It’s an hour filled with blasts (from the past) in this episode of NCIS, “Saviors.” Tony’s ex-girlfriend, Jeanne Benoit, now married, returns when her husband is one of several volunteers who go missing in South Sudan. Stan Burley returns as the man on the ground who needs as much backup as he can get.

Plus, Dr. Taft is back, with a connection to the case and in time to be there when Gibbs suddenly collapses in the squadroom. But is there a physical reason for his collapse or is more just stress-related?

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In South Sudan, Navy Doctor Lieutenant Liz Cortland and Dr. David Woods are helping locals as part of the International Doctors Group (doctors without borders) when the building comes under attack. Liz calls in a Mayday. Stan is the one on the ground after that call, and when he videos in to MTAC, he tells them he’s sent her body and two others, too badly burned to identify, to them for Ducky to autopsy.

When Tony and Bishop head to IDG to see if they can talk to someone in charge there, Tony finds out that the other Dr. Woods is none other than Jeanne Benoit. Their reunion is as tension-filled as you would expect, but there are more pressing matters at hand than their past. David is her husband, and she hasn’t been able to reach him since receiving a 911 text, to be used only in emergencies.

Still, that doesn’t mean that McGee can’t take some time to try to give Bishop a quick history lesson about that doomed-from-the-start relationship: Jeanne was the daughter of an arms dealer, Tony was sent in undercover to date her, they both fell hard and it ended “super beyond badly.” Tony tries to pretend like it’s nothing that he ran into her, but everyone knows it’s not. (“Jeanne Benoit, really?” becomes the standard response to finding out that she’s involved.) 

Who’s Going to South Sudan?

While they don’t know what led to the murders and kidnappings — ethnic groups are fighting over the territory there, so that is a possibility — Gibbs assures Stan that backup is coming, including two of the team. Make sure they’re up to date on vaccines, Burley advises, as McGee concerns himself with just who Gibbs plans on sending.

Jeanne insists on joining Tony down in autopsy, and this is when she gets as good news as she can get in this situation: neither of the burned victims are her husband. But they were her friends. Because she can identify both, since one had braces and the other had lost a leg in the Gulf War, they also know who is missing: David and Joni Ryan, who, as Dr. Taft reveals when he shows up in the squad room, is his good friend and the surgical tech who was there during Gibbs’ surgery.

Gibbs tells Tony that they’re going to meet up with Stan, while McGee and Bishop provide support from DC. Dr. Taft tries to protest letting a guy six months out of a major surgery head to such a rugged country, but Gibbs isn’t the type to listen to him. Jeanne insists on joining them, threatening to fly herself there if she has to, but having an experienced doctor who knows the region, the people and the dialect is an advantage. However, just as Gibbs agrees to let her tag along, he collapses at his desk, so McGee is the one who joins Tony on the cargo plane.

Awkward Conversations

On the cargo plane, McGee asks Tony when he’s going to talk to Jeanne, but what’s Tony going to say? He’s sorry about what happened, but he was doing his job, and yes, he was in love with her? It doesn’t matter, he argues, because her husband is missing. McGee just repeats his question, and Tony finally goes over to her and asks how she and David met. It was after she had finished a fellowship she took right after the last time she and Tony saw each other. (Remember that awful conversation by the elevator? When he said none of it was real and she said she wished she’d never met him? Yeah, that one.) She met David in Doctors Without Borders, and they got married a year later and then started IDG together. When Tony says he sounds like a good man, she says he’s the best she’s ever known. Ouch!

But as painful as that conversation may be, Stan talking to Tony about how guys like them can’t play the field forever and how he wishes he’d made more of an effort with Liz instead of only getting together every few months and how Jeanne and her husband have it right, with Jeanne sitting in the truck in front of them, is much, much worse.

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What Happened to David and Joni?

Back in DC, Ducky notes that all three victims have puncture wounds through their feet, done after they died but before the two were left to burn. It could be ceremonial in nature, which may lead them to the tribe responsible.

At the crime scene in Sudan, they find Bahar hiding in a closet, and she tells them that the bad men took David and Joni but won’t say who these “bad men” are. The doctors are probably already dead. They’re too late, she insists. That’s not going to stop Tony, McGee, Stan and Jeanne from looking, but they are on their own, though they do briefly think they’re going to have help from a SEAL team, thanks to Gibbs. However, the team is needed elsewhere, so they only stay long enough to secure the perimeter.

