Season 8 Episode 18

Out of the Frying Pan

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Mar 22, 2011 on CBS

Episode Recap

A parking enforcement officer and his partner pull up behind a car illegally parked on a street. The partner suggests that they simply ask the homeowner to move the car, but the officer insists that they must be taught a lesson. As the officer writes the parking ticket, the partner goes to the front door � and through the beveled glass door, sees a bloodied body of a man lying in the foyer, with a bloody axe nearby.

McGee, Tony and Ziva arrive at the office all at the same time for the first time since, as Ziva notes, "spring, 2006." "Ah, yes, I remember it well," quotes Tony. "I wore grey, you wore blue." "I wore green," Ziva corrects him. "I was kidding," protests Tony. "I was not," Ziva declares. As they enter their office, they are surprised by stacks of file boxes. As they begin to examine them, McGee guesses that they may belong to Barrett and her team, which piques Ziva's curiosity � Tony is remarkably quiet while Ziva and McGee speculate, and Tony finally volunteers that Barrett is off setting up temporary housing and the rest of her team is still abroad � she won't be back for a couple of weeks. Ziva gives him a searching look, as he finishes, weakly, ". . . or so I've heard." McGee realizes that the files are from a metro police case, from two weeks previously. Gibbs strides in and the team begins to spring into action. "Gear up, boss?" asks Tony, but Gibbs says no. However, a voice overrides him: "Gear up." It's Vance, speaking from the stairwell. The team looks up, startled. "What?" asks Gibbs, and Vance tells them that they have a body that has been at the morgue for the last two weeks. "Mysterious," mutters Tony, but gathers his backpack. Gibbs waves him down, telling him, "Stand down, Skippy," as he goes to confront Vance.

Files are spread on Vance's conference table. Vance tells Gibbs that the victim was a retired Marine colonel, Gil Peyton., a 25-year decorated veteran, who was struck seven times with an axe. Gibbs wonders why they are fooling with it, and Vance says that metro turned it over to the U.S. Attorney's office, who kicked it back because they didn't think they had enough evidence for a conviction. However, the U.S. Attorney is an old friend of Vance's, an old JAG officer who called in a favor � he knows that NCIS has two of the best interrogators in the business � and Gibbs is one of them. Gibbs asks him, "Who is the other one?" but Vance ignores the question, going on to explain that Metro is convinced they have the killer, but the evidence is circumstantial, and they need what amounts to a confession. Gibbs points out that the victim is retired, and therefore out of their jurisdiction, but Vance says that they are making an exception, since the military has a vested interest in who gets the survivors' benefits. Gibbs wants to know why the favor � and Vance explains that the U.S. Attorney is up for a federal judgeship. "We're taking this on so you friend can get a better tee time?" inquires Gibbs, which angers Vance. "No. We're taking on this case to get a guy that killed a Marine. We need to get a monster to admit that he's a monster. Can you do it?"

The team reviews the files, and agree that Metro had a strong case � a witness that put the suspect at the scene of the crime, things missing from the crime scene found in his car, etc. Ziva wonders why they didn't prosecute, but Tony explains that they wanted a stronger case, with a confession, otherwise they are embarrassed. He goes into detail, explaining how they should interrogate the suspect: "We get into the killer's head, back him into a corner, catch him in a lie, push the right button, and then, 'poof'!" McGee points out that Metro interviewed the suspect for 27 hours straight with no results, but Tony is confident. He receives a call from Gibbs, telling him to come down to Interrogation. As Tony and Gibbs approach Interrogation, Tony is repeating tongue twisters, to loosen up in preparation for the interview. Gibbs shakes his head, smiling. Opening the door, he greets the suspect � a young, clean-cut teenage boy with dark red hair. "Thanks for coming in, Nick," Gibbs says, offering his hand to shake, "We'd like to ask you a few questions." The boy is polite, and asks if it's ok to have a cup of water.

