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NCIS - Keep Your Friends Close - Review

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NCIS - Keep Your Friends Close - Review

NCIS 15.14 - "Keep Your Friends Close"
Directed by Mark Horowitz
Written by Gina Lucita Monreal
Reviewed by KathM

Previously on NCIS Some background for this episode takes us back to Burden of Proof, which aired earlier this season. In it, Gibbs and Co. investigated the case of Gabriel Hicks, a man who has been on Death Row for the murder of Lt. Edward O’Connell for the last decade. Hicks claims that NCIS/FBI investigation framed him, and a second look at the case tells us that Fornell, who thinks Hicks is a serial killer, withheld information that may have proved Hicks to be innocent. Gibbs testifies that Fornell was the one who withheld the the evidence, the case gets thrown out, Hicks gets released and Sloane and Gibbs find out later that he is likely the serial killer Fornell said he was all along.

And now my review of: NCIS - Keep Your Friends Close

On a Generic Suburban Street, police pull over van that has been reported missing. The diver says that there’s a mistake, and as he’s handcuffed he tells the officers that he went through the Police Academy and knows his rights. Okay, one of the officers ask, then where’s the registration? Funnily enough, the driver tells him it’s in the mail.  But none of his excuses matter when the officer who was searching the back of the can comes up with a body in a barrel. Suddenly the driver is all about, “Yep, I stole the van. Never saw it before today. But nothing in it’s mine!!!”

At the Navy Yard, Bishop enters the Bull Pen and Torres pulls himself away from the agent he was flirting with to tell her that McGee cracked the “Thomas Brown case” for the San Diego NCIS office in the twenty minutes he’d been in the office that day. Have I ever told you that I think NICS: Los Angeles, should have taken place in San Diego? I think NCIS: Miramar has a good ring to it. Doesn’t that sound nice? Practically musical. Then again, Miramar is the Marine Base, not the name of the Naval Base (which is the largest naval base in the US). Still prefer San Diego over LA, though.

Anyway, McGee comes into the Bull Pen from the motor pool (or whatever it’s called), where he was checking out the NCIS automotive fleet’s new floor mats. Because the ones in their current sedans were losing those little grip things underneath the mats and someone could slip. Um, okay. Torres tell McGee that ever since he and Delilah had the cherubs (twins) he’s been on fuego (fire). This reminds McGee that he’s creating a story anthology for the cherubs and hopes Torres and Bishop can contribute. I’m sorry, what? Slow down, Timmy! Bishop says that McGee is like a super dad with superhuman agent powers, which Torres refutes by saying that someone with superhuman powers can lift a car off a kid. Which he’s done, BTW. But McGee creeps them out by saying, “Dead body, boss?” before Gibbs appears from behind the staircase and tells McGee he has eyes in the back of his head. Before they all head out (grabbing their gear for a Navy commander this time) Torres says that McGee sensed the dead body while Bishop is all, “You have superhuman agent powers!” again. As they all get up to leave McGee grins in an almost Gibbsish way.

At the crime scene it has been determined that the victim is Commander James Willis, and that he’d been missing one week from the day he was found. Palmer says it looks like a gunshot wound to the head, but he has to get him back to autopsy before he knows for sure. Palmer tries to make that old, “when you assume…” joke fly, but Gibbs lets Palmer know straight out that he never assumes. How can Palmer not know that? Well it seems that he does, as he tells Gibbs that his “gut” is waaaay different from an assumption. Any assumption. Because duh.

Our van driver/thief is Ozzie Duncan, whose story about stealing the van checks out (as opposed to his original story about owning the van). He took it from a grocery store parking lot without knowing what was inside, and the van itself was reported stolen from the owner’s house ten days ago.

In Interrogation Lite, Reeves (!) is talking to Cmdr. Willis’ wife. She says the last time she saw her husband was a week ago, when he left to go to work. He stopped to see his mother in her hospice care home between 7:00-8:00 pm and that was the last time anyone saw him. Willis' mother has terminal cancer and died two days after Willis vanished. Mrs. Willis says that she isn’t sure how to live without her husband. Reeves begins to tell her about the various counseling options the Navy has, but she cuts him off.  She says that she doesn’t want a therapist, and that she’s already told her story to the police and the “Navy Absentee person” AND the Private Investigator, and none of them had done their job. Wait, a PI? She hired a PI? Nope. A PI just came to the door looking for her husband and Mrs. Willis thought he worked for NCIS so she told him the whole story. Like you do. Reeves asks for the PI’s name and Mrs. Willis presents his card. Reeves steps out of the room and calls Gibbs, telling him that he may want to talk to the PI on the case. Yeah, maybe you should.

