“NCIS” recap: The 1,000th “NCIS”-verse outing explores why our agents do what they do

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What was your favorite flashback or Easter egg?

Since 2000, the NCIS agents in D.C., L.A., New Orleans, Hawaii, and Sydney have been shot, tortured, kidnapped, abused as part of a secret Russian agent child training program, and serenaded by Sheryl Crowe.

It’s been a lot, is what I’m saying. So why do these intrepid government employees keep doing what they do? That question is answered in this week’s mothership episode — the 1,000th outing for the franchise overall — with a little help from a major callback and several familiar faces.

We open with Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) visiting his late wife’s grave on her birthday. His emotional visit is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of his son, Jared (Spence Moore II). While we’ve seen plenty of Kayla Vance, who’s currently stationed in the South China Sea with NCIS, Jared hasn’t been around since season 11. And there’s a reason for that: father and son are estranged.

<p>Sonja Flemming/CBS</p> Rocky Carroll on 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS

Rocky Carroll on 'NCIS'

Their conversation quickly turns into a fight, largely thanks to Jared’s confusion and anger that Vance would stay with a job that’s cost him so much. “What makes NCIS so damn special?” he demands. But a soft whump ends the argument when Vance is shot in the back and collapses into Jared’s arms.

The news reaches the big orange room, interrupting McGee (Sean Murray) and Torres’ (Wilmer Valderrama) discussion of the new and improved Air Force One. The team grimly heads to the hospital, where Vance is on the operating table for heart and lung damage.

Jared’s there too, and as upset as he is, he still managed to sketch a diagram of where he and Vance were standing at the time of the attack. He begs the team to catch the guy who shot his dad.

Between Jared’s diagram and the evidence from Vance’s injuries, the team realizes they’re dealing with a sniper firing from a thousand yards away. And sure enough, Torres and Knight (Katrina Law) find a nest on top of a nearby building along with footprints in the roof tar and an ominous note that reads, “Enjoy the show.” Three explosions immediately rock the cityscape in front of them.

<p>Sonja Flemming/CBS</p> Wilmer Valderrama and Katrina Law on 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS

Wilmer Valderrama and Katrina Law on 'NCIS'

Despite what’s reported on the news, those three locations aren’t random. The first is the cemetery where Vance was shot and where former NCIS director Tom Morrow (Alan Dale) is interred. The second was outside the office of Dr. Rachel Cranston, a former NCIS psychologist and the sister of the late Agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander). The third location? That would be retired FBI agent Tobias Fornell’s (Joe Spano) garage. “I’ve been saving the asses of NCIS for 20 years,” he explains.

It’s clearly time for Team NCIS to assemble. At MTAC, NCIS: Hawai'i’s Tenant (Vanessa Lachey) and NCIS: Los Angeles’ Blye (Daniela Ruah) weigh in on shelter-in-place protocols for upper-level personnel — the exception being Admiral Kilbride (Gerald McRaney), who prefers hunting to hiding.

Vance, meanwhile, is awake, although Palmer (Brian Dietzen) warns McGee and Parker (Gary Cole) to avoid any upsetting topics. (Jared takes this as his cue to disappear.) But of course, the news of the explosions has Vance's heart monitor beeping wildly. Still, he appoints McGee acting NCIS director (love this for McGee!) and shares essentially the same diagram Jared drew. Then he asks to speak with his son.

But Jared’s busy chasing down McGee to apologize that his dad pressured McGee into putting his family at risk. Before McGee can tell Jared exactly how wrong he's got that, the Bandium system goes nuts with threats to literally every agent’s home. It’s a panicky moment that turns out to be all false alarms courtesy of a Bandium hack.

Tech troll Curtis (J. Claude Deering), who’s shadowing the agents in the hopes of moving to probie status, suggests calling in the Bandium founder, who’s either a visionary or a non-coding poseur who kills every company he touches, depending on who you’re asking.

Elon Musk — er, Fletcher Voss (T.J. Thyne) arrives at NCIS HQ bragging about his recent tour of the new Air Force One, and his initial reluctance to provide access to the Bandium servers is overcome when McGee and Knight gently threaten his government contract. When Voss goes to comply, he's surprised that his phone is dead, so he plugs his charger into an outlet in the hall outside of MTAC.

Parker calls Jared into HQ to ask who knew about the cemetery visit, and the younger Vance is shocked to see all the NCIS employees hard at work despite the threats they received that day. It convinces him to stick around, even spending the night in Kasie’s (Diona Reasonover) lab.

Good thing he did. The only person he told about his visit to the cemetery was Lindsey Wexler (Shelby Flannery), an Oregon woman he met on the Bandimatch dating app three months ago. Curtis breaks the news that Lindsey’s actually in town, so Jared and Torres head to her hotel room to have a chat that starts with “Why the heck didn’t you tell me you were in D.C.?”

Lindsey says she wanted to surprise Jared with a romantic gesture, but alas, that gesture involves ducking into the bathroom to grab a gun. Thankfully Torres notices shoes covered in roof tar under the bed and reaches for his own gun to bring her in.

Lindsey, who had bomb parts and a sniper rifle in her room, is met with many unfriendly stares back at HQ, while Jared rages at NCIS for being the reason Lindsey used him to target his dad.

