Last time on NCIS, Tony and Bishop foiled an assassination attempt at the airport right before Thanksgiving. We also got to meet Bishop’s often-mentioned, but never before seen, husband Jake. I am not sure what I expected, but I do think that Bishop and her husband have some chemistry.

This week’s winter finale, “House Rules,” promises to be a holiday treat for NCIS fans. While writing a letter to his father, McGee reflects on Gibbs’ many life rules. The team also uses three cyber-terrorists that they helped convict when the Internet goes down in Washington DC one week before the holidays. Now that’s not very jolly, is it?

Letter to My Father

We kick off in McGee’s festively decorated apartment on Christmas Eve as he sits down at his trusty typewriter to write a letter to his father, with whom he has a strained relationship. His father is undergoing treatments for cancer. He decides to write about a case that NCIS had the previous week because it reminded him about rules and about their relationship.
We jump back to the previous week, and Gibbs is enjoying some dinner and a western on television. His movie is interrupted by the news that the Internet is down and that it may be the result of hackers. Or it could just be a coincidence. That brings up Gibbs’ rule # 39: “There is no such thing as a coincidence.”

McGee goes on to write that his father was so tough that Tony compared him to “The Great Santini.” McGee also knows that his father respects Gibbs because he also lives his life by a set of rules. In McGee’s memory, we see a flashback to Tony and Ziva discussing rule #3: “Never be unreachable.” This is awesome! It is a great trip down memory lane to see Ziva and Tony again back in the day.

Almost Christmas Break

Meanwhile, at NCIS headquarters, Bishop and Tony roll into the office on a Saturday night just before they were scheduled for holiday leave. Bishop is in the sweats that she sleeps in, and Tony was on a date at the firing range. The military still has access to its computers, but an attack that could hobble the entire city’s Internet takes an incredible amount of planning.

Gibbs needs a bit of help with the technology lingo, so Bishop does a demonstration by asking Gibbs to open drawers in a filing cabinet so that she can say that it won’t open because she is pretending to use it. Gibbs isn’t a fan of this particular game and asks Bishop to get to the point. She believes that this action is the precursor to someone trying to take out a power grid, transportation or a targeted data breach. Since McGee is working with the cyber-division, Tony and Bishop try to talk their way out of work, but Gibbs responds by saying that break doesn’t begin until they know what is going on.

A Hacker Identified

McGee comes to Abby’s lab after the cyber-division people kick him out. They now know the username of the hacker trying to unite other hackers. His name is Krampus. Apparently, in German lore, while good kids get presents from St. Nick, bad ones are eaten by Krampus. Yikes!

No one knows Krampus’ real identity, but Abby identifies three people who have had past interactions with Krampus. The first is former NCIS Systems Administrator Kevin Hussein, who tried to sell a computer virus to terrorists. The second contact is Heidi Partridge, who is a dark webmaster. Rounding out the group is Ajay Khan, a cyber-terrorist. Abby thinks that they can get the information they need from them. McGee begs Abby to keep her discovery to herself because he does not want to spend time dealing with the three incarcerated hackers. Abby has already sent the information to Tony.

Breaking the Rules

McGee wastes no time in making the case to Gibbs that going to three different prisons to talk to three hackers is a big waste of time. Gibbs agrees, and that is why they are coming to NCIS. It is Tony’s idea, and a relieved McGee asks if Tony is the lead on the case. Gibbs tells McGee that he is the lead because he “speaks geek.”  After Gibbs heads out, Tony tells McGee to get the answers fast so that his Christmas break can begin. McGee asks if it is worth breaking rule #1, “Never put your suspects together,” and “Never screw over your partner.”

When the transport van arrives the next morning with three unhappy hackers, McGee is furious. Tony sees that they may be able to use the situation to their advantage. As soon as one of the hackers remembers McGee as “the computer nerd,” McGee tries to act threatening, but it looks, well, a bit less than threatening. We flash back to an argument between Gibbs and Mike Franks regarding rule #10: “Never get personally involved on a case.”

Threat Over?

Bishop and Tony talk with the hackers in the conference room. Heidi and Ajay seem committed to not helping, but for a moment, Kevin almost decides to help NCIS. The hackers know that something big must be happening, but they refuse to help without computer or MTAC access. Tony gets a call from Gibbs that the threat is over and the Internet is back. McGee is elated, while Abby is suspicious. McGee runs a test and it comes back that one server is still under attack. McGee refers back to rule #36, “If you feel like you’re being played, you probably are,” and rule #40, “If you think someone is out to get you, they are.”

Krampus is targeting Congressional e-mails, much to the amusement of the hackers. Bishop is taking the felons out when Gibbs tells her to stop. McGee doesn’t want to let any of them near a computer, but Gibbs invokes rule #5: “Don’t waste good.”