Gibbs appears at the doorway of a deep green house and rings the bell. A voice on the intercom tells him to go to the garage, so Gibbs goes over and kicks the garage door a couple of times until it opens, revealing former FBI agent Tobias Fornell.

Fornell, Fornell! Fornell, Fornell, Fornell!!!

He has an office set up in his garage, complete with a big desk and a comfy chair and an oriental rug. Oh, and a murder board. Gibbs asks Fornell what’s going on, and Fornell reminds him that the statement Gibbs gave in court got him fired. All Gibbs says is that he noticed that Fornell was now parking his car in the driveway. Which Gibbs would have known if he’d returned any of Fornell’s calls, it seems. Ooops.  Fornell is a licensed PI now.

Suddenly we’re in Vance’s office, where Gibbs bursts in and tells Leon, “He is right behind me, and you got to say no!” Before Gibbs can tell Vance what he should say “no” to, Fornell enters the office, wanting to work with NCIS on the Willis case.  Yes, he tells Vance, he’s a PI now that Gibbs’ testimony got him canned (“It happens.”). But Fornell finds PI work good for his soul. One of his clients is called Cash-Line Direct and he had been tasked with getting in touch with Willis after he took out large loans without paying the back or answering their collections calls. Fornell turned up on the Willis’ doorstep three days ago looking for him, and Mrs. Willis told him all about how her husband was missing. Fornell’s willing to share what he learned about Willis during that time, and Vance thinks it’s a grand idea. Gibbs looks at Leon as though he were insane, then reluctantly agrees.

The meeting is held in Fornell’s office/garage. Oddly, Gibbs is absent.  McGee likes Fornell’s murder/look for Wills board, Torres asks if sitting at Fornell’s desk makes him look important, and Bishop loves Fornell’s hat and the general “ garage office "vibe”.  When Fornell asks after Gibbs, Bishop says he called her to tell the team he’d be late, so Fornell starts the briefing. He goes over Willis’ background (works at the Pentagon in Support Services, no arrests, nothing on his record except for his Cash-Line Direct debt). So, a good guy, right? Boy Scout. Wellll…Fornell pushes a button that moves the cork board to the side and reveals a high-tech screen that is operated by something called a Sky Glove 4800 (not a real thing). McGee is almost salivating over the gadget, but this is no time for drooling. It’s time to learn more about Willis and look at a video of a brawl Willis had over lunch with another Navy Commander, Sean Evans. Evans is available to be interviewed on his ship, but Fornell can’t go because he has no fancy FBI creds. Get Gibbs to pull some strings, Torres tells him. But it seems that Gibbs has been ignoring Fornell and when he came over to see Fornell earlier that day it was the first time he’d seen Gibbs in weeks. Gibbs doesn’t want him on the case, didn’t come to the meeting. Fornell says that Gibbs did the right thing in telling the truth on the stand; it’s over. Fornell claims that he’s happy with his new life, which I don’t exactly believe. But I do believe he thinks Gibbs did the right thing. Could the kids do a little investigating into why Gibbs might be behaving that way? Uh, no. The kids don’t investigate Gibbs.

Gibbs goes to see Sloane in her office where she is looking over the surveillance she’s done that week on Gabriel Hicks (see Burden of Proof). He hasn’t been doing much, and they just have to be patient. Gibbs sardonically reminds Sloane that he’s all about patience as he hurls darts at the dartboard in her office. She is making headway with Jessica Schaffer (his lawyer), however, though Gibbs thinks that Sloane isn’t pushing Jessica hard enough because they’re friends. Besides, Jessica can’t tell them anything because she’s still Hicks' lawyer.  Gibbs doesn’t think they’re moving fast and Sloane asks what’s changed. Gibbs tells her that every time he sees Fornell (which has been twice so far since the trial, it seems) Gibbs feels like he's lying to his face. He hasn't told Fornell that Hicks is guilty after all and that Fornell was right. Gibbs thinks he has to wait until Hicks is arrested again to tell him, and until then he has to save Fornell from himself. Sloane says she gets it, but her expression says that Gibbs should still tell him. Note: Gibbs takes a lollipop but tosses it back into the jar before he leaves the office to answer a page from Palmer. It appears to be red or possibly orange. Maybe purple.

