NCIS does flashbacks right with this episode, “Spinning Wheel.” Adam Campbell returns as the young Ducky, as the winter finale offers a look into his relationship with his younger half-brother and shows why Campbell is perfect casting for the role.

As for the case of the week, the victim ends up being someone who’s just trying to help Ducky. Instead, the real mystery is whether or not Ducky’s brother, Nicholas, is alive — and if he is, who wants him dead?

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Is This the End of Bishop’s Marriage?

With Bishop back from Oklahoma, Tony and McGee are wondering if Jake is still in the picture or not, and to their surprise, Bishop can hear everything they’re saying — even though she’s at her desk and they’re by the stairs. It’s the angle of the skylight, she explains. It causes an acoustic reflection from the stairs to her desk, just like the one from her desk to Nancy at the Far East desk. And with that, Tony is convinced he has figured out how Gibbs knows everything they’re saying; he’s found a sweet spot in the room and bides his time “like a howler monkey in heat.”

As for the status of Jake and Bishop’s relationship, he resorts to calling Gibbs to check if she’s at work since she’s not returning his calls (and he’s left a lot of voicemails apologizing). He finally just shows up at the office, and Bishop takes him to the evidence garage to talk things out. Jake is willing to apologize a thousand more times if he thinks it will make a difference, but that doesn’t help.

His affair is just a symptom of a deeper problem, they’ve realized. When they were together at the NSA, they were “happily in a bubble,” and since she left, he’s put the NSA before his wife. He wants to do whatever he has to in order to fix their marriage, but she doesn’t feel the same. “We weren’t working,” she tells him, pointing out that he didn’t even have to tell her about the affair. She thinks he wanted her to know. They’re over, and they’ve been over for a long time. I’m still not a fan of the affair storyline, but the good thing is they have Bishop make a decision instead of dragging this out. 

Ducky is Everyone’s Choice for Big Brother/Father

In flashbacks, we get to see young Ducky again and meet Nicholas, 20 years his junior, his father’s son after he remarried. Ducky calls Lorraine, Nicholas’ mother, a “ghastly, terrible woman,” and everyone knows how apt that description is.

It’s Christmas Eve, Nicholas is 8 and she has no qualms about leaving him because she has plans. But it’s not like Nicholas cares; he’s happy when she’s gone. Ducky gives his brother a replica train set for the holiday, but their evening is interrupted when he gets called to the military hospital. Though Nicholas expects to be left alone, Ducky informs him that he’s coming with him.

At the hospital, Ducky finds out that a patient insisted upon seeing him, and it turns out that was the right move because he figures out he needs surgery. Ducky sets Nicholas up in the hallway with chocolate and his stamp book, and Nicholas encourages him to go to work. (I have to admit, I was not prepared for how much I adore Ducky with his brother in these flashbacks. Well done, Adam Campbell and Andy Walken.) Then their father, Joseph, shows up and tells Ducky that Lorraine is divorcing him, but don’t celebrate just yet. (Ducky’s first reaction is “Good riddance!”) She’s also planning to leave the country with Nicholas.

While Nicholas thinks this means he’ll never see Ducky again, the young Dr. Mallard assures him that nothing will keep them apart. He’ll look everywhere for him until he finds him again. In fact, he’ll do more, as we see him turn to Angus Clarke for legal advice. Lorraine filed for full custody, though she is willing to reconsider for money, money that Joseph doesn’t have. Even so, as Angus points out, Ducky is more Nicholas’ father than Joseph is. Ducky knows that; that’s why he’s going to resign his commission, even though it’s what he’s wanted his whole life, to raise Nicholas. His brother is his life, he says, and so this isn’t a decision that requires even a second of thought.

However, just as Angus is offering to give him the money he needs to pay Lorraine, Ducky finds out that she’s packing up and leaving with Nicholas. Ducky runs home to try to stop her, but it’s no use. She’s decided that she doesn’t want the money, and all Ducky can do is watch as she and Nicholas drive off.

But that’s not going to stop Ducky from looking for his brother. The patient he treated is a Field Marshall, and he’s taking him up on the favor he owes him to get him assigned to Albania, where Lorraine seems to be heading with Nicholas. He’s going to look everywhere for him.

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Ducky’s Day Gets Off to a Rough Start

As for present day, Ducky has to give Palmer a “Fail” on cleanliness when he finds dust in autopsy. However, he then receives a call that causes him to drop what he’s holding and hurry to set up a meeting.

