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NCIS - Dark Secrets - Review

NCIS - Dark Secrets - Review

15.12 - "Dark Secrets"
Directed by Bethany Rooney
Written by George Schenck and Frank Cardea
Reviewed by KathM

It's somebody's birthday!

The opening scene shows a gray-haired man (Dad) taking an array of Mylar balloons out of the trunk of a car while a woman (Mom) walks past him, carrying a cake. Dad doesn't think “Melissa” will be pleased; she doesn't like surprises or birthdays. Mom is convinced that even though Melissa says that, she's sure that Melissa doesn't really feel that way. We've all known that mom, right? Shudder.

Mom and Dad proceed up the walkway and into the house (Melissa has given them a key), and Dad sets down the balloons and presents while Mom ambles into the breakfast room to set down the cake. It seems that Melissa will come home to find these things in her home when she comes back from work and be delighted. Do you know what delights me? Coming home and finding everything exactly as I left it. Unless the cats have destroyed something. I would freak out if new things in my house, even if they had tags on them saying they were from “Mom and Dad”. I'd spend all night with the lights on and closet doors open, checking the locks and looking under my bed. But I'm not the one who's going to have nightmares in this story: while Dad is surprised that Melissa hasn't turned on her alarm, Mom finds Melissa hanging from a beam in the family room, dead.

The Bull Pen is a happier place as McGee is sharing the latest pictures of his little cherubs while Bishop coos at them and Torres looks somewhat exasperated, insisting the kids look the same as the pictures McGee showed them yesterday. In full new parent mode, McGee is talking about how cute they are, how different from one another, blah, blah! Gibbs comes over and smiles at the pictures, until McGee reminds him that today is the last day he can update the picture on his credentials. This is a really good Small Subplot, I don't think I've ever heard of that as something one has had to do before. Gibbs looks unsure as he ambles over to his desk while Torres flat out says he hates his. “They took it on a bad day, after a rough night,” it would seem, the air heavy with implication. Surely it can't be that bad; McGee pulls up a copy of the new photo and it is, in fact, that bad. And they won't let Torres take another one as HR considers that an affront to their creative process. Whatever. There are more important things happening right now, as Gibbs has received a call about a dead JAG officer.

It's Melissa, who Palmer says has only been dead since 7:00 that morning. Bishop is questioning Melissa's parents and they are insisting that Melissa would never commit suicide. They spoke to her nearly every day, she seemed happy in her job as a JAG lawyer and didn't have problems with anyone else that they knew of. In fact, Melissa had just gotten engaged to David, “a great guy”, so there was no reason for her to be depressed. Dad did notice one thing odd, though; the alarm was off, something she'd never forget to do when she was alone.

Melissa's background was impressive: poor high school grades but went to community college and turned things around academically, then got a scholarship to Georgetown where she was Phi Beta Kappa and on law review. She turned down a lot of more lucrative jobs offers to work at JAG, and they would be talking to her CO to get more info when he gets out of court. Her CO is Captain Bud Roberts, who Gibbs says he knows (smirk).

David Crocker, the fiancee, hasn't gotten back to McGee yet, and I doubt he has as good an excuse as Bud does. Down in autopsy Jimmy shows Gibbs some fresh bruises, which could be the result of a struggle, and some old ones that could indicate domestic abuse. Is there a husband in the picture? No, but there is a fiancee...

McGee is sitting in Abby's lab, messing with Melissa's laptop, when Abby arrives. She was on her way to get a Caf-POW!, but then she saw Sloane on the way to the coffee cart and decided to join her instead. Abby also has a mysterious bandage on her finger that she hides badly from McGee when he asks about it. I think Abby could kill a game of poker with strangers but couldn't lie to her friends if her life depended on it. Turns out it's a splinter, but she doesn't want Gibbs to know because he'd “try to dig it out with a knife.” It seems that her usual splinter hack, which involves a banana peel, isn't working.

