Who could’ve imagined the role that a tree — specifically, a splinter — would play in an NCIS episode? Such is the case in “16 Years,” which is how long it’s been since a man was sent to prison for a murder he and his father insisted he did not commit.

Retired Lieutenant Commander Runyan Hayes was certain that his son, Michael, did not kill his division officer in 1999, and it seems that his search for the truth got him killed, but when NCIS begins investigating, it’s a secret society’s search for answers that may get in the team’s way.

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Oh, and Tony and nature really don’t seem to be getting along lately. First, it was the poison oak. Now he gets two splinters from two different trees as he attempts to dig bullets out for the case. What’s next?

NCIS also continues to plant the seeds for something big happening in Jake and Bishop’s marriage. When she comes into work and Tony and McGee try to get her opinion on the latter’s manicure, she’s not interested. When they ask how things are at home, all she says is, “Jake is safe. That’s all that matters.” He’s the one who went through the traumatic experience. But she doesn’t want to talk about it. I’m worried that there’s no way this can end well.

Gibbs, Meet the Sherlocks

As soon as Bishop says she’s hoping for a quiet day, one without a case, Tony and McGee know what’s coming: the complete opposite. When the victim is identified as Runyan Hayes, Ducky says he has to recuse himself from the case. “I know far more about this man’s murder than I care to admit,” he tells Gibbs, explaining to his friend once they’re back at NCIS that after bad experiences with online dating and speed dating, he turned to mental stimulation via a group of mystery enthusiasts, the Sherlocks.

Three weeks ago, Hayes reached out to them about his son’s case, and he was certain he knew who the real killer was: Todd Bennett. In 1999, Michael’s division office was strangled and killed, and while Todd was the original suspect and had argued with the victim, hairs found on the victim matched Michael.

While Tony and McGee find a second bullet hole (with signs that someone dug out the bullet), Gibbs and Bishop pay Todd a visit. Now a fireman, he tells them that Hayes visited him a couple weeks back to try to get him to confess, but he insists he has nothing to confess to. He didn’t kill him, and while he shouldn’t even know that Hayes is dead, one of the Sherlocks told him.

“That would be a dreadful, horrible idea,” Ducky insists when Gibbs decides to talk to the secret society. Like that’s going to stop Gibbs. Judith in particular take a liking to him, noting his “very commanding voice” and “big hands,” while Lyle tries to cite city code, which gets him nowhere but on Gibbs’ bad side. “Shut up, Lyle,” he tells him, and that’s not the last time those words are uttered in this episode. (And I would argue that should be said more often. But there is always that guy…) Ducky, of course, sides with NCIS — his loyalties will always lie there, he reminds Walt — but the Sherlocks aren’t prepared to make it easy for Gibbs and Bishop to take the files they’ve collected for the case. “I like the hard way,” Judith informs Gibbs as she holds up her wrists for him to cuff her.

Sherlock, Watson and Lyle

The leader of the group is Walt, their Sherlock, with Judith filling the role of Watson, while Lyle is just Lyle, a frequent eater’s member of a pizzeria. And I feel bad for Tony, McGee and Bishop when Gibbs leaves them to deal with the three of them.

Meanwhile, Gibbs heads out to talk to Michael’s daughter and her guardians. Jason pulls him aside and tells him that he and Michael were like brothers and served together. (And with that bit of information, I’m almost positive he’s the killer, now and then.) He knows his friend is innocent. The man he supposedly killed was a sick bastard who broke them, Jason explains.

While Jason says he knows Michael is innocent, that’s not going to get him out of prison. The proof that the team comes up with, however, just might. The forensic test that linked Michael to the crime is flawed and has since been called highly unreliable. The FBI is examining every case that involved the hair analysis, but in this case, it is NCIS’ problem because Abby’s the one who performed the test and testified at the trial.

With the possibility that she sent innocent people to jail because of her mistakes, Abby can’t stand waiting the two weeks for the FBI to finish the retest and determine if Michael is innocent. Gibbs finds her surrounded by boxes, triple checking her work on every case she’s ever worked on. “You always fix things. Please fix this too,” she pleads with Gibbs.

Bishop tags along when Jason goes to visit Michael to tell him of his father’s death, and Michael immediately thinks that Todd is responsible. He doesn’t have much faith in NCIS getting the job done, given what happened to him in the past, and what he really wants to know from Bishop is if she can help him hug his daughter, something he hasn’t done in 16 years. It’s heartbreaking, especially knowing that he’s been locked up for a crime he didn’t commit.

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Gibbs May Want to Rethink His Open Door Policy

“There is no Gibbs here,” Gibbs calls out when he realizes just who’s coming in through his unlocked front door, but it’s too late because his living room is invaded by Walt, Judith and Lyle. “Looks like one of those make-believe houses they used to nuke in the desert in the ’40s,” Lyle comments, while Judith wonders what’s in the basement and offers up her safe word. Judgments about his house aside, the Sherlocks want to help solve the case by doing everything the agents can’t because of the law — namely, break into houses. Not happening, Gibbs informs them.

Instead of waiting the two weeks for the FBI’s test, Gibbs decides that they’ll do the DNA test themselves. All they need is Michael’s DNA, which the prison should have on file. But once at the prison, the agents learn that his parents supposedly stopped by for a visit, which is strange since his mother died years ago and his father was just murdered. The guard says they detained them and searched them — which the lady liked — so they also have to bring Walt and Judith back to NCIS with them.

Back at NCIS, the Sherlocks get a lecture from Ducky, with Gibbs pointing out they did the wrong thing for the right reason. Surprisingly, it’s Lyle who, after earning another “Shut up, Lyle” for checking that Ducky wasn’t yelling at him, provides the information Gibbs needs to solve the case. He noticed tree sap on Tony and McGee’s shoes from the woods, and with that, Gibbs just needs Tony’s finger (specifically the splinter in his finger from his attempt to dig out the bullet that wasn’t in the tree). He saw a similar stain on someone else’s shoes.

When Gibbs joins Abby in her lab, she informs him that the DNA test proves that Michael is innocent. Now it’s time for another DNA test, this one involving trees and sawdust. When Jason comes in after Gibbs calls him, Bishop offers him a glass of water and takes the cup back as soon as he drinks from it. Then he finds out that there is actually no valet; that was Palmer, dressed up as one, to get his keys and test for sawdust. He used his car keys to dig the bullet out from the tree.

In his confession, which Ducky plays for the Sherlocks, Jason admits that he wanted to confess when his friend was arrested and then every day since, but he couldn’t do it. He doesn’t regret killing his division officer, but he does regret letting his best friend take the fall. And with that, Ducky informs the others that he is resigning from the secret society, but he has someone to take his place: Palmer.

Gibbs and Abby are waiting at the prison when Michael is freed, and after he reunites with his daughter, he thanks them. He knows who Abby is, and when she says she put him in there, he disagrees. She got him out.

NCIS season 13 airs Tuesdays at 8pm on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Meredith Jacobs

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

If it’s on TV — especially if it’s a procedural or superhero show — chances are Meredith watches it. She has a love for all things fiction, starting from a young age with ER and The X-Files on the small screen and the Nancy Drew books. Arrow kicked off the Arrowverse and her true passion for all things heroes. She’s enjoyed getting into the minds of serial killers since Criminal Minds, so it should be no surprise that her latest obsession is Prodigal Son.