Although she has no NCIS connections they can find, Lindsey's been spewing online hate about the organization for years. Her rhetoric turned violent three months ago after an online user named GrativasMons radicalized her with wild conspiracy theories about Vance and NCIS. That’s when she signed up for shooting lessons and found Jared on Bandimatch.

Meanwhile, Curtis has been researching the cause of NCIS' newly flickering lights, and he discovers a virus in the powerline communication systems that was introduced by plugging an infected device into a wall outlet. At this point, Rule 39 kicks in, and the team lures Voss back by pretending to award him a new Bandium contract.

It’s actually a ruse to interrogate him, with Curtis taking point. He's learned that Bandium is broke and Vance was going to kill the contract, which is why Voss posed as GravitasMons to goad Lindsey into action. Curtis, whose coding skills linked Voss to the online account, explains, “That’s what happens when you feed a Gremlin after midnight."

Voss insists that he never encouraged Lindsey to do actual violence, and he also claims to have no knowledge of the virus. So we’re back to Lindsey, who cops to planting the virus on Voss’ phone. She promises that NCIS will soon see the big picture, warning, “The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”

And that’s when Fornell puts it together. He heard that quote more than 20 years ago on his first case with Gibbs (Mark Harmon). And here we flash back to “Yankee White,” the 2003 NCIS pilot that found a terrorist named Leonard Rush (Robert Bagnell) causing mayhem on Air Force One until Gibbs killed him.

Lindsey is his daughter, living under a new last name but carrying out her father’s failed plan to take down Air Force One, which she's hoping to accomplish by maneuvering Voss to charge his phone on board during his tour, thereby spreading the virus to the high-tech plane.

Unfortunately, the team can’t convince the Secret Service agent on board Air Force One that the plane is likely to lose power mid-flight, so McGee, Torres, Knight, and Parker race to the tarmac to physically stop it from taking off by standing on the runway with their badges held aloft in a terrifying game of chicken.

<p>Sonja Flemming/CBS</p> Katrina Law, Wilmer Valderrama, Sean Murray, Gary Cole on 'NCIS'

Sonja Flemming/CBS

Katrina Law, Wilmer Valderrama, Sean Murray, Gary Cole on 'NCIS'

With the case wrapped, Vance is surprised to wake up to Jared in his hospital room, and the two start to rebuild their relationship. Jared recalls a long-ago conversation when Vance described his job at NCIS as trying to do good by being a light in the darkness.

As Jared’s childhood memory unfolds, we’re treated to scenes from the NCIS-verse’s past. A plague-stricken DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) in season 2’s “SWAK.” Tony’s underwater rescue of Gibbs and Kelly’s best friend in season 5’s “Requiem.” The risk-it-all Ziva (Cote de Pablo) breakout in season 7’s premiere, “Truth or Consequence.”  Gibbs building a tree house with a dead Marine’s son in the second-ever episode, “Hung Out to Dry.” Palmer saving a would-be jumper in season 14’s “Keep Going.”

The images start coming faster: Bishop (Emily Wickersham) and Sloan (Maria Bello). Pride (Scott Bakula). Ernie (Jason Antoon) and Tennant. Callen (Chris O'Donnell) and Sam ( LL Cool J). Even new kid on the block Sydney gets a moment with Mackey (Olivia Swann) and Dempsey (Todd Lasance).

Jared’s memory concludes with Vance reminding him that he, Kayla, and their mom are his light in the darkness, and Jared’s younger self asks Vance for a first bump rather than a hug.

In the present, Jared asks why the news coverage didn’t mention NCIS as the heroes of the day, but Vance simply says, “Son, we got what counts.” When he holds up his hand for a fist bump, Jared instead leans forward to press a kiss to Vance’s forehead before resting his father’s hand over his own heart.

Stray shots

  • Well, there you have it. A thousand yards to explore a thousand episodes and a thousand reasons that our favorite agents face down death, danger, and great personal sacrifice to do their jobs. The episode was a solid mix of nostalgia, crime-solving, and character beats, which is all any of us could ask for in such a milestone.

  • Which was your favorite callback, Easter egg, or familiar face? Personally, I was tickled to see that the Secret Service agent who refused to stop Air Force One was William Baer Jr., presumably making him the son of William Baer, Kate’s Secret Service boss in “Yankee White.” Baer Sr. was played by Gerry Becker, who died in 2019, so this was a nice way for the show to keep the Baer legacy alive. (For real, though, Junior needs to take threats against Air Force One more seriously!)

  • Who’s suffered more over 21 seasons, the Vance family or the Gibbs famil — actually, the surviving Vance family is Vance, Jared, and Kayla. The surviving Gibbs family is just Gibbs. Question retracted.

  • By my count, the only regular mothership cast members missing in the flashback footage were Ducky (David McCallum, who recently had his own tribute episode), Abby (Pauley Perrette), Jenny Shepard (Lauren Holly), Clayton Reeves (Duane Henry), and Alex Quinn (Jennifer Esposito). Did I miss anyone?

  • The petition starts here to make Curtis a probie. The kid's got coffee-delivery magic. That said, I’m not sure I can get on board with Parker as Fornell’s new Gibbs. Alden just doesn’t have Jethro's bottomless depths of irritation to plumb.

  • Wait, but what does this mean for Bandium and NCIS moving forward? No more user-friendly alerts??

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