According to her blood work, Melissa was sedated with diazepam. Despite not having a prescription, Abby explains that sometimes people attempting suicide use it to relax themselves so they don't back out. McGee finds nothing of interest in her browser history but Abby notices that Melissa has an app on her computer for a video diary, which her friend Carol uses and has been pestering Abby to try. Can you imagine an Abby video diary? Anyway, Melissa seems to have used the app every day until about three days before her death. The last post shows a happy woman, slightly tired from a long day at work, talking about wedding plans (David wants an elaborate destination wedding, she's not as thrilled with the idea) and her appointment the next day to look at dresses. Abby and I agree that Melissa was too positive to be considering suicide.

They've found David! Or at least info about David Crocker, Melissa's fiancee, who works in PR and had to take an unscheduled flight to New York that morning. He left at 9:00 and will return to DC at 3:00 that afternoon. Gibbs instructs Torres to meet the plane. Bishop reports that the last three people Melissa talked with on her phone were her parents, David and her best friend, Kerry. Kerry still lives in their hometown in Pennsylvania, where she's a Social Worker. She talked to Melissa at 6:05 that morning, wanting to be the first to wish her a happy birthday. Kerry now is on her way to Melissa's house to comfort her parents. Melissa also had a number of calls to a prepaid cell (never a good sign in a law-related show), where a message from a sultry-sounding woman calling herself Rita asks whoever is calling to leave a message. Bishop has left two and confirmed with Melissa's JAG clerk that nobody called Rita works in their offices or in the building. The parents and Kerry don't know a Rita, either. I do know who Rita is, but won't ruin the surprise by telling you.

Gibbs heads over to the JAG offices where he is met by Captain Roberts, known to many of us by the less formal “Bud”. Bud! Bud! Bud! For those who don't know Bud, he was a regular in JAG, the show that NCIS sprung from. Bud was a much-loved regular cast member who has been on NCIS twice before. Each time he hasn't been on screen nearly long enough.

Any-who, Bud doesn't buy the idea of Melissa as a suicide more than anyone else does. She had her head on straight, Bud insists, a good officer and a great lawyer. She was well-liked in the office and preferred to defend rather than prosecute, but kicked butt either way. The way Gibbs is asking questions makes Bud think that Gibbs doesn't think Melissa killed herself, either, but Gibbs says they have to investigate a possible suicide the same way they'd investigate a possible murder. Bud does remember Melissa prosecuting a Carlos Valencia for spousal abuse several years ago, and Valencia threatened her when he was court-martialed. Valencia is now out of jail. McGee is watching Melissa's video diary entry from the day Valencia was convicted when Gibbs joins him. She seems kind of flippant about the fact that she was threatened, but is sure a good nights sleep will set all to rights. She had been making entries in that online diary every day for five years, can you imagine? Gibbs tells McGee to send the footage up to Sloane to see what she thinks while he tries to find out where Valencia is. McGee says that listening to Melissa's thoughts and feelings is creeping him out; I am crazy nosy so I'd think it was interesting.

David Crocker has been picked up from the airport and dropped into Interrogation, where he's spending some time with Bishop and Torres. Melissa had seemed find up until the last three days, he tells them, when she became preoccupied. She was acting strange, not like herself. He thought is was stress about the wedding. Torres wants to know where David was at 7:00 the morning and pushes him about the bruises all over Melissa's body. David seems confused and says he wouldn't know about the bruises because Melissa was committed to celibacy before marriage; it's why they didn't live together. He'd never even seen her naked before. Abby and Jimmy call Bishop in to the observation room to tell her that while David hadn't slept with Melissa, someone else had. Her autopsy indicates she'd had sex in the last 72 hours. Sorry, David!

Now that Sloane has things to do, I like her better. Initially she was just this person with a hazy backstory; now she's talking to people and helping them work out things and providing insights and lollipops, so I'm warming. Melissa had just talked about watching “Roman Holiday” for the millionth time and lamenting that she'd been born fifty years too late when Bishop comes in and joins her. Does Sloane really think that Melissa and David hadn't been intimate? Yep, she does; Melissa talked about his all the time on her video diary, how considerate and patient David was with her. Could she have been raped? Sloane isn't sure, but nothing she's watched so far indicated that. But Jimmy has DNA, so the results of that will tell them more. As Bishop is leaving Sloane encourages her to grab a lollipop, and before Bishop can lift it completely out of the jar Sloane shouts, “Green!”. She's right; Bishop did pick a green lollipop, apparently because she has a giant heart. Everyone please pay attention to lollipop colors going forward to see what traits Sloane assigns them! I don't think the one Vance took in the last episode had any deeper meaning, but that doesn't mean that they won't become Sloane's “thing”.

