Don’t you hate it when a pool party ends with a guy dropping dead after being poisoned? What, that hasn’t happened to you? Well, that’s how the team gets on the case in this episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, titled “Black Market,” and it leads to counterfeit purses, a traitor in Homeland Security and Eric writing “Spanking,” “Whipped cream” and “Domination” on a piece of paper.

Okay, that last one is only because Nell’s back in the field and he’s trying to remind himself of things he wants to tell her later on — and, no, it’s not as dirty as it sounds. In fact, a recycling story and a new comic are involved. However, it’s not until Granger decides to rip up the paper that he sees how it could be interpreted. (Granger’s probably also having flashbacks to that terrible “jam” story Nell and Eric tried to sell in the season 7 finale.)

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Also in the episode, Callen limps into work because he decided to do an Ironman without training at all for it just so he could prove he can do it, Hetty’s still mole-hunting and Kensi gets a couple more visitors.

Why You Shouldn’t Just Go to Parties Random Women Invite You To

After a USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) agent drops dead at a pool party — someone put a compound in his drink that burned holes in his throat and esophagus — and it turns out he’s the second USCIS agent to die in Los Angeles in the past month, the team is on the case. Nell’s going back into the field, and I like that she has to be reminded that she doesn’t need her tablet or earpiece, but she does need the keys to the car. (I also like how she checks herself later before the team enters the warehouse; it’s little moments like that that remind you that her being in the field isn’t an everyday occurrence.)

Sam and Callen learn upon arriving at the crime scene that a real estate agent, Diane, has been trying to sell the house for eight months (and she’s quite persistent too, even trying to sell it to Sam while the agents are working). She markets the home to potential buyers at a daily rate. Fortunately for them, it just takes the mention of the threat of jail time for her to reveal that her voyeuristic tendencies led to her accessing the security cameras, and right there on the video, they see a woman spiking the victim’s drink.

Meanwhile, Deeks and Nell talk to the victim’s friend, Carlos, who tells them that they were out eating the day before when a woman at the table next to them told them about the party and gave them the password to get in. That woman? The same woman who spiked the drink. But Carlos isn’t the only one who recognizes her; so does Granger, which can’t mean anything good. (It doesn’t.) No, she’s not another former love interest, Nell. She’s Ming Wah, a notorious hitwoman for the Triad.

Ming Wah worked for Zhang Kiu, whom the US tried to extradite for years, but he was killed by a rival organization. He’s also the one who signed the lease two years ago, before he was killed, for the warehouse that Eric tracked Ming to from the restaurant in which she spoke to the victim and his friend.

Inside the warehouse, Sam, Callen, Deeks and Nell find boxes of counterfeit purses. Counterfeit goods fund child labor, human trafficking, terrorism, etc. Before they can speculate further, a man and a woman walk in. Deeks and Nell almost get the woman before she gets away, but Sam and Callen manage to get the man after a brief fight — and it’s Zhang Kiu. He looks good for a dead man.

I’ll Take the Dirty Federal Agent for $200, Alex

Hetty’s focused on the mole at the moment (and cleaning her gun, which may or may not be a good thing), but she does help Granger to start thinking on the right track: who gave Zhang his papers to get into the US? The Chinese government.

And Zhang seems to have faith in his government, considering he’s boasting that he’ll be on a plane home before breakfast when Sam and Callen put him in the boatshed. See, as Sam puts it, he had a choice: either leave or spend the rest of his life in prison without parole.

It turns out that both USCIS agents were investigating Zhang’s fake immigration papers, but how did Zhang know Homeland was looking into him both times? Did he hack DHS? Did the Chinese government? Zhang just laughs when Sam and Callen pose those questions; he didn’t need anyone to hack anything because he has friends. Any of those friends work at Homeland? Zhang doesn’t say anything, but he does stop laughing.