In autopsy Palmer is chatting to Willis' corpse about beekeeping, which is what Jimmy’s neighbor now does for a living. Palmer knows from reading an online portfolio of Willis that beekeeping is something he enjoyed, too. When Gibbs comes down and asks what he’s doing, Palmer bemoans the fact that he doesn’t have as many historical references or stories as Ducky, so he's just reached out for the most random thing he could find to “connect” with Willis’s body. Gibbs tells him hey, you reach, that’s your thing. Own it. Now, back to the barrel. There were rags in the bottom of it, which have been sent up to Abby. But there’s less than a gallon of lye in the bottom on the barrel, too, which wasn’t enough to decompose the body. Why was it there? Palmer asks the Commander, “What was your killer thinking?” Gibbs smirks.

Bishop and Torres are interviewing Evans on his ship, where he learns that Willis was no longer missing, but dead. He says that he and Willis were extremely close, and the video they show him is a fight about money. Willis’ mom had a rare kind of cancer and wanted to try some experimental treatments, so Evans loaned him $8,000 to help out. When Willis couldn’t pay him back Evans got mad and they fought. But it had all been sorted out long before he went missing because Willis had paid him back weeks before he was missing.

In the lab Abby is telling some kind of story using her Bert the Hippo toy and a stuffed bunny. At the end of the story Burt agrees that he and the bunny should both wear matching collars, which may not be the kind of story the cherubs really need to hear. Regardless, she tells McGee and Reeves when they arrive to join her that the bedtime story is for the video anthology for cherubs. This will apparently be Chapter 22 in his story collection; McGee has it all planned out.  It is again mentioned, this time by Abby, that McGee is completely on point at work and at home, and he hasn’t let anything slip. McGee wants to get back to business, since Abby told them to get their butts down to the lab ASAP. So. Work-wise, the rags just look like they were used to clean up the crime scene and the .380 that killed Willis isn’t in the system; however, two bullets with the same striations were. They were each found at two different murder scenes. Both murders were execution style, like Willis, but the cases are unrelated aside from being killed using the same bullets. Looks like Willis was killed by a professional.

Torres brings Fornell up into the Bull Pen (he can’t just come up anymore because he’s a lowly civilian now), and McGee fills him in on the two other murders the bullets were used in. While he’s talking Fornell looks up and sees Gibbs coming from the direction of the lab. Gibbs takes one look at Fornell and basically runs away. Runs like he’s seen an ex-wife. Gibbs can’t even look at Fornell, just walks quickly away and says he has to get “a thing”. Bishop tells those assembled (Torres, Fornell, and McGee) that six months ago Willis was on the jury that convicted Albert Hathaway, a Bernie Madoff knock-off. Could Hathaway have ordered the hit from jail? Guess we need to go and check that out.

Meanwhile, over at the diner, Sloane is having coffee with Jessica Schaffer, who I think Sloane initially befriended as part of her investigation into Hicks, but I now think is actually her friend. Jessica is talking about Hathaway and his jury and how they were sequestered for months when everyone already knew he was basically guilty. But this is all public information, and Jessica wants to know why Sloane invited her for breakfast. Sloane wants to talk to her about Hicks and Jessica won’t because she’s still his lawyer and she knows Sloane was never convinced of his innocence. Sloane keeps talking over her until Jessica decides to leave. Sloane asks her to stay, saying that she won’t bring up Hicks again and that Jessica is the only friend she has who she can watch reality TV with. A true bond if ever there was one.