Sloane turns Melissa's video diary back on and Bishop, who was leaving the office, turns with surprise. She recognizes the voice as belonging to...RITA from the prepaid cell! I called it! Melissa and Rita are one and the same.

Kerry and Melissa's mom are putting together Melissa's funeral clothes. Kerry will stay as long she they need to help out, and Melissa's mom hugs her and tells her that Kerry is like a second daughter. Torres arrives and he and Kerry go into her kitchen to talk. What did she and Melissa talk about on the phone the morning she died, was anything wrong? They laughed and talked about past birthdays, Kerry says, and about her birthday today. And what did she think of David? Perfect for Melissa, Kerry tells him. But what about past boyfriends? Torres asks. Before David, in high school, etc.? Nobody. Nobody? Apparently Melissa had no romantic interest in anyone before David came along. Kerry refers to him as Melissa's Mr. Perfect, and doesn't sound particularly snarky when she says it, either. Kerry thought for a long time that Melissa might be asexual, actually.

Down in the lab Abby is confirming for Bishop that Rita's voice belongs to Melissa, which I already knew because I've seen a police procedural or two in my lifetime. They also ran the DNA, which didn't match David or anyone else in the database, but Abby does know this much: it's a male Caucasian, primarily of European ancestry, with markers for pattern baldness. Good to know.

In the Bull Pen, McGee sadly reports that Valencia, the court-maritaled wife beater, was 200 miles away at a prisoner re-entry program when Melissa died. No joy there. But we do get some distraction when Billy the office boy drops off a file for McGee containing everyone's new NCIS ID. Torres bemoans his pictures dofusness while we all see that the camera loves Bishop (Torres says he wonders if she had a wind machine behind her). However, Torres does notice that Gibbs' new ID seems to have the same picture as the last ID photo, which was taken five years ago. Gibbs snaps the card out of Torres's hand with that Gibbs blank yet annoyed look as Bishop rushes in, asking McGee to ping Rita's preaid phone from the number she's calling.

Bishop, Torres, and McGee follow the phone's signal to a shabby hotel offering daily, weekly, monthly rates. The man at the desk is astonished to learn that Rita was in the Navy, and gives them the key to “her” room. Oh, and the desk guy asked Torres for ID when he said he was from NICS and he actually refused to show it because of his picture, deferring to McGee. “Rita's phone is in the kitchen of her apartment, where Bishop finds some serious FM pumps and slinky dresses. Nick opens a closet door and finds some bondage gear, and McGee finds the same video diary app in “Rita's” prepaid phone as the one Melissa has on hers. Rita's stories are a little different, though; in her diary Rita's in full bondage gear and panting, saying that someone called Barry just left her in incredible pain. Pain in the good sense, not the ouchie, stop it! sense. The entry was three days ago, which was the last time Melissa had posted on her home video diary, too.

Bishop, McGee, and Torres go through Rita's apartment, looking for clues. Rita's phone contacts are only first names, all of them men. Bishop finds a bottle of diazepam prescribed for Lt. Melissa Newhall while Torres finds a silver flask under the bed. He wants to see if it belongs to Barry, so they'll check it for prints.

At the Navy Yard Kerry is sitting with Sloan and Bishop in what I'll call Interrogation Lite; the room with the nice, bright windows and comfy chairs. Kerry is not buying that Melissa, who she thought didn't care about sex at all, is calling men to come by and intentionally hurt her. But Sloane and Bishop confirm it with sad eyes, and Kerry now feels she has to mourn the Melissa she knew and reconcile her with the Rita that Melissa also was, then mourn her as well. Sloane says that people who lead these types of double lives usually do so as the result of a traumatic event. Can Kerry think of anything that might qualify? No, she can't, but one thing Kerry doesn't want is for Melissa's parents to find out about her double life. We can't promise that, Sloane tells her, it's an open investigation.

