NCIS recap: Undercover brothers

NCIS recap: Undercover brothers

When was the last time an NCIS villain reveal left you feeling betrayed? Because the final-act bad-guy twist was a definite "Say it ain't so!" moment for me this week.

The action in "Big Rig" centers on Dale Sawyer (Zen Holtz), Torres' (Wilmer Valderrama) NCIS frenemy who mentioned his interest in undercover work the last time he popped up. Well, Sawyer got that wish, and he's clearly regretting it now.

Bloody and upset, he tracks down Torres and implies that he crossed a major line on his deep undercover mission. But when Torres tries to help, Sawyer vanishes into the night. And Torres refuses to let it go. He learns that the FBI is running the op, but they won't return his calls, so he summons the team to canvas motels where Sawyer could be staying.

He and Knight (Katrina Law) eventually find the motel where Sawyer's been staying — along with Sawyer's torched car, which has a charred body in the trunk.

Zane Holtz and Wilmer Valderrama on 'NCIS'
Zane Holtz and Wilmer Valderrama on 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS Zane Holtz and Wilmer Valderrama on 'NCIS'

Torres comes close to losing it over the discovery, confessing to Parker (Gary Cole) that it's his fault Sawyer's probably dead in the trunk. The FBI approached Torres about the op first, but he turned it down to protect his newfound sobriety. Parker says that prioritizing his mental health was the right call, but Torres is swamped with guilt for choosing himself over the job and for maneuvering Sawyer into a position he wasn't ready for.

But hey, good news, it's not Sawyer in the trunk! Palmer (Brian Dietzen) and Sawyer are buddies who grab dinner on the reg, so Jimmy knew to check the body for a front-tooth dental implant.

The dead man is actually FBI agent Greg Parlamis, who was shot before he was burned, and now the FBI is willing to return Torres' calls. Parlamis was partnered with Sawyer to investigate a series of robberies of trucks full of commonplace office supplies headed for Naval bases. When Torres learns that Sawyer and Parlamis dropped off the grid three weeks ago, he gets heated with the FBI liaison, who fires back that since Torres turned down the undercover gig, he doesn't get to criticize it.

Kasie (Diona Reasonover) discovers that the bullets in Parlamis' chest belong to Sawyer's gun. Oh, and she also helps McGee (Sean Murray) prepare for his upcoming appearance on the quiz show Smart Alecs. While Knight oversees a betting pool on how an increasingly nervous McGee will do against the returning five-time champ, Kasie's the true MVP for encouraging him to practice buzzing in quickly. (Savvy game show consumers know that success always hinges on your reaction time.)

Anyway, the team puts the game show shenanigans aside to find Sawyer before the FBI does.

First, they talk to the owner of the trucking company, who's worried about worker attrition and losing her Navy contract. She says the thieves are hacking into her trucks to force them to stop, then hitching the trailers to their own vehicles.

Second, they learn that one of her drivers, Wade Cutler, has robbery and grand theft auto on his rap sheet and called in sick before each of the robberies.

Third, Sawyer's mom, who has heard a lot about Torres, says Sawyer stopped by unexpectedly last month on the anniversary of his sister Kara's death. Also, he called her last week to tell her he loved her, and in the background she heard loud music and a grunting animal.

All these things lead the team to a roadhouse that's popular with truckers and has a grunting mechanical bull. But they can't just roll up as feds, so Torres goes undercover as Danny Rico from Florida, looking to make some quick cash.

He first chats up Mama Jo (Nancy Youngblut), the owner of the roadhouse, who recognizes him as a "friend of Bill" when he orders a cranapple at the bar. She says she's eight years sober herself and gives him the drink on the house, along with a kind welcome.

Then Torres starts a fight that's halted by undercover Sawyer, who pulls a gun and takes him to meet Wade where he's ax-throwing in the back. He also backs up Torres' story about an old cellmate who looped him into the theft ring.

When Wade tells one of his men to check Torres for a wire because he looks like a cop, Torres grabs the ax and threatens to chop the guy's hand off. And that's good enough for Wade!

Once they're dismissed, Torres follows Sawyer down the hall to the bathrooms, where they have a kind of loud conversation about being undercover. Um, maybe don't do that here, guys.

Sawyer tells Torres that Parlamis was a dirty agent, and he killed him in self-defense. Then Wade showed up and made Sawyer torch the body. When Torres suggests that he end the op, Sawyer refuses; he's already devoted months of his life and is close to uncovering Wade's boss.

Kasie cracks the mystery of the mundane-seeming thefts when she realizes they're boosting huge amounts of B1 vitamins, which contain a chemical used to manufacture GHB, a.k.a. the date rape drug.

Torres learns that Sawyer made that connection weeks ago and didn't loop in the FBI, so he confronts Sawyer about it at the trucking company. Again, maybe don't have these convos RIGHT OUT IN THE OPEN, fellas.

At least they climb into Sawyer's truck to have this last bit out. Sawyer admits that his sister died of a GHB overdose, and since he wasn't able to find the guys who sold it to her, he can at least stop this group of baddies. He also says that he envies the team Torres has surrounding him. Torres replies that he's there for Sawyer, and together they answer Wade's summons to move the drugs to a new location.

At the roadhouse, a henchman insists on confiscating their phones and driving them to the new location, making it impossible for the rest of the team to track them. The second location turns out to be a plastic-covered warehouse — never a good sign! — and the big boss turns out to be Mama Jo herself. Say it ain't so, Jo! You were so warm and understanding with Torres earlier! (Also, not to sound like Joe Goldberg, but the plastic isn't on the ground, just on the walls, which seems to defeat the purpose of easy cleanup.)

One of the sex workers at the roadhouse also works at the motel, and she recognized Torres as law enforcement and alerted Wade. Oops! When Sawyer tries to protect him, Wade hands Sawyer a gun and tells him to prove his loyalty by killing the cop.

After a tense moment, Sawyer turns the gun on the rest of the group and outs himself as NCIS. But the bad guys were a step ahead and gave him an unloaded gun. Yikes.

Thankfully, Torres was two steps ahead of everyone and swiped the henchman's cell phone from his pocket at the roadhouse to make a sneaky call to NCIS. And that's when the rest of the team bursts in to apprehend the criminals. The scene devolves into a fistfight, with Torres and Sawyer ending up flat on the ground, battered but thrilled to be alive. Aww, is a true a bro-ship being born?

It looks like it might be. When McGee's Smart Alecs appearance is put on hold after the reigning champ is caught cheating, the team assembles at Palmer's place for an impromptu trivia hangout, and Sawyer shows up late with pizzas. He's clearly hesitant to intrude, but the group greets him with a warm welcome. Here's hoping Sawyer's found his team.

Stray shots

  • Anybody else have plant envy every time they show Parker's solarium? That place looks absolutely magical.

  • I was a little surprised not to get any callbacks to Torres' concerns about being a lone wolf that came up during the three-show crossover earlier this month. This week seemed like the perfect chance to unpack his fears and reinforce that he didn't become that guy.

  • But for real, how much would you bet on McGee to clean up on Smart Alecs?

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