Adventures in Babysitting

Poor McGee is babysitting the hackers, who try and convince him that they can help before the e-mails are leaked to the American people. McGee is unmoved and leaves when he gets a text message that a body is being brought in. The dead man was found at the server farm. The hackers are once again out of their room, and it is Gibbs’ idea. He wants them to identify the body while watching the autopsy. Suffice it to say that they are less than thrilled, but somewhere along the line, they start to become interested in who the man was and how he is related to Krampus. Another famous rule is recalled, rule #15: “Always work as a team.” I love the clips of Tony being beaten up in hand to hand combat with Kate and Gibbs.

While the naughty hackers sit in the hall, McGee confides in Abby that surgery is his father’s only treatment option now and he has one scheduled for this week. Abby feels terrible that McGee didn’t explain why he didn’t want to be lead on the case. A moment later, Heidi discovers new computer monitors in a storage closet, bringing up two other rules. Rule #3, “Don’t believe that you are told — double check,” and rule #8, “Never go anywhere without your knife.”

One Lying Hacker

Apparently, Heidi lied about having Internet access in prison and also hooked up Krampus with some of her dark web contacts. Ajay is told that he has a call from his lawyer and is put in interrogation, where instead he finds Gibbs. Gibbs and McGee offer to put in a good word with their contacts so that he can be a consultant if he continues to flirt with Heidi and distract her. McGee gives Ajay a cell phone that he supposedly stole from Bishop that he can give to Heidi to warn Krampus that NCIS is going undercover online. The hacker agrees, but Gibbs hands McGee a note that Abby says to wait. This flies in the face of rule # 22: “Never, ever bother Gibbs in interrogation.”

Abby and Ducky have discovered that the dead man, Lyle Triggett, at the server farm died from a rare disease that caused an inability to fall asleep, which led to heart failure. Krampus has put the intelligence that he stole up for bid. McGee reflects on how rule #12, “Never date a co-worker,” is often broken by the team, such as Jenny Shepard and Gibbs, and Abby and McGee. We also get a sexy flashback of Tony and Ziva undercover as a married couple.

Frustration Boils Over

While the hackers attempt to supervise the creation of the undercover identity, McGee gets a phone call from his sister saying that his father has cancelled his surgery. A frustrated McGee yells that he was supposed to be there to talk his dad into having the surgery.
Heidi uses this opportunity to ask for a chance to use the ladies room. Gibbs uncuffs her, and she heads off to the restroom.

Ajay convinces the team that he can play his role, and sneaks in after her and offers her the cell phone. The team is horrified when they see the couple turn the phone on and start making out. Yes, Ajay spilled the beans to Heidi, and she wants a lawyer now. Gibbs doesn’t like to involve lawyers — rule #13. McGee also recalls rule #42: “Never accept an apology from someone who just sucker-punched you.”

A Good Lead

Bishop and Abby discover Krampus’ real name —  Douglas VonDorothy. They followed information from Triggett’s chats and found that VonDorothy was the only one who fit the profile. VonDorothy is in Wisconsin. Gibbs tells Tony to have the Chicago office pick him up, but McGee feels like something is wrong. When Gibbs suggests asking Heidi, McGee gets angry. He tells Gibbs that asking these criminals anything is just a further waste of time. Gibbs tells him simply, “Rule #51.” Gibbs adds that he wrote it down once, and McGee remembers the words “Sometimes you’re wrong.”

McGee meets with the hackers again and shows Krampus’ file. Kevin is upset because of Krampus’ history of stalking women for hire and holding pictures of underage girls for ransom. McGee appeals to Heidi, saying that she has made bad choices, but that doesn’t mean she is a bad person. She admits to knowing where Krampus is and gives McGee the information.

McGee, in his letter, tells his father that Gibbs’ rules are there to prevent problems, but they also protect you because other people on the team are there to save you. We see a moving montage of clips from the past, like Kate sleeping next to Tony in the isolation chamber and Tony freeing Gibbs from a submerged car.

Fathers and Sons

VonDorothy is arrested, and McGee admits to his father that he learned a lot from his rules, too. He also tells his father how much he appreciates all the difficult work that he did. The hackers helped Tony and Bishop install the new monitors at McGee’s desk, which freaks out McGee. Gibbs tells McGee to go and see his father, who postponed the surgery to spend time with his family.

At the end, we see McGee reading his letter, sitting in the room with his father’s casket. An emotional McGee tenderly tucks the letter into the casket before thanking his father one final time.

I really liked how this episode focused on Gibbs’ rules and the relationship between McGee and his dad. I must admit that I was surprised that McGee’s father had passed away, but I though the last few minutes of the episode were extremely touching.

NCIS 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.