A bioterrorist gets taken down, plus love is in the air, in the season 20 premiere of NCIS and season 2 premiere of NCIS: Hawai'i.
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NCIS season 20, episode 1: 'A Family Matter'

Welcome to season 20 of NCIS! We pick up exactly where we left off in May: Parker's (Gary Cole) on the run with his possibly treacherous ex thanks to the Raven's plot to frame him.

FBI Deputy Director Sweeney's (Erik Passoja) still keen to capture Parker, but the team covers while he and Vivian (Teri Polo) track down the accounting firm that might lead to the offshore account tying him to the murder of his former partner.

Parker tells Vivian that he's lucky to have such a trustworthy group of coworkers around him, and there's an awkward pause because, well, the finale showed Vivian sending a mystery "It's done. I have him" text — the same text sent by the person who watched her get kidnapped in the finale.

When Parker steps into the shower, Vivian gets a text demanding that she turn Parker over, and she offers up a place and time to meet. Parker, who's no dummy, watches it all from the bathroom and sneakily sends the number over to Kasie (Diona Reasonover) to trace.

NCIS “A Family Matter” Wilmer Valderrama as Special Agent Nicholas “Nick” Torres and Katrina Law as NCIS Special Agent Jessica Knight.
Wilmer Valderrama as Special Agent Nicholas "Nick" Torres and Katrina Law as NCIS Special Agent Jessica Knight.
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Kasie, who's been fussing over the pomato plant that got damaged when Knight (Katrina Law) and Palmer (Brian Dietzen) engaged in a bit of stealthy lab kissing, discovers that Vivian's been texting with Sweeney. And when Vivian awkwardly turns down Parker's suggestion for a breakfast spot in favor of someplace with the best pancakes on Earth, he's on high alert.

And that's how he ends up nailing Fornell (Joe Spano) in the groin with a napkin dispenser when the poor man approaches their outdoor table. Vivian's furious that Parker thought she, his ex-wife, would sell him out. ("In my experience, that part's pretty easy," says the unlucky-in-marriage Fornell.) In fact, she was in contact with Sweeney but sent him to a diner two towns over to buy them some time.

But like… wait. In last season's finale, Vivian sent an "I have him" text, which seemed to be exactly how the Raven communicated with his people. Unless Sweeney is the Raven and they were working together all along, Rule 39 would tell us not to trust that she coincidently sent the same text message, right?

Anyway, off the trio go to meet Fornell's friend Sammy, who discovers that the account used to frame Parker originated in Russia, which is also where the Raven's biotoxin came from. Also, the vibe between Fornell and Sammy is palpable, and Parker's still salty about Vivian's potential betrayal even though she's all-but-screaming that she still has feeeeelings for him.

Complicating matters, Tennant (Vanessa Lachey) and Ernie (Jason Antoon) arrive stateside to prep for RIMPAC, a massive maritime warfare training exercise. McGee (Sean Murray) suggests keeping the Parker news in-house, and Torres (Wilmer Valderrama)gets the pleasure of speaking the episode title out loud: "Family matter." But of course, they already know about Parker, because you don't keep secrets in NCIS-land. Also, Tennant and Torres are also throwing off all kinds of sparks; don't forget they have a mysterious history personal history that led to the explosive nickname T'N'T.

Now that Parker's being discredited, several inmates he helped put away are appealing their cases, so McGee and Knight head off to interview one of them. Herman Maxwell, who's played by Michael Weston and is therefore far too recognizable an actor to be trusted, gets all squirrely when they ask about the Raven.

He confesses to hacking into biolabs for a Russian gangster who called himself the Raven, and he's now terrified that Parker was set up to get him released so the Raven can get to him. So off they go to figure out which Russian gangster might be their guy.

While they work, Torres comments on the heat between Knight and Palmer and admits to feeling protective… but not of Knight. How sweet is that? Lest we forget, in the season 19 episode when Palmer and Kasie almost died from a Raven biotoxin attack, we learned that Nick helped Jimmy with childcare duties after he was newly widowed, so his concern for Palmer's emotional welfare makes total sense.

The cuteness triples when Ernie joins them in the lab and starts raving about how awesome Jess is. Palmer blurts out that she's actually dating a guy named Rocko who's cool, kind, super smart, accessibly handsome, and funny in a corny way. And just like that, Kasie knows how her pomato plant really got broken, and Palmer quietly tells her, "It was still an accident, Kasie." Yep. Truly loving this odd-couple pairing of Palmer and Knight. (Palight?)

They tentatively identify the Raven as a man named Dmitri Lopuchin and plot to use Maxwell as bait to draw him out. The DC and Hawaii NCIS agents, plus Fornell and Vivian, all gather for Maxwell's three-car caravan to a safe house. But they get word from Ernie's NSA contact that Lopuchin is dead, so who's Maxwell really afraid of?

All hell breaks loose when a signal jammer blocks the caravan's mobile phones, Sweeney pops up to arrest Parker, and a team of heavily armed men appear to extract Maxwell, who Keyser Söze-ed them all. Vivian ends up shot, and Maxwell flashes an evil mastermind grin as he escapes thanks to his goons, the Unkindness.