DHS has recently created fusion centers, the weakest link in the security chain, so it’s likely that whoever’s working for Zhang is at one of those. Thanks to Zhang going on about how America is stupid and being very specific about someone going from Harvard Business School to Pacoima and feeling cheated, the team has a lead to go on to identify his partner.

They narrow it down to two possibilities: Donna Merritt, with no connection to China but a bank account that doesn’t suggest she’s making a government salary; and Edward Lee, who has been visiting Shanghai twice a year recently despite never going there before.

After Nell “casually” bumps into Edward at a local cafe and gets him talking, he reveals that his girlfriend lives in Shanghai and they each make the trip twice a year to see one another. It doesn’t look like he’s their guy.

However, when Sam and Callen check out Donna’s place, someone has clearly broken in and Ming Wah is dead in her kitchen. Clearly, her professional relationship with Zhang is over since he just tried to have her killed. But where’s Donna?

She’s made it this far by hiding in plain sight, so where’s the safest place for her to be? Homeland Security. She doesn’t know that NCIS is after her. They’re right. Upon arriving at the fusion center in Pacoima, Sam, Callen, Deeks and Nell see Zhang’s men escorting Donna out of the building. Shots are exchanged before they retreat back inside, and after each member of the team takes out one of Zhang’s men, all that’s left is stopping Donna at her car. She ends up giving up the location of the stashed contraband in exchange for a more lenient sentence — or so she thinks.

With the case over, Nell returns her weapon to the armory, where Granger checks on how it went out there for her. It was good but complicated, she admits. She has big shoes to fill, and she wants to step up and be there for Deeks, but she can’t stop thinking about the reason she’s getting her chance now. Granger makes sure she knows that she’s not there to replace Kensi but to honor her (and to “order” her to call him Granger from now on, instead of Assistant Director).

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Is This the Beginning of Hope?

I’m pretty sure everyone wants a fiance (or almost-fiance) like Deeks if they’re in the hospital. This is the guy who’s bringing his comatose girlfriend/fiancee her two favorite things (breakfast burritos and fresh coffee), freaking out when he sees her engagement ring missing and sleeping in the uncomfortable chair in her cold room at night.

That ring is missing for a good reason: the charge nurse took it off her because valuables go missing. It’s probably best if he holds onto it for a little longer, she suggests, so back into his pocket it goes.

Meanwhile, Granger’s the one who has to do what honestly has to be done in a case like this. They don’t know when or if Kensi will be able to return to work, and as much as it may hurt, they may have to look for her replacement. (Though, let’s be honest, we all know that Kensi is going to return to work.) Kensi’s irreplaceable, Eric argues, but Granger has to be realistic: that’s not true for any of them.

Granger then heads to the hospital to check on Kensi and meets her mother. Julia’s been reading her favorite book as a kid to her, the same book she used to read after Kensi ran away to be with her father. Does Granger have kids? she asks. A daughter, whose life he wasn’t a part of until recently, he tells her. Julia knows what that’s like, and she can’t take losing her daughter again after they finally got to be together. Granger asks her to get coffee, and now I want Kensi to wake up just to see her reaction to her mother and her boss spending time together.

Hetty also visits Kensi and finds Deeks asleep in the chair next to her bed. Go home, she tells him. She needs him on his game more than ever. With a “I’ll see you in the morning, I love you” and kiss to Kensi’s forehead, Deeks leaves. Hetty then takes Kensi’s hand in hers and tells her that they need her and it’s time to wake up. Can she squeeze her hand? No response. “Squeeze my hand,” Hetty repeats, telling “Ms. Blye” that it’s an “order” — and Kensi squeezes her hand. And when Hetty tells her she can rest now, she just squeezes harder. Is this a sign that Kensi’s on her way back?

What do you think of Nell going into the field more? Do you think this is the beginning of Kensi’s road back?

NCIS: Los Angeles season 8 airs Sundays at 8/7c on CBS. Want more news? Like our NCIS Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of CBS)