As the episode opens, the fish-gnawed remains of an AWOL marine Daniel Cryer are found off the coast of Tanzania by a fishing boat.
How did they get there? Therein lies the key to opening up a particular door that has been closed since the seventh season opened:
What the hell happened on board the Damacles? The vessel that Ziva took to Africa was never recovered, and there were no survivors.
Was Cryer also on that boat?
At NCIS, the discovery of his body has Ziva in the crosshairs, as her account of Mossad’s operation to take down Saleem Ulman called in to question.
Ziva's application to join NCIS is being held up, and now we know why. As we learn from a series of flashbacks, she's going to have to come clean as well as prove herself to the department before she can come on board.
First, we learn that Cryer had deserted the Marines to become a soldier of fortune, a mercenary of sorts. A smuggler of all things - and people.
He was a private contractor, arranging for the team that Mossad sent after Saleem to gain passage to Somalia on the Damacles, a cargo ship carrying some seriously sketchy people. That's putting it mildly.
Ziva’s original story - that the ship they had been traveling on had gone down in a storm - is proven false by the location of Cryers body, and the research of weather patterns by Abby that proves the ship was never where Ziva said it was. So what's she covering up?
That question becomes even more loaded when Ducky learns Cryer was shot to death, confirming that something other than a storm was to blame for the sinking of the Damacles.
Using the location of Cryer’s body as a guide, the Navy is finally able to pinpoint where it went down and salvage the ship in question ... where it discovers that the entire crew - not just Cryer had been shot to death.
Vance presses Ziva for more details, teaming up with Gibbs in a good cop, bad cop bit. As you could have guessed, Gibbs is the bad cop.
Before Vance and Gibbs can get anything out of her, Ziva's team leader with Mossad, Malachi Ben-Gidon, shows up at NCIS and demands that Ziva return to Mossad’s control, and say nothing about what happened.
He says she's violating Israeli law if she talks.
Vance agrees on the condition that Malachi debriefs them on the rest of the mission. Malachi agrees and tells them that their cover had been blown and they were forced to enact their contingency plan - "take" (kill) every person on the ship.
Malachi says Ziva personally killed Cryer because he was responsible for their discovery by the gang of pirates on the Damacles.
Gibbs recoils and says that's it - no matter the circumstances, she took out a U.S. Marine. She has no future with NCIS.
However, all is not lost. Ziva finally sets the record straight and defies Malachi by telling her side of the story.
They did indeed take out the pirates, but she came face to face with Cryer - guns pointed at each other - with neither willing to pull the trigger.
It was Malachi who shot Cryer in the back before asking questions.
They scuttled the ship just off the coast and Ziva went, alone, to hunt down Saleem. The almost took him out, too, before being overpowered.
Vance sends Malachi back to Israel.
Gibbs tells her that she never had a choice – her father, Eli David, raised her to be a ruthless, soul-less killer. She admits that she did not mean to live through it, and Gibbs tells her she didn't – that part of her died out there.
Through all of this Ziva was trying to get a permanent position on the NCIS team, and after proving her loyalty is accepted as an NCIS agent.
Vance hands Gibbs a letter on official stationary, with "APPROVED" stamped across the top. Gibbs takes it with satisfaction.