Silent Service
Credit: Ali Goldstein/CBS
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S16 E17
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When Gibbs and Bishop board a submarine following the death of a Navy SEAL, they get more of a deep-sea adventure than they expected.

SEAL Robert White was hitching a ride on the USS Memphis submarine for training purposes when he drowned during a routine exercise.

After her watery escapade a few episodes ago, Bishop’s freaked to be trapped, in Palmer’s words, “in a big giant underwater coffin,” although he assures her that if anything does go wrong, “we’d be dead before you know it.” Such an optimist, that one!

Palmer escorts the body back to land, leaving Gibbs and Bishop on board with an uncooperative crew. Then the sub receives an unexpected order to dive to stealth depths and maintain radio silence.

Bishop does not enjoy the sharp descent, particularly because in the last moments before they were cut off from the world, Kasie sent a message indicating that White’s pressure valve was tampered with. They’re trapped in a submarine with a murderer. Dun!

When they attempt to continue their investigation despite their unexpected depth change, the captain threatens to fire them out of the torpedo hole if they intervene with operations. So that’s not suspicious or anything.

On land, NCIS was planning to send Ducky off into retirement with speeches, letters, cookies, a barbershop quartet, karaoke, and a gold Rolex, even though Ducky insists, “I’m leaving NCIS, not the planet.”

Then Undersecretary of the Navy Jennifer Leo interrupts to break the news that the U.S. government’s lost touch with a nuclear sub carrying two NCIS agents. The problem? The Memphis is acting on orders that aren’t coming from the Pentagon. So who’s sending them, and what do they have to do with White’s death?

McGee takes the lead, sending Sloane and Ducky to profile the Memphis crew, Torres to research White, and Vance to arm-twist the Pentagon to get details on the Memphis’s previous trajectories.

Vance comes through first, and Kasie discovers codes in the Memphis’s extremely low-frequency transmissions targeting an IP address in unit 356 at a self-storage place in rural West Virginia. Off go Torres and McGee.

On the Memphis, Gibbs tries to keep Bishop calm, but they both know that none of this feels right. White’s bunk reveals that he’d hidden an electrical manual for the galley behind an old Moby Dick cover. So why was he hiding it?

Again, the captain is spectacularly unhelpful. After he leaves, Weapons Officer Hardy explains that everyone’s on edge because they got new orders. He grudgingly tells Gibbs and Bishop that the Pentagon told them to prep all of their defenses.

“It means the submarine is preparing for war,” Gibbs tells Bishop.

Between White’s death, the dive, and now, you know, war, Bishop’s ready to invoke rule 39: There’s no such thing as a coincidence. “Yeah, that should probably be higher up the list,” Gibbs mutters. Ha!

On land, Torres worries about his underwater teammates, and particularly Bishop since she was reluctant to go in the first place. Then he and McGee chat about retirement a bit.

While McGee’s been saving since he was 14 (because of course he has), Torres just squirreled away all the money he didn’t have to spend while he was undercover. This puts Torres miles ahead of McGee in the “ready for retirement” race, despite McGee being the one with the wife and kids.

Then Torres surprises McGee by saying he might want a family one day, too. Yoooo, this season’s going to end with a Torres/Bishop elopement, my dudes. Mark my words.

They arrive at the self-storage center to find the unit in question on fire, a victim of arson. Thankfully, they know who owned it: Walter Miller, a former computer science professor who dropped off the grid to live like a hermit.

Sloane’s alarmed to discover that Miller’s blog is full of hawkish rantings about preemptive war. “This guy should not be talking to anyone on a nuclear sub,” she warns.

On the Memphis, Gibbs and Bishop head to the galley to question the chef, who reluctantly admits that he gave White the manual when White requested it. He didn’t immediately tell NCIS about it because Chief of the Boat Emily Ross ordered him not to tell anybody after he reported it to her.

They track down Ross as the intercom issues dire-sounding instructions to the crew to man their battle stations. She tells them that two days ago, she walked in on Weapons Officer Hardy in the kitchen fiddling with an electrical sub-panel, and it made her suspicious. She asked White to look into it, and he was killed a day later.