Vance observes the beginning of the interrogation � good cop/bad cop, with Tony as Bad Cop. Nick is the victim's son, and Tony tells him that they believe that he killed his dad, because he had "means, opportunity and motive." Tony is circling the table talking, as Gibbs watches the boy, who tells Tony that he probably won't be able to get any further than the police did. Observing the boy's hands, Gibbs suddenly asks, "Are you a skater?" "Yeah," says Nick, flexing his scabbed hands. There are two conversations going on � Tony is discussing opportunity and motive, Gibbs is quizzing him on how he tore up his hands. Nick explains that he had an accident and fell in a parking garage when a car came around a corner suddenly. Tony begins to explore a motive, observing that a Marine pension isn't worth killing over. As he talks, he begins to roll up his shirt sleeves, and Nick nervously asks, "How long are we going to be here?" "A while," Tony assures him. "Where were you when your Daddy died?" Tony asks, but Nick is distracted by Gibbs thumping his watch on the table, and muttering, "I think my watch died � do you know what time it is, Nick?" Nick thinks it's about 2:00, and Gibbs checks his cell phone. "Pretty close � 2:10. So," Gibbs continues, looking him in the eye, "Did you kill your father, Nick?" Nick grits his teeth and tells them that that's why he didn't need a lawyer � he didn't do it, because he loved him. Tony is skeptical, and tells Nick that they are going to prove he is lying, and then he'll go to prison. Nick is nervous.

In Autopsy, Ducky is reciting part of a poem, "Here comes a candle, to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper, to chop off your head! Chop, Chop!" he recites as he undoes the stitches from the previous autopsy on Colonel Peyton. Ziva, entering, tells Ducky that she knew he talked to the dead, but didn't know he recited poetry. Ducky goes on to declaim the popular Lizzy Borden poem, "Lizzy Borden took an axe, and gave her mother 40 wacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41." Ziva glances and the body and says, "I only see 7 wacks," and Ducky tells her that the previous autopsy listed the strikes as the cause of death, and it was probably a crime of rage from someone who knew the victim well. Ducky tells Ziva that he has copies of Nick's transcripts with Metro, and will go over them to try to gain some insight into the young man. "Man? Boy � he's 18, but he barely looks 12!" exclaims Ziva, but Ducky cautions her that looks can be deceiving.

In the evidence garage, Abby is working on a crime scene reconstruction, referring to photos of the crime scene. McGee joins her and she points out highlights of the scene, including a tablet P.C. which was "drowned in the blood." McGee wonders if Metro was able to revive it, and Abby tells him that they tried, "but I think it needs a Timmy Touch." McGee wonders how a son could kill his father, and Abby tells him that the tox screen that was run when Nick was arrested showed an entire cocktail of prescription drugs � "The nice Nick in interrogation could be a totally different Nick when he's blitzed out of his mind," declares Abby. McGee doesn't remember Nick being on any medications, and Abby tells him that with the drugs in his system, there's no telling what his reaction may have been.

McGee and Ziva go to visit a rehab center that Nick had been in three times before. The doctor, Dr. Gracey, tells them that Nick had a drug problem with pills and some violent outbursts when intoxicated, but that he was basically a good kid. He was a challenge, because he never completed a full course of rehabilitation. She can't comment on what Nick told her in therapy, but tells them that even though Nick is strong willed and independent, she can't imagine him killing his father.

Back in Interrogation, the table has been removed, and Nick is sitting alone in a chair in the middle of the room. "What going on?" he asks, nervously. "Movies," replies Gibbs, and hitting a remote, a collage of home movies of Nick and his dad begin to play. Nice looks in his lap. "I thought he threw those away," he says. Vance joins Tony in the observation room, and asks if there's any reaction. "Not a tear," says Tony. "Clearly Oedipus and Rex didn't get along." Vance hands Tony Nick's juvenile records. "Sealed juvenile records?" inquires Tony. "Not sealed anymore," says Vance. Tony smiles. "I feel bad for any guy that wants to date your daughter," he tells Vance. "So do I," says Vance with a smile. The unsealed records show three violent altercations that the cops had to break up over the last two years. "Yelling, screaming � sounds like one of Ziva's family reunions," Tony quips. The colonel tried to enroll Nick in military school before his last deployment, but couldn't find one that would take him. "For a kid who says he loved his father, he's never called him 'Dad' once," observes Tony. "He hates him," Vance agrees, which gives them motive that Metro never had. "It's a pressure point � and it's time to start pressing -- hard," declares Vance.

