By Sara Netzley
December 17, 2019 at 11:48 PM EST
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It’s the last NCIS episode of 2019, so let’s chew the lard, friends.

Sir Gibbs rides to the rescue at the neighboring house, where he shuts the water off under the kitchen sink to stop a leak and briefly touches Sarah’s hand when he notices a nasty scratch she says is from the pipe. Then we get a cute interaction between Gibbs and Phineas, who wants to put a police car on top of the tree in Gibbs’s honor. Sorry, but did Sarah not know to turn off the water under the sink? That’s… odd. In a show full of spies and secret moles, this feels like a suspiciously flimsy excuse to lure Gibbs over. (PLEASE NOTE: I wrote this joke in real-time. Remember that for later.)

Then Gibbs gets a call from Bishop, who’s just entered a night club dressed like your Aunt Karen to pay $100,000 for a jump drive from skeevy owner Victor Mir. Mir aggressively hits on her despite her dowdy clothes, but she takes a pass and returns to the waiting Odette. Although the fake landlady/real badass provided the money for the purchase, Bishop refuses to hand over the drive and instead gives it to her team because, as she’s told us a few times, she’s done with secrets. Pretty bold move to cross someone with Odette’s weapons stockpile. McGee finds one photo on the drive: Ziva’s contact Adam Eschel, bound and being escorted into a building by a man no one recognizes.

"The North Pole" - Gibbs and the team assist Ziva (Cote de Pablo) with "the one thing" she said she would need to take care of before returning to her family, on NCIS, Tuesday, Dec. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Mark Harmon as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Cote de Pablo as Ziva David. Photo: Greg Gayne/CBS ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Greg Gayne/CBS

Gibbs, meanwhile, didn’t head into NCIS after Bishop’s call. Instead, he contacted Ziva on her emergency number to take her to task for involving Bishop in a secret mission. But Ziva denies any knowledge and calls Odette to chew her out. See, crowds can trigger Ziva’s panic attacks, so when she asked Odette for help in locating Adam, Odette sent Bishop to the nightclub instead. And with that, we flashback to Ziva meeting Adam in a crowded market while the farmhouse burns on TV. She reluctantly hands him Tali to give to Tony for safekeeping. After he’s gone, the panic closes in as she imagines a news story about her abandoning her daughter.

Then she reminds us that Adam becomes a mole in Sahar’s organization, and he’s the one who tipped Ziva off that Sahar was coming after Gibbs. Now she feels responsible for his safety. But NCIS killed Sahar and rounded up all her people, so who has Adam?

Kasie helps by finding clues in the jump drive photo, pointing them to a warehouse slated for demolition. When Gibbs and Ziva arrive, they find Adam’s captor there, inexplicably jamming out to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” while a battered Adam’s bound to the chair.

They kill the captor in a gun battle, and Adam manages to gasp out that the Sahar they killed was a decoy. The real one’s alive and “you know her,” he says over and over. Scoff! It’s so clearly Odette! And this belief is strengthened when Torres discovers that she’s ex-CIA and was fired for classified reasons from MOTC, a hardcore ranger school for spies. Too obvious, NCIS! (PLEASE NOTE: I made this observation in real-time. Remember that for later.)

Alas, the floor collapses and traps Gibbs and Ziva in the basement while Adam fights for life upstairs. Ziva freaks out and insists that they knock down a support beam so they can climb up the rubble to help him, but Gibbs won’t let her because, you know, that will for sure kill them by dropping the whole building on their heads.

To distract her, Gibbs asks her to tell him about Tali, and she offers up a story about watching Tony put a heart-shaped Band-Aid on her knee, which reassured Ziva that he’d keep Tali safe. Um, I would hope he would, inasmuch as he’s her father and all. But more importantly, Tony knows! Tony knows Ziva’s alive! And they’ve spent time together with their daughter!

Anyway, they finally make it out of the basement, but it’s too late; Adam — the person who loved Ziva so much that he went undercover to protect her — is dead.

Back at NCIS, Gibbs is furious that the team killed the wrong Sahar, and Adam’s captor was a Croatian gun for hire going by the name Cross, so using him to track Sahar will take time.

The bad feelings continue as Ziva refuses to reach out to Tony; she doesn’t want Sahar to know about Tali’s existence and isn’t sure he’ll drop everything to help her, which could endanger both their lives. Then she turns the badness on Gibbs: If she hadn’t killed Ari to save him, none of this would be happening. Gibbs is willing to take the blame but insists that she do right by her daughter.

In the morgue, Palmer walks McGee through the torture Adam endured, then matches the UV stamps on Cross’s hand to the one on Bishop’s from her visit to Victor Mir’s nightclub. Back she goes, but this time she’s dressed like your Aunt Karen if she dumped her no-good husband, got a blowout, and moved to Manhattan to upgrade her wardrobe.

Bishop lures Mir to the back room, where Gibbs punches him, and he reveals that the real Sahar is pretending to be a waitress named Sarah who has a kid named Phineas. ADAM WAS TALKING TO GIBBS. GIBBS IS THE ONE WHO KNOWS SARAH. I AM GENUINELY THRILLED BY THIS TWIST.

Ahem. Yep. Sahar moved next door to wait for Ziva to resurface and used Phin as whatever the child version of a honeytrap is for Gibbs. At first, Gibbs rejects this idea and insists they call every diner in the area to confirm her employment… and then he notices that the laptop Phin lent him is bugged, giving him a way to track Sarah/Sahar.

As this is going down, Ziva runs her own interrogation of Mir, who confirms that Adam protected her the whole time Sahar was torturing him, and that Sahar likely doesn’t know that Cross and Adam are dead. Off Ziva goes to the old warehouse, where she faces off against Sarah/Sahar in a vicious fight that ends with Ziva trapped under a large pipe. Sahar reveals that she knows about Tali and plans to kill both mother and daughter.

Ziva frantically tries to kick through that dang support beam to bring the building down on both of them, vowing, “My daughter will be everything she’s meant to be.” Thankfully, Gibbs arrives to shoot his spy-neighbor before she can shoot his daughter-surrogate.

At this point, I would like to formally apologize to Odette for doubting her. She has an after-mission briefing with Bishop where she admits that she knew sending Bishop after the jump drive would be the only thing that would get Ziva and Gibbs to work together. Also, she sees something in Bishop and offers her some specialized training. So… stay tuned for that in 2020, I guess.

At Chez Gibbs, while Phineas is asleep upstairs, Ziva tells Gibbs she doesn’t regret taking the shot that saved him from Ari, just like he doesn’t regret taking the same shot to save her from Sahar. And then with a weary sigh, Gibbs heads upstairs to ruin a little boy’s Christmas.

Stray shots

  • What started off as a bit of a strangely paced episode came roaring to life in the back half with the mega-Sarah twist. Audacious, NCIS! Sure, I joked about the plumbing, but I truly didn’t think she’d be the villain of the season so far. Now, the question: Do you want the show to find a way to keep Phineas on?
  • Bishop’s official new nickname is Nuked Apple Pie. Write that down.
  • Glad to see Palmer get a hug, albeit a brisk one, from Ziva!
  • So how does this stack up against previous Christmas episodes, friends? For me, and despite Ziva’s presence, it didn’t have quite the emotional heft of some in years past. And dang, we were denied actually witnessing the Ziva/Tony reunion. Still, maybe someday they can lure Michael Weatherly to set…

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