The agents want to know why on Earth she didn’t report all of this to them. She snaps that she’s known Hardy for 15 years and mourned with him when his family died in a car accident, and she wasn’t about to question his loyalty. Then she locks them in the fire suppression room until further notice. Yikes.

On land, Kasie was able to pull information off a hard drive in the storage unit that shows a program blocking Navy transmissions and replacing them with Miller’s, which likely explains what Hardy was installing in the galley. Alas, they can’t get in touch with Gibbs and Bishop with the new intel.

Worse, they can’t halt the program remotely, which means they have to locate Miller to shut down his device. Undersecretary Leo warns that if they can’t accomplish this, the military will have to sink the Memphis, as it’s headed for the Russian fleet stationed in the North Sea.

Sloane, Kasie, and Ducky work together using profiling and monthly calls to Miller’s aunt from the same pay phone to determine that Miller’s likely in the hills of Virginia. McGee and Torres successfully locate Miller in his shack, surrounded by computers.

“You’re too late,” Miller crows.

“And you’re a weird, creepy hermit,” Torres replies. It’s not a sick burn if it’s true.

McGee sits down to undo Miller’s work but isn’t sure about the proper formatting of those kinds of commands, and honestly, it’s refreshing to see a bit of information that McGee doesn’t have off the top of his head.

On the Memphis, Bishop tries to figure out how the U.S. moved to the brink of war so quickly, guessing that the target is Russia. Gibbs, meanwhile, finds gas masks, starts a fire, and knocks out the guard who opens the door to investigate.

On the bridge, where the captain’s delivering the somber news that the Pentagon says the Russians are preparing to launch a preemptive strike on the U.S. Everybody’s really calm about the fact that they’ll be firing on the Russian fleet in four minutes.

That’s when Gibbs and Bishop storm in to say that the codes might be false. Gibbs asks COB Ross to back him up, but she refuses to offer the proof that the captain demands.

Gibbs draws on Hardy, and Ross draws on Gibbs and it. gets. tense. Everybody’s shouting, and we cut to an equally fraught scene on land as Leo tells Vance that they have to destroy the Memphis.

And then, miraculously, a message arrives with the orders to stand down and surface. (McGee was able to call a friend who’s working on a hyper-realistic submarine game for the proper formatting, chalking it up to book research. Such a handy cover!) Still, Hardy insists that they need to fire their weapons. “If we don’t launch, we’re going to die! If not today, then soon enough.”

The captain realizes what’s been happening and has Hardy taken into custody. Um, just asking, but Ross is in trouble here too, right? She withheld crucial information about Hardy that almost caused literal global thermonuclear war!

International crisis averted, Bishop arrives back at NCIS HQ, where Torres tells her how glad he is that she’s back—her and Gibbs, of course.

Then we close with a sweet non-goodbye to Ducky, who’s escorted through the basement by Vance, Gibbs, and Sloane. No, they’re not taking him to a surprise party, which he’d hate, but to a door with a brand-new plaque on it: Donald Mallard, NCIS Historian. He’ll be one of the agency historians, tasked with preserving knowledge for future generations.

Ducky’s thrilled to hear that it’s paid, part-time work that will allow him to come and go as he pleases. The rest of the team joins him as he explores his new office. It’s a bit of a shambles, and nowhere near shipshape, but it will be soon.

Stray Shots

  • Whew! Tense finale this week! How often do we get to see Gibbs pull a gun in the command hub of a stealth-depth submarine?
  • Friends, I’m still thinking about how hard Palmer cracked his head on that round doorway on the Memphis. I felt that smack right down to my marrow.
  • Lingering question No. 1: Are gingerbread lattes really a year-round phenomenon?
  • Lingering question No. 2: Isn’t it not will Gibbs end up living like a hermit, but will he be a hermit with radio towers, or no?
  • Lingering question No. 3: Which Spider-Man could beat up all the other Spider-Men, Maguire, Garfield, or Holland? (My answer: None of them. Spider-Man’s a lover, not a fighter.)

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