“NCIS” recap: Parker and Knight have a Poseidon adventure in the season 21 finale

Katrina Law sports the best hair of her life while grappling with a professional opportunity, a personal setback, and a Shelley Winters impersonation.

Doesn't it feel like we were just getting settled into this season of NCIS? Yet the time has come to say goodbye (for now), so one last time in season 21, let’s recap.

We open with ZNN reporter Guy Ross (Kent Shocknek) doing a live walkthrough of the decommissioned USS Goddell, which is being given a hero’s burial at sea to serve as a habitat for aquatic species and a tourist hotspot for divers.

Mike Chang (Matthew Yang King) runs Aquabitat—I swear the pronunciation makes sense if you run straight at it—and is walking Ross through the Goddell's rusty hallways, pointing out the Semtex explosives that’ll blast holes in the thick steel hull to send it to the bottom of the ocean once it’s been safely towed out to sea.

Then the group stumbles over an unexpected stop on the tour: three plastic-wrapped bodies. Congrats to ZNN's ratings for this segment!

Before the team grabs their gear to investigate, Vance (Rocky Carroll) grabs Knight (Katrina Law) to offer her the chief REACT training officer job at Camp Pendleton. (The current occupant took Knight's father's job after she turned it down.) She's clearly tempted, so Vance gives her until the end of the day to think about it.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p>

Robert Voets/CBS

When the team arrives on the ship, they walk past Guy Ross, who's filming an apology for his live-on-air profanity. Incidentally, tonight marks the 11th appearance of this intrepid ZNN reporter, who’s been around since season one. Congrats on the steady employment in an uncertain media landscape, Guy!

Palmer (Brian Dietzen) arrives frazzled, having had a rough parenting-a-teenager morning. He snaps at Knight when she tries to be helpful, unaware of just how badly timed his little show of temper is as the rest of the team is jokingly calling her "chief" already.

We get our first suspect when the dock owner, Lacey (Bruce Nozick), summons Edgar the overnight security guy (Michael Monks), who shows up in blood-spattered coveralls.

Edgar swears the blood belongs to a four-point buck he was in the middle of gutting and insists he didn’t take his eyes off the boat save for a 20-minute bathroom break. Although the duration alarms McGee (Sean Murray) and Torres (Wilmer Valderrama), Edgar's story checks out.

In the morgue, Parker (Gary Cole) watches footage of the sinking of a future reef ship as Knight breaks the news about her job offer to Palmer. Then the focus turns to the three victims on the ship, who have different causes of death and no obvious connections. Thomas Mackin was a construction worker who died by blunt-force trauma, Susan Sidor was a teacher who was stabbed to death, and the unhoused John Doe was hit by a car.

Before they all scatter to look into each victim, Jimmy stops Jess. First he confirms that she at least hadn’t applied for the REACT job recently. (She hadn't; it was just after the death of her team three years ago.) And then he unloads on her.

He lost Breena, Gibbs, Ducky, and now apparently his sweet-natured daughter. And after living in suspense for the other shoe to drop ever since Knight's dad visited, he decides to say goodbye to her on his own terms.

Although Knight insists they can make long distance work, Palmer's done. “Take the job," he tells her. "This is for the best. Just go.” Oof. And of course, the whole team was waiting on the Elevator of Schemes and Secrets, so they heard everything.

During their awkward car ride, Parker suggests to Knight that the breakup sounded more like an anxiety attack, but she's more interested in burying her feelings in work. Spotting a shiny object in one of the Goddell crime scene photos, she whips the car around to return to the ship.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> The NCIS season 21 finale

Robert Voets/CBS

The NCIS season 21 finale

The good news: Knight and Parker collect the evidence, a broken unisex watch. The bad news: someone's on the ship with them and manages to escape, locking them inside. The terrible news: They've got no cell service onboard a ship that's scheduled to be towed out to sea tomorrow to be blown up. The cherry-on-top-this-crapola-sundae news: Parker's pinned under a piece of equipment that fell on him during the pursuit. And oh yeah, he hates ships.

