There’s nothing like finding a dead rat in your car with a warning that “you’re next” to get you worried, unless you’re Congresswoman Jenna Flemming (guest star Mary Stuart Masterson, who will hopefully become to NCIS what Steven Weber is to NCIS: New Orleans — someone who hangs around), that is.

Also in this episode, “Pay to Play,” MI6 Officer Clayton Reeves officially joins NCIS at the International Desk. And while Bishop may be happy to see him (especially since he brings her crisps she likes), Torres isn’t quite as pleased to meet him. (That may explain why he was so quick to throw Reeves under the bus with Bishop’s brothers in “Enemy Combatant.”)

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Duck Hunting, Dead Rats and a Secret Project

We first meet Jenna when she’s out duck hunting with a retired Admiral and a man whose money she’s hoping to get. (She succeeds.) She’s not apologetic for her attitude; she works hard for her constituents and their businesses. But as she’s leaving for a meeting in Georgetown, she finds a dead rat (missing all its internal organs, as Ducky and Palmer later discover) in her car, with a warning that she’s next.

As the team learns from her personal aide, Max Sanders, she’s been receiving escalating threats (social media posts, phone calls, letters, the same angry faces at campaign events), but she’s ignored them. In fact, when she finds out that NCIS is investigating, she bursts into Vance’s office because she doesn’t want to look weak or that she can’t handle pressure. She thinks the agency is looking into it because of an appropriations bill Vance and the Navy want her to vote for in the next month, but she tries to assure the Director and Gibbs that she’s fine and it doesn’t need to become a federal case. Too late.

They have two possible suspects from an online board who have spoken out against Jenna. The first, the creator of the board, is in jail. But thanks to the other, the creator’s mouthpiece, using the same avatar on another, McGee’s able to track her down to her driver’s ed class. Amy Barrett actually tries to drive off, not remembering that her instructor has brakes on the passenger side of the vehicle. But all she can possibly be guilty of is her rhetoric that inspired someone else to act.

Jenna remains firmly against a security detail, even after Vance shows her that someone has posted a photo of her door online. If she pays too much attention to negative voices, it gives them power, she argues. But that changes when Max is found dead in a motel pool.

Why was Max in a motel in Brighton when he lives in Alexandria? One motel guest, on her way to get ice for the champagne she’s sharing with her “accountant” in between “audits,” recalls hearing shouting between two men and then seeing a car (possibly a red Lincoln or Cadillac) take off out of the lot.

Max’s girlfriend, a real estate agent, tells Quinn that he was supposed to meet her for lunch, but he never showed up or returned her text. She says that his boss had him working on a secret project.

What Got Max Killed?

Jenna reveals that she had Max researching the effects of closing down Brighton Navy Base. Closing a base disrupts both military and civilian lives. However, that was never made public, so how did someone find out? Jenna tells Vance that Max was smarter than her and they won elections together. She doesn’t expect the Director to understand the battles they fight on a daily basis or the personal sacrifices.

What killed Max? Well, he was hit on the head an hour before he died, but that was hard enough to cause severe disorientation and confusion. It looks like he walked into the pool; they know he was alive when he went in because his lungs are full of water.

The last person Max spoke to was Jed Hamilton, Brighton’s de facto mayor. He just so happens to drive a red Cadillac. When Bishop and Quinn check out his house, he’s not there — and neither is his car. But they do find dead rats wrapped in Biohazard plastic in the freezer and one’s missing from the pack. Abby confirms that the rat from Flemming’s car matches the ones from Jed’s freezer. The rats all died of natural causes, and all had their internal organs removed. They were part of a lab testing a treatment for Alzheimer’s on Brighton Navy Base.

There’s only one scientist left in the lab since the study ended a month ago, and he admits that he gave the rats to Jed. Jed had taken it as a bad sign that they were denied more funds for the study. And with Max asking questions, the mayor put two and two together. He wanted to send a message.

After seeing the space dedicated to what NCIS lost due to the explosion in the Navy Yard in May 2012, Jenna realizes that Vance makes calls like she had to to Max’s parents on a daily basis. She also remembers that he knows about personal sacrifice, having lost his wife, and apologizes. She lets him in on the secret that he’s well-liked on the Hill because he says what he means in his addresses to the committee, but she does have one request of him when it comes to her security detail: people she can talk to.

Vance puts Torres and Reeves on the job, while the two are still Alpha male arguing. However, when they drive her home, they find Jed drunk and pounding on her front door. Torres flips him over the stairs from behind as he’s reaching into his pocket, but it turns out he was just going for an apology note. Yes, he left the rat in her car, and yes, he went to talk to Max at the motel, but he has an alibi for the time of the attack that led to the aide’s death: he was at a strip club.

Who killed Max? Well, it just so happens that the real estate agent working a deal for a housing development in Brighton is Laurie Perkins, Max’s girlfriend. That can’t be a coincidence, but their job gets a bit tougher when Jenna confronts her and uses the leverage they usually use in interrogation: her motive. They need evidence connecting her to the murder.

Fortunately, Max logged what he ate in a Self Love application, and Laurie’s the one who was holding his last meal, a protein bar. The timestamp proves she was with him at the time of the attack. It was an accident, she insists before asking for a lawyer.

It’s after the case has wrapped that Jenna addresses why Vance took a personal interest in her: a non-profit organization that Jackie started six years ago, a domestic violence shelter, needs a chairperson. She can’t take the position herself, but she does have friends who can. And they can discuss it over dinner. Is a new romance brewing?

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What’s Operation Willoughby?

From the moment they meet, it’s obvious that Reeves and Torres are going to butt heads, all because of the latter. Torres comments on how Reeves is taller in person and on his suit. He notices what Reeves is up to around the office. He wants Abby to take his Caf-Pow because it’s “30 seconds fresher” than Reeves’. And the two men know that one day, they are going to fight because they have to see who’s better.

However, while Reeves may be assigned to the International Desk, Quinn notices an Operation Willoughby file on his desk and asks Gibbs if that’s why he’s there. The operation was delayed six months ago because the Navy came to FLETC looking for recruits, but no one was willing to sign up, she remembers — until now, Gibbs reveals.

Quinn then asks Reeves if he volunteered for the operation. They were only looking for recruits who were willing to take risks, like a suicide mission. He knows what he signed up for, he assures her. He has his reasons.

What do you think about Reeves and Operation Willoughby? Do you want to see a romance develop between Vance and Jenna? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

NCIS season 14 airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on CBS. Want more news? Like our Facebook page.

(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.