NCIS definitely did something right when the show cast Adam Campbell as the young Ducky, and “The Tie That Binds” is another hour that treats us to another dose of him. (We even get to see Campbell and David McCallum share the screen in not one but two scenes!)

As the team is celebrating the holidays (and Gibbs and Emily both hope that Fornell will be doing that at home, not on his favorite microfiber couch), Ducky’s in for a surprise when his old address is found in a victim’s pocket and he begins to question if he made the right call when he sent a potential love away from his mother years ago.

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Oh, and Torres and Reeves do briefly arm wrestle, until Gibbs and Vance interrupt them comparing testosterone levels, as the Director puts it. He then sends them off to crush beer cans against their foreheads or whatever it is they plan on doing next, so at one point I expect to see those two duking it out in the bullpen.  

Who Doesn’t Like to Come Home to a Naked Man in the Wardrobe?

Well, at least he’s covering himself with a hat. (Unfortunately for Ducky, that hat is his.) Back before Ducky (and his mother) moved to the States, he brought his girlfriend back to his flat, only to find his mother (who prefers to call her son’s date “tramp” until proven otherwise rather than learn her name) lying on the couch, covered in a blanket, home early from a trip to Majorca. And she brought home a souvenir — a man! His name is Balthazar Kilmeany, and they’re in love, she tells her son.

Six weeks later, they’re engaged, so Ducky’s naturally suspicious and enlists Angus Clarke to do some digging into Balthazar for him. It turns out he was right to be suspicious, as Balthazar has been going around conning women out of their money. But when Ducky confronts him, the man claims that he’s changed and that while that was his original intention with Victoria, he’s fallen in love and could never hurt her because she’s his soulmate. Is that enough to get Ducky to warm up to him? Nope. He tells him to pack up, leave and make up whatever excuse he wants to his mother, or he’ll tip off Scotland Yard and it’s off to prison for good ol’ Kilmeany.

Balthazar does just that, leaving a note that he had to leave town on business and promising to check in every day, but two weeks go by and Victoria hasn’t heard from him. Ducky suggests that he just needed a break because they’ve been moving so fast, but Victoria is adamant: they’re in love, they’re soulmates and they were truly happy. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do now, so Ducky suggests she move to America with him after he finishes a tour at a refugee camp. She can stay with him as long as she needs to get settled.

But that decision of Ducky’s — to send his mother’s fiance away — stays with him over the years, to the point that he even shares a conversation with his younger self in autopsy. (It’s the only way that a show like NCIS can get both McCallum and Campbell in a scene together, and it’s done quite well.) His younger self insists that he made the right call all those years ago (and when it comes to whatever he’s currently doing with his skin because he looks fantastic). Balthazar would’ve broken Victoria’s heart, and she would have been mortified to find out she had fallen for a con man. However, Ducky fears that he took away her only chance of finding love and she ended up alone for the rest of her life. So has he, his younger self argues. That’s why he understands what he took from her, Ducky explains. Fortunately for him, the events of the case end up proving him wrong.

Never Take a Drink from a Stranger

Captain Green leaves his daughter, Haley, and her husband, Logan, outside the theater and makes the dumb decision to accept the bottle of water from his ride-share driver, who simply drives into a dirt lot and waits for him to die from whatever it is he put in the water. The driver pulls his body out of the car and leaves him there.

As the team looks into a possible motive for his murder, they discover that Green has been accused of selling classified information to someone overseas, so it’s possible the buyer got nervous and took him out. But the real mystery concerns the fact that Ducky’s old address was in his wallet. (No, Quinn, it can’t be a coincidence and just linked to the current owners.) Ducky doesn’t recognize him, nor is Green mentioned in any of his files.

However, as they learn from the gardener, Green had stopped by the house three days ago looking for a Mallard — Victoria Mallard. When he learned she passed away, he got in his friend’s car and left. The gardener, Mr. Rin, didn’t see the driver and can’t tell them anything about the car because he’s colorblind. Fortunately, there’s a doorbell camera (that makes McGee geek out) to give them not only a good look at the car and driver but also Mr. Rin speeding away as soon as they left.

