"Old Wounds" is co-written by Brian Dietzen, a.k.a. Jimmy Palmer himself.
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S20 E14
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Meet Alden Jekkyl. Or is it Hurricane Parker?

This week's NCIS installment, co-written by Brian "Jimmy Palmer" Dietzen and longtime show writer Scott Williams, rips away Alden Parker's (Gary Cole) affable-guy façade to reveal a cauldron of guilt and rage. It's definitely not pretty, but lancing that old wound turns out to be darn necessary.

We open on Parker running through the woods at night, bleeding from a gash to the head as his voiceover talks about bad things happening to good people and dreaming about the person you hate lying in a pool of their own blood, with you having pulled the trigger.

Then a gunshot sounds and we head into the credits.

A two-days-earlier jump shows Parker in his usual fine spirits, strolling into the big orange room with a box of Italian pastries, a story about orchids and a red-throated hummingbird, and a promise that the next day he'll bring Peruvian picarones. He cheerfully offers to help Palmer sort out a payroll snafu that's keeping him and Kasie (Diona Reasonover) from hiring assistants.  

Then the team's called to investigate the murder of an ensign who was gunned down at the wheel of a truck transporting $3 million of black-market opioids that the Navy seized at sea.

Parker gets one look at the W logo on a few of the pills that were left behind and squeals away in his car without a word.

He hasn't resurfaced by the next morning, so the team starts working through what they know. They get as far as "the logo is a W and these pills were popular 10 years ago" when Parker storms in to shout that they need to be investigating Clayton Wills.

Gary Cole as FBI Special Agent Alden Parker, Rocky Carroll as NCIS Director Leon Vance, and Sean Murray as Special Agent Timothy McGee.
| Credit: CBS

Then he shouts at Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) for asking where the picarones are, at Palmer for monopolizing Vance's (Rocky Carroll) time, and at Kasie for not processing the evidence in the truck.

Vance tells Parker to COOL IT, but Parker instead drags him into a video call with Wills' attorney. And guess what? Parker shouts at her too.

The man who's got him all worked up is the CEO of WillsNet, which sells computer hardware and employs parolees like himself who are in search of a second chance.

The next round of yelling prompts Torres to call him "jefe," which may mean "boss" but sounds a lot more insulting the way Nick says it.

In the evidence locker, Kasie tells the team that the bullets in the truck were from a World War II-era gun, and the pills are Oxy knockoffs laced with fentanyl.

Then the elevator opens to reveal a man McGee (Sean Murray) recognizes as Jeremy Brighton (Michael Patrick Thornton), who uses a wheelchair and is Delilah's favorite author, podcaster, and online parenting coach for wheelchair users.

Brighton says Parker was his partner at the FBI, and they worked together to bring down Wills back in the day. When Brighton hesitates, Parker tells him, "They're family, you can say it." So Brighton explains that the firefight with Wills' drug-running crew is what put him in the chair.

Wills was sentenced to 20 years, but he walked after three for giving up a bunch of his friends. Parker's convinced that WillsTech is a drug front, but Brighton's reserving judgment. (He also invites a starstruck McGee and his family over for dinner.)

When Parker leaves to question Wills, Vance sends McGee along to make sure Parker doesn't Hulk out the way he has been, and I love this small reminder that McGee's the senior agent of the bunch and a quiet leader in his own right.

Then Brighton offers a clue to the mystery of Alden: Parker didn't always have a million hobbies. At the Bureau, he was an impulsive, foul-mouthed hothead, but he felt responsible for Brighton being shot and wanted to turn over a new leaf. That was too hard to do at the FBI, so he took the NCIS job for a fresh start.

That old Parker surfaces during the interrogation of Wills, though. The man swears he's on the up-and-up, even offering up the name and location of his old supplier, Benny. He casually mentions that Benny's the one who shot Brighton and taunts Parker about blaming himself, causing Parker to lunge for his throat.

No surprise, Vance (with a little nudge from McGee) tells Parker he's not going on the Benny raid, so Torres and Knight (Katrina Law) head in alone.

