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NCIS - Handle With Care - Review

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NCIS - Handle With Care - Review

15.16 - "Handle With Care"
Directed by Alrick Riley
Written by Scott J. Jarrett and Matthew R. Jarrett
Reviewed by KathM

At a naval base in Spain, some soldiers are doing target practice. It seems like a relaxed atmosphere, teasing one another about who had the best shot while others joke that he must have messed with their guns for him to hit the target better. A Petty Officer Sweeney gets ready to shoot again, then collapses.

Three days later, turns out that the “elevator close door” button is a placebo McGee tells Bishop, while Torres has IRS trouble. They need his leave and earnings statements from when he was undercover. Who keeps those? He wants to know. It seems like everyone but him.

Gibbs hurries by and says he's on his way to Autopsy to check the body of the sailor from Spain that arrived last night. Palmer has finished the autopsy and Gibbs wants to have a chat with him.

When he arrives, Gibbs finds to his joy that Ducky is also there. Hi, Ducky! How's the book going? It's Spring Break at the University where he's working, so he dropped by NCIS. Palmer invited him over to help with Petty Officer Sweeney's autopsy. He died of cardiac arrest, but why? He was 23, lived a healthy lifestyle, and a recent physical put him in perfect health. Maybe his early death had some help; stomach contents and bloodwork has been sent up to Abby to see if she can shed any light. Gibbs, as always, wants to be kept in the loop. He also invites Ducky over for some bourbon before he leaves town again.

Abby has summoned McGee down to her lab to announce that she found cyanide in Sweeney's blood. But, how? It seems that the murder weapon this week is a cookie. How awesome would it be to have Mary Berry, formerly of “The Great British Bake-Off”, on the show to help Abby out with the mystery? Did the cookie have a “soggy bottom”? Maybe she could even hook up with Ducky! But since the cookie was already ingested, Mary's expertise sadly isn't relevant. Back to the story...the cookies (frosted almond, so if someone smelled almonds it would make sense), weren't something the base sold or had on the Mess menu, so how did Sweeney get them? Why, someone sent him a gift that wasn't; the cookies were in a box of goodies he received in Franconia, Virginia. The package came from a John Ross, and Abby has two photos of John in evidence bags. One looks like an old military photo in black and white, while the other shows Ross in a color photo of him in in a Marine dress uniform.

We now shift to Franconia, Virginia where John Ross and several other people are making care packages out for the overseas troops at John’s local Legion Hall. Ross is joking around with a friend about how ugly bad the new pictures of him in his old uniform are; turns out that when veterans send a care package, then include picture of themselves in their uniform. We see that John puts the same photos Abby has in the evidence bags into a new care package box he’s filling. He's just about to add some almond cookies when McGee and Torres arrive to question him (whew! Close cyanide call.). John seems willing to help and, when McGee and Torres want to question him privately, says that they can say what they like in front of the group. Nope! That is not okay with Team Gibbs, who need to take him down to the Navy Yard for a chat? Why? Because one of his care packages killed a sailor. John looks confused.

In the bull pen Team Gibbs does a quick overview of the victim and this potential killer. James Sweeney was 23 and lived with his wife Emma in Virginia. They have no children, and his parents died when Sweeney was sixteen. He has a spotless criminal record. John Ross spends his time sending out care packages at his local Legion Hall. Every day. That's what he does every single day; sends out care packages. Gibbs looks closely at the picture of Ross in his uniform and notices that, among his other medals, John has the Prisoner of War medal. McGee tells them that Ross was held as a prisoner by the Iranians for five years after being kidnapped in a raid on the US Embassy, where John was serving as a Marine security guard.

Sloane watches as Gibbs enters Interrogation and begins questioning John. He says he didn't know Sweeney personally, that he gets lists of Naval and Marine personnel who were deployed overseas and makes care packages for whomever it on his list. He says the picture of the care package Gibbs shows him looks like the box he sends, and the cookies are his mother's recipe. Ross is becoming slightly agitated and wants to know what's going on, when Gibbs drops the bombshell that the cookies he sent were what killed Sweeney. Ross says that isn't possible, and that he has no idea what happened. Could someone at the Legion Hall have put some cookies in his package? No. Ross says that every box is customized, nobody could have put anything in the box but him. But he didn't put anything in the care package that would hurt anyone; he wouldn't.

