“In The Dark” first aired May 1, 2007.
The modus operandi for plot development on NCIS has typically been to establish a discreet mystery involving some esoteric bit of technology, usually solved in the assigned 44 minutes, and then to sprinkle that plot with some on-going tidbits about the personal lives of the NCIS staff. “In the Dark” proves no exception. The two performance elements are well balanced in this episode, adding to the compelling environment at the closing of the drama’s fourth season.
The episode opens in the studio of noted blind photographer Jackson Scott (John Billingsley) who has just provided his assistant Bryn Landers (Katie Lowes) several photo proofs requested by Vanity Fair. While inspecting them, Landers notes a dead man in the corner of the photograph. This leads Scott to enlarge the photograph where the deceased is identified as a Navy Petty Officer, which subsequently leads to a call to NCIS, interrupting Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) repairing the plumbing of love interest Army Lt. Col. Hollis Mann (Susanna Thompson).
At the photographer’s studio the teams learns that Scott was blinded ten years ago and has since relied on his other senses to find his photographic subjects, a talent that has brought him wide acclaim. In the present case Scott tells the NCIS team that he was following a strange fruity smell, slightly rotten until he arrived at the crime scene where he could only smell vomit. He took his photographs and left.
Crime scene analysis by NCIS Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) revealed that the Petty Officer had been stabbed with a folding knife found at the scene. The deceased’s dog tags had been ripped from his neck and Mossad Agent-on-Loan-to-NCIS Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) noted fresh vomit close by. During the autopsy, Special Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) updates Gibbs and Ducky on the Petty Officer's identity, one Peter Lynn, who worked in the supply corps of the Defense Logistics Agency.
Forensics Specialist Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) identified Lynn from his fingerprints and was also able to match a mitochondrial DNA profile of the vomit found at the scene with the material recovered from beneath Lynn’s fingernails. Ducky details the mugger’s meal left at the scene as containing cheese blintz, “undoubtedly a cheap Bordeaux,” and veal. Ducky goes on to discover the deceased Petty Officer had the same meal as his mugger (indicating that this murder was not a random mugging) and in a morgue drawer, a faux leopard skin bra, which he turns over to assistant Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) for disposal. Palmer calls the erstwhile Special Agent Michelle Lee (Liza Lapira) to alert her of the recovery of the evidence of their frequent workplace indiscretions and is informed there is a matching set of panties to look for also, sending Palmer into a spin.
Gibbs, Ziva, and DiNozzo go the Petty Officer’s apartment and discover several sacks of shredded documents. They bring the documents to Abby’s lab to be reconstructed, a task that even with the proper software will be time consuming. Meanwhile, Special Agent Tim McGee (Sean Murray) locates a diary on the Petty Officer's computer that indicates he was approached by someone at the Naval Inspector General’s office and asked to go on a mission.
Ziva and DiNozzo pay a visit to the Naval Inspector General’s office to follow up on McGee’s lead. They meet with a sneezing, burping Navy Cmdr. Doug Jakobsen (Terry Bozeman). DiNozzo asks Jakobsen if he is familiar with Petty Officer Peter Lynn and if he was part of the Commander’s office investigation. Jakobsen informs the two that Lynn is the subject of a classified investigation involving Lynn selling government purchasing information to competing vendors. DiNozzo informs Jakobsen of Lynn’s demise and at the same time receives a 911 text message from his amore, Dr. Jeanne Benoit (Scottie Thompson). Jakobsen concludes his comments by calling Lynn a traitor who got what was coming to him. (It is at this point that my 13-year-old son declares Jakobsen the murderer. He is five-for-five on such declarations.)
The emergency turns out to be Dr. Benoit being evicted from her apartment, which is being turned into a condominium. DiNozzo is put out by leaving work early for what is clearly not an immediate emergency. Benoit recounts all of her current living options when DiNozzo loses his mind and suggests they move in together. DiNozzo immediately regrets this suggestion. The scene changes to NCIS headquarters where Gibbs, Abby, Scott, and his assistant Landers are going over enlargements of the pictures he took the night of the murder. Abby puts up picture number six identified by Landers as the place where Scott first detected the fruit smell he followed. Gibbs asked Landers if she had been with Scott and she denied she had been and was supported by Scott, who insisted that he prefers to work alone. Abby puts up a shot of some wall graffiti that Ziva recognizes as being the restaurant where Lynn allegedly had his last meal. The team surmises that Lynn and his accomplice used a rear exit to meet in private and Scott recalled hearing a car idling when taking one of his shots. Abby blows the shot up and gets a partial license plate number.
