Last time on NCIS, the reason for Tony’s sunnier disposition, his secret relationship with ATF Special Agent Zoe Keates, became public knowledge. (I love how she calls him “Spider” — how romantic!) McGee suspected that Tony was serious about someone, and he was right.

“We Build, We Fight” focuses on a murder investigation that may be a hate crime. In more upbeat news, Palmer and his wife enjoy their baby shower. This NCIS episode is directed by Rocky Carroll, who plays Vance, and also features the return of Hollis Mann, played by guest star Susanna Thompson.

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A Shot in the Dark

We kick off with a man in his apartment. He has bloody knuckles, is agitated and is leaving a message for someone named Vince. When the lights go out, the man goes outside to check the breaker and is shot by an unknown assailant.

Back at NCIS, Palmer and his wife are having a great time at their baby shower. Tony is late, and his gift is a bit unorthodox. It is a basket with ear plugs, wine and cash, which hearkens back to the way Tony was raised. Maybe they better ditch that basket. When Palmer leaves to get his wife some water, Breena begs the team to help her. Jimmy is obsessed with how safe everything is for the baby, but all this mom-to-be wants is some quiet time and a burger.

Welcome Back, Hollis

At the scene of the shooting, the team finds a boot print and shell casings. The victim is Navy lieutenant Eric Kutzler, who was assigned to the naval support unit for the State Department. Inside Kutzler’s house, Bishop and Tony find a door with fist holes in it and blood. Gibbs, meanwhile, is talking with the first police officer on the scene. The man is teary and emotional, and he finally confides that Kutzler was his husband.

Gibbs is called into a meeting with Vance and Hollis Mann. Hollis is sent by the DOD to assist NCIS, and Gibbs is surprised. It turns out that Hollis had been investigating Kutzler because he was being vetted as a candidate for the Medal of Honor.

Later, Tony explains to Bishop that if Gibbs is going to confide his emotions to anyone, it would be Hollis Mann, also known as “the Gibbs whisperer.” Of course, Hollis is standing behind them and overhears Tony’s comments. Hilarious!

A Hero’s Sacrifice

Bishop and Tony run down Kutzler’s background. He had worked for the State Department for five months. Before that, he was recovering from wounds received in Afghanistan when his Seabees unit came under attack. Kutzler threw his body on a live grenade to save his men and nearly died. Kutzler would be the first openly gay member of the military to receive the Medal of Honor, and his nomination has received a lot of attention.

Hollis asks where they are on suspects, and Gibbs bristles because Hollis is not investigating the murder. An annoyed Gibbs walks away when Hollis lets him know that she is sticking around.

Palmer is Nervous

Palmer goes to the lab and Abby is on the phone with Breena. Palmer panics when Abby relays the message that Breena had a burger. Once Palmer is calmed down, Abby then tells him that he needs to go to the hospital because his wife is in labor. Palmer becomes nearly catatonic, until Gibbs arrives with the best medicine of all — a slap to the back of the head. It does the trick and an anxious Palmer goes in search of his baby bag for the hospital.

Abby has footage of Kutzler’s murder from a neighbor’s security camera, but the killer’s face isn’t shown. The footage does show Vince Armstrong arriving home and finding his husband. Instead of immediately calling 911, like he told Gibbs, Armstrong instead went into the house for 20 minutes. That is very curious indeed.

A Violent Temper

Vince is in interrogation with McGee and Tony. He says that he didn’t dial 911 right away because he was in shock. McGee asks him about the cut under his eye, and Vince responds that he was punched by a drunk driver. Tony is more interested in Vince’s 2007 discharge from the Marines for unbecoming conduct. Vince was charged with making threats against his superior officer and displaying a violent temper. He does seem pretty angry during his chat with McGee and Tony. 

Gibbs interrupts and tells Vince that they are going for a walk. Gibbs lets Vince know that he was a good marine until 2007, when his unit found out that he was gay. Vince tells him that the charges weren’t true, and that if he agreed to go quietly, they would give him a general discharge. Gibbs thinks that Vince is hiding something about his husband. Finally, Vince admits that he found a strange bag in the house with syringes and vials. He tells Gibbs that Kutzler didn’t use drugs and that he hid them in the garage to protect Kutzler’s memory and his chance of receiving the Medal of Honor.

One Man’s Pain

Abby identifies the substance in the vials as fentanyl and morphine. Kutzler’s drug screen came back clean, so he wasn’t using drugs. The drugs themselves are homemade by someone, and Bishop, Tony and Abby wonder if perhaps Kutzler was dealing drugs.

Ducky heads into autopsy and finds Hollis standing next to Kutzler’s body. She asks Ducky how Gibbs is doing, as she reached out to him but he never returned her phone calls. Ducky is about to tell Hollis why he thinks Gibbs has been keeping everyone at arm’s length, but Gibbs enters to hear the latest from Ducky.

Ducky discovered that rather than take medication for his traumatic injuries, Kutzler chose to live in constant pain. Gibbs thinks that Kutzler was punishing himself because of the men he lost. Gibbs demands that Hollis give him all the information about the incident in Afghanistan.

