr. Cadence Darwin, an old classmate who offers him a glass of whisky and a job. At first Ducky declines, but when he does some research and realizes that no one else has written about a body inside a body, he’s more open to her proposal: a semester in residence at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, where he can write a book. And not just any book, but the book, a definitive reference for the entire field.
He worries about leaving Palmer and NCIS in the lurch, but she gently reminds him that NCIS keeps spinning, not without him, but because of the legacy he put in place.
When he returns to NCIS, he sees that Palmer restocked the supplies perfectly and learns that Gibbs already knows about the job offer and gives his blessing. Plus, New York’s only a three-hour train ride away.
Ducky decides this is what he wants to do, and we watch through the morgue door as he explains the situation to Palmer, who reaches out to shake Ducky’s hand but finds himself instead gathered into a Ducky hug.
- What does all this mean for Ducky and David McCallum on the show? I haven’t read any plans for his departure (unlike Pauley Perrette), so we’ll have to see how this unfolds. His departure would be a sad turn of events, and my only consolation would be that less Ducky means more Palmer. Although what’s with Gibbs saying “we’ll see” what kind of medical examiner Palmer will be? Hello, he’ll crush it!
- Way to name check old cases, NCIS! We’ve got your meat puzzle, your blood shower, your chimney mummy. Good times.
- Benny was an interesting character, wasn’t he? Going straight, mostly. Reveling in his moral ambiguity. Walking away from his love and their child for their sake. Forging a connection with them years later. Some cool layers there.
- Would $2 million be enough to get you to learn the art of scuba diving? Let me know in the comments!