Did you know that Albert Hathaway is in no way guilty of any of his crimes? It was all his executive assistant who used his passwords to defraud everyone. Torres and Bishop are not impressed, as they want to talk to him about Willis. They show him a picture of Alive Willis; Hathaway doesn’t recognize him, but that may be because he’s compartmentalized much of the trial due to the trauma of it all. Like PTSD, he says. Not even close, Torres tells him. Then they show him a picture of Dead Willis and Hathaway has the same reaction. They ask him if he knows any hit men, and Hathaway says that he came right to jail from court six months ago and no, he doesn’t know any hit men. Maybe he does, Torres suggests, but the PTSD has blocked it out. Before they leave Bishop and Torres tell Hathaway they’ll be listening to the tapes of all of his phone calls and hope that nothing leads him back to the murder.

Things are semi-serious as McGee goes to Abby's lab in response to a text. Reeves and Abby are sitting, waiting for him, and invite McGee to sit down as the lab doors slide closed. Abby analyzed one of McGee’s coffee cups and it was not hard at all for her to determine that McGee has been drinking copious amounts of Caf-Pow! McGee fesses up: he feels guilty when he’s away from the cherubs and guilty when he’s away from work. He’s a “Hamster on a giant guilt wheel”, Abby tells him, and he needs to get off. But Abby drinks Caf-Pow! all day! Yes, she does, McGee, but she has built up a tolerance over time. Okay, then. McGee says their tough love totally worked on and he won't drink it anymore. And nobody believes him except for Abby and Reeves. 

Now, on to the case-related stuff: the blood on the rags found in the barrel with him is Cmdr. Willis’, and there is no DNA on them. However, the rags are made from a new microfiber that is being sold to cleaning companies. From that Abby was able to break search deeper and finds Crime Scene Tru-Clean, the company that uses the very rags that were in the barrel with Cmdr. Willis. McGee says to text him with the address info, but Abby tells him Bishop and Torres are already there; she just called McGee down for an intervention.

At Tru-Clean Bishop and Torres find out that on the night Willis vanished two employees, the Barrett brothers (Michael and Joey), didn’t show up for work. The next day their manager noticed that some equipment was missing, including three liters of lye. She doesn’t have their address because they both move around too much, but she tells Bishop that they eat nearly all their meals at a place that serves mostly pizza, burgers, and fries. She gives them the street it’s located on and Bishop and Torres head out.

Torres is waiting in line at the food place where the Barrett brothers primarily dine, while Bishop and Gibbs surveil from a nearby car (complete with new floor mats). When Torres speaks to Gibbs and Bishop on their radios (he’s “killing it” by standing in line and convincing everyone that someone with his BMI would eat there). When Gibbs asks Bishop how Fornell was at this meeting in his “office”, Fornell butts and says he’s just peachy. How is he suddenly part of the conversation on this channel, Gibbs shouts at him. He’s been working with NCIS for 15 years, Fornell reminds them; how could he not know which frequency they use?

Gibbs argues that Fornell shouldn’t be there, he can’t arrest anyone and can’t even carry a weapon. Au contraire, my dear Gibbs: as a civilian, Tobias can carry a weapon. Gibbs is furious and wants to know if Fornell is carrying right now, and Fornell alludes that he may have “something going on”.

The Barrett brothers approach the line to buy their greasy goods, arguing the whole time. Gibbs tells Torres to move in. He tells Fornell to “stay”, but he's not Gibb’s poodle and immediately begins running after the Barrett’s. Torres easily takes Michael down but Joey is getting away, Fornell close behind him. Gibb and Bishop corner Joey by blocking the end of the alley he's running down, but when he turns and begins running in the other direction Fornell tasers him. Awesome.

The Barretts find themselves in Interrogation with Gibbs, the last place you ever want to be. McGee, Vance, and Fornell are watching from the viewing room. Vance congratulates Fornell on his “creative takedown” by using the taser, and Fornell thanks him and says that’s he wants from Gibbs. A little appreciation. Fornell is starting to take Gibbs’ behavior personally (it’s about time, Tobias! Although I think you’ve been feeling that way for a while). When he asks Vance if he know anything about Gibbs’ behavior, he tells Tobias that couples therapy is not in his job description.

