This was a somewhat atypical episode of NCIS, with very little carryover from the previous few weeks, and it was also a bit unusual as standalone episodes go.
That's because suspect, Nick Peyton, was in custody the whole time, with the team (and viewers) under the assumption that this was an open and shut case.
Only at the end, after the 18-year-old finally confessed to killing his father no less, did Gibbs believe otherwise, questioning Vance's motives in the process.
Vance was CERTAIN Nick Peyton was a monster who slayed his father with an axe, but from the moment Gibbs took over the case, you could tell he had his doubts.
Not only about Nick's guilt, but regarding why he was even doing this. Vance seemed to care a little too much about doing his U.S. Attorney's office contact a favor.
This deviated from the procedural episode boilerplate significantly, and gave "Out of the Frying Pan" a much different premise, and it got better as the stakes rose.
Even with most of the action taking place in one dimly-lit room, dueling mysteries unfolded. Did Nick really whack his dad - and was Vance abusing his authority?The interrogation scenes were all terrific, from Tony's attempt to be the bad cop (more funny than anything at first, but he actually did well) to Vance's meltdown.
Cameron Monaghan of Shameless fame was great as Nick, whose fearful confrontation with Vance and scenes with Gibbs throughout the night were so well done.
Using deception (and a little movie trivia), Tony and Gibbs got Nick, who had a prescription drug problem, to admit he had little memory of the night of the murder.
That breakthrough was all Vance needed to go completely off the rails.
There's something about Rocky Carroll wielding an ax that scared the heck out of me too, so it was easy to see how be basically manipulated a false confession out of Nick.
The truth came out then, too, that Vance's vendetta was personal. Who knows how far he would've taken it if that didn't work, thinking little of how a jury would view it.
Despite Vance's assurances that it was over, Gibbs trusted his gut over Nick's own words. That's when things started advancing rapidly outside NCIS HQ in typical fashion.
The psychiatrist lying to protect Nick. The neighbor who lost his daughter because of Nick's drug habit. Nick's mysterious missing mom. The suspects were numerous!
The investigation felt somewhat hastened, and perhaps a little hard to believe (these people were out there the whole time), but Vance felt he had his man all along.
Perhaps the most telling scene of the night came after Gibbs nailed the real killer (the mom). It almost didn't matter to Vance, considering how the events played out.
The tension between these two had been rising already. Now it's been kicked up several notches. You have to think that an epic confrontation is building this spring.
You also have to think (and least I do) that the mysterious E.J. Barrett - spoken of but not seen this week - is involved. Did Vance bring her in to keep tabs on Gibbs?
We'll find out soon enough. But who locks their desk?! Seriously now.
Some final thoughts and observations ...
- Odd as it seems to call America's most popular TV star underrated, Mark Harmon truly is. His nuanced acting is so impressive in episodes like this one.
- Of course Tony managed to work Casablanca into his interrogation technique. The funny thing was that all that knowledge helped trap the kid in a lie.
- Nursery rhymes? Ducky is slowly losing it after all those years in the basement, and it's great. We just need Ziva to visit him down there more often.
- Recreating crime scenes with mannequins and deadly accuracy. Salvaging blood-soaked tablet PCs. Great to see Abby and McGee doing their thing.
What did you think of this week's NCIS? Discuss!