Once Upon a Tim
Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS
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S16 E14
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To start, let’s hear it for this week’s MVP: Whatever casting director found Charles Tyler Kinder and realized he was the perfect teenage McGee. Because make no mistake, he was.

In 1994, young Timothy introduces a girl to a “web browser” that connects you to the “internet.” Somehow, she has no idea what he’s talking about, yet immediately realizes this will allow him to tunnel into the phone company’s backend servers.

McGee wants to give himself free long distance to call his dad when he’s deployed, while young Chloe wants him to make money off of this discovery. He executes the command, and it blows out a transformer and gets him grounded for a week.

McGee recounts this story as he wheels in the (huge!) first PC he ever built, which he was hoping to introduce the twins to. Instead, they introduced their bodily fluids to it.

Then a mustachioed busybody bustles up to ask everybody for expense reports. It’s Dick Sullivan, deputy inspector general, there to audit Gibbs’ team.

A couple of things here: Torres’ pens and protein powder aren’t expensable, and Rule 99 states NOT to tell Gibbs he’s being audited. NOTED.

The audit-mania’s interrupted when the body of DOD payroll employee Edward Kane is found in the woods with a notebook in his pocket bearing the impression of an old computer password of McGee’s.

As the odds of Kane randomly matching the nineteen-digit string is 9,000,652,000 to one and his last call was to McGee’s former high school, the team rolls out.

At good ol’ Westfield High School in Hampstead, Md., McGee encounters Mr. Lewis, who still runs the computer lab and claims not to remember him despite the fact that McGee was top of his computer class and one of the high schoolers Lewis judged in the talent show back in the day.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Lewis claims he never spoke to Kane, then leaves for a run-through of Cats. (The sign outside the auditorium reads, “Annual play rehearsals,” which struck me as funny. How do you do, fellow kids? Follow me to annual play rehearsals!)

And now we flashback to the talent show, where McGee nervously dons his tap shoes and chats with Chloe about working all summer to afford them. When Lewis overhears Tim say he wants to study writing in college, the adult man stops what he is doing and says, “Talent is a real thing. Not everybody has it.” First of all, nobody asked you, Mr. Lewis, and second of all, you’re saying this because you overhead McGee’s English teacher talking about his writing skills? Yikes. This man is a monster and must be stopped, whether he did a murder or not.

In the present, McGee boots up his computer with Delilah and has a teeny tiny existential crisis, referring to himself as a failure since he hasn’t tap-danced since college, his two best-sellers were ten years ago, and he didn’t even want to join the Navy in the first place.

Then his computer whirs to life with an internet relay chat that greets him by name and offers him answers. When McGee lies and says he’s alone, the IRC instructs him to look for a package in the hallway.

He tells Delilah to call 9-1-1, then Gibbs (honestly, I’d reverse that order), and creeps into the hallway with his gun drawn, which I bet the neighbors love. Then Delilah’s screams pull him back to his apartment, where he shoots and kills a masked intruder. Um. I get that his family might have been in danger, but that was just McGee unloading his weapon at a figure in the dark, no? What if it had been DiNozzo coming back to surprise him or, like, Torres pulling a prank???

When the team arrives to process the scene, they expose McGee’s web of lies, joking about Tim hitting the limit of people you’re allowed to shoot in your apartment and finding a mummified body under the bed. Delilah’s understandably horrified by the depths of McGee’s deception-by-omission, and Bishop murmurs, “Not really a big fan of secrets right now” as she eyes a framed photo of McGee and DiNozzo.

Kasie hides in her lab from auditor Sullivan, who’s short with Bishop about her expensive coffee habit. Then Kasie announces that the dead man is Braxton Ballard, arsonist, kidnapper, and all-around dirtbag. Prints on the hand-drawing of McGee’s old PC indicate he had an accomplice, and the messed-up IRC code on McGee’s machine is complicating her analysis. (Raise your hand if you immediately guessed that the bad code was actually a message.)

In autopsy, Palmer finds trace DNA showing that Ballard strangled Kane, but he can’t offer any whys. Then Kasey wheels in McGee’s old computer, which she hooked up to the internet, where it’s trying to connect to a remote virus he wrote in high school to take down the DOD. (Next page: Tim gets his tap on)

More flashbacks! We see McGee playing online games, slooooowly downloading a 1994 webpage of ladies in swimsuits, and listening to the Cranberries and kissing Chloe.