Gibbs' interrogation technique turns out to be not interrogating anyone, just loom in a corner of the room and wait while the Barretts argue and basically confess to everything. Taser victim Joey is a font of information: he tells Gibbs all about the fact that they were hired by a hitman to clean up a crime scene after he’d killed someone, then dump the body. They had planned to dissolve the body with lye but were fired from Tru-Clean before they could finish the job. The barrel was dumped in the Potomac, Michael tells Gibbs. But the State Police found the barrel in the back of a stolen truck, Gibbs says. The truck that Joey had originally stolen was then stolen from him. Got that? It seems that young Joey, whose only job was to dump the body, decided that he might as well wait until the hit man called them to clean up the other crime, then dump them both at the same time. Working smarter, not harder? Not in this case.  

Wait, another murder? Yup. The Barrett boys are being put up in a hotel (Joey cheerfully offers up the name and address), and one of them needs to remain in the room at all times so the hit man can call them on the landline when he’s ready for them to clean up and dispose of his next kill. He hasn’t called in a week, though, Michael tells them.

Bishop and Gibbs arrive at the scrupulously clean hotel room (cleaning is their job, after all) when they hear the toilet flush and Fornell strolls out, magazine in hand. The bathroom is clear, he assures them. Vance gave Fornell the all clear to visit the hotel and Gibbs is not a happy camper about that at all. Fornell snarls a bit at Gibbs about how “great” this whole situation is, especially how he gets to sit and wait for the call with Gibbs, who will “squirm for reasons nobody knows but you.” Bishop can feel the tension and runs away to buy greasy food over where they caught the Barretts because who knows? They could be there awhile, waiting for the call. Good thought, Emily. Run like the wind.

Before Gibbs and Fornell finally have it out, Sloane calls to let Gibbs know that she’s surveilling Hicks and he’s still hiding out in his apartment. Unfortunately, Jessica (who is delivering some paperwork to Hicks) walks past Sloane’s car and recognizes it, then sees the camera on the passenger seat and walks away. Jessica and Sloane argue on the sidewalk and Sloane explains how Hicks is ambidextrous and how Jessica thought he was innocent because he was right-handed and the killer was left-handed. Seems that Hicks isn’t ONLY right-handed, but acted like he was from the time he was arrested to the time he was released from prison. Jessica tells Sloane to go home before she goes to the press about how NCIS is harassing an innocent man. Sloane looks on sadly as Jessica walks toward Hicks’ building.

I predict that Jessica will not survive this episode.

Fornell and Gibbs are waiting for the hit man to call. Fornell on one bed, Gibbs on another. Gibbs sounds like he has a cold, is blowing his nose and making a big deal about coughing. I sense a distraction! Fornell wants to play charades and tells Gibbs he can go first. When Gibbs ignores him Fornell says he’ll go instead. “Sounds like “brassmole”, he begins. Still no reaction from Gibbs, and Fornell wants to know why. He wants Gibbs to talk to him, to talk to him like he used to, not shut him out like he's been doing. He pleads with Gibbs by telling him that, “This is me. This is me.” Shouldn’t they be able to talk about anything? Gibbs shuts other people out, but not him. Not Tobias Fornell.

Gibbs looks anguished as he admits to Tobias that he was right the whole time. Gibbs went up on the stand and told the truth and got Fornell fired and they later found out Hicks was guilty and should have been locked up all along. Fornell is understandably upst, but wants in on getting Hicks. Gibbs says that he and Sloane have it handled. There’s no room for Tobias Fornell. Gibbs says he wants to protect Fornell but doesn’t say why, and keeps telling Tobias over and over that he’ll get Hicks and “make it right”. Tobias realizes that Gibbs doesn’t trust him to keep a cool head and help Gibbs and Sloane put Hicks away. Then Fornell tells Gibbs that he doesn't know how trust him anymore, either. Fornell wants to make it right, too, not because he has anything left to lose, but because of the way his daughter Emily looked at him when he lost his job and she found out what had happened. 

Fornell leaves the room as Bishop returns with some hot, greasy goodness. Gibbs assures her that Fornell won’t be back. Then, the phone rings and Gibbs picks it up and listens, writing down an address the hit man gives the “brothers” and tells them to be there in 30 minutes. Gibbs says they’ll take care of it. He doesn't think that that “hit” has happened again, and he and Bishop rush off.

Bishop calls Torres and gives him the address where the hit is going to happen, and McGee looks it up. The address is a house in Virginia owned by a Patrice Jansen, who was on the same jury as Willis. Hathaway may have some explaining to do.