Tony points out that of the seven survivors, five were Afghan civilians. The two remaining survivors were sailors in Kutzler’s unit. Lansing Donahue was interviewed by Hollis, and his testimony was critical in securing Kutzler’s nomination for the Medal of Honor. The other witness, Davis Riley, hadn’t been interviewed by Hollis yet, and getting him into NCIS immediately is Gibbs’ top priority.

An Unusual Finding

Bishop’s research turns up a letter of reprimand from his commanding officer, Rear Admiral Xavier Meade, for disorderly conduct. It was later retracted. Gibbs tells Bishop to come with him as he continues to avoid Hollis.

Meade seems surprised that Kutzler is still being considered for the Medal of Honor. He states that his relationship with Kutzler was fine, but Meade does seem a bit chilly. When Bishop brings up the letter of reprimand, Meade explains that some of the men in the unit weren’t happy with Kutzler being openly gay, and there was a brawl. Meade pulled the reprimand because he didn’t want to ruin Kutzler’s career. The man that was in the fight with Kutzler was none other than Davis Riley.

Hollis and Tony wait at a construction site for Davis. Tony wants to know if Hollis has had any luck getting Gibbs to talk about Diane. Riley arrives and is shocked to hear of Kutzler’s murder. In fact, he turns away to vomit. At headquarters, Riley expresses that he hated Kutzler, but he doesn’t feel that way now. In fact, he claims that he recommended Kutzler for the Medal of Honor because he finally saw him for who he truly was — a hero. Riley states that he and Donahue sent the packet up the chain of command, but there is no record of it.

A Damaging Leak

Vance gets a call that information about Kutzler being found with illegal narcotics is about to hit the press. So who would leak that information? Worse yet, if NCIS doesn’t clear Kutzler’s name in 48 hours, his nomination is being cancelled. That certainly lights a fire under Gibbs.
Gibbs wants answers, and he is not in the mood to wait. McGee tells him that it looks like Kutzler was home all day and evening.

Gibbs barks at Bishop when she tells him that “she thinks” Hollis went back to the DOD. Tony reminds Gibbs that he is breaking Rule 10: never get personally involved in a case.

Gibbs gets in Tony’s face, but a furious Vince distracts him. He can’t believe that his husband’s reputation is ruined, and he also can’t believe that he trusted Gibbs as “a man of honor.”

Abby is able to trace Kutzler’s vehicle and finds out that Kutzler was at the Berwyn Community Outreach Center for about two hours on the night he died. Tony, Bishop and McGee journey to the center and learn that Kutzler attended an Addictions Anonymous group there. According to Mat, the guy at the front desk, Kutzler had an argument in the parking lot with one of the members of his group.

Secrets and Lies

Hollis brings Gibbs a cup of coffee and some news. She uncovered the packet submitted by Riley, and it was buried by Rear Admiral Meade. Gibbs and Hollis have the proof that Meade destroyed the 2012 request, and that he also gives below par scores to openly gay sailors in his command. Meade lawyers up, and Gibbs calls him a “disgrace to that uniform” and states that he is looking forward to seeing Meade at his court-martial.

During a stake-out at the community center, the team spots a familiar face — Davis Riley. When Tony and McGee approach, Riley seems disoriented and collapses.

Hollis stops by Gibbs’ basement to let him know that Riley is at the hospital in stable condition. Hollis demands that Gibbs talk to her. He tells Hollis to go home. She knows that Gibbs blames himself for Diane’s death, and he finally admits it. Anyone close to him is a target, and that includes Hollis.

A Motive Emerges

Gibbs goes to visit Riley at the hospital. Riley confesses that he is haunted by the day the grenade went off and that Kutzler got him into the addiction program when he found out that Riley was using. Riley relapsed three days ago, and Kutzler took Riley’s stash and went back to the community center. Riley got the drugs from Mat, the fellow at the front desk.  Bishop and Tony go to catch Mat. Bishop informs him that they found his apartment drug lab, and Tony posits that Kutzler threatened to turn him in, so Mat followed him and shot him.

Vince apologizes to Gibbs and thanks him for helping Kutzler to be approved for the Medal of Honor. Gibbs urges Vince to honor his husband’s memory by completing what Kutzler started with Riley.

Special Delivery

The entire gang gathers at the hospital, and we learn that Palmer has a baby daughter. What is even more touching is that she is named Victoria Elizabeth after Ducky’s mother. How sweet! Gibbs even manages to join the gang to gaze at the newest member of the team.

I liked this NCIS episode, especially the way it handled such an important topic about openly gay members of the military with sensitivity and compassion. I like how Hollis finally got Gibbs to express his feelings. And, come on, how can you resist a beautiful baby named after Ducky’s beloved mother?

airs Tuesdays at 8pm on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Kim Stempel

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Kim has been covering television entertainment since 2013. She is addicted to Real Housewives, Pump Rules, Dancing with the Stars, and many more shows.