NCIS recap: Who judges the judges?


We saw the judge and the jury last week. Now it’s time to find out who ordered the execution of the ice cream killer. Turns out, it’s none other than Judge Deakin (Mike Farrell), who oversaw the case that freed the man on a technicality. See? I told you last week that his grasp on judicial ethics was slippery at best!
Deakin oversees a cabal of five judges who vote to dispense justice when the legal system fails to punish the guilty. And the person they unanimously vote to target this time? None other than Leroy Jethro Gibbs, for the murder of Pedro Juan Hernandez.
Yep, Gibbs’s past is about to catch up with him, and so is Vance’s, but much more recent.

Mallory actually did kill Clark, but she claims self-defense. After he kicked her off the Vance case, he downgraded her security clearance, costing her her job. So she started following him to ask to be let back in. At Gibbs’s, he pulled his gun on her, and they exchanged fire.
Also, she says she’s in love with Vance, but it’s clear that they could only have a happy ending in another life. In this life, the spy who loved Vance is about to get interrogated by the CIA. Gotta say, I wish we’d seen a bit more of their relationship so we’d be extra-invested in their residual feelings, but we still get the gist.
Although we know what’s up with the shadowy cabal of judges, NCIS is still in the dark. And that’s where the secretary of defense comes in, and listen, I’m just going to call him Skinner, okay? As Sloane says later in this episode, the heart wants what the heart wants, and my heart wants the man who protected Mulder and Scully all those years to actually be a good guy.

So SecDef Skinner shows up with all the records from the secret offshore account, which he claims someone’s been accessing under his name. He says the account came to be post-9/11 when the country was eager to fight terrorism overseas but didn’t care so much about paperwork. Like Clark before him, SecDef Skinner looked into Vance and Gibbs and discovered they’re both exemplary men, hence the request for help.
Then their parallel investigations start to merge. Bishop and Torres interview Deakin at the incredibly cool vintage bowling alley he restored himself, asking if he knows who might’ve hired his bailiff to murder the ice cream killer. Deakin’s interested that they don’t think that the bailiff was working alone. And while he’s not condoning law-breaking, after 40 years on the bench, he hates not seeing justice done.

Then Kasie and McGee find evidence in the bank records that show six other withdrawals from the mystery account, all around the time that high-profile murderers who were freed on a technically ended up dead across the country. It’s like Dexter digitized his act and took it nationwide.
At this point, Deakin’s Dexter network swings into action, and someone takes shots at Gibbs as he carries four take-out coffees from the diner to his truck. His only warning is a photo of Hernandez left on his dashboard.
He survives, of course, and we next see him carefully digging the bullets out of his door and screening Bishop’s calls. The Young Turks are worried that he never turned up (and also, he was bringing their coffee, hello) so Bishop heads to the diner. A waitress tells her about the shooting and says Gibbs drove off rather than wait for the police, so she didn’t mention his involvement.

So why is Gibbs keeping secrets? McGee, Bishop, and Torres gather in the morgue to discuss it, and Palmer tells them, “Anytime you need a safe, secluded space for gossip, autopsy’s all yours. It’s… really lonely down here.” Then Gibbs enters, and Palmer immediately disavows all knowledge of their meeting.
Gibbs has a graze on his cheek that he chalks up to car trouble, and then Ducky arrives to tell them that all the Dexter network judges clerked for Deakin.
So wait. All the vigilante justice judges are directly connected to Deakin, and they all approved assassinations in their own jurisdictions? That’s some “Hey, copper, stop me before I kill again” obvious dot-connecting there. Deakin’s Digital Dexters need to cover their tracks a little better.

Gibbs pays a solo visit to Deakin’s bowling alley, tossing the Hernandez photo down and telling him to man up and do his own dirty work. Deakin suggests that they both put their thumbs on the scale for justice, but Gibbs rejects that comparison. Still, the judge points out that Gibbs is there alone, no doubt too ashamed to tell his team the truth.
Outside, Torres watches from his parked car as Gibbs leaves the bowling alley. The next day, he fills McGee and Bishop in, and they practically do rock, paper, scissors to decide who has to confront Gibbs about his secret-keeping.
McGee fired him once so he doesn’t feel like pressing his luck, so all three approach Gibbs with serious faces as Bishop nervously taps a pencil against her hand. Gibbs studies them, says, “NOPE,” and heads for the Elevator of Schemes and Secrets.