Back on land, McGee and Torres visit the late Tommy Mackin’s wife, Molly (Gabriella Piazza). She doesn’t recognize the other two victims and says the only person who might’ve wanted to hurt Tommy was his bookie, a food truck owner named Sloppy Joe Sammy.

Sammy (Adam Ferrara) laughs in delight when McGee and Torres tell him Tommy’s dead because he was in the process of selling off his truck to cover Tommy’s gambling wins. Then he winces and says, “I just gave you motive, didn’t I?” Aw, puddin’. Lucky for Sammy, his alibi checks out.

Kasie (Diona Reasonover), meanwhile, breaks the news to Jimmy that his scene with Jess was less about taking fate into his own hands and more about screwing up a really good relationship.

Horrified, he immediately tries to call her, but it goes to voicemail. He rambles out an apologetic message that ends with, “This is Jimmy!” and then makes Kasie call to see if she’ll pick up. (She doesn’t, of course, because she’s trapped inside a solid steel deathtrap.)

Torres almost immediately contradicts Kasie’s advice by praising Palmer for taking control of his relationship. But Jimmy’s relieved smile falls when Torres adds that he's proud of him, right or wrong. “Wait, what do you mean, ‘right or wrong’?” Palmer asks. But at this point, the team’s realized that they can’t reach Palmer and Knight, and they start to search for them in earnest.

On the ship, Knight’s frustrated, Parker’s trapped, and they’re both scared. She finds a rope and tries to set up a pulley to move the debris off of him, and he gets her to She-Hulk her way to the adrenaline she needs by saying Jimmy was right to dump her.

It works, but it also takes the pressure off Parker's leg, which starts bleeding cut artery-style. Knight swiftly wraps her belt around it, but Parker's already turning an alarming shade of clammy white.

Still, he manages to joke that Knight should teach her REACT teams to always relay a change of location and, even though she didn't understand his earlier reference to Rube Goldberg, he tells her he’d keep her on his team if it were up to him.

Alarmed by his fast fade, Knight struggles to open a hatch on the floor, which Parker says probably leads to a narrow passage running the length of the hull and is likely being held shut by either air or water pressure on the other side.

Knight gets him to admit that he knows about (and dislikes) ships because of his father—remember, Parker's the only non-Navy member of his family—and then he absolutely shuts down when she asks about his mother. Terse message received, Alden!

When Knight manages to She-Hulk open the hatch, she find nothing but water, and they agree they're not that desperate… yet.

Sidenote: Althoguh Knight’s hair has never looked better, she desperately needs Harley Quinn to show up and toss her a hair tie. No matter how glorious the tresses, nobody should try to escape a floating coffin with hair hanging in her face.

Back to the landlubbers! Palmer insists on accompanying McGee and Torres to investigate victim Susan’s apartment, where they find a hastily bleached crime scene and a hammer and a knife in the recently run dishwasher.

Not only do we have the murder scene and the murder weapons, but there's a photo of Susan and Tommy together. So there’s one clue linking two victims.

Then Kasie locates Knight’s car, which is parked in front of Sammy’s house. He scoffs at the idea that he's stupid enough to park it in front of his actual house if he was the killer, stating that he'd obviously pull the plates and drive the car to wherever he dumped the bodies.

“Did I just implicate myself again?” Sammy asks after a beat. Hilariously, he also gestures at Palmer, still in his morgue scrubs, and asks, “Why is there a nurse here?” The petition starts here to bring Sloppy Joe Sammy back next season!

As this is the second attempt to frame Sammy, the team turns to the person who brought him up in the first place: Tommy's wife Molly, who'd have lots of reasons to be mad about that cozy picture of her husband with Susan.

On the boat, a barely conscious Parker sees a girl in a white dress (Kensie Mills) giggling as she runs through the engine room. “Lily?” he dazedly asks, and Knight decides it’s time to swim for help. Same, sister. None of us signed up for little ghost girls.

She ties the rope to herself, then loops it around Parker’s wrist, trusting him to pull her back in if she needs help, assuring him that she can hold her breath for a really long time. Before I can say, “Hey, like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure!” Parker says, “Hey, like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure!” albeit with less pep in his step because he’s bleeding out on a dirty metal floor.