In addition to discovering that someone intercepted Green’s ride-share request (likely the killer), Abby also reveals that Green made a call right when he left Ducky’s old house, to one Balthazar Kilmeany. But it can’t be the same man Ducky knew because he’d be over 100 now. (Some guys can hold a grudge, Fornell suggests, still trying to work NCIS’ cases since he’s not back with the FBI just yet.)

Metro PD picks up the guy who was driving Green around after they find him spying on a couple, but it turns out he’s a private investigator who was hired by the captain to find out what he could about the name Balthazar Kilmeany. He had found an ad that Victoria took out six years ago looking for him too. Green also gave him a hard drive to hold on to as an insurance policy in case anything happened to him.

While Ducky surmises that his mother was trying to recapture happier times with her ad, there is the question of why Green was looking for him. After speaking to Interpol, Reeves reports that half a dozen people have used that fake ID over the years to launder money. Victoria’s fiance was just one of them. Was Green doing the same thing with the money he got for selling classified data? Not so fast, Abby tells them, because he didn’t steal anything.

Green’s hard drive contained internal Department of Defense security footage proving he was nowhere near his computer when the data was stolen. He was set up. Someone logged in remotely using his password and opened an account under the name Balthazar Kilmeany. But who? And why didn’t Green go to the police? Oh, and why did the gardener run?

That last question has an easy answer, as they find out once they bring him in. Mr. Rin reveals that he and Victoria (or “Bubbles,” as he calls her) became lovers in the ’90s, but she didn’t want Ducky to find out. He was 25 years younger than her and not English, so it was scandalous. He took the ad out for her because she thought she saw Balthazar at the theater.

And the theater is where Gibbs and Bishop arrest the current Balthazar Kilmeany: Logan, Green’s son-in-law. He was Victoria’s fiance’s nephew, and his slight resemblance to him was why she thought she saw her old love. The Balthazar identity was a family heirloom passed down to anyone who needed it. The man who posed as the driver who picked up Green was caught on his way to Moscow.

And there’s good news for Ducky, as he reads in his mother’s diary that she did find another chance at love with Mr. Rin. That’s not all, as the team not only stages a reunion for Ducky and Mr. Rin in autopsy but also brings in a holiday celebration of presents and food. They toast to Ducky, who raises his own glass to his younger self next to him.

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Summer Camp’s Over! Maybe?

Fornell’s still living on Gibbs’ couch, and Emily has had enough. She’s home for the holidays (with a boyfriend!), and she thinks it’s time that her father recuperate at home and do the exercises that Gibbs has told her he’s not doing. (Fornell then calls Gibbs over to come help him with his exercises by pushing down on his pelvis, and I don’t think Gibbs has ever been so happy to get a call about a case.) Gibbs leaves them to argue in his living room as Emily blames her uncle for enabling her father, who has just realized that his daughter said she has a boyfriend. She’s too young, he protests, and she will continue to be too young for the foreseeable future. (Emily needs to show up more often.)

Emily just wants to have Christmas dinner with her father at home, so she seeks Gibbs’ permission to do what she needs to do to make it happen. She gets it, but he warns her, “Don’t burn down my house.” “Plan B then,” she replies.

It just so happens that Gibbs finds a termite in his basement. And what do you know? Emily’s boyfriend is studying to be an entomologist. (He’s a nice kid, Fornell allows, having met the kid, but he still wants Gibbs to run a background check on him.) Fornell begins to panic when he thinks of the possibility of Gibbs’ house (and therefore his microfiber couch) being tented, but when Gibbs gets word that that’s exactly what’s going to happen, Gibbs couldn’t be happier.

Fornell does finally move home by episode’s end and even tells Emily that he knows she and Jack bugged Gibbs’ house and pulled him out of his “summer camp” before the session was over. She just wanted him home for Christmas because she missed him, his daughter tells him. But just as Fornell admits that he’s gotten his fill of Gibbs — he’s a horrible conversationalist and there are only so many fireplace steaks and canned beans a person can eat — who shows up at his door but a grinning Gibbs, needing a couch to sleep on?

Do you like seeing young Ducky? Do you want to see more of the Mallards’ pasts? Are you happy to see that Fornell has finally moved home? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

NCIS season 14 returns Tuesday, January 3, 2017, at 8/7c on CBS. Want more news? Like our NCIS Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of CBS)