Father and son relationships can be complicated, and that’s certainly the case for Tony and Senior on NCIS. Robert Wagner returns as Anthony DiNozzo, Sr., in “The Artful Dodger,” and his surprise visit just so happens to come at the exact time that his knowledge and contacts in the black market art world are needed for a murder case.

As much as I love to see Senior, it feels like every time he shows up, it’s the same old cycle. Senior comes to visit, and he’s the same Anthony as always. (Remember, Tony only found out that he didn’t get on a flight for Thanksgiving after it had already landed.) Something happens, and he gets involved in the team’s current case, a surefire way to make the investigation more intriguing. Tony wants him gone, the others just find him amusing and Tony’s childhood (and comments made before his father first appeared on the show) seems to be forgotten except for a remark here and there. Tony and Senior make up and have some sort of conversation, and Senior leaves. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

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Rule 20: Always Look Under

While a janitor is trying to teach his son about bringing pride to the job, no matter what it is and no matter how long he plans to have it, they hear a crash, and he sends his son to call security while he checks it out. He finds a dead body.

The victim, Lieutenant Dominic Pine, worked a the DLA for two years as Vice Admiral Kleibor’s aide, and the crime scene is her office. The janitor’s son saw a blue sedan leaving out the back window and got a partial plate. The cause of death is blunt force trauma; he was hit on the head with a curved weapon. The computer hasn’t been touched, and there are no signs of a robbery, but Bishop does find what may be a clue — the “standard gift for fancy people,” an expensive pen — when she follows rule 20, “Always look under.”

Was Pine the Target or Just in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time?

Pine’s girlfriend of four months, Gloria, gives this whole spiel about how neither of them have families and they filled an emptiness in one another and she’ll fight to make sure his murder doesn’t fall through the cracks. And immediately, I don’t trust her and have decided she’s the killer.

The killer had a radio frequency key card that was programmed to override the gate system and disable the security cameras, but while Pine did have access to classified information, he was only in Kleibor’s office getting the pen she was going to give as a gift. So what was the killer after? Abby has the answer: a painting. The blood on the wall stops before the painting, The Chesapeake, on loan from the Navy’s art collection, but it should’ve reached the frame. Plus, the paint isn’t old enough and the gallery tag was aged with tea. It’s a fake. The killer stole the original, and Pine just happened to be in the office to get the pen.

You Don’t Want This Painting

Fortunately, Senior is in town to give them a quick tutorial of the art world. Black market art is a small world, he explains. Everyone knows one another, and he puts out feelers in his network saying he’s interested in buying the painting. A good thief wants to find the buyer willing to pay the most money, so all they have to do is offer a better price.

McGee goes with Senior to meet his art forger friend (because Tony was late to the meeting, although I don’t think he actually needed to be there to be prepared for that meeting), and Senior introduces him as his son, Tony, the catalog model, since his associates wouldn’t take too kindly to knowing his son’s a federal agent. McGee plays it up and poses before they get down to business. However, the forger, Perry, notices that the fake is in an evidence bag (why no one thought that wasn’t a good idea is beyond me), and McGee comes up with an excuse on the spot. He makes up some lie about the guy they’re looking for stealing his girlfriend, and Perry agrees to make some calls.

A hit on the license plates of the blue sedan leads them to the murder weapon, a flashlight, in a dumpster, and while Abby doesn’t get a hit on the prints, they also find the original frame of the painting, and there’s blood on it and signs that it has been around for two murders: Pine’s and CIA Official Brian Khosa’s. He was killed last year while working undercover in Pakistan. In other words, this is one unlucky painting. ¬†

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Black Market Art is a Small World

CIA Officer Harris tells Gibbs and Bishop that Khosa was in deep with a terrorist cell and had still been convincing them of his loyalty. He was chosen to shadow a mission headed up by Sameer Aziz, a “rising star” in the cell. The plan was to break into the embassy and plant a device, but it seemed that Khosa thwarted that mission when he alerted the CIA about it and got himself killed in the process.