Gibbs tells John that he knows all about him, and he needs John to give him something to help Gibbs understand. Ross then repeatedly demands to be let out of the room, pacing and shouting.

Up in Leon's office Sloane grabs a cup of coffee and tells her that Ross seems “off”. She isn't sure whether Ross sent the package or not. He's had some anger problems and other issues since he came back from Iran; a bar fight, road rage, unable to keep a job, Leon thinks it sounds familiar, and Sloane looks slightly abashed. She reminds him that they didn't have the same knowledge of PTSD when John was released that they do know, and you just know she's talking about herself. Maybe we'll get to finally find out what happened to Sloane. She wants to meet with Ross 1:1 in a place where he feels safe to help her get a better read on him. Leon agrees, but wants Sloane to hurry because all care packages are on hold until the figure what happened.

At Sweeney's house a wake is in full swing as Bishop and Reeves talk privately with the newly-widowed Emma. She and Sweeney had been together since high school, and he that said he'd join the Navy after he graduated as long as she'd known him. They were even going to try for their first child when Sweeney returned from his current posting. In the background you hear a glass being broken, and Emma stands to go and tell everyone to quiet down. Bishop tells her not to worry and they chat a bit more.

There is more breaking glass and some shouting so Emma, Bishop and Reeves to see what's happened in the other room. Bob, Sweeney's uncle, stands in front hall, drunk. He tells Bishop and Reeves to look at Emma as Sweeny's killer and gestures around their very expensive-looking, well-furnished house as evidence James Sweeney's parents had money, and when they died they left all their money to Sweeney and his older brother, Clyde. Until his parents died and he inherited, Bob says, Emma had no interest in Sweeney at all. Clyde tells him to shut up and leave, and so Bishop and Reeves gently escort him out the door.

McGee and Torres are walking down the street; McGee wants to tell him a funny story about a cousin of Delilah's who had an issue with the IRS, but since it ends with the cousin owing lots of money Torres doesn't want to hear it. They approach a small post office branch where postal worker Molly tells them they're closed. But McGee flashes his badge and magically the Post Office is back in business.

Molly recognizes a photo of John immediately, she says he comes in every day. She also tells them that she thinks John may have a bit of a crush on her, because he always makes sure he's the last one in line, so he can talk to her about general things, like her husband and kids. He also brings them extra almond cookies, which Torres tells her they may not want to finish. As Molly gathers data on where Ross' packages went, she tells them that the one that went to Sweeney was picked up by a mailman in a mail box, which is highly unusual.

Meanwhile, Leon and Gibbs are talking to a Marine friend of Sweeney's about John, Petty Officer Dale, in MTAC. Everyone knew John, Dale says, describing him as “Santa Claus”. All the sailors know who he is. He never heard Sweeney mentioning meeting Ross and seems upset that they may not be getting more care packages. They mean a lot, Dale says. Morale is low after what happened to Sweeney and everyone could use something from home. After they're done talking to Dale McGee enters and says that the package made for Sweeney was picked up a mile from where John lived, which was unusual because Molly the postal worker said that he always came into the Post Office to mail his care packages. Also, the package was mailed on a date when John was out of town at a Marine Reunion. So, John is out as a suspect.

Torres is shouting into his office phone that he doesn't want to press 7 and leave a message, he wants to talk to a real person at the IRS. Poor Torres; we've all been there. Gibbs wants to know what's going on with the case. Torres says that the town is small and that there were no cameras near where the package was mailed, and McGee is checking all the military volunteers who are making care packages who have a connection to either Sweeney or John. No luck so far, but they are also looking at a podcast by a man called Whit Dexter, a guy who is known as kind of a shock jock who does outrageous things to get listeners and, therefore, sponsors. He had John on the show about three months prior; John thought Dexter wanted to talk about the care package program, but that's a bit too tame. Dexter starts off by saying that the government is paying for the packages to be shipped to help shore up the failing Post Office. John says he has nothing to prove to Dexter or anyone, so Dexter goes on to say that Ross' imprisonment was really a scam by the government, trying to cause tension between the Middle East and the US. Apparently, John was hanging out in Hawaii during his “imprisonment”. John is stunned silent and you can see his face go blank as he snaps a pen in two as Dexter continues to goad him. John finally gets up, says that Dexter will regret what he's saying, then leaves. You go on that high road, John! Meanwhile, Dexter lays out John's problems with fighting, etc., and says that soon “something will happen” to expose John as a government thug. Gibbs thinks this sounds extreme, bless his heart.