We also see his Papa McGee arrive home to hassle him about his future. Tim jumps to his feet, calls him “Commander,” and shakes his hand, but John just gets on his case about prancing around at the talent show instead of joining ROTC. This eventually escalates to Tim announcing he’s not giving up on his dreams and John slapping him, saying the Navy will turn his weakling son into a man, then taking Tim’s tap shoes outside and burning them.

Okay, first, that’s an incredibly cool robot Rubik’s Cube statue in Tim’s room, and second, I kind of want to call child protective services so people in positions of power will stop doing terrible things to poor young Tim.

Anyway, that’s why he built the virus in the first place, but the version that’s been on the loose for 25 years has been modified. The obvious suspect? Mr. Lewis. Under questioning, he admits he did remember McGee and did talk to Kane, who asked for old IP assignments from a particular computer station in 1994.

McGee recognizes the address; it’s the one Chloe used in computer class when she absorbed the news that Tim was applying to the Naval Academy instead of going to Julliard to pursue writing and dancing, thereby triggering the likely end of their relationship.

Sloane and I have the same question: How on earth does McGee remember her IP address? Cut to the best flashback of the night, where McGee dreamily doodles hearts around Chloe’s IP address while listening to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.”

Alas, that’s when Kasie bursts in to say that the virus originated from that very IP address 25 years ago, informing McGee, “Your old girlfriend’s a terrorist.” Good ol’ Torres stands in solidarity with McGee, as he once had a girlfriend who turned out to be a cat burglar. Ha!

But Chloe’s been missing for a week, which makes her look guilty as sin to everybody but McGee, who suddenly realizes that the bad IRC programming is actually a code he and Chloe came up with. When deciphered, it reads “SOS” with a latitude and longitude.

Not sure if she’s in danger or if it’s a trap, Gibbs and McGee approach an RV in the woods near where Kane’s body was discovered and find Chloe handcuffed to the steering wheel.

In short order, she confesses that she was forced to lure McGee out of his apartment. Also, she unleashed the DOD virus when she was sixteen, having tweaked McGee’s code to deposit payroll rounding errors into a holding account. She forgot about it until last week, when a man forced her to tell him about the account, which can only be found in the source code on McGee’s original computer.

She describes the man as having beady eyes and a smarmy mustache, which leads the team to wait for auditor Sullivan in the parking lot. That’s what you get for making Gibbs invoke Rule 99, four-eyes!

When McGee booted up his computer the previous week, the remote virus that had been trying to ping his computer for years was finally successful, which alerted Kane. He reported it to his boss Sullivan, who had Kane killed so he could take the accrued millions for himself.

Crime solved, Chloe marvels that McGee joined the Navy after all.

“I am exactly where I want to be. And as it turns out, the Navy made me the man I am,” he says. Then Chloe and Delilah leave together to grab dinner, which is delightful for everybody except McGee.

Last flashback! Young Tim’s in a suit for his Naval Academy interview, and John tells his son that the Navy could do so much for Tim, but “the choice is yours to make.” Then he hands Tim an old picture of himself in—and I hope you’re sitting down—tap shoes! He kept them in their original box and hands them to Tim now, vowing not to make any more mistakes as regards his son. Wow, those dance genetics are strong!

That same box of shoes ended up at NCIS as evidence, giving McGee the chance to put them on and check out the tap-friendly acoustics in autopsy, breaking his no-tap-since-college streak.

Stray Shots

  • In 1994, there were 2,738 websites total in the world, according to Internet Live Stats. I’m…skeptical that McGee’s local phone company would’ve been one of them.
  • Sooooo no charges against Chloe for siphoning millions from the DOD? Surely that violates one or two of 20 laws.
  • It’s good to see McGee get his groove back! We’ve seen little hints this season about him being restless and getting wooed by a civilian company, but this episode would seem to put that wanderlust to rest.
  • Bishop’s little reference, that picture of McGee and DiNozzo…they have to be planning a guest appearance soon, right??

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