Weirdly, Parker seems to be the only one who figured that Maxwell is the Raven, and he only tells McGee and Fornell about it when they show up at the hospital, where he's anxiously waiting for Vivian to come out of surgery.

The episode ends with Torres and Knight joining Tennant and Ernie on a military transport plane to Hawaii "take down that son of a bitch," as Parker furiously bellows.

Stray shots

  • No more Mark Harmon in the opening credits or as the previously on/next week on voiceover. Please join me in a moment of silence.
  • You know what I hate? When characters who should text each other all the time have zero text history in their on-screen phones. Make up some old conversations before you zoom in, shows! I mean, Parker and Kasie would have actual text history, right?
  • This wasn't the tightest or sharpest season premiere in NCIS history, but it is reintroducing the current group dynamics while also reminding us about the NCIS: Hawai'i players who'll be helping wrap up this storyline. So let's continue to…

NCIS: Hawai'i season 2, episode 1: 'Prisoners' Dilemma'

The Raven flew all the way to Hawaii only to have his wings clipped. Yep, it turns out Herman Maxwell's one of those super-geniuses who use their powers for evil, but he's no match for the combined forces of NCIS.

Maxwell headed to Hawaii to mess with RIMPAC and its bevvy of international participants, and the team's hot on his heels. Torres pushes Tennant to act fast, but she wants to take their time and review all the evidence first. And some of the evidence comes from a plane full of poisoned passengers, courtesy of a hard-to-find WWII-era German pesticide and a smug video Maxwell sent the team afterward.

NCIS Hawaii “Prisoners’ Dilemma”
Credit: CBS

The information Ernie pulls on the video IP suggests that Maxwell had help from a guard, so Parker goes to his prison disguised as a psychiatrist to distract a guard suddenly flush with cash. While he zeroes in on a first-edition Edgar Allen Poe left behind in Maxwell's cell with a dedication from a W.S., the rest of the team finds five high-powered servers in the guard's basement.

Despite Kasie's concerns, Ernie successfully cracks the servers' encryption, then tells Knight, "I bet your boyfriend can't do that." Ooooh, that's some good swagger, although Jess insists she doesn't have a boyfriend.

Sidenote: Ernie works best with white noise, so Lucy (Yasmine Al-Bustami) and Kate (Tori Anderson) adorably discuss their burgeoning romance to help him out and let us know that they're both really happy with how things are going. It's a fun way to get all that info across.

Anyway, the servers reveal that messages are flying all over the Battleship Missouri Memorial. But when the team arrives, Maxwell's set up a bunch of Boomer tourists. Ernie, who literally wrote the NCIS dossier on Maxwell back in the day, then tracks his cell phone to a nearby restaurant.

It's full of customers who are incredibly calm about a bunch of armed agents swarming in. Maxwell's got a dead-man switch attached to a bomb and immediately recognizes the team's roles, sending hostage expert Knight out with the civilians and keeping Tennant and Torres with him. T'N'T stage a noisy fight to try to make plans under Maxwell's nose while the team scrambles to find the bomb.

NCIS: Hawaii viewers have already met the team's explosive specialist Boom Boom (Sharif Atkins), and this episode introduces us to the other expert, Bam Bam (Cher Alvarez). She's all work and zero jokes as she sets out with Kai (Alex Tarrant) to disable Maxwell's signal booster. Not to overstate it, but I would die for Bam Bam.

Elsewhere, the mysterious W.S. is revealed to be professor Woodrow Staggs, and he and his charmingly crooked glasses just happen to be in Hawaii right now. Rule 39, y'all!

Staggs (the always fantastic John Billingsley) is a professor who specializes in crowd psychology and once got a government grant to conduct a psyops training program.  He claims to be on the island for a family event and only recognizes Maxwell when Ernie de-ages and de-beards him. Staggs knew him as Jason Hearns, who was released from the psyops program for being psychologically unfit.

Staggs is horrified that in trying to identify and take out possible terrorists, he ended up creating one, and to buy time, Jesse (Noah Mills) sends Staggs into the restaurant while they try to locate the actual bomb.

Sure enough, it gets Maxwell to unload on the professor: Parker may have put him away, but Staggs abandoned him after promising to give his life purpose. And now, he's going to kill Staggs' son, a petty officer on the island for the RIMPAC exercises.

When Bam Bam and Kai identify the general location of the bomb, Jesse and Knight identity the shaved ice cart guys as way too built to be vendors (ha!) so they launch into a fight. Hilariously, Bam Bam looks like she'll punch Knight herself when the baddie tosses her into the cart where Bam Bam's trying to defuse the explosive.

But she cuts the wire just in time for Maxwell to push the button and watch his evil plan fizzle. He puts up a good fight, but T'N'T drop him and join the rest of the team on the beach for rum-based, paper umbrella-festooned cocktails.

Stray shots pt. II

  • See ya, Raven! At least you got a nice little tropical vacation before being locked up for the rest of your life.
  • Palmer and Knight. Torres and Tennant. Lucy and Kate. Love was definitely in the air in these premieres. But you know who I adore the most? Bam Bam. Give us mooooore.
  • So, friends, what do you think? Are these seasons off to a strong start? Let me know in the comments!

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