NCIS recap: Knight’s ex enters, pursued by a bear

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Take one bird nerd, add a hot ex-boyfriend, and toss in Pablo Escobear, and you’ve got the makings of a fun NCIS episode.

When a petty officer’s found dead at a campsite bathroom, the team follows the trail to a nearby lake, where an extremely attractive, extremely naked man is splashing away.

He’s not the killer — although he does have killer biceps. His name is Gage Winchester (Caleb Alexander Smith), a special agent with the Investigative Services Branch of the U.S. National Park Service (and yes, I’m assuming he’s related to Sam and Dean).

He’s also the ex-boyfriend of one Jessica Knight (Katrina Law), who earlier that morning was contemplating a spa weekend away with her kinda-boyfriend Palmer (Brian Dietzen), who seems a little more eager to define their relationship than she is.

Winchester unashamedly walks out of the water naked to claim his clothes — a well-placed clump of tall grass protects his modesty and ours — and says he’s there to investigate the latest in a string of national park murders.

“Leave No Trace” – Agent Knight’s past resurfaces when her ex-boyfriend, a National Parks Service agent, teams up with NCIS to investigate a campsite murder, on the CBS Original Series NCIS, Monday, Oct 10 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+*. Pictured: Katrina Law as NCIS Special Agent Jessica Knight, Caleb Alexander Smith as USNPS ISB Special Agent Gage Winchester, and Brian Dietzen as Jimmy Palmer. Photo: Bill Inoshita/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS

Parker (Gary Cole) has zero interest in teaming up with ISB because he’s on their no-fly list after a little light trespassing at the Golden Gate National Park in 2016 in pursuit of the perfect shot of a western snowy plover.

But you know who has no problem working with that nature-loving hottie? Palmer, who trusts Knight to keep it professional. And besides, he’s busy doing his job.

The man was killed with expertly lethal knife wounds, and when Palmer pulls files on two other national park murders, he finds stab wounds along with the burns and falls they suffered. So is a serial killer hunting in the national parks?

It’s what Knight and Winchester are hoping to discover as they walk the woods together. He casually drops his regrets about their break-up and promises he’s not the same man he was when he was younger. When Jess pulls him away from a passing snake, they end up in prime kissing condition.

But smoke from a nearby fire pulls her away from Winchester’s big strong arms, and they find his photo among the evidence the killer tried to burn before fleeing.

McGee (Sean Murray) and Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) are concerned about the ex situation, warning Palmer that Winchester’s social media is full of photos of him scaling mountains and swinging axes. Jimmy argues that he’s also a catch: accomplished doctor, devoted father, dependable friend, bioterror attack survivor.

Then Torres bullies him into showing McGee what he’s really bringing to the table, and Palmer barely hesitates before lifting that scrub top to show off his abs, which leaves McGee flabbergasted. WOW do I love that Nick knows about Palmer’s secret weapon. I hope those two regularly text each other exercise and diet tips all the time.

Anyway, Palmer ain’t worried, y’all. He knows his worth.

Kasie (Diona Reasonover) gets in on the action next, asking Knight if she wants to chat about her old boyfriend. Jess explains that he was supportive when her mom cut her off for choosing to go into law enforcement, but once they made up, Winchester lost interest. And yes, that left her a little worried about getting romantically involved with a coworker.

Then Kasie’s computer spits out a potential suspect: Greg Walsh, a former surgeon who served five years for performing an operation while high and killing the patient. The team scrambles to bring him in.

Over lunch at the diner, Palmer comes clean with Ducky (David McCallum). Yes, Winchester is impressively attractive, but more than that, he’s got a long history with “Tripzee,” the nickname he insists on using with her. Palmer wants to get to the nickname stage with her too.

Ducky, who’s on the record as not needing to label his relationships, asks why Palmer’s so keen to DTR. But their convo’s interrupted when a man sits down next to them and asks to be escorted to NCIS. He even provides his own handcuffs.

Yep, it’s Greg Walsh, who says there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Then Parker and Winchester show up, the latter bursting with muscly aggression, and before anybody can figure out anything, a car squeals up, shots ring out, and Walsh is dead.

When Knight arrives on the scene, she checks to be sure Palmer’s okay first (he is, but he’s thinking about finding a new diner), and Winchester realizes what’s up.

He tracks Palmer down in autopsy to talk about does and bucks and mating musk. Palmer’s unimpressed that he’s treating Jess like a prize to be won back, and of course that’s when she walks in.

At that point, Palmer points out the sticky purple resin on Walsh’s fingers. Winchester clearly knows what’s up and hightails it out of the room, leaving Jess and Jimmy to assure each other that everything’s good.

From here, things start moving quickly. Kasie finds small-engine airplane oil on the gun casings, and when Knight calls Winchester, who’s being pursued by a surprisingly aggressive bear.

The team heads back to the woods, where Winchester’s getting his big ol’ bicep bandaged. He admits to recognizing the purple stains as belonging to asters that only grow in a specific part of the park, which angered his bosses, the NCIS bosses, even Knight. Also, it took three times the usual tranquilizers to drop the bear.

That’s when Parker realizes what’s going on, and Kasie confirms it: Pablo Escobear’s high on cocaine, which presumably was dropped in the forest by a plane-flying drug runner. Walsh was responsible for hiking in to get it and killed the petty officer who spotted him. But when he couldn’t find the drugs becuase the bear got there first, he turned himself in to avoid his partners’ wrath.

Deducing that the bad guys parked near the asters, the team tracks a likely RV to a nearby gas station, where they find the cocaine inside. The drug smugglers are Guatemalan and got Walsh hooked on their product when he was doing doctor work in Central America.

With the case wrapped, Parker puts in a good word with Winchester’s bosses, and he in turn offers to get Parker off their naughty list. And the episode ends with Knight delivering lunch to the morgue. She also delivers a note from Winchester that reads, “You’re a good man, doc.”

She confides that her nickname comes from her prowess with the Triple-Z score in Scrabble, and she offers to put her tile-laying skills to the test at the spa with Jimmy. Here’s hoping a nice couple’s sea salt scrub keeps this happy couple on track.

Stray shots

  • As fun as a cocaine bear and a naked ISB agent were, I do have some questions: were those other national park deaths also Walsh covering his tracks? Or is there another knife-murderer out there? How did Walsh end up with Winchester’s photo? And how do you wean a bear off of cocaine? I’m guessing it’s cold turkey.
  • Parker continues to be the perfect anti-Gibbs with his Porteguese pastries, bird-watching obsession, and Yogi Bear impression.
  • Anybody think we might see Torres’ charity auction single mom lunch date again? If I could give her some advice, it would be to figure out Winchester’s cologne situation; Torres seemed taken with his dew-on-spruce-tree scent.

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