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This week, NCIS takes on the world of video game live streams and Gibbs spends heart-warming quality time with neighbor boy Phin.

The victim of the week is Navy Petty Officer Ian Rojas, who’s shot dead in front of thousands of his subscribers while live-streaming his gameplay. Even more confusingly, his body’s dumped in his apartment tub with a huge fuzzy bear mask full of glitter shoved on his head. McGee, the former big-time gamer who prides himself on keeping his finger on the pulse of the videogame world, is mind-blown to learn that this is all a reference to hot new game Killing with Kindness 3, which features teddy bears murdering each other with glitter guns and rainbow grenades.

And Rojas, whose online handle was NAVYgamer-Z, made more money from the ad revenue and subscriber donations on his live stream than he did at his Navy hull technician job. He’s also got a fan in young Phineas. We know this because Gibbs apparently gives off a strong “leave your kid with me, single mom on her way to New York for a last-minute custody hearing” vibe because Sarah deposits Phin with him overnight. She tells Gibbs that he’s not allowed any screen time, but Gibbs catches the kid sneaking a peek at his laptop to watch Rojas’s last stream. Phin’s upset because KWK3 is his favorite game, and NAVYgamer was his favorite streamer. Also, he’s upset and blames himself for his mom’s ongoing legal fight with his dad over the parenting time arrangements. Poor kid.

The next day, Gibbs asks Sloane for advice about handling any future Phineas breakdowns. But Sloane says his tactics — wait for Phin to stop crying, then talk about video games until he falls asleep — are perfect. “You are present and engaged. Just keep engaging.” Awww, Gibbs!

Meanwhile, Kasie and McGee’s research into KWK3 turns into an all-night live-stream binge (worth it!) and Kasie also discovers that Rojas’s gamer BFF was FloridaCOW82, who’s conveniently located 40 minutes away in a swanky gated community. Retired oldster Elmer, serenely working a puzzle, overhears Gibbs, Bishop, and Torres asking about a gamer and sends them to the clubhouse computer room. There, they find gray-haired Jesse, a.k.a. FloridaCOW, tearing it up in KWK3 while two fellow retirees cheer him on.

Jesse tells the agents that he met Rojas in a Navy chatroom after Jesse’s wife died. Rojas encouraged him to give gaming a try, and Jesse got hooked. But he swears he had no reason to kill Rojas. In fact, they talked on the phone an hour before his death about the glitchy clubhouse WiFi. Jesse asks Elmer to confirm his alibi, and at first, Elmer’s confused, and then he claims to remember that Jesse did call somebody and raced out of the clubhouse immediately afterward. Jesse swears it was to feed his dog and suggests that the agents might find a clue in the big-time streamer sponsorship drama.

Sure enough, McGee discovers private messages between Rojas and a user named Dirtybird220, who sent death threats after Rojas tanked his sponsorship with Splendifida. The tech company pulled his $75,000 sponsorship of their XRM gaming mouse after Rojas told them about Dirtybird’s nasty habit of harassing women online with vile misogynist taunts.

This makes Dirtybird new suspect No. 1, but he’s vigilant about masking his identity and location. And rather than asking Splendifida for the W-9 that Dirtybird would’ve had to fill out with his real name and SSN to receive the $75,000 sponsorship money, the team decides to join his gaming clan. But they’ll need a really, really good gamer for it. And hey, Gibbs has just the guy!

Enter Phineas into the big orange room. His game rating is plenty high to attract Dirtybird’s attention, but he needs a spot in NCIS HQ with non-laggy internet. Naturally, the best option is MTAC, which has the biggest screen in the building — and, frankly, most buildings. While PhinDog10 is straight murdering life-sized teddy bears, Gibbs looks mildly concerned that he didn’t get Sarah’s okay before turning her son loose on an enormous screen to catch a murderer.

Credit: Patrick McElhenney/CBS

Dirtybird doesn’t reply right away to Phineas’s clan request, so the kid suggests some trash-talk, which seems to be a confusing concept for “finger on the gaming pulse” McGee. But it works, and Dirtybird challenges the PhinDog10 to a private one-on-one battle to the teddy bear death, which allows McGee to track his location.Just like FloridaCOW, Dirtybird’s conveniently located nearby and not in, like, Alaska. His name’s Dustin Vanderschmitt, and Bishop and Torres find him trying to lure a pizza delivery woman up to his apartment to get her tip. (Ew.) When the agents identify themselves, he pulls a runner and engages in some awkward videogame-esque rope swings and ramp climbing that ends with him face up in a dumpster. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

But he’s not the killer, as he was coaching his daughter’s basketball team the night of the murder. Bishop’s appalled that Vanderschmitt’s in a position of authority over little girls, and in the sweetest bit of justice in this episode, she clues the basketball parents in to Dirtybird’s propensity for rape and death threats online, which gets him fired from his coaching position. Sic semper misogynists.

Also fired? Gibbs, when Sarah gets back in town and realizes she should’ve added “don’t let my son help solve murders” to her instruction list. No more Phin time for Jethro.

McGee feels guilty that his “let’s use Phineas as our KWK3 Trojan horse” backfired for Gibbs, so he reexamines all the evidence from the top and discovers the gated community WiFi glitches were courtesy of oodles of malicious spyware code that was stealing identities. The team all point to rule 39 (no coincidences!) and while they watch, the code starts being deleted in real-time. They track the source to the clubhouse computer room, where puzzle guy Elmer’s hard at work covering his tracks.

At first, he tries to pull the confused-old-guy act, blaming it on medicine fogginess, but McGee points out that he retired as the senior VP of network technologies for SwiftCast Communication and his stock portfolio has tanked, so he has the ability and motive to steal information from his fellow Richie riches. And when he heard Jesse ask his Navy friend to look into the WiFi glitches, he knew it was a matter of time until he was discovered and shot Rojas to cover his tracks. At this point, Kasie pops up to say that the handgun in Elmer’s garage is a match to the rusty bullets she pulled from Rojas’s body.

With the murderer apprehended, Gibbs dejectedly returns home to pack up Phineas’s overnight kit, but Sarah lets herself in to say that Phin had such a good day at NCIS that he opened up to her about all his bad divorced-parents feelings. And since her ex is going to mount quite the legal battle, she asks Gibbs to keep the overnight bag for next time. After all, Gibbs is good for Phin, and vice versa. Oh, and he asks Sarah to call him Jethro, not Agent Gibbs.

After she leaves, Gibbs discovers that Phin left his old laptop in the overnight bag so they can message each other. They do just that and — stop the presses — Gibbs busts out a smiley emoji!

Stray Shots

  • Speaking of smiley emojis, we see more of Mark Harmon’s teeth in his scenes with Phin than we do in whole seasons of NCIS combined, no?
  • I, for one, appreciate the reminder that Splendifida exists in NCIS world, and that McGee is hella banned from there.
  • Be honest: Did your heart grow three sizes when you heard Gibbs tell Phin to “grab your gear?” And just how badly do you wish you could play KWK3?
  • Happy Thanksgiving, friends! May your feast be bountiful and your WiFi unglitchy this year!


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