NCIS Season 15 Episode 7 Review: Burden of Proof

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Okay, a show of hands: how many suspected from the start that Gabriel Hicks was the murderous psycho Tobias Fornell thought him to be? NCIS Season 15 Episode 7 played coy with the truth to the closing moments, fairly well.

For those who figured Hicks to be the real killer all along, the drama came with Gibbs's difficult choice following the interview with Mary Smith, AKA Witness X.

Senior FBI Agent Fornell - NCIS

Following on a bland, unremarkable story and a truly bad one, NCIS managed possibly the best episode of the season so far with "Burden of Proof."

Fornell's always been a personal favorite of mine. He appeared all the way back in the first episode of the series when Gibbs actually stole a body (and Air Force One!) out from under his nose.

Joe Spano and Mark Harmon play so well off each other, don't they? It many ways, the Gibbs and Fornell are so much alike, and Fornell is one of the few characters Gibbs calls a friend.

So the discovery that Fornell located and interviewed Mary Smith during the original investigation definitely hurt.

This does beg the question as for how he found her since it took ten years of improvements to Major Mass Spec for Abby to identify the trace evidence that led to the store that led to the nephew that led to her. Or did I miss something?

Anyway, we were left with the realization that Fornell acted as judge and jury, intentionally burying the evidence to ensure the Hicks conviction.

The argument with Gibbs at the house featured several key points:

While a low blow, Fornell wasn't wrong that Gibbs has acted as judge and jury (and executioner) in the past. Most notably, of course, in taking revenge on the man who killed his wife and daughter.

By telling the truth about his interview with Mary Smith, Gibbs will likely end Fornell's career in the FBI, and also potentially causing numerous other cases to be challenged. (After all, if he suppressed evidence in one...)

Fornell should not have suppressed the evidence in the first place. And it was this action that later directly resulted in Hicks being freed.

Our favorite FBI agent will likely now suffer the professional and personal consequences of his actions, well-meaning though they were.

I’ve been carrying this around so long, I didn’t know the right thing anymore. But I knew you would.

Fornell

Props to Graham Hamilton for the sadistic smirk Hicks had on his face as he teased/tortured Gibbs and Sloane with the knowledge that he just got away with murder. Quite the manipulator, indeed.

Hamilton gave Hicks just the right amount of charming innocence and righteous indignation that it seemed entirely possible that he really was innocent. Accusing NCIS of framing him was a nice touch.

I do hope that our heroes don't let this challenge go unmet. The obvious choice is to attempt to tie Hicks to the other murders since they can't retry him for the death of the unfortunate Lt. O'Connell.

Revenge -- ahem, justice -- will be sweet. It remains to be seen if Hicks turns into one of the truly memorable villains of NCIS, but I have high hopes.

The first part of the episode did suffer from a rather obvious investigatory error following the autopsy. Ducky discovered out that the fatal blow was delivered left-handed, so everyone went around saying that the autopsy proved a left-handed person killed O'Connell.

The autopsy did no such thing, however; it merely revealed that O'Connell died by a left-handed blow. A crucial distinction, one that Hicks so visually demonstrated in the closing moments.

Frankly, Fornell's skepticism was warranted on that count, and Gibbs should have known as well that switch hitters exist.

I wonder if anyone will tell Ducky, especially since his findings started the cascade of dominos?

As for the subplots, there wasn't much to them, though I admit that I was half-expecting Bishop to take revenge on Torres for winding her up about Sloane's supposed analysis of her.

I did like how the bit with Sloane's infamous cabinet tied back in with the A story.

Gibbs: Lawyer’s calling me to the stand. If I tell the truth, a man would lose everything. This man… known him a long time. Has a daughter.
Sloane: He’s your friend. Mm. And if you lie to protect your friend, you could be re-sentencing an innocent man to death.
Gibbs: Yeah.
Sloane: That is quite a conundrum, isn’t it? So, what do you think of my cabinet?
Gibbs: I think you’re trying to distract me with a handcrafted piece of furniture.
Sloane: And why would I do that?
Gibbs: Because you don’t know the answers any more than me.
Sloane: You’re right. It *is* handmade.

Some final notes before I turn the discussion over to you, my fellow fans:

Once again, Torres made use of a choke hold to incapacitate a combative suspect. As I've mentioned before, law enforcement widely banned chokeholds because it's too easy to seriously injure or kill the subject.

For those who don't know baseball terminology, a switch-hitter is one who swings the bat ambidextrously, from either the right or the left.

Be sure to stop by our NCIS quotes page for a rundown of some of the notable lines from this episode.

If you missed this dance with the devil, fear not! You can watch NCIS online to catch up. In the meantime, tune in for NCIS Season 15 Episode 8, "Voices," which will air Tuesday, November 14, 2017, at 8/7c on CBS.

What did you think of "Burden of Proof"? Did you suspect that Hicks was guilty all along, or were you taken in? What will happen to Fornell now? Join in the conversation in the comments section below!

Burden of Proof Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (60 Votes)
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NCIS Season 15 Episode 7 Quotes

Gibbs: Lawyer’s calling me to the stand. If I tell the truth, a man would lose everything. This man… known him a long time. Has a daughter.
Sloane: He’s your friend. Mm. And if you lie to protect your friend, you could be re-sentencing an innocent man to death.
Gibbs: Yeah.
Sloane: That is quite a conundrum, isn’t it? So, what do you think of my cabinet?
Gibbs: I think you’re trying to distract me with a handcrafted piece of furniture.
Sloane: And why would I do that?
Gibbs: Because you don’t know the answers any more than me.
Sloane: You’re right. It *is* handmade.

I’ve been carrying this around so long, I didn’t know the right thing anymore. But I knew you would.

Fornell