This week, Torres is the one stepping into the ring — just in time to work out his abandonment issues.
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S19 E12
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If a show runs long enough, someone's going to infiltrate an underground fight club. (I don't make the rules; that's just how television works.) And in NCIS' nineteenth season, Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) is the one stepping into the ring — and just in time to work out his abandonment issues. How convenient!

Agent Broodypants has been blowing off his coworkers, staying out late, and copping an attitude, and everybody suspects it's tied to Gibbs's departure, but Torres insists that he's fine.

His mood worsens when Agent Dale Sawyer (Zane Holtz) pops back up. Torres is convinced that the go-getter could be his replacement, and he shuts down even more, obviously preparing to move on from yet another job where everyone's a coworker and no one's a friend.

And hey, the team does have a job to do this week! The body of naval intelligence officer Lance is found at the dump, beaten to death, and missing an eye. Lance's foster brother confirms that he stole Lance's biometrically protected classified laptop on behalf of some bad dudes he owed money to, and evidence on Lance's body leads the team to an underground fight ring.

Furthermore, Kasie's phenotyping — predicting visual traits based on DNA — suggests that the person who killed Lance is a tall, blond, blue-eyed man, and security footage near the ring points them to tall, blond Belarus native Maxim Dovhal.

When Knight and Torres track down Maxim at his tire factory job, the man whispers that his arrest needs to look convincing. So they grapple and bring him in, and he tearfully confesses that he and his wife are caught in a human trafficking ring. He's been made to fight, and he fears that they're forcing his wife into prostitution. (Spoiler alert: they are.)

The human traffickers wanted Lance's laptop to access Homeland Security files, and since it's a nationwide operation, NCIS can't just kick down the door of one location. But Maxim says anyone who wins a fight gets to meet the big boss — AKA the one who'd have the deets on the whole network.

The plan is to send in two undercover agents to fight each other, increasing the odds that one of them will win. Torres is the obvious pick, but when Parker suggests McGee as the second one (HAHAHAHA), Torres isn't willing to potentially hurt him in a fight.

He has no such problems with Sawyer, however. A sparring match turns personal pretty quickly, leaving Knight to declare, "This is certainly going how I thought it would."

SIDE NOTE: what's the overlap between NCIS fans and fans of the From Dusk Til Dawn TV show? Because seeing frenemies Richie Gecko (Holtz) and Carlos Madrigal (Valderrama) sneering at each other on screen is such a delight, but probably only to a small cross-section of viewers.

Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS

On fight night, the bleach-haired fight organizer refuses to let Torres and Sawyer fight each other, instead pitting Torres against a man with arms thicker than McGee's waist. Parker, observing from a surveillance van, tries to shut it down, but Torres refuses, going all "If I die, I die." That's his job, after all.

So while Torres is in the ring taking a fairly serious beating, Sawyer scampers off to search for evidence, eventually finding poor Lance's eye floating in a jar. It's as gross as you think it is.

During a break in the action, a concerned McGee, posing as Torres' handler, begs him to tap out, but Torres wants to know why McGee even cares. After all, he has his own family and will leave Torres eventually too.

When the fight resumes, Torres gets the upper hand, doing a flying squirrel move off the side of the cage and then grappling the giant man into submission.

A couple of questions: Where did Torres learn to fight like that? And can we see more of it? Did Wilmer Valderrama spend the whole pandemic working on those abs? And can we see more of them?

Anyway, Torres wins, but he and McGee are a little too pushy with the bleached fight coordinator about meeting the boss. That's when the team bursts in with evidence from Lance's eye indicating that the bleachy man is the boss. He immediately cuts a deal to avoid seven life sentences.

Maxam and his wife are reunited, and Torres heads to the morgue, where angel on earth Jimmy Palmer stitches up his wounds. (That's three weeks of live patients in a row — is this becoming A Thing?)

As he works, Palmer tells Torres that he understands feeling angry about being abandoned, confessing that he's angry at his dead wife sometimes, as illogical as that is. But he's got Dr. Grace on speed dial and OF COURSE, Palmer's the one thriving in therapy.

Palmer says that sometimes people leave, even fathers (Gibbs! Gibbs was like a father to them all!), and when that happens, you need to lean on the people who are still there for you.

Honestly, move Palmer to the top of the credits. He's the heart of the team, and here's hoping Torres listens to him.

But if he wants to keep doing MMA on the side, I wouldn't hate it.

Stray shots

  • A couple of things to note about this episode: Parker's list of friendly acquaintances includes the DIA director; Sawyer's interested in undercover work, and Vance's daughter started her FLETC training last week — as in Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers. Will we see any of these mentions pay off in future episodes? Who knows!
  • NCIS scholars may recall that this isn't the first underground fight club episode; "Road Kill" (S6E10) shared that plot point, but nobody went undercover in that 'un.
  • Justice for Jess, who got stuck searching the dump for Lance's eye even though everybody knew it'd be with the laptop. She deserves a spa day.
  • Let's hear it: would you rather shave Vance's mustache or Parker's beard?

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