Bishop and Gibbs arrive at the future scene of the crime and pick the lock. They scour the house and while Bishop finds a cute cat skulking around in a closet, nothing else seems to be happening. While Bishop finishes looking over the closet she is grabbed from behind by a masked man. Gibbs comes in and promptly kills him, but neither he or Bishop recognizes him.

The owner of the house arrives shortly, having had her passport scanned only roughly 20 or so minutes ago. Impossible. I’m just saying, have you been to Dulles? Particularly the International part? Even with those fancy new passports you’re looking at an hour at the very least. THEN you have the trip home after that. Gibbs and Bishop spook her first by calling out, “NCIS” and pointing their guns at her, but she soon settles down in her living room to chat with Gibbs. Patrice can’t believe someone was going to have her killed, and Gibbs explains that it may have to do with being a jury member at Hathaway’s trial. He mentions that another juror, James Willis, was also killed, and Patrice starts crying. She keeps playing with her necklace, which is tiny bee (remember how Willis was into beekeeping?), then tells Gibbs that she and Willis feel in love during the time they were sequestered during the trial.

Bishop calls Gibbs over to tell him that the hit man is called Dominic Malecki; he has no record and no connection to Hathaway.

But Gibbs doesn’t need Hathaway anymore, he has his gut! He has Torres bring Mrs. Willis down to Interrogation and offers her a seat, then shows her a list of calls to Malecki from her phone and a money transfer as well. Gibbs says he thinks that Mrs. Willis put a hit out on her husband and Patrice, the woman he had an affair with. Mrs. Willis promptly tells him that her husband spent their life savings on experimental treatments for his mother, who had no hope of living. Then he had an affair? Mrs. W figured that since Cmdr. Willis spent everything they had, she deserved his life insurance. Okay, then. Case closed. 

Gibbs arrives at Fornell’s office and gives him everything he and Sloane have on Hicks. He wants Tobias to be part of the team. Tobias is unsure. “You ruined me, you punished me for ruining me, now you want my help?” He looks incredulous for a minute, then smiles at his friend. “I’m in.” He and Gibbs tear into the banker’s box of evidence, and it looks for a minute like Gibbs might apologize! Tobias stops him, though. He tells Gibbs that he doesn’t want Gibbs to break his own rules. As they begin to organize things on the murder board Gibbs mentions that Sloane will be along shortly; she is on her way over after she stops by to see a friend.

Sloane run across the street to meet with Jessica, who has called her and asked her to come by. She’s on her way to see another client, but wants to talk to Sloane briefly about Hicks. Jessica’s done some digging into Hicks background herself, then told him to get a new lawyer. She can't tell Sloane what she knows because Hicks was still her client at the time, but tells Sloane to keep digging. Jessica and Sloane hug, then Jessica gets into her car and Sloane walks away and calls Gibbs.  Jessica starts her car and IT EXPLODES! Sloane is thrown away from the blast and end up unconscious on the ground while Gibbs shouts at her through the phone to see if she's okay. Jessica, and her car, burn in the background.

What I Really Mean to Say Is: Great episode. It had a lot of humor and a lot of heart. The main story about the Cmdr. Willis wasn’t interesting, but the brothers were hysterical and Gibbs basically solving the case in five minutes when he realized that Willis was having an affair was welcome because again, dull storyline.

Gibbs’ behavior toward Tobias surprised me until I really thought about it. He and Fornell have always been close, with a comfortable back and forth between them. They had both been married to the same woman, which I’ve always thought was an original plot point. I could see them both as grumpy old men in the old folks home, gently snarking at one another. Maybe Leon would be there, too. I’m not sure. But the estrangement was so completely uncharacteristic that at first I thought it was maybe about Gibbs’ testimony getting Fornell fired, but when they were talking in the hotel room I became sure of just how much Gibbs cared for his friend. He hadn’t told him about Hicks because Gibbs wanted to protect Fornell, but he never says why. The thing is, he just wants to protect him generally, because he’s an important person in his life and he can’t quite say that. He’s really the only character who spans both Gibbs’ work and his home life, and he wants to make sure nothing happens to Tobias. I sure love me some nearly emotionally available Gibbs.

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