Sloane is meeting with John at his home. While he's making coffee, she looks around at his medals and a copy of the Constitution on the wall. John asks whether Dexter killed Sweeney, and that it was a possibility if Sloane brought it up. Sloane reminds him that no matter what Dexter says, nothing is worse than living in a cage for five years. John shows Sloane that he is currently in the process of scanning all his old photos, so they don't get lost. Apparently, he had a many-times great grandfather who was named for George Washington because Washington himself requested it. He asks Sloane where she served, and she tells him Afghanistan. Ross says his photos make him happy and proud, that his family has been fighting for the US pretty much since it was founded. To make it safe for the rest of us, Sloane remarks.

On an icky note, Reeves and Torres are now at watching Dexter's podcast from his studio, where he's talking about the IRS. Dexter says that the IRS is a scam run by computers; that's why you can never get anyone on the phone, you only get letters. Torres is intrigued. They go to interview Dexter between commercials, and he seems to be just a much a jerk as he is on air. You know how sometimes it's all an act, and television shows the character is a jerk who is really a Perfectly Normal Person Just Doing a Job? Not the case here. He claims that he has no idea who Sweeney is, and says that since he was military he knew what he signed up for, anyway. A nice guy he is not. He tells Torres and Reeves that if they have any questions, they can feel free to call his attorney. Delightful.

In Interrogation Lite, Bishop is questioning Emma Sweeney while Gibbs looks on. Is Emma sure that there isn't anyone Sweeney had problems with? She can't recall. It was hard for her focus on Sweeney being deployed, so she tried to focus on other things. Like the house, Gibbs asks. After another couple of questions, she's already answered, Emma realizes that she might be a suspect. Bishop says that according to the real estate agent, the house the Sweeney's bought cost $650,000. Damn! Bishop goes on to say that Sweeney only inherited $150,000 from his family, and Emma says they have a mortgage. Seriously? Bishop says that Uncle Bob thought the inheritance he received was substantial, and Gibbs wonders whether Sweeney might have hidden some of it away. Emma says that $150,000 is sizeable amount when you're a drunk or a 17-year-old, then leaves.

Jimmy scurries into the bull pen and tells all present to turn on ZNN. Dexter is on, claiming that he was harassed by Reeves and Torres, and has put a video up online that has gone viral. He also has a lot to say about John, claiming that Sweeney was about to expose John when he was killed by the cookies sent in a care package made by John Ross. But they never mentioned John to Dexter, Reeves tells Leon. If Leon is in the bull pen, it tends to be a biggish deal. Then Dexter must be involved somehow, Leon deduces.

Dexter is lounging in a chair after a nice dinner in what looks like an upscale restaurant, asking that his car be brought around quickly. Poor bunny can't wait a few minutes, it would seem. Looks like he should have gone to get that car himself, as John suddenly appears and grabs Dexter by his lapels, shaking him and pushing him. Gibbs and McGee (who have magically appeared, presumably to take Dexter to the Navy Yard) pull John off him, and Dexter films the whole thing, smiling. Dexter then begins posting, saying that NICS is working with John, the real murderer, while he (Dexter) is a victim. Apparently, this makes NCIS (and the government) tyrannical, but Gibbs grabs the phone away before Dexter can say any more. They take Dexter away to make a statement, and Gibbs reminds John that he needs to stay away from Dexter.

