The murder of a homeless veteran ushers in a case that shakes loose a few secrets from the NCIS crew. For the last time in 2018, let’s recap.
Shortly after Jerome Murray had a run-in with a no good, very bad drug dealer named Vicious, he’s found dead in an alley behind the homeless shelter where he volunteered.
This is bad news for the NCIS team, who are preparing to scatter for the holidays — with the exception of Kasie, who blames her workload for skipping the trip home. Still, she wishes out loud for an open-and-shut case, which the rest of the team knows is an open invitation for jinxing.
And they’re right. When they track down Vicious, Gibbs literally forces his way in, growling, “Get your door off my foot.” Faster than you can say “warrantless entry,” Vicious has his lawyer on the phone, then opens fire on the agents when they approach a room with a closed door. He narrowly misses Bishop and the team responds with lethal force. Bishop is rattled but soldiers on, and behind the closed door, they find drugs, paraphernalia … and an infant in a carrier.
Child Protective Services are swamped, so Bishop and Torres opt to bring the baby back to the Navy Yard, figuring they can locate his mother quickly and wrap the case up in time for the holidays. Gibbs isn’t pleased and tells them they’re in charge of the little John Doe.
Vicious’s skeevy pro bono attorney Paul Spencer isn’t any help. He pleads ignorance about the baby and, when he learns that Vicious is dead, shrugs that “these people” just can’t be helped. A search for any girlfriends or possible mothers in Vicious’s phone records turns up nothing, which means nobody knows the baby’s name. Torres suggests Nicholas, allegedly as an amalgam of NCIS, and when Bishop suggests Logan or Cody, he scoffs, “Those are like the whitest names ever.” He’s … not wrong.
The inevitable diaper hijinks ensue and it’s Palmer to the rescue. (He has Very Strong Opinions about cloth diapers, formula, and apple juice.) Kasie then pops up with blood and DNA results: Vicious’s prints were on the murder weapon, but his DNA didn’t match the baby, making this a likely kidnapping. The team gets to work combing through missing baby cases.
At the end of the day, Gibbs declares that he’ll have no part in caring for little Lo-nick-ody, but of course, Bishop and Torres end up at Chez Gibbs anyway, baby in tow. Gibbs carries Kelly’s bassinet down from the attic, explaining “Gotta hold on to what you can,” and then disappears into the basement.
Bishop and Torres set up shop on the couch in front of the fireplace, with Gibbs’ Christmas tree making the scene cozy. Bishop points out the ornaments that link Gibbs to his wife and daughter and starts to process her own brush with death, including the future and possibly even motherhood.
Kasie, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to shake the memory of Jerome on the morgue table. Palmer notices her strong reaction, and although she declines to share specifics about who Jerome reminds her of, she’s focused on finding his missing Purple Heart medal, which was awarded to him following an IED injury during one of this three tours in the Middle East.
Following his discharge, Jerome fought PTSD, addiction, and homelessness. He died with no next of kin and was living at a local VA center, where Kasie and Palmer arrive to search for the missing medal. She speaks passionately of the challenges of coming home from war, and Palmer realizes she’s discussing some of her father’s experiences.
Then another VA resident overhears them talking and says Jerome witnessed Vicious do something troubling and felt bad about not informing the police.
When Gibbs hears the news, he wakes up Torres and Bishop, who are asleep on the couch (in a purely platonic position, if anyone was wondering). Sloane’s also there, having canceled her skiing and whiskey-sipping trip to Vermont in favor of taking care of Co-gan-olas, and they’re soon joined by McGee, who booked a later flight to join his family in Chicago.
The VA lead points them to security footage that reveals what Jerome saw: Vicious gave a crying woman an envelope of money in exchange for the baby. At this point, Vance orders them to turn the baby over to CPS, but none of the team is willing to give up. They’re also coming up with increasingly nerdy baby names, including Luke, Clark, and Kent. (Next page: Holiday miracles)
While Kasie runs a facial recognition search on the mother, Gibbs notices she’s also searching for Purple Hearts available to purchase. Palmer explains the situation, but after Gibbs leaves, Kasie gets upset with Palmer. Eventually, she explains that Jerome reminded her of the first dead body she ever saw: her father, who died a month after they had a falling out over her potentially dropping out of graduate school.
Following his death, she returned to grad school and started working with Ducky a week later. Palmer does some quick math and realizes this was last Christmas, which explains why she’s making up excuses to avoid going home to her mother and sister. Excellent work here by Diona Reasonover, who quietly cries the whole time, and Brian Dietzen, who pulls off this heart-to-heart in a delightfully dorky moose sweater vest.
And hey, they also pull up an ID for the baby’s mother: 17-year-old Tanya Jacobs, a veteran of three trips to juvie for drug offenses. Gibbs and Sloane track her down and stop her as she tries to run.
Tanya explains that her parents kicked her out when she got pregnant and her boyfriend split, so she turned to an adoption agency. Potential parents Pete and Judy paid for her rehab and medical care, but when her former dealer Vicious offered her $10,000 to buy her baby, she couldn’t resist that kind of cash. Now that Vicious is dead, she wonders if this is a second chance to make a life with her baby.
Then Sloane delivers a hard reality check: Both Tanya and her baby will have much brighter futures if she lets Pete and Judy adopt her child. Sloane swears that Tanya will never regret giving her baby a better life. Gibbs’s normally impassive face tells us that he (along with the rest of us) just learned something new about Sloane. Oh, and then Tanya says Vicious had a nice home lined up for the baby with a doctor or lawyer or something.
Gee, where have we seen a lawyer this week? Cue the return of Paul Spencer, who admits that after he and his wife’s third adoption attempt fell through, Vicious offered to procure a baby for $25,000 in gratitude for Spencer’s quality legal defense work. Well, that’s just horribly sad all the way around.
With the case wrapped, Palmer arrives at the lab bearing a gift for Kasie (and interrupting her looking at photos of her and her dad on her tablet). He’s a big believer in fate and says her father’s death led Kasie to NCIS — “a shove from above” for which the whole team is grateful.
The gift, courtesy of a Gibbs connection, is a Purple Heart, which Kasie places over Jerome’s heart in the morgue. Then she calls her mother to say that she’ll be able to make it home for Christmas after all, and we can hear her mom’s joyful reaction over the phone line.
As the episode closes, we see Sloane scrolling through years of social media posts featuring a pretty blond girl and her parents — clearly, the daughter Sloane gave up years ago. She doesn’t confide in Gibbs, but she does agree to come along with him, Bishop, and Torres as they deliver the baby to Pete and Judy.
On their way to the front door with Nick-co-gan, Bishop and Torres are stopped by a dog-walking neighbor who beams at the baby and congratulates them. They both instinctively thank her, then smile ruefully and agree that they did a good job as temporary parents.
Overwhelmed by this miracle on her doorstep, Judy asks what the baby’s name is. Torres tells her, “That’s up to you.”
- I’m still calling it: Torres/Bishop is happening in 2019.
- RIP Vicious, a.k.a. Niko Nicotera, a.k.a. Ratboy from Sons of Anarchy, if anybody couldn’t quite place him this week.
- Oh, how that “To Daddy, love Kelly” ornament goes straight for the feels.
- Scale of 1 to 10, how much would you like to switch places with Sloane and join Gibbs for a little Christmas bourbon this holiday season?