Credit: Michael Yarish/CBS
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S16 E16
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Approximately once a season, NCIS lets Jimmy Palmer take center stage for an episode, and while tonight's doesn't rank up there with a latter-season standout like "Keep Going," it's still a revealing outing for the good doctor.

Palmer's puzzled when the clues in an apparent bear attack on petty officer Logan Braddish don't add up. Sure, there's a big claw left behind in the horrific slashes on the body, but the scratches themselves are unusually shallow. Plus, one seems to be covering up a knife wound.

As bears are not known for their capacity with blades, Palmer's suspicious—and even more so when his father-in-law Ed Slater (the always-welcome Larry Miller) turns up to take him to lunch.

This also raises Palmer's suspicions, as he and Ed have never been terribly close. Ed's presence starts to make sense when he blurts, "Say it was a bear, please," just as Gibbs strolls in.

And get this: Jimmy does. He lies to Gibbs.

At the diner with Ed afterward, Palmer's sick about his impulsive actions and deprives Ed of his coffee until he explains what's going on. Ed confesses that he lost $50,000 in what he thought was a friendly poker game, and the people in charge offered to erase his debts if he'd disappear a body that appeared in his morgue.

When he saw the victim was connected to the Navy, he figured Palmer'd be the man doing the examination, so he staged the bear attack to make it easier for Palmer. Palmer's beside himself that this in any way seemed easier.

Things get even less easy when Kasie's results show no bear saliva in the wounds, and then Ducky shows up in the lab, back in town weeks earlier than Palmer expected. Panicking now, Palmer injures Ducky's feelings by snapping that he doesn't need help re-swabbing the wounds. What a tangled web we weave, Palmer!

As Palmer leaves, Torres joins him on the Elevator of Schemes and Secrets, giving Palmer the chance to ask if Torres knows where he can get some bear saliva. Torres knows someone, of course, "but the guy's super weird, so it has to be really important." When Palmer confesses that he lied to Gibbs, they agree that not only does Gibbs know this already, he knows they know he knows they know. With that, Torres is out.

At the dinner, Ed's called in another poker regular: one Anthony DiNozzo Sr. joins Palmer in busting Ed's poor poker face, and Palmer learns that Ed brags about his hotshot son-in-law who runs NCIS. Ed claims it's easier than explaining what an assistant ME does, which makes Palmer snap, "I've told you seven times I'm not an assistant anymore." Oh, do I love over-it Jimmy Palmer.

The trio head out to have a word with Peter Liu, the dry cleaner who runs the game and called in the favor. Before they go in, Ed announces that his son Stevie's being held as "insurance" until this mess is sorted out. Palmer's furious to just be learning this, and Peter explains to that if Stevie's going to stay safe, Palmer needs to sell the bear attack story.

The rest of NCIS is still investigating the murder, too, and discover night club security footage of the victim, Braddish, getting tossed out after brawling with another man. Braddish's father arrives to claim the body and says his son was a partier but not a fighter.

This is when Palmer finally tells Gibbs that he lied about the bear attack, and Gibbs hauls him into interrogation. Naturally, Palmer babbles a confession immediately, chalking it up to temporary insanity under intense familial pressure.

Gibbs busts out some spoken word poetry about trust, truth, and honor that ends with, "Don't lie." Then he sends Palmer to make Braddish's body look presentable for his father, which is so awful for everyone involved.

At Peter's dry-cleaning business, the agents find the man dead, so the next step is to pull Ed into interrogation. Palmer joins them and unloads years of pent-up hostility about his brother-in-law Stevie: the DIUs, the cheating at school, the real-estate scams, and so forth.

Ed finally admits that it was actually Stevie's $200,000-plus gambling debts that got them into trouble, and Braddish's body was handed over by a guy named Kenny, who offered to wipe all the debt.

