A woman with repressed memories of murder leads NCIS to evidence that will convict her

Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS
S15 E8

NCIS flirts with the spooky this week but ultimately refrains from making the jump to supernatural crime.

A woman jogging through the woods hears a ghostly voice calling for help and discovers a badly decomposed corpse in a shed. The body, which I must point out has maggots squirming in its eye sockets, is Victor King, a prominent Navy supplier who’d been under a two-year DOD investigation for fraud and selling defective materials before he disappeared in February.

As the team gathers evidence, the jogger, software engineer Amber Davis (Laura Regan), claims to hear the body speaking to her again to complain that he’s cold.

On the subject of ghosts communicating with the living, the team breaks down pretty much as you’d expect: Torres and Abby are believers; Bishop, Vance, Jack, and Palmer are somewhat open to it; and McGee and Ducky are not having it. In fact, Ducky says hearing voices is a common auditory hallucination associated with mental health issues.

Palmer and Ducky, who’s home for the holidays, discover that King died of hypothermia, likely after getting lost while hiking, And hey, the ghostly voice did tell Amber he was cold.

But Gibbs wonders how an experienced hiker like King got lost in a state park. Although Gibbs is reluctant to talk to Amber again, Vance says the DOD wants to nab King dead or alive. “We have questions, Amber might have answers,” is Vance’s less catchy RadioShack slogan.

Jack’s on it, telling Amber that sometimes the brain makes subconscious connections that feel like psychic flashes. Sometimes it’s a person’s gut, while other times it’s an inner voice. In this case, she thinks Amber somehow picked up clues about King, and that inner voice led her to the shed.

As their conversation progresses, Jack learns that Amber’s daughter died last year in her sleep from heart problems, and it ended her marriage. Then Jack’s desk light flickers, and Amber has a vision of King fighting with someone, a man in a red BMW in West Bay.

Bishop has no luck matching the car description to anyone in West Bay, but she hits pay dirt when she searches by name: Thomas Westbay owned the red BMW and died in a car accident two days before King disappeared. But Amber declares that it was no accident. DUN!

McGee can’t find any connection between King and Westbay, who was an OSHA building inspector. Civilian DOD contractor Jimmy Lancaster shows up with the King files and asks if Amber can find his lost wedding ring before his wife notices. McGee tells him to beat it.

The police report says Westbay fell asleep at the wheel because there were no skid marks before his crash, buuuut he hit the brake pedal so hard, it still shows his shoe imprint. Still, the brakes were in perfect working order by the time the police arrived.

Abby wonders if there’s some way the brakes could’ve stopped working and then magically fixed themselves, while McGee wonders why Westbay was taking his brand-new car to the mechanic every three weeks like clockwork.

With very little effort in interrogation, the mechanic admits that Westbay was laundering bribe money through the auto repair shop, and the fake repair bills covered the laundering fees. Walter White would approve!

That night, Amber arrives at Chez Gibbs, where our man’s perusing Gabriel Hicks’ file. (See? We’re totally going to see that murdering con artist again someday!) Gibbs invited her there to talk, and she asks how he explains his gut instinct. “It is what it is,” he says. So why can’t she be whatever she is?

Gibbs tosses her Westbay’s vehicle gas cap, and at first she’s unsure what to do with it, but it moves her to draw a map to the burial spot of something case-related. When McGee and Bishop follow it, they discover what Abby describes as a “murder weapon-palooza.”

There’s a custom onboard diagnostic drive that could’ve been used to disable and then re-enable Westbay’s brakes, as well as King’s fancy GPS hiker watch that someone hacked to send him into the woods to his death. That’s…diabolical.

Assuming this was the perfect murder, the killer didn’t wipe off any fingerprints, and they come back to none other than Amber Davis!

In questioning, she points to her Uganda alibi, but Gibbs has a photo of her flying into the U.S. on a fake passport during the February murder window. Also, she drew the map while holding Gibbs’ gas cap, so there goes the psychic defense.

