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S19 E16
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What starts as a truly disgusting outdoor bash on this week's NCIS morphs into a critique of the effects a true-crime podcast can have on the people involved.

A Navy petty officer's party to reveal the sex of his baby is interrupted when body fragments rain down on the horrified guests. Not only that, but the smoke pump on the skywriting plane failed, creating an unreadable cloud rather than "boy" or "girl." After talking to the pilot, Knight's (Katrina Law) the one to tell the parents that they're expecting a girl. Congrats, we guess???

More importantly, the body parts belong to Emily Radner,  who's been missing for five months and is the subject of Knight and Kasie's (Diona Reasonover) favorite podcast, Desperately Seeking Emma. (The women have a standing Friday night date to drink wine and listen to the latest episodes of their fave true-crime pods.)

Emma's husband, former hot-shot insurance salesman Sam (Mike Erwin), has been the prime suspect after the couple was spotted leaving a restaurant mid-fight and Sam left on a last-minute Florida work trip. Three days later, he got back, had his truck was washed and detailed, then reported his wife missing.

He lost his job, but without a body he was never arrested. Since that's now changed, NCIS leaps into action to interview Emma's sister Molly. The notification is rough, and Molly says she loved Sam like a brother even though that marriage had soured.

NCIS The Wake recap
Credit: Sara Mally/CBS

As they're talking, Walt and Nance Freeman arrive to lend support. Podcast superfan Knight knows they're old friends of Emma's, and let's be honest, if the Freemans didn't set off your "One of These People Is the Murderer"-o-meter, you probably haven't been watching NCIS for long.

Kasie's discovery that the body parts were covered in vulture bile leads them to the rest of Emma's body. You see, vultures regurgitate as a defense mechanism — this info is courtesy of Parker, a vulture aficionado — so flying through the skywriting cloud likely triggered that vomit reflex.

Since vultures live near where they eat, the team follows the vultures' wildlife GPS trackers to Twin Rivers Park, where Emma's body's been dumped near Sam's favorite ATV trail. Presumably the vultures only started feeding when the body thawed after winter. Palmer (Brian Dietzen) eventually rules that Emma died of blunt force trauma, possibly from a fall that could've been caused by her husband.

Knight lets herself into Sam's home with Molly's spare key to execute the arrest warrant. She finds Sam huddled in his bedroom with a gun to his head.

"I miss her," he says. "Just walk away and let me do this."

Knight, of course, starts to work her hostage magic. Thanks to his semester as a criminal justice major, Sam recognizes that she's keeping him talking as a negotiation tactic, but he decides to play along. Outside, the Virginia State Police, who've been dealing with Sam for five months, put a sniper on the roof to take him out, but Vance tells them to let Knight do her thing.

Inside, an exhausted Sam says that he knows the podcast makes him sound guilty as sin, but his lawyers told him not to say anything about the case. Knight admits that she's a fan of the pod and tended to agree with its conclusions, but she insists Sam deserves a fair trial and begs him to put down the gun.

To keep him talking, Knight asks him to tell her the good stuff about their marriage, the stuff the podcast ignored, so he describes Emma bringing him burned banana pancakes in bed, while he'd buy her peonies that she'd tuck behind her ear.

Knight acknowledges that the media didn't treat him fairly, and that she herself should've known better than to judge him based on that. But he's still ready to pull the trigger, trusting her to accurately report that his last words were declaring his innocence. He reaches for the gun again, and we hear the shot from outside the house.

But it was Knight, firing a shot that grazed his forehead and saved his life. She's such a boss, although she blames herself for him getting to the point where he picked the gun back up at all.

In interrogation, Sam (talking without a lawyer — UGH, WHY, SAM??) is rocked to hear that Emma's therapist unsealed her records after her body was found, and Emma was considering divorcing him.

But at least Kasie quickly rules him out as a suspect. Emma's body was found with peony traces behind her ear, and crime scene photos show a peony missing from the dozen that Sam had delivered while he was away in Florida.

This means that after Sam left town, Emma was alive and able to tuck a poeny behind her ear. So how did the flowers end up with the fingerprints wiped off the vase and placed back on the front porch?

Since there was no forced entry, the team asks Sam who'd have had access to their house. Surprise, surprise, the Freemans did. It turns out that Walt was a bit of a creep to his TAs in his former job as a community college professor.

Then Kasie finds an overlooked print on the inside of the vase belonging to, not Walt, but Nance, who'd sent her husband dozens of texts accusing Walt of cheating on her just prior to Emma's death. She confesses that she'd confronted Emma and accidentally killed her — then "accidentally" framed Sam, of course.

Poor Sam. Knight joins him at Emma's grave, and he thanks her for saving his life and clearing his name. Although he's still left with the knowledge that his marriage was in worse shape than he realized, at least he can truly start the grieving process now. An important first step happens when Molly joins him at the grave to apologize.

You know, for a show that deals with death every week, this episode spent a bit more time than usual on the aftermath, from the family members to the wrongfully accused. It was a nice departure from the usual breakneck pace of clues and red herrings.

Stray shots

  • Naturally Torres gets obsessed with a podcast that takes one of his biggest cases but gives "department stud" McGee credit for cracking it. He even considers starting his own podcast, and when Kasie suggests that he's better than that, his honest answer is, "No, I'm not." Ha!
  • Unlike Parker's statement, that was not, in fact, the worst gender-reveal party ever. People have died, y'all! Also, the woman who popularized these parties now regrets the gender binaries they can create. Gender is a construct, y'all!
  • While I'm linking to resources, yes, true-crime podcasts can be helpful by, for example, bringing attention to missing and murdered indigenous people. But they can also empower "citizen investigators" to jump into cases, which can divert official resources, jeopardize fair trials, unduly pressure law-enforcement agencies, and even change public perceptions of the efficacy of the justice system. It's always interesting when NCIS dips its toes into this kind of real-world discourse, and I'm glad they tackled true-crime pods this week.
  • "The Wake" features the return of cyber security guy Curtis Hubley (J. Claude Deering), who's been in a handful of episodes over the years. He's being hazed as the newest tech troll, which Kasie amusingly blows him off as, "Somebody else's problem."
  • Okay, am I imagining things, did Palmer give Knight a goofy, happy look when she arrived in the morgue? I'm going to be looking for clues as this new ship sets sail!

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