Ed's description of Kenny matches the man who was ejected from the night club for fighting with Braddish, so we finally have a suspect. (Next page: Palmer adds a father figure to his roster)

In the hallway after the interrogation, Ed takes Palmer to task for airing their dirty family laundry and describes Palmer's sunny disposition as "unencumbered." And wow does Palmer unload right back. Although Ed never bothered to ask him about it, Jimmy's dad was a bad guy who died when he was 10, and Palmer only forgave the man after his own daughter was born. It's part of his daily reminder to be better a better man than his own father had been.

Palmer says he's got two father figures at NCIS, but he's always regretted that Ed never made an effort to act like a third one. Ed's shaken and tries to apologize, but Palmer's got a crime to solve.

Meanwhile, Ducky and Senior have a melancholy chat in the morgue, where Ducky says that, although he misses his NCIS family, this might be his final autopsy. Plus, he worries that Palmer resents him.

Palmer catches the tail end and assures Ducky he was just embarrassed at bringing shame to their profession. "Jimmy, you are an honorable man," Ducky says, and then they hug. Father figures galore tonight!

Upstairs, the team has an important lead: Henry Deng, one of the wealthiest men in Singapore, bankrolled Peter's shops, and facial ID shows that the man ejected from the night club with Braddish is "Kenny Dent," an alias used by Deng's son and the youngest heir to his fortune.

Alas, Kenny's credit cards are canceled, and he's checked out of his most recent luxury hotel. Senior suggests tracking him at one of the high-stakes poker games he attends, so Gibbs sends in the best player on the team: Sloane. (Yes, he knows this because of the poker nights he hosts at Chez Gibbs. No, Torres has never been invited.) When she arrives with her "bodyguard" Torres, they find the game's been canceled as everyone lies in wait for Kenny, who owes them all money.

Kasie finds that Peter and Braddish's stab wounds match, so they reach out to Deng, who just happens to be in D.C. for a meeting. He's not pleased to hear that his son's accused of murder and kidnapping.

As Deng goes to leave, he's stopped by Ed, who says they both bail their children out of trouble over and over, hoping this is the time their sons will clean up their lives and be more like the responsible, got-it-together Palmer. Ed says he couldn't bring himself to cremate Braddish in his mortuary and instead staged the bear attack so the Braddish family would have closure. Then he pleads for the safety of his own son.

Cut to a marina, where Kenny has Stevie tied up on a yacht that's soon invaded by NCIS agents. As he's perp-walked out, Kenny asks his father why he betrayed him, and Deng replies that he's saving Kenny by finally holding him accountable. Deng and Ed share the somber head nod of "we're both fathers with difficult sons" as they pass one another.

Stevie, freed from the yacht, rushes past his father to hug Palmer, and then Ed, and then Ed calls Jimmy "son," and they're all hugging each other. Gibbs gives Palmer the head nod of "it's okay to have father figures besides me."

With the case solved, Ducky and Senior tuxedo up for the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation Ball, telling Gibbs he's not invited because he's too young and "Who needs the competition?" Gibbs reminds them to make sure they have protection.

Earlier in the episode, Senior advised Ducky that the way to reinvent yourself late in life is to never concede that you are late in life, which has Ducky thinking about his future. He tells Gibbs that his own future no longer includes NCIS. It's time for Palmer to be the permanent chief medical examiner.

Stray Shots

  • While the news that Ducky's planning to officially hang up his scalpel is sad, it isn't necessarily unexpected. Here's hoping he still pays plenty of visits, though. Also, Kasie called him "Duckster." What are our thoughts on that?
  • Speaking of Kasie, you've gotta love that between the bear attack, the war stick pummeling, and the hot tub boiling she's already compiling an impressively gross case list.
  • Torres and Bishop picking up on McGee's one typo was annoying but expected. McGee not caring about the typo, though, was absolutely out of character, no?
  • At the end of the day, we can all agree with Ed on one thing: Pancakes for dinner is always a good choice.

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