In Interrogation Delightful Dexter is explaining to McGee how the IRS is a Ponzi scheme, and that McGee is a sucker just like everyone else. How did Dexter know about the poison? McGee asks. Because Dexter knew a lot about the killing that hadn't been released anywhere. Dexter laughs and says he's waiting for a real question, and wonders if “Gary Cooper” (Gibbs), who is standing in the corner, watching the interview, has anything to say. McGee excuses himself so “Gary” can have his turn. Dexter continues to rant for a bit, all bluster and fake tan, until Gibbs asks what Layla, his daughter thinks about this. About him. What is school like for her? Dexter tells him to stop; family is a line you do not cross. Gibbs points out that he crosses that line often, and wonders what she'll think when she finds out her dad is a murderer. Dexter laughs and talks about how his show isn't true, and that the story about John is all over the Internet now. Gibbs thinks he put it there. How about the way Dexter promised to “expose” John? Dexter was just going to make something up. Does this guy not understand libel? I guess not. He goes on to say that the info about John and the cookies was on the Internet long before he heard about it; he just has the biggest voice.

In her office, Sloane is brooding. Ducky enters, having been requested to help with a profile she's having trouble compiling. He can only struggle with tax forms for so long, Ducky says as he joins her. Sloane explains that the subject is retired arms forces with past trauma they refuse to discuss, still involved with the military and either unable or unwilling to move on. They are intelligent with some aggression issues, no family support, and has never sought counseling. What if the subject internalizes what happened to them? Sloane asks. Ducky tells her that is a road to disaster. He tells Sloane that she needs to pull out her magic tricks to get the sailor to open up. Sloan looks uncomfortable, but agrees with him.

Before he leaves, Ducky notices the lollipops. Sloan tells him to have one if he likes, and Ducky decides to take one of each flavor.

Torres and Leon are watching Gibbs and Dexter from the Observation Room. Currently Gibbs is letting Dexter wander around the room, ranting away, while Torres is convinced that Gibbs is about to break him. Leon agrees, and tells him that six years ago a shock jock accused Leon of running a money laundering operation out of the Navy Yard. Wait, did I somehow miss this? And it seems that the shock jock in question was Dexter himself. Oh, okay, it's mythology, not in an actual episode. The story about Leon never got any real press because it was so outrageous and never got any mainstream attention. But Dexter, it seems, has figured out how to get the attention now.

There is bull pen action in the bull pen, but not as much as Gibbs would like. Dexter's lawyer has given Team Gibbs permission to go through his cell phone records, texts, etc., but they haven't found anything incriminating yet. Turns out that the information about Ross was put on the Internet before Dexter reported, and Gibbs wants to know where the information came from. This means that Bishop, McGee and Reeves are scouring the Internet for the earliest possible post of the information, so they can trace who sent it out into the ether. It’s taking time, and Gibbs is not okay with that.

John and Sloane are sitting in his house having a chat. Sloane wants to know why he attacked Dexter, and is telling him that bottling his aggression behind smiles and pretending everything is okay isn’t, well, okay. John wants to know what Sloane knows about it, and so she tells him, and us, about what happened to her. She was kept for 9 months by (I presume) Afghanis who wanted Army intel. She didn’t say anything, except to occasionally scream, the entire time. She asks if John knew whether they moved him around a lot. Because her captors kept moving her around. John says that his problems aren’t what happened to him in Iraq, but the life he lost in the US.

John had a girlfriend, Clara, back in the States who he cared very much about, and before he was kidnapped she sent him a letter telling him she was pregnant. He was thrilled and planning for his future with Clara, but then he was kidnapped. Two failed rescue attempts later, and everyone thought John was dead. But he wasn’t, and when he escaped and returned to the States five years later, Clara had married, and his daughter already had a “daddy”. He asked Clara never to tell his daughter about him. Clara and the husband have both died, Clara from a heart attack. Sloane wants to know why John hasn’t approached her now that her mother is now deceased. He has so much to share, including their rich family history. John says he has never approached his daughter because family are the people who are there when you need them, and he has never been there for his child. She has her own family history now.