They follow him on, and McGee throws down a power move by hitting the stop button, asking if Gibbs really thinks that anything he could say would surprise them after what they’ve been through.
“I killed the man who killed my family,” Gibbs says. “And Deakin knows.” Then he steps off the elevator, leaving them speechless. I am so glad he told them! Stronger together, right? But he does turn back to growl, “Don’t ever follow me again.”
Kasie then breaks the news that phone records show SecDef Skinner has been in regular contact with Mallory. When asked, Skinner says he gave her the bank account records and tasked her with finding what Clark was up to, but he didn’t ask her to kill him.

Yet Mallory’s been up to something; Kasie finds her fingerprint on the Hernandez photo, put there before the ink was dry. (This is thanks to her fancy enhancement program. “It could find the flaw in Beyoncé,” she says—if there were any flaws to find, of course.) So why’d the director’s ex-girlfriend try to kill him?
Vance points out that if Mallory actually wanted Gibbs dead, he would be; her shots don’t usually miss. (Again, this would be more fun if we’d seen this for ourselves in their previous relationship. They could’ve at least given us a shooting range date or something!)
Although she’s been off the grid, Mallory’s phone and GPS suddenly appear at Gibbs’s diner, so the team heads out to arrest her. Vance takes the lead on her interrogation, which seems unwise. She says she only started working for Deakin after Vance made it clear that they had no future. She figured she’d do one job and earn the money she needed to leave the country and start a new life. But when she saw the target was Gibbs, she couldn’t go through with it. Instead, she made it look believable and bought them both some time. Now she wants to help.

Gibbs returns to the bowling alley, offers his gun to Deakin, and tells him to do the job himself. Deakin refuses, and Gibbs warns, “You may regret that.” Because this time he brought his team along, and they have a recording from Mallory’s bugged necklace of him ordering the hit. For some reason, Deakin forgot that Virginia’s a one-party consent state. See? He’s a bad judge!
A grateful SecDef Skinner hands Vance a challenge coin, saying NCIS saved him again. Here’s hoping Vance calls in that favor soon so we can see Mitch Pileggi again. Then Sloane arrives to let us know that Vance neither endorsed nor blocked Mallory’s plea deal. Um, those two are going to be secretly married by the finale, right?

In the end, Deakin flipped on the four other judges, and the Young Turks, waiting on the packed courthouse steps, agree that if he’d had anything concrete on Gibbs, he’d have used the actual justice system. Hence, they agree to forget they ever heard the name Pedro Hernandez.
And we close with a rare instance of NCIS playing a piece of music over the closing shots of the episode as Gibbs escorts an orange jumpsuit-clad Deakin to appear in court, now a defendant facing a new judge on the bench he used to occupy.
Stray Shots

I’m just going got say it: I’m a little Team Mallory here. Imagine the heroine of a thriller who’s unfairly demoted and fired, so she accepts a single hit job on a person she was promised deserved it so she could start a new life, and then bucks her orders when she learns the hit was unjust. Cast Jennifer Lawrence, and it’ll make $100 million at the box office, easy.
The saddest thing we learned tonight is that Bishop’s last birthday party was at ShowBiz Pizza when she was 7. Somebody bake this woman a cake and sing to her, stat!
What are the odds that Gibbs’s TV only showed black and white even before it took a bullet? Also, you’ve gotta love him setting out the bourbon before leaving Vance and Mallory to hash out their relationship issues.
Okay, seriously, somebody on the team has got to buy that beautiful bowling alley now that its owner is incarcerated. I need lots of post-work hangout scenes on that beautiful set. Can’t McGee use some of his book money?

Related content: 

NCIS recap: Peeling back another layer of the Gibbs onion
NCIS recap: Gibbs confronts a long-absent father figure
NCIS recap: Palmer’s got father-in-law troubles

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