But he didn’t. A device was planted: a bug. Abby says that the bug needs to be physically retrieved, and it’s on the painting. There could be some major secrets on this bug, meaning they have to get it back. McGee goes back to see Perry, this time with Tony (or Timothy McGeekerson, as he introduces himself), and while the forger wasn’t planning to ever call McGee back, Tony realizes that his father says one smart thing followed by a lot of dumb things, and the one smart thing is that black market art is a small world. Perry knows the artist/thief/murderer. Yes, it’s Gloria.

By the time Tony and McGee get back to Tony’s apartment, Senior is gone. However, he calls them from the Adams House bar, and so Gibbs shows up as his accountant, Tony places himself at the bar and they end up in the middle of what Gloria wants to be a bidding war between Senior and Aziz. At the right moment, Gibbs uses the code word, arrests are made, they get the painting and the CIA gets the bug.

GrandDucky!

Unbeknownst to the team until Ducky tells them, baby Palmer has been sick with a low-grade fever. He forgot to tell them because his mind has been scattered with grandfatherly worries. You see, Palmer has declared that Victoria will be calling him GrandDucky when she reaches speaking age. (Everybody say “aww” now.)

Palmer does return to work and not only gets an update on the case from Tony but also offers some advice as a new father. There’s always something for a father to worry about, so he thinks Tony should cut his dad some slack and talk to him. However, Tony knows that because of the pattern (more on that in a bit), it’s too soon for that.

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Have Senior’s Conning Ways Cost Him?

There always seems to be some sort of fanfare when Senior shows up, and this time, Tony is surprised to find his father sitting on his couch, listening to his breakup mix, as he walks into his apartment, planning an evening of making bread with Zoe. “The wedding’s been called off,” Senior reveals.

The next day at work, Tony tells the others he assumes Linda found out about his father’s line of work. “My dad is a con man,” he explains to Bishop. He’s never seen his father like this — he won’t get out of his 100% silk pajamas — and both McGee and Gibbs suggest giving him an activity to occupy his mind (like McGee did when Ziva stayed in Israel). Tony does, but after the handyman whom Senior hires to get the job done finishes, he shows up at NCIS, not wanting to be alone.

While Tony and Senior can’t have a “productive conversation” until he’s been there two days and screwed up something huge, as Tony explains to Palmer, that doesn’t stop McGee and Senior from having a nice conversation, at least up until the point where the agent comments that his son thinks he’s a con artist. See, Senior’s going on about how he’s been chasing this moment where he’d walk into the room and Tony would announce him with his head held high, but he can’t earn it. Honestly, though, Senior isn’t exactly the best father, and given Tony’s childhood, he hasn’t earned that moment. He seems completely surprised to learn that Tony tells people he’s a con artist, and it turns out Linda left him for an architect with fancy glasses.

After this conversation, I start thinking that maybe Tony and his father will have the conversation I’ve wanted them to have for years now, since before his father was only mentioned in passing. And while there are moments, it doesn’t actually happen. Instead, Tony expresses his disbelief that McGee had a nice conversation with his father given the ritual they have to go through every time Senior visits (two days of torture, then a nice talk). Gibbs uses the cover of the mission (and works in the go word quite nicely) to tell Senior about when Tony told him about paying his hotel bill. He has a friend, he explains, and he asked his friend why he covered the bill since he never did anything for him, and “the look on his face,” he’d “never seen anything like it.” His dad meant more to him than he knew.

Then it’s all said and done, and Senior’s on his way out of town and off to Europe. Will father and son talk when Senior has one foot out the door? Not really. All Senior tells Tony is, “Look, I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I’ve pretended to be better than I am. I’ve dealt with some pretty shady folk, but son, I am not a con artist. I am an entrepreneur. The difference between an entrepreneur and a con artist is an entrepreneur believes in the dreams he’s selling. Whether my deals fell through or not, I believed in what I was selling.” That’s when he sees the look Gibbs was talking about, and I guess it’s a nice moment, but this episode ends like every other one with Tony’s father: with nothing feeling resolved between the DiNozzos.

NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8pm on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)