Torres and McGee find Barry in a seedy bar. McGee first approaches the wrong guy because the photo they have of Barry is so poor, which further convinces Torres that bad things happen when you don't look like your picture. One of the biggest problems with Torres' credentials pic is that it doesn't capture his bone structure, he says, which I totally get because I have same issue. But back to Barry, who gets up to leave because he's got better things to do then listen to Torres moan about how he isn't photogenic when McGee shows Barry a picture of “Rita”. Naturally Barry denies knowing her at first but then McGee pushes a little harder, telling Barry that they know he knew Rita “pretty well”, and that Rita is dead. Torres tells Barry that he knows Barry laid hands on Rita, which Barry admits. But the sex and the pain were all consensual, he says; she liked it rough, but way too rough for him. And where was Barry yesterday morning? Working the graveyard shift in the baggage area of Dulles, where anyone who likes can see him all night long via the numerous cameras around the area.

Sloane and Gibbs are watching Melissa and Rita's video diaries in her office. Please note that Sloane has a yellow lollipop. In one video Melissa is talking about how David made dinner for her and he was hurt that she had to work late. She says in the video that something will have to change after they get married, that she will have to change. On “Rita's” video entry from the same night she is talking about being up alone at 3:00 in the morning, hoping she'd meet someone that night but didn't. She didn't like to talk to people who wanted to know more than her name so here Rita is, in her little apartment, all dressed up and nobody to play with.

What makes anyone pretend to be something they're not? Sloane asks Gibbs. Melissa isn't mentally ill, she doesn't have any kind of split personality. She is fully aware of who she is (Melissa) at all times, and makes a choice to live two separate lives. Why do people do that? Fear, Gibbs offers. For some reason Melissa needs to punish herself for something she did, Sloane tells him. Or something she thinks she did, Gibbs adds. Sloane says that someone who records their life so compulsively is because they want to be heard and don't feel like they are. This most likely started as a kid, and Sloane hopes Melissa also had a diary when she was young. They drive over to Melissa's house where her parents are loading up some of Melissa's things to take back home and ask if Melissa kept a diary. Yes, obsessively, her mom says, but she never looked in it. She look it with her when she left for law school but come to think of it, her parents didn't notice it in the things they had packed up (dad also couldn't find any of her important papers). Mom scurries anxiously back into the house, hoping to find the diary that will provide additional proof that Melissa didn't kill herself. Dad, however, had read her diary, albeit only 10 pages. She'd been a good kid, he says, but at about fifteen she began drinking and stealing and skipping school. Dad was desperate to understand what was going on, so he tried to read her diary to see if there were any clues. Byher senior year she turned her life around completely; dad isn't sure how, or why, and the 10 pages he didn't tell him. But something happened, he's sure, that changed Melissa's life forever.

On the stairs down from MTAC Nick embraces an attractive woman who we learn is called Jody. She is new in HR, and took a new photo for his credentials. He now looks like Annie Leibovitz took his picture, Bishop complains. Jimmy, who has been waiting for Gibbs, hands him the autopsy report when Gibbs and Sloane return from Melissa's. Nothing new, Jimmy tells him, and the DNA hasn't told them anything yet. Torres tells Jimmy that Abby needs him so he hurries off to her lab, and Gibbs orders Bishop to call David to see if he knows anything about Melissa's diary. What do I tell him about her second life, if anything? Bishop wants to know. Gibbs says that David will find out sooner than later anyway.

In the lab Jimmy is helping Abby try to get the splinter out of her finger. It's getting infected and she should see a doctor, Jimmy says. You are a doctor, Abby snaps. She's upset about Melissa, who seemed to have so many support systems (parents, close friend, fiancee) but didn't use them. Jimmy says that there are numerous places she could have turned in the Navy, too; one example is the Military Crisis Line, who'd listen without passing judgment on her. Jimmy gets the splinter out, then goes to get Melissa's body ready for transport to the funeral home. While Abby gets some antiseptic for her finger McGee rants that he screwed up. Abby comes over to be supportive as McGee tells her that while he looked at Melissa's Google history and noted that she visited her hometown newspaper, he got caught up in the video diary and didn't look at what she had read. Seems that the article she was interested in was about the recently discovered body of a teacher in her high school, who had been suspected of abusing his female students but disappeared before charges were filed. He's been missing for 14 years, during the same time Melissa would have been a teenager in that high school.

