Crossing the Line
Credit: Michael Yarish/CBS
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S16 E15
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Look, Torres wouldn’t do that, okay? Most of this week’s episode was a frustrating step back for everyone’s favorite cocky agent, even if it did end on a stronger note.

But let’s start with the death of one of the Navy’s rising stars, who ends up overboard during the shellback ceremony, a 400-year-old Navy tradition that occurs when the ship crosses the equator. It prompts a helicopter drop-in from Gibbs, McGee, and Bishop, where they learn that Petty Officer Kendrick Allston was a cryptologic tech with no enemies, according to his bunkmate Eric Brown.

Palmer discovers a head wound that looks like the result of a medieval flail, making me wonder what activities Shellback ceremonies traditionally include. But the autopsy reveals that Allston died of a sudden heart attack brought on by what Kasie declares was an overdose of hallucinogens and stimulants. The head wound likely happened when Allston struck bulkhead piping during his fall from the ship.

Meanwhile, Torres, as the sole agent left in the Navy Yard, struggles with an assignment from Vance to mentor the winners of NCIS’s high school essay outreach contest. And boy howdy, he is lousy it. He makes the kids fetch his coffee, do his taxes, and organize his quarterly expense reports (it’s a lesson on doing unwanted jobs that are assigned to you!), then pushes them into Kasie’s lab to play loud video games (it’s a lesson on team building, strategy, and military tactics!).

Eager beavers Haley and Blake soak it up like sponges, but Max scowls and rolls his eyes and doesn’t follow directions. (He also busts Torres’ chops for wearing a “women’s small” T-shirt.)

Torres openly gripes about babysitting annoying, wannabe teenage agents and moans that “it takes less energy to infiltrate a drug cartel.” Honestly, he is the worst this week, and he deserved it when Max swiped his wallet to buy snacks. But hey, the eager beavers prove their worth by identifying the drug cocktail Kasie discovered as Tri-Shots and dropping some sweet, sweet K-pop recommendations.

While Torres is being ridiculous, Max takes a walkabout to Sloane’s office, asks if she’s new, and announces that her Rorschach painting doesn’t fit. When she offers him a lollipop, he chooses the black licorice flavor, which is the first truly unlikable thing he does in this episode, TBH. Sloane being Sloane puts it together that Max isn’t just some high schooler and gets Vance to confirm that her office once belonged to Agent Girard. Let’s put a pin in that for the moment.

Back on the case, Allston’s sister Kendra says there’s no way he overdosed when all he wanted was to escape the opioid epidemic that decimated their West Virginia town. She points them toward someone with whom he had beef. But Andrew Townsley, who was discharged after a positive drug test, turns out to be a smug red herring.

Thankfully, Bishop’s still on the ship when Allston’s bunkmate Brown falls unconscious from what looks like a similar overdose. They trace the source of the drugs to bottles of energy drink laced with Tri-Shots in Brown’s footlocker. As he presumably wouldn’t overdose intentionally, NCIS suspects both he and Allston were accidental recipients.

However, it points to a bigger issue: Dealers hide contraband in little energy drink bottles, which are prevalent aboard Navy ships, and the Tri-Shot operation seem to be homegrown, rather than an international drug ring.

It’s a short hop from there to Kendra Allston, who admits that she accidentally sent her brother the dosed bottles that were meant for her dealer. (Surprisingly easily solved) case closed.

(Next page: Torres the teacher)

Now, back to Torres’ mentees. Somehow, the two eager beavers claim to have had a great experience during their two days and NCIS and beg to extend it to a third. Come on, those kids were smart enough to win an essay contest; they’d be aware of how disdainfully Torres treated them. Max gets it, though, and thanks Torres for doing as little as humanly possible. Honestly, I want to write a strongly worded letter on their behalf, insisting they get a do-over with somebody else.

Max apparently feels the same way, as he never exits the building. Sloane finds him in tears, staring through the doors into the morgue. His father was Ed Girard, who died during the Navy Yard bombing six years ago— on a day when Max was visiting. She starts to have a dialogue with him about letting go of his anger, but unfortunately, that’s when Torres arrives to yell at Max for not following orders and for generally acting like a privileged, ungrateful punk. Physician, heal thyself! Max pushes back, saying, “I know what an agent is. You’re not it.”

After Max leaves, Sloane (rightfully) tells Torres that he was and is being terrible and explains Max’s story. Torres finds Gibbs and asks why Gibbs didn’t warn him about Max’s history, and Gibbs tells him that it shouldn’t have mattered. Torres failed the Gibbs test, and now he has to clean up his own mess.

Torres finds Max staring at the picture of his father on the wall, and they growl at each other. Then Torres encourages Max to talk about his dad, and he does, in glowing terms — terms that absolutely do not match Torres’ behavior over the past two days.

Max wants to know why he survived and his father didn’t, and Torres tells him he’s been waiting 30 years to learn why his father abandoned his family. But “no answer will ever fix it.” Instead, all they can do is choose how they’re shaped by the things that happen to them, he says. They apologize to each other, but I remain firm in my belief that only one of them needs to apologize, and it ain’t Max.

The next day, Torres takes a vacation day to give his three mentees a VIP tour of a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser. He admits that he tricked them into running his errands and is making up for it by calling in favors, supplying them with NCIS swag, and taking them for a diner dinner afterward.

The eager beavers run off and Torres stays behind to encourage Max to consider NCIS as a career. Max isn’t sure it’s a good fit, but Torres repeats the phrase that Max told him his father used to say: “In a world full of problems, be the solution.”

Stray Shots

  • Well, Torres was…extra Torres-y this week. This felt like about 15 steps back in his character development and honestly would’ve fit better in the first half of his first season when he was still struggling to fit into the team and NCIS as a whole. Even if the story’s conclusion was emotionally satisfying, the lead-up was frustrating. I don’t recognize that version of Nick Torres anymore.
  • A decade from now, Blake and Haley are going to get married and have incredibly nerdy children. Mark my words.
  • Is Sloane feeling a bit underused these days? It’s been a while since she did more than pop up to spout a few wise lines of dialogue before disappearing again.
  • The Shellback ceremony is real, as its Bishop’s Shellback card that McGee will now cover for the ends of his days. Too bad we couldn’t see a little more of the merriment before crimes unfolded! Ah, well. Maybe next season.

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