The team determines that the partial license plate belongs to a Honda Accord belonging to a David Wong, who works in inventory management at the Defense Logistic Agency, the same place as the deceased Petty Officer. Gibbs has DiNozzo call McGee who has found the car when questioning inventory management personnel about Lynn. McGee reports that according to the staff, Lynn was not the problem, but Wong was, who had left work four hours previously for lunch and had not returned.
The scene breaks to Gibbs and Hollis Mann having a heart-to-heart. Mann wants to know how Gibbs feels about her. Gibbs lamely claims to like Mann, but has been unfocused because of the case. Mann suggests he is a “commitment-phobe.” Mann is leaving for Fort Bragg to conclude her retirement arrangements and expects some message of commitment from Gibbs when she returns.
Tony’s plight with Dr. Benoit continues as she calls to let him know she has located an apartment for the two of them, which DiNozzo is less than enthusiastic about. Benoit detects this, accusing DiNozzo of cold feet and being a commitment-phobe. DiNozzo has almost an identical conversation about being unfocused as Gibbs had with Mann. Meanwhile, the entire team has overheard this conversation waiting to get DiNozzo to go with them to Abby’s lab. Gibbs commiserates, but Ziva interrogates. Ziva confronts Tony on his reluctance for commitment as a fear of being hurt. The scene is so humid and dense; the viewer almost expects the two to kiss. This was definitely a “WTF?” moment.
Abby shows the team a special sub-audible bug hidden under the Caps Lock key on Wong's computer keyboard. It detected taps on the keyboard, each having its own unique sound. Wong was bugging himself to detect the constantly changing authentication which he used with his accomplice. The bug’s buffer retained an address that led the team to an abandoned warehouse where the team found Mr. Wong suspended by a rope from his neck until dead. Ducky declares Wong’s death a hanging. The team finds a discrepancy between “David G. Wong” from the man’s identification and what looks like “David B. Wong” on a suicide note found at the scene. McGee believes the “B” to be an invoice number “I 3,” but finds no embezzlement attached with that invoice number.
Meanwhile, Abby analyzed every face captured in Jackson Scott’s pictures taken the night of the murder. On her first pass, she found nothing, but then she considered reflected images in glass windows and through a bit of magic reproduced a picture of Bryn Landers, Scott’s assistant, who claimed not to have been with Scott that night. Under interrogation, she denies and then admits to having followed Scott. Scott, listening behind the glass, insists he would have known she was there. Ziva presents Landers with the evidence that the waiter of the restaurant the Petty Officer had attended identified her as having been there that night. Landers admits to being in love with Scott. About this time, Jimmy Palmer barges into the observation room looking for panties… I mean pipettes and Scott smells the same fruity smell he followed the night of the murder. Palmer is diabetic and he failed to take his insulin, spiked his blood glucose which led to a fruity odor to his breath.
All of this magically led the team to the office of Navy Cmdr. Doug Jakobsen, who had been embezzling money from his agency using Wong’s password. The team carefully recounts the commander’s guilt with DiNozzo adding the brilliant final touch, “…and we have come to believe it was Col. Mustard in the conservatory with a wrench.” Case closed. Back at Hollis Mann’s apartment, Gibbs is fixing her pipes and Mann jumps to the conclusion that Gibbs is going to dump her, take the offensive, never letting Gibbs respond until finally he tells her he had more work to do on her plumbing and wanted to surprise her. Mann apologizes; they kiss and make up, leaving DiNozzo and Benoit twisting in the winds of love.
In the same way that Armand Assante is perfect in his role as Le Grenouille, John Billingsley was perfect as the blind Jackson Scott. Billingsley brings whatever authenticity to a role that is necessary to drive it. His performance was outstanding. The jump from Jimmy Palmer’s fruity ketotic breath to the guilt of Navy Cmdr. Doug Jakobsen was a lot to swallow in a short amount of time at the end of the show. But all things considered, bring on the season finale.
The next episode, “Trojan Horse,” will air May 8, 2007.