One of the men who took the doctors dropped a machete, and back in DC, Abby and Palmer work on identifying anything on it to lead to the tribe that has the volunteers. The machete doesn’t match the wounds in the victims’ feet, but they do have another clue from those punctures: an organic poison from beetle larvae in each, used in old-school hunting.

While waiting to move out, Jeanne tells Tony that after she found out the truth about her father and him, all she could do was look for something that made her feel good. She found that in work and in David. Tony knows there’s nothing he can say or do to make her forgive him, but he won’t rest until they find David. She has his word. (And this obviously sets up a final scene between the two in which they are good because he has helped rescue her husband).

Thanks to an engraving on the machete, Abby and Palmer identify the tribe to which it likely belongs and find the reason why the doctors were taken. There has been infighting in a tribe, and General Ajak Gadet leads one of the subgroups. He refers to himself as a ferocious animal (the translation of the engraving) and was inured three days ago. The doctors were taken to save him.

The group overseas comes across scorched earth and a bloody glove that Jeanne says has to be one of theirs. It’s a sign that they’re still alive, and while McGee’s comment that they’ll be alive as long as they’re useful isn’t exactly comforting, it is true. Thanks to a feeling Gibbs has, he has a good idea of where the doctors have been taken. His gut is, of course, right, but since it doesn’t look like backup is coming (though Gibbs is working on it), it’s up to them to stage a rescue mission. A diversion always works, like shooting up gas cans on a truck, distracting the tribe with the ensuing explosion and sneaking the doctors out in the aftermath. And thank to the backup Gibbs got them, they all make it out alive.

On the way home, Tony calls the situation “totally surreal” and tells McGee he’s happy for her. McGee thinks this means he can let go of the guilt he carries around from what went down all those years ago, but that’s still debatable. But Jeanne thanking Tony and telling him she owes him — she doesn’t, he replies — has to help. I think they both needed this, and I’m actually happy with how it ended for them. I honestly didn’t expect to be because that was such a painful part of Tony’s life.

What’s Wrong with Gibbs?

At first, McGee just notes that Gibbs has been extra quiet lately, going from two words to one. In fact, he apparently got a guy to confess in the fetal position with just grunts and shrugs in an interrogation. (I’m not surprised.) However, it seems that there’s more to it because, as the team discusses the case and Dr. Taft reveals that the missing surgical tech operated on Gibbs, Gibbs collapses at his desk and has to be taken to the hospital for some tests.

Though Gibbs keeps insisting that he didn’t collapse, that doesn’t stop Vance from putting him on limited duty from home, but that also doesn’t stop Gibbs from being Gibbs. (You take a nap, he tells Ducky when his friend tells him to rest instead of working on the case from home.) When Dr. Taft stops by his house to tell him his tests all came back normal, Gibbs is cooking a steak in the fireplace.

But that doesn’t mean he can get back to work just yet. He did collapse, and that pain was very real, real enough to shake him, and the doctor believes it’s stress-related, a physical manifestation of his emotional response. His body has the memory of being shot, and people who have been shot and nearly died don’t just go on with their lives like nothing happened. They have to talk about it. Gibbs in therapy? Yeah, right. The only therapy he needs is his job, he insists. Dr. Taft gets fed-up enough with his patient that he takes his steak and throws it out. He’s not going to watch Gibbs kill himself.

Gibbs then returns to work, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, and continues to deny that he collapsed. They’re all running to or from something at various times in their lives, but no matter the speed, the truth is always a bit faster, Ducky warns him.

However, after Gibbs zones out a bit at work, he goes to see Dr. Taft and asks if he went back to work right away after losing his son. Not right away, he replies, but after a year off and a lot of talking. After double-checking that his tests all came back fine, Gibbs concedes that talking might help, but he refuses to have his head examined, which leaves him with one option: Dr. Taft.

Why does he concern himself with the health of someone who doesn’t even bother to lock his door, Dr. Taft wonders later as he joins Gibbs in his basement. He also brought over a replacement steak because it turns out that his cholesterol is “crazy low” for someone with a “caveman diet.” Also, more tests came back and there’s scar tissue in his chest cavity that may cause him some discomfort — ghosting, as he calls it. Even the slightest aggravation can feel like a heart attack. So it’s not in Gibbs’ head? The scar tissue will fade with time and it will heal, as will the stress, panic and uncertainty — but he’ll also need to talk for that. So what is Gibbs afraid of? Nothing, Gibbs insists. Dr. Taft doesn’t buy it. He may have support during the day, but at night, when his head hits his pillow, it’s just him. Admitting that is half the battle, Dr. Taft explains. Everyone’s afraid of something, even the great Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

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.