They drop the roomful of goons in a fight that really shouldn't have gone their way given the numbers and the firepower, but in the end, Benny swears that Wills is back in the pill business, giving his own pills a run for their money. Also, his two best enforcers left a few months ago, likely to work for Wills, and Benny offers to set up a meeting.

Meanwhile, Kasie and Palmer have found that Wills' business should be doing a lot worse than it is based on actual sales, and Benny's pills have a different chemical makeup than the W-branded drugs.

Once he's alone with Brighton, Parker admits that he loves his team, but he fills his free time with hobby after hobby to try to ignore the guilt burning him alive because he's the one who shot Brighton during the raid.

Oh damn. Brighton assures him that it was "pure fog of war stuff," but Parker doesn't want to hear it. Brighton, frustrated that Parker never read the letter he wrote him a month after the shooting, tells his buddy that he can't keep carrying Parker's guilt on top of everything else. Parker says he'll read it after he takes out Wills, which alarms Brighton. And he's right to be worried because shortly afterward, Parker sneaks away with a gun tucked into his pants.

Meanwhile, the team's staking out Benny's meet-up with his former enforcers, who turn out to be men from Wills' factory carrying WWII guns. In the backseat, they find a big bag of the W-branded pills. They have the evidence they need. Now they have to find Parker.

Parker has indeed snuck out to confront Wills on his own. The man's up to his elbows in pills and says he returned to the drug business when WillsTech had a couple of bad quarters and nobody in Silicon Valley wanted to bail out an ex-con.

When he realizes Parker's there alone, he gets scared, asking if Parker's just looking for an excuse to shoot. He bolts, and we get the scene from the cold open as Parker pursues him and fires a warning shot that gets Wills to stop.

Wills pleads for his life, calling himself trash, not even worth killing. And his fear that he's about to be executed shakes Parker, who says he just wants this to be over.

Thankfully, the rest of the team shows up to arrest Wills, having gotten confessions from his men about the ensign's murder. But McGee repeats Wills' question, asking why Parker was there alone. He assures McGee, "It's over now. I'm good." But he doesn't sound good.

At least there's some positive news here; Wills' attorney plans to keep WillsTech running as a second chance for parolees.

Also, with Parker benched, McGee's in charge of the after-action report. When Knight and Torres hear this, they immediately get started on the paperwork despite their long day and the late hour.

In the morgue, Palmer cleans up Parker's forehead gash and graciously accepts his apology. "No one should be judged by the worst days," says angel-on-earth Jimmy Palmer.

Then he and Kasie head home, leaving Parker with Brighton. His friend tells Parker that he's stuck, and arresting Wills won't help. Brighton dealt with that night, the shooting. Parker hasn't. And the solution is to finally read that letter.

When Parker refuses, Brighton opens it and reads it himself. It's the words from the opening of the episode, and now we understand the context: Brighton spent time hating Parker and imagining the shooting happening in reverse.

Parker can't take it and grabs the letter to read it himself: "That was yesterday. Today I'm choosing to move forward." The letter urges Parker to accept help for the fear and trauma that have him in their grip. Here we cut to McGee bringing coffee to Torres and Knight, still at work on the report.

"You have a partner," Parker reads from Brighton's letter. Another cut, this time to Kasie and Palmer fist bumping to their good work as they leave.

"You always have a partner in me," Parker reads. "So first know this: I forgive you."

Brighton quietly tells him to keep going, and Parker reads his former partner's words of absolution: "Say it. Say it to yourself: I forgive you." The letter asks Parker to read it every day until he can accept that.

"I forgive you," Parker softly repeats, and when the two men shake hands, Parker exhales hard, breathing out what looks like the metric ton of guilt that's been sitting on his shoulders.

Stray shots

  • Like his character, Michael Patrick Thornton uses a wheelchair, so kudos to the show for embracing the spirit of "nothing about us without us" when tackling a storyline that directly involves the loss of mobility for a key character.
  • Dietzen and Williams also collaborated on season 19's "The Helpers," a standout not just for that season but for the show's two-decade run, and Williams wrote one of the all-time NCIS bangers, season 14's "Keep Going." So I guess what I'm saying is, keep writing, you two.
  • Okay, Parker for sure brought apology picarones the next day, right?

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