At the crime scene, Palmer tries his best to avoid answering Gibbs’ questions as to Ducky’s absence, but since he’s potentially facing his recurring nightmare — “You’re perfectly aware that Gibbs is capable of eating you, right?” Tony reminds him — he admits that he doesn’t know where he is. Gibbs has him call Ducky again, and they follow the phone’s ringing to a van, where Ducky is bound and gagged in the back.

Ducky explains that the call came from a man claiming to be a lawyer with information about a family member of his. When it became apparent the man was just fishing for information, Ducky left. The man followed and tried to force Ducky in the van and knocked him out when he struggled. Ducky recognizes the victim, Marine Private John Angel, from the coffee shop, but he’s not the one who attacked him. When Gibbs asks who the man was asking him about, Ducky hesitates before telling him about his half-brother, with whom he lost contact under unfortunate circumstances and who died.

The mystery behind John’s death is solved relatively quickly; he ran out to help when he heard Ducky calling for help, and he saved his life, costing him his own. They don’t know who killed him, but they do have a sketch of the man, thanks to Ducky. As for the van, it’s registered with Pimp Your Wheels, a service that allows people to rent out their cars.

The van’s owner, Sam Butler, is not the man who attacked Ducky. When Tony and McGee go to see him, they do get an ID on the person who rented the van (Rufus), and he also rented out Sam’s house. Plus, Sam saw the guy who attacked Ducky with Rufus. Oh, and Rufus is also hanging inside his house. “Did you rent him the rope too?” Tony asks.

Though it looks like a suicide, Ducky reports that it was staged. He was drowned first in the swimming pool 12 hours ago, so that’s another body on this mystery man’s hands. Rufus was visiting from Philadelphia, and he worked as a department manager at the post office. Ducky has never seen him before, but Bishop found a letter from Nicholas to Ducky hidden in his suitcase. It’s a letter that Ducky has never seen before, sent to his old flat in London, where he hasn’t been in 40 years, and it looks like Nicholas’ handwriting. He misses him, his brother (possibly) wrote. He wants to know where he is and when he’ll see him again, and he owes him a hot chocolate.

Does Ducky See His Brother Again?

When Abby examines the letter, she discovers that it was written three weeks ago, thanks to analysis of the ink. If Ducky’s brother did in fact write it, he’s still alive. And it’s looking like he did write it because Abby also finds touch DNA that is a familial match to Ducky.

Though the date on the flash drive of Rufus’ smart watch was destroyed by his trip into the pool, Abby is able to uncover the memory storage inside the on-board motion sensor and extrapolate what he was typing before he died: a Google search for a pawn shop. When Tony and McGee visit the shop; the owner confirms Rufus was in there, to pawn a rare stamp, and he was with the man in Ducky’s sketch.

With footage from the show the pawn shop was filming, they’re able to get an ID on the man: Viggo Trellis, a PI from Philadelphia. Rufus worked in a post office, and Nicholas’ letter to Ducky ended up there because it didn’t have a valid stamp. (It had one of his rare ones.) Rufus then hired Viggo to find Nicholas, and Viggo got greedy.

While they can’t trace Viggo’s phone, Bishop is able to turn the microphone on remotely, and they hear him talking to a Nicholas. Tony and McGee recognize chimes they hear from Sam’s house, and Ducky insists on going with them. Though he waits outside, when he hears gunshots he runs in. Viggo’s dead, and there is a Nicholas Mallard there, but he’s the wrong Nicholas Mallard.

As Ducky later tells Palmer, a relative told him that Nicholas and Lorraine were killed in a car crash in Prague. The next day, he volunteered for an assignment in an Afghan refugee camp. A broken man has no place in polite society, he explains. When he heard that his brother was dead, it almost killed him. He doesn’t know if he can go through that again.

But wait, there’s good news! The rest of the team come in with presents for Ducky. There are plane tickets in Lorraine and Nicholas’ names to Albania, an application for a name change for Lorraine, an application for United States residency in 1987 and most important of all: where Nicholas is now. Yes, he’s alive. He’s in a nursing home outside Philadelphia. He has early-onset Alzheimer’s, but he’s healthy.

At the nursing home, a nurse reveals that a couple weeks ago, Nicholas got out and took a bus into the city. They found him at a post office. She warns Ducky that while his brother is happy, he has no recollection of his former life and hasn’t for years. That doesn’t stop Ducky from going over to him and handing his brother his train. “I think you may have dropped this. I thought you might be looking for it.” And Nicholas does remember him. “You got my letter. You found me, Donnie. You found me.” Ducky told him he would, and the brothers hug. I can’t remember the last time the ending of an NCIS episode made me this happy.

NCIS season 13 returns Tuesday, January 5 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.