Bishop, Abby, Reeves, McGee and theoretically Torres are pulling an all-nighter in Abby’s lab, everyone searching the Internet trying to determine when the information was originally posted about John. Torres runs in from Abby’s office declaring that he’s found it, and everyone is overjoyed until they find out Torres means that he’s found his tax information. Abby and her mad computer skills finally find the first post of the murder information, and it turns out the post was sent from Joh Ross’ Legion Hall, which has cameras on their computers to monitor usage. Torres and Reeves are sent to investigate, and we find out through reviewing camera footage that the person who posted the information was Clyde, James Sweeney’s brother! The Widow Sweeney is also there, and she and Clyde share a more than familial kiss. A man working at the Legion Hall says that Clyde had come down to pack some boxes a few times, and even took some boxes home to pack some privately. I think we have a winner, folks!

Sloane is sitting in the Midcentury Modern chair in her office, shoes off, thinking. Leon comes in and they talk about how Sloane shared details of her imprisonment with John. Leon asks Sloane what bothers her the most about John. It’s how he’s closed off, she tells him, angry all the time, and won’t let anyone close to him. She compares his behavior to herself, and how angry and lonely she is, but Leon says it isn’t the same thing. Sloane is angry that she couldn’t save the others who were taken prisoner with her; she feels that she should have been able to save them, and the guilt is crushing. Leon holds her while she cries.

Gibbs and Bishop arrive at the Sweeney home shortly thereafter, looking for Clyde. When they announce that they know that Mrs. Sweeney is sleeping with her brother-in-law she invites them in, calling to Clyde in the kitchen that NICS was there. Clyde comes out of the kitchen with a butcher knife in his hand, then tries to run away through the back door. He meets McGee outside the back door, then gets past him only to be tackled by Reeves in the middle of the street. After questioning the pair down at the Navy Yard, the whole story comes out: The Widow Sweeney wanted out of her marriage, so she teamed up with Clyde to kill Sweeney and frame John for the murder. This would apparently impress Clyde’s idol, Dexter. Okay, about that last part…

Torres is FREE! At least, from the IRS. While Bishop and Gibbs finish telling McGee the Sweeney story Torres dances in, and I mean literally. The tax info he found when he was supposed to be searching for whoever posted the story to frame John ended up getting him a refund. Yay for the imaginary person on the television; that never happens in real life. His joy could only be compounded by putting Dexter in jail, which they can’t do since being himself isn’t something that is illegal. However, he has apparently lost several sponsors.

Gibbs and Sloane have a little chat just outside of the bull pen. Gibbs wants to how know she is, and she replies that she is prefect. Right. But she’s more worried about John, who says that he doesn’t even know where his own daughter is living. Gibbs says that he thinks Jack might be lying, and Sloane agrees. McGee offers to help find her.

Sloane and John are now sitting in front of, you guessed it, the Post Office. The Postal Worker who thought John had a crush on her? Is his daughter. John is scared of screwing and talking to her, it’s a big step for both of them. He thanks Sloane for being there for him, as he’s never had anyone to talk to about this part of his life before. Sloane says that she doesn’t talk about what happened to her, either. John likes that Sloane really understands what happened to him, and she’s glad to hear it. He hopes it might have helped her, too. John has a picture of himself with Clara, and with a little encouragement he steps out of the car and heads over to Molly, showing her the picture and telling her all about it. Molly begins to cry, then John cries. Inside her car, Sloane is teary.

Sloane opens her glove compartment, where she has a small box that contains the patches from the uniforms of the Wingos in captivity with her who didn’t survive. She takes them out of the box, counting them slowly, then stuffs them back into the box and shoves it back in the glove compartment. She is not ready to face her demons yet.

What I’m Really Trying to Say Is
: It was okay. Once again, though, I find myself more interested in the threads that unraveled as a result of the main storyline than I am in the theoretical focus of the episode. John’s journey, and Sloane’s, were much more compelling to me, I cared more about them than I did who killed James Sweeney. Drew Carey was an interesting choice for John Ross, and I think he did well. I'd forgotten he could act. I hope we get more of Sloane trying to heal, although I’m not sure what that would entail. I’m surprised that I don’t miss Ducky as much as I thought I would, but I think he’s been the same character for so long without changing much over time that I think that his being gone for extended periods of time is okay with me.

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