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S17 E13
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Forthwith, the morals of tonight’s NCIS episode: Whistleblowers matter, always wear ear protection, and don’t count your Duckies before they’ve hatched.

First, let’s discuss Dr. Palmer, whose friendly mask cracks badly this week. He’s been doing the work of two people for too long, and he needs an assistant now. Time for some applicant test runs.

Candidate No. 1 is so howlingly unprofessional that even the corpses on the tables are like, “Yo, what’s her deal?” Candidate No. 2 is a liiiiitle too eager to wield a bone saw, if you know what I mean. (And what I mean is exactly what I said: dude loves cuttin’ ‘em up.)

And then candidate No. 3 comes along with a British accent, a proper bowtie, and a poetic comment for every occasion. Yes, Palmer’s charmed by Christopher Crane and his horn-rim glasses.

“Sound Off” — After a body is found at an unmanned aerial vehicle testing site, the NCIS team must determine if the death was murder or an accident. Also, Palmer carefully interviews medical examiner assistant candidates, on NCIS, Tuesday, Jan. 21 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Wilmer Valderrama as NCIS Special Agent Nicholas “Nick” Torres, Sean Murray as NCIS Special Agent Timothy McGee. Photo: Eddy Chen/CBS ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
| Credit: Eddy Chen/CBS

But this “seriously, does Ducky have a great-grandson we don’t know about?” candidate declines Palmer’s on-the-spot job offer by announcing, “One has to fully appreciate his own abilities before he can truly know what type of help to seek.” Back to the drawing board for poor Jimmy, who truly did seem to have found the perfect assistant.

Okay, now to the meat of the episode. Quantico’s Marine Warfighting Test Lab is testing a new drone developed by LanWar Defense Systems, and things go smoothly until the team realizes there’s a person inside the shed being targeted on the weapon range. Then the drone operator ignores multiple verbal stand-down orders from LanWar’s chief weapons developer George Ingram, and the person inside’s blown to pieces.

NCIS is called in and quickly realizes that the deceased is retired Gunnery Sgt. Danny Backer and the Marine who ignored orders and fired the missile is Danny’s ex-girlfriend, Staff Sgt. Diana Murphy (Katie Leclerc from Switched at Birth). Look, who hasn’t threatened to bomb an ex from space, amirite? But in this case, Danny was shot first and his body was dumped in the shed.

Diana slips out of the lab while NCIS is questioning LanWar CEO Edison Geary, who reports that she and Danny recently had an argument that almost came to blows.

She’s quickly apprehended at Danny’s place, and during questioning, something about her responses seems off. Her answers are slightly delayed, and she asks Bishop to repeat herself. When Gibbs enters the room and gives her a “semper fi” from the doorway, she doesn’t respond. But when he moves into her line of sight and repeats it, she gives him an immediate, “ooh-rah.”

Yep, Palmer’s test confirms it: Diana, who specializes in piloting UAVs, has lost almost 100 percent of her hearing in both ears, which means she didn’t hear Ingram’s orders that she stand down. Her lip-reading game is on point, though, and she’s been getting by undetected for the months since she was involved in a hush-hush weapons testing accident.

She reluctantly tells NCIS that Danny showed her a new sonic weapon that manipulated sound and heats up cells in the body. But she didn’t put her ear protection on in time and refused to seek medical help for the subsequent damage. Why, you ask? Well, because Diana only ever wanted to be a Marine, like her father, but the U.S. military doesn’t allow those with hearing loss to serve. And sure enough, as soon as the results of her hearing test are disclosed, she receives a medical discharge.

This frustrates Kasie, who wants to know why the military can’t find a non-combat position for a good Marine like Diana. (This is all true, BTW. Other countries allow the hearing impaired to serve, and the U.S.’s policy against it is an ongoing subject of debate.)

Diana was at the lab the night of the murder, which gives her an alibi, but she suggests that Danny’s crapbag musician stepbrother Ron might’ve killed him. And in fact, said crapbag is delighted to hear that Danny’s dead, as he’ll now inherit the house that his father left to Danny instead of him.

More interesting to NCIS is the fact that Danny built Ron a soundproof recording studio but recently changed the locks and denied him access. Assuming it’s something other than Danny realizing that Ronny is a garbage human, Torres kicks down the door to the studio, where Danny’s stashed several cases of the LanWar sonic weapon that cost Diana her hearing.

Although CEO Geary wants the investigation wrapped up so LanWar’s contract can be unfrozen and the revenue flow can resume, they drag their feet in providing the documents that NCIS has requested. But when the warrant finally goes through, NCIS discovers falsified LanWar inventory records with Diana’s signature on them. She claims Danny forged it following their fight, after which he planned to meet someone whose identity she didn’t know.

Danny’s phone GPS places that meeting at a convenience store, where security footage leads NCIS to Danny’s contact: MIT electrical engineering professor Zahir Najjar, who’s in possession of the sonic weapon.

In interrogation, he’s delightfully sarcastic, giving Bishop and Torres an F for not checking their work. He explains that Danny actually believed the weapons didn’t misfire to cause Diana’s injury, but that there was a flaw in the design that he wanted Najjar to test.

So Danny was a whistleblower, risking his career and his freedom to file reports about the possible flaw and then smuggling out the possibly dangerous weapons when those reports were ignored.

No surprise: the person who buried Danny’s warnings was CEO Geary. (I swear, NCIS has taught me to never trust white-haired men in expensive suits.) Geary admits to hiding the findings but denies killing Danny. He just wanted to sell his shares of LanWar to pay for his divorce, plus he was also in the lab the night of Danny’s murder.

Suspicion then falls on the person buying Geary’s shares: chief weapons developer Ingram, who was in charge of the UAV test that destroyed Danny’s body. Ingram didn’t usually run tests and in fact, picked the shed as the target the night of the incident.

With their new suspect identified, NCIS tracks his location to Diana’s place. Ingraham attempts to sneak up on her, but she catches his reflection in her shiny teakettle and efficiently fights him into submission just before Bishop and Torres arrive.

In the end, Danny’s family asks Gibbs to give Diana his dog tags, and Gibbs also tells her that Vance pulled some strings to get her a job at the Marine Warfighting Lab as the civilian coordinating their training missions — the job Danny used to hold.

Stray shots

  • Confidential to Kasie: Tom Hiddleston absolutely would.
  • As a casting note, Katie Leclerc has Ménière’s disease, which leads to intermittent hearing loss and vertigo.
  • Were you sad to see Christopher Crane go, or did seeing Ducky’s mannerisms in a young man’s body wig you out a little? (I’m in the latter group.) Would you be up for a Bones/Murphy Brown-style series of rotating assistants while Palmer searches for his perfect match, or do you want a new hire as soon as possible? Let me know in the comments!


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