Jack buys Amber’s teary-eyed confusion as she promises to help Gibbs solve the murders if he promises not to railroad her if she’s innocent. (Next page: Gibbs sees dead people)

Ducky and Jack suggest that Amber could have dissociative disorder with a fugue state, meaning she committed the murders and repressed the memories until the voices and visions floated out of her subconscious. However, repressed memories are often the result of trauma, which Jack thinks might be linked to her dead daughter, Julia.

Bishop then questions Amber’s ex-husband, who said their marriage ended when he couldn’t move on from Julia’s death, while Amber did. Oh, also, Julia didn’t die in her sleep; the floor collapsed during her birthday party.

The pieces fall together: Westbay, the lead OSHA inspector, took bribes. King, the supplier of defective rebar, paid bribes. And in the end, nobody was held accountable for the collapse.

When Gibbs and Jack confront Amber with the genuinely horrific photos of the building collapse, she at first insists that her daughter died peacefully in her sleep, which is heartbreaking. Then she screams that the scumbags got what they deserved for killing her child.

The team learns that Amber learned King was under DOD investigation, hacked his computer, and linked him Westbay. Not trusting the Navy to make a case against King, she did what she felt she had to do.

A van arrives to transport Amber to a psych hospital as she awaits trial, and Gibbs busts Vance’s chops for pushing the psychic angle. Vance wants to know if Gibbs is disappointed, and Gibbs simply says there’s lots to be disappointed about in this case.

Hear, hear. Look, we’re a society of laws and all that, but I get where Amber’s coming from. I mean, don’t murder, of course. But her cause is righteous, and she’s really good at it.

You know what else she’s good at? Escaping from a psych hospital van. It had tablets installed in the backs of the seats for the passengers to use, so she hacked one to access the van’s systems. She caused a crash, but she also made sure to swerve so a looming branch wouldn’t kill the driver.

She takes the tablet with her and tries to hack King’s case files in NCIS’ system, which Gibbs orders Abby to allow. They watch as she accesses the address for Lancaster, the DOD civilian investigator.

He’s fresh from the shower in a robe when he picks up his phone to see 12 missed calls from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Honestly, who puts that full name in their phone? He deserves what he gets.

And what he gets is Amber holding a gun on him and getting him to confess that he took King’s bribes to slip him every new DOD lead so he could stay ahead of the investigation. Lancaster offers her all the bribe money, but that won’t bring Julia back. Then NCIS bursts in to arrest them both.

Turns out, Lancaster was overseas during Amber’s murderous fugue state. She repressed those memories, but the investigation uncorked her and, realizing there was one more culpable person, she opted for a confession over murder. Jack predicts she’ll use a mental disorder defense in court.

Before she’s transferred to the psych hospital, Amber thanks Gibbs for helping her remember how Julia died. Also, if he didn’t believe she was hearing voices, why did he seem disappointed that she wasn’t? Gibbs, that man of mystery, doesn’t answer. Then Amber leaves for the psych hospital accompanied by her ex, who’s discovered that she hadn’t moved on from Julia’s death as well as he thought.

Alone, a man leaning against his desk calls Gibbs “probie” and says, “Hearing voices, seeing dead people. Psychic seems like a better option than the alternative.”

It’s Mike Franks, the man responsible for Gibbs becoming an NCIS agent! Gibbs smiles and walks away, begging the question of just how many dead people Gibbs is seeing on the reg these days. Only Franks? Anybody else making return appearances? Because that has the potential to be a loooooong list of frequent visitors.

Stray shots

  • McGee’s having twins, y’all! He and Delilah had been arguing over learning the sex, but in the end, he discovers it’s a boy and a girl, giving Sean Murray the chance to perform some overwhelmed emotions. However, pausing Game of Thrones while Delilah runs to the bathroom does not count as heavy lifting in the pregnancy, Timmy.
  • Of course Gibbs makes popcorn over a fire, like a pioneer.
  • Soooo I don’t love Hollywood’s propensity for so frequently making murderers of the mentally ill. Statistically speaking, people with severe mental illnesses are 10 times more likely to be victims of violence then the general public, and this skewed depiction can cultivate unnecessarily fearful attitudes in the public. That quibble aside, though, this episode worked for me as a solid mystery. How about you, dear viewer?

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