Bishop has David with her as she rolls up to Melissa's house. David thinks the diary might be with her other valuables; he'd seen where she kept things when she got her passport out because it needed to renewed. Melissa has hidden her most precious things in the false bottom of a drawer in her hallway, and this includes her diary.

Sloane is reading Melissa's diary entry to Gibbs ad Bishop in her office. Melissa writes that all of the parents think “Mr. Paull” (the teacher) is so nice, but they don't know the truth. Melissa's last entry talks about how she and Kerry are going to teach Mr. Paull a lesson of their own. After Paull disappeared the police started investigating the abuse claims and the girls started talking about their abuse. The authorities figured Paull ran away, and you can't try him if he isn't there to try to defend himself. According to Melissa's web history, she'd only ever visited her hometown paper on the day Paull's body was found, and the three days after. Then she was dead. Sloane is sure Melissa was into pain as a way to punish herself for killing Paull, and believes she committed suicide because of the police investigation, which would reveal her secrets both past and present. Gibbs thinks it could be murder, that Kerry was afraid Melissa would confess. But the words in the diary (“teach him a lesson”) aren't exactly conclusive, Bishop tells him. Kerry doesn't know what the diary says, Gibbs reminds her.

Kerry is now in Interrogation with Sloane and Gibbs. She is not a fan of Interrogation, finding it much more intimidating than Interrogation Lite. Sloane asks Kerry how she and Melissa “got even” with Paull, and she tells them that “the whole thing was an accident” and they she and Melissa didn't intend for him to die. The two of them lured Paull into the woods, and when he saw that the girls had rope with them he became excited. He let them tie him up, but freaked out when Melissa brought out a camcorder. They threatened to torture him until he admitted he'd abused girls at the school. The stress was too much for Paull and he had a heart attack; and while the girls were freaking out and trying to figure out what to do, he died. Then they buried him in the woods and hoped he'd never be found.

When Kerry told Melissa the body was found the week before she died, Melissa panicked and wouldn't calm down. Kerry said there was no way the police could tie either one of them to Paull's death, but Melissa didn't believe her. When Kerry called Melissa on her birthday she told her that she thought her life was over, then hung up. Kerry got into her car and raced to Melissa's house, but she as dead by the time she go there. Melissa left a suicide note talking about how she and Kerry had killed Paull and why, then told her loved ones goodbye. Kerry took the letter, which she kept. Sloane says she has no idea what will happen to Kerry now, it's up to the Pennsylvania police to look into the case and make a decision based on the evidence and circumstances.

As the Bull Pen folks prepare to leave for the day they discuss the case in bits and pieces. Sloane believes Kerry and that Paull had a heart attack; she hopes the police do, too. McGee is going to go home and kiss his kids. Torres wants to go to the Adams House for drinks on him, which Sloane and Bishop readily agree to. Gibbs, however, says he has one more thing to do: he has to tell Melissa's parents that she did in fact kill herself, and why. Sloane decides to skip the drink and go with him. In the elevator Gibbs says this an obligation of the job he “isn't comfortable with”, while Sloane laments that it's hard when people hold things inside and keep secrets. Gibbs's gut tells him that Sloane is speaking from experience.

What I really want to say is that this episode made me incredibly sad. I felt the parents pain and denial over her suicide and the way Melissa punished herself for Paull's death broke my heart.

The lifestyle “Rita” lived is not always about punishment; some people live a life that incorporates BDSM because they enjoy it. The character of Melissa wasn't one of those people; she was so full of secrets and pain and, y'all, it shouldn't be like that.

If ANY of you are going through something, or you know someone who is, here are some contact numbers that might help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
: 1-800-273-8255
Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 (they have ways to contact them all over the world; you will find someone to help)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 (hope)
The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ teens): 866-488-7386

You don't need to hold it in; please, talk it out.

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