In the first episode following Gibbs' relocation to Alaska, the question of who'll lead the team looms large. And although the hour ends without an explicit answer, the future's pretty darn clear.
Parker drops a bombshell on the team when he announces that Vance offered him Gibbs' spot, although he claims he doesn't want it. He eventually agrees to shadow the team as long as it doesn't interfere with his tickets to the Simon & Garfunkel reunion show that evening. However, he's (understandably) hooked when the ME van holding this week's victim explodes.
In autopsy, Ducky's assisting Palmer, who sprained his wrist blowing up a bouncy castle. They learn that the explosive was in Petty Officer James Bolton's system, and the working theory becomes that Bolton was a would-be suicide bomber who died too early when the compound leaked into his system.
Kasie links Bolton to a dark web e-commerce site where he sold ransomware attacks, corporate hacking, and other computer crimes. Since Bolton had access to the server room running the military's global satellite network, SecNav and the USMC general order Parker to head up the emergency task force to stop any future attack by Bolton's surviving partner.
The NCIS theme plays quietly in the background as Parker tells the team that they're the best possible group to do this job. Then he says gravely, "The only question I have is, do you guys ever go the bathroom?" Ha!
In the men's room, Parker asks McGee why he passed on Gibbs' job. Despite the awkward location for this particular conversation (Tim suggests a stopped elevator next time — double ha!), McGee says it's too much paperwork, too many hours, and not enough fieldwork.
Torres, who's already frustrated that Gibbs gave Parker his blessing as the new leader, gets McGee to open up about his real reason: McGee doesn't want to be the guy who has to shoot his coworkers to keep them safe or lose himself to the job. And you know what? Good for McGee for setting boundaries for him and his family.
Kasie's also setting boundaries, informing Parker that in the future, he's to shoot people with knives to her neck rather than negotiating with them.
The best conversation of the night, though, happens in autopsy. Palmer begs Ducky to stay and keep working with him; in the past year, he lost his wife, Bishop, and Gibbs, and he doesn't want to say goodbye to Ducky too.
But Ducky gently reminds him (and us!) that change is necessary, particularly for Gibbs. "Our pain is a small price to pay for his peace." And between that and McGee's insistence to Torres that Gibbs is as happy as he's ever seen him, that mostly satisfies the team over Gibbs' northern retirement.
I still say Palmer deserved his own Gibbs goodbye, though.
Okay, back on the case. Kasie discovers that Bolton's been winning the lottery a lot recently but using someone else to claim his winnings, and when they bring the woman in, she says Bolton hacked the lotto for the money, not to fund terrorist activities.
Bolton's laptop reveals a second possible bombing recruit: Royman Beesbo, a hapless nerd with an impressive man cave who recently survived a heart attack.
Beesbo, a federal stenographer authorized to take classified depositions in sealed cases, claims that Bolton was the cable guy who replaced his router a while ago. He also says he later paid Bolton to hack security cameras to help him find a woman he met at a bus stop named Helen.
That's when all the evidence starts coming together. Bolton's autopsy shows surgical stitches, anesthesia, and a pacemaker battery, and Parker realizes that Beesbo just had his pacemaker battery replaced. He hustles the man down to autopsy to get an X-ray.
Sure enough, there's an explosive in Beesbo's pacemaker that's leaking the compound just like Bolton's did. With no time to wait for the bomb squad, Palmer ditches his wrist brace to operate, with Parker refusing to leave Beesbo's side.
It turns out Beesbo was the stenographer assigned to take depositions in a mob kingpin's trial where four other witnesses already disappeared. The kingpin's people hired Bolton to get close to Beesbo, then they tested the explosive on Bolton before forcing Beesbo's doctor to implant the explosive in the stenographer's chest.
Parker, meanwhile, made up the concert in order to observe the team in action without them getting squirrely about it. (He's more of a Bowie guy anyway.) He won't tell Vance who advised him to do that, but I'm guessing it rhymes with Schmeroy Schmethro Schmibbs.
Then "Changes" plays as Parker stands on the upper level looking over the big orange room, with the rest of the team nearby as Beesbo bumps into the elusive Helen, a servicemember giving Torres an update. She happily gives Beesbo her number, and I'm going to assume they both live happily ever after.
Parker memorably brought scones to a military briefing back in the day and refers to the zombie-ish Bolton as "the Night King." I like him already.
I served with Frank Abagnale. I knew Frank Abagnale. Frank Abagnale was a friend of mine. Petty Officer Bolton, you're no Frank Abagnale. (And by that I mean, comparing a dead victim to a notoriously charming conman played by Leonardo DiCaprio at the height of his youthful beautify is kind of a stretch.)
Welp, we're Gibbs-less. McGee told the team to grab their gear, and Parker's pretty clearly signing on to head the team. How are we feeling about that, friends? Does it help at all that we've still got Gibbs' name in the opening credits?
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