Knight doesn’t get the reference, and to take her mind off the cold water she's about to dive into, she asks how things worked out for ol' Shelley.

“Great,” Parker lies. “She saved Gene Hackman.”  Bolstered by an actor name she actually recognizes, Knight dives into the frigid water like the freaking hero that she is.

Once he’s alone, Parker sees Lily again, but this time she’s on a sunny ship's deck with child-Alden (Milo Cragnotti) chasing her. Then their mother (Mackenzie Firgens) appears, and now-grown Parker insists that the two of them were just playing. Their disapproving mom responds by telling him to mind the rope.

Parker comes to in his current dire circumstances, and, unsure of how much time has passed, he hauls the rope back in, but it’s no longer attached to Knight.

On land, the team catches Molly trying to flee along with Lacey from the dock, who turns out to be her uncle. She called him for help after she confronted and killed Susan, and whaddya know, Tommy ended up dead too. Then when Lacey suggested they dump the bodies on the soon-to-be sunken boat, Molly hit poor Cedric with her car (and she has the busted headlight to prove it).

Lacey immediately starts angling for a deal, mentioning that he went back to the ship for his watch. And that’s when everyone realizes where Knight and Parker are.

They realize it just in time too. McGee, Torres, Kasie, and Palmer storm the ship and hear Knight weakly calling for help under another stuck hatch. (Three of them agents were screaming for both Parker and Knight, but the only name on Jimmy's lips is “Jess.”)

They wrestle the hatch open just as Knight loses consciousness, and once she's pulled to safety, she directs them to the engine room. Parker’s not breathing, so McGee holds Knight while Kasie and Palmer work to resuscitate him.

No worries, though; he’s asleep in a hospital bed the next morning while we're treated to a Rashomon retelling of the crime, with a shot of Molly insisting that Susan ran into her knife (only one time, though). Also, justice for Edgar and his bathroom habits; Lacey dosed his coffee with laxatives.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Rocky Carroll as Leon Vance and Katrina Law as Jessica Knight on NCIS

Robert Voets/CBS

Rocky Carroll as Leon Vance and Katrina Law as Jessica Knight on NCIS

Parker wakes up to make a Wizard of Oz joke as his coworkers peer nervously down at him. Knight, who hopefully understood that reference, lingers to ask about Lily. Parker claims not to remember anything, then thanks her. “Any time, Gene Hackman,” she says.

She slips out of his room, and Jimmy folds her into a hug and apologizes for his meltdown. When she tells him that he actually had a good point, he replies, "Did I?” like a man who knows that all of his points were, in fact, wrong.

Then Vance pulls Knight away for her decision on the job offer. She glances at Parker, asleep in hospital bed. At Torres and McGee and Kasie, watching from the end of the hall. At Jimmy, tense and frowning and braced for impact.

“Hell yeah, sir,” she says, turning back to Vance. “Let’s do it.”

Stray shots

  • Ooohh, cliffhanger! I have full trust and faith that the show will let our favorite characters twist in the wind juuuuust long enough before righting the ship—and by righting the ship, I mean, “returning us to the strongest cast combo we’ve had since the Ziva and Tony days.” Can’t wait to see how it all plays out in season 22!

  • Speaking of the next season, we need to talk about Parker’s boat/mommy issues. Although we don’t get definitive answers tonight, I’m quite concerned about the fate of sister Lily based on that interrupted dream flashback. Can anybody offer a sunnier interpretation than “she fell overboard and everyone blamed little Alden, including now-big Alden”? Whatever the answer turns out to be, I’m here for the show to unpack it in a future episode.

  • As is often the case on NCIS, the sunken ship-turned-artificial reef is a real thing, with the fuel and other harmful materials removed from decommissioned ships before they’re sunk. (Warning: if you have a touch of submechanophobia, like I do, tread cautiously before clicking that link.)

  • This season, friends. I want to hold it close. I want to love it and pet it and call it George. These 10 episodes were a dynamite mix of all the things the show does well: action, emotion, humor, and character-based stories. Add a moving farewell to a beloved cast member, and it’s been a heckuva season of television. Kudos to the writers, cast, and crew. We’ll see you for season 22!

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