If there's one thing TV has taught me, it's that men in military-ish garb digging away in Afghanistan under the cover of darkness is never going to end well. Monday's episode of NCIS is no exception.
The men are Vonner military contractors looking for a massive treasure that's rumored to turn whoever finds it to stone from the inside out. And oops, what do you know, one of these men turns up dead among the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery eighteen months later.
Everyone rolls out but Torres (Wilmer Valderrama), who's got an early a.m. sesh with Dr. Grace Confalone (Laura San Giacomo). She's pleased that he's committed to sobriety but frustrated that he's not willing to open up to the rest of the team, who'd be a good support source for him.
Torres goes on the attack, criticizing her for the lack of personal effects in her office. When he dismisses a generic-looking photo of a sunflower in a barren landscape, the usually unflappable Dr. Grace gets defensive, and the session ends on an uneasy note.
The body at Arlington is abnormally heavy because it's stuffed full of stones. Ominous! Also ominous is Parker's (Gary Cole) performance for the media who were tipped off about the body. Alden is not good in front of cameras!
Sonja Flemming/CBS Laura San Giacomo and Wilmer Valderrama on 'NCIS'
The dead guy is Erik Nilsson, and his body was stuffed with 63 stones, including one carved with an eagle-headed man. Ducky (David McCallum) recognizes it as a mythological image and suggests the team consult with his symbology expert friends at the Smithsonian.
Palmer (Brian Dietzen) goes a step further and suggests that Ducky go along so Kasie (Diona Reasonover) can plan his surprise birthday party unhindered. (Apparently she's a lavish thrower of theme parties, although she's not terribly respectful of the personal property of the person who volunteered their house for the affair.) Ducky, of course, knows about these secret plans but goes along with the charade.
The snowy-haired symbology couple recognizes the bird-man image as an ancient seal from the Bactrian empire, which is linked to a gold hoard so large it could fund an entire country. They also know about the turn-you-to-stone curse, which delights Knight (Katrina Law). What a fun little weirdo she is.
Torres, meanwhile, is on his way to Dr. Grace's when they learn that she was Nilsson's last phone call. Listen, I know about Rule 39, but dang, is she the only therapist in the greater D.C. area?
Torres finds the good doctor collapsed on the floor and launches into a fight with a masked assailant that ends when a second masked man steps into the room with his gun drawn.
He and Grace end up locked in a large-animal cage (that is, a large cage for large animals). A frightened and upset Grace swears she doesn't know Nilsson, and Torres calmly assures her that they're going to be fine as he starts picking the lock.
The team confirms that Nilsson wasn't Grace's patient and links touch DNA at her office to Vonner contractors Ezra Moretti and Nate Holt, who were both released from lockup last week and presumably tracked down Nilsson to claim their share of the treasure.
The thieves worked with a Vonner shipping employee named Daniel Vega to smuggle the treasure back into the country, so tipping off the media about Nilsson's death was clearly to send Vega a message: Give up the goods or you're next.
And that's where Dr. Grace comes in. Vega is her patient, and Moretti and Holt want her to unlock her laptop to gather information on him. When she refuses, they shoot Torres in the arm and leave them to stew about it.
Sweaty and in pain, Torres first jokes about whether Dr. Grace is going to charge him for this session, then nudges her to talk about what about that sunflower photo. Grace confesses that it was taken by one of her military patients who struggled with his mental health until one day he walked off base and disappeared.
She blames herself and keeps that photo in as a reminder to never let another patient down. She also lets it slip that she's married, but she and her husband don't live together anymore.
Kasie works her magic and finds straw with lion dander that sends the team to the recently closed Hawthorne Zoo. But Moretti and Grace aren't going to be there; he learned that Vega's in a psych ward and demands that Grace help him get in or Holt will kill Torres.
Poor Vega's not in great shape, having tied his poor mental health to fears about the treasure's curse. Grace saves him from an interrogation by injecting him with a sedative she swiped from a passing cart, putting Vega to sleep for hours.
Moretti's furious and forces Grace to help him wheel Vega out of the hospital to continue the interrogation elsewhere. But the team's already there, having rescued Torres and learned the rest of the plan. (For the record, the team found Torres still in the cage and slamming his fist into Holt's face through an opening in the chain link. Most impressive!)
At the hospital, Grace tries to throw Moretti off balance by bringing up his wife and then literally throws him off balance with an elbow to his gut once the team's there with guns drawn. They shoot Moretti, save Grace, and find out where Vega has reburied the stolen treasure, which will be turned over to an NGO to be sent back to Afghanistan.
Ducky then turns the tables on his surprise party by appearing on his own to surprise everyone there. Well, everyone but Torres, who visits Grace to tell her that he's going to open up to his team about his sobriety. He realized that while they were in the cage, he never doubted that his family would come for them.
Then he compares Grace to that sunflower in the picture, resilient but alone, and encourages her to reach out to her husband, who's estranged because Grace kept prioritizing her patients.
As the episode ends, she picks up the phone, presumably to call Mr. Dr. Grace.
Boy howdy, I'll be disappointed if we don't get to see those conversations Torres is going to have with the rest of the team.
Let's just assume that the poppers Kasie bought for Ducky's party were noisemakers and not, um, other types of party favors, hmm?
I love that Parker's suggestion for a mythical human-animal hybrid was Ariel the mermaid, don't you?
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