The movies end, and Gibbs drags a chair in front of Nick. "Your dad takes a good picture," he comments. "Hoo-rah," says Nick sarcastically. Gibbs observes, "You hate him. Why? Military school? Rehab?" Nick rolls his eyes and tells Gibbs that it's not going to work � he didn't kill him. "I said I didn't want a lawyer � but I'd like a diet cream soda now, please, if you have one." Gibbs looks away to hide a look of surprise.

McGee pauses as he walks by the office � He sees E.J.'s desk neatly arranged, and he attempts to open a locked file drawer. "What are you doing, McGee?" asks Ziva from across the room. "Nothing," says McGee guiltily, and Ziva tells him that Tony is a bad influence on him. "Do you lock your desk?" he asks Ziva. When she say no, he says, "Exactly! What is it about us that Barrett doesn't trust?" "Aw, stay out of her drawers, McGee," Gibbs says, as he joins them. Ziva and McGee tell him that they cannot track Nick's mother, Donna Peyton, who disappeared two years previously. No cell phone or credit cards � "she off the grid," declares McGee. "Maybe the colonel is not the first parent Nick has murdered," suggests Ziva, and Gibbs tells them to find her, "or her body."

McGee and Ziva interview neighbors. One of them, Stafford, says that Donna left years ago, unhappy with Peyton's deployments, "and Nick � he was kind of a nightmare kid." He tells them that he saw Nick there the night of the murder when he parked his car on the curb in front of the neighbor's house, stumbled out and dropped a Beltway Burger bag on his lawn. He tells them that Nick and his dad were arguing, "Money � drugs � rehab � the same old arguments." He then tells Ziva that he lost his teenage daughter the year before to a drug overdose. "You try to protect them � but it's hard."

Back in Interrogation, Gibbs places a bag from Beltway Burgers on the table and offers Nick a hamburger. He refuses, telling Gibbs that he's a vegan. Gibbs offers a milkshake. "Vegan," repeats Nick. Taking a bit of the hamburger, Gibbs tells him that he's heard otherwise. They show him a photo of him stopping by Beltway Burgers, and Gibbs adds, "and she remembers that you like your burgers 'Whammy ." Nick shakes his head. Tony reminds him that he used his credit card to buy a ticket to watch "Casablanca" at a movie theatre. "Odd choice of movie for a kid your age," comments Tony, and then reminds Nick of a scene from the movie, where "Rick is jumping up and down on that bed full of money shouting, 'God Bless America!' Remember that scene, Nick?" Nick smiles hesitantly and says, "Yeah, it's pretty good," and they laugh over it. Gibbs then interjects that, while he hasn't seen many movies, he has seen that one � and that scene isn't I the movie." Nick is startled into consternation, and Gibbs finally asks him if he is absolutely certain that he did not kill his father that night." "No," Nick responds unsteadily.

Nick is left alone in Interrogation, surrounded by family pictures. Vance and Gibbs observe him agitated and pacing. "This kid's on the ropes � let's knock him out," growls Vance. "This isn't a prize fight," objects Gibbs, who is concerned that additional pressure at that point will cause Nick to shut down. Vance persists, and Gibbs says, "You really want that buddy of yours to be a judge, don't you? Or is there something else you want to tell me?" Vance grimaces, and tells Gibbs he has three hours before he goes in himself.

Ducky tells Gibbs that Metro did a thorough job on their interrogation of Nick, but that there was a mistake made on the autopsy � turns out that there were two kind of head wounds, ones made by an axe, and another by a smooth, blunt object. Ducky suggests that perhaps Nick hit his dad with the first object, and then proceeded to attack his father with the axe in a drug-induced haze � or else, someone else made it look like that's what happened in order to frame him.

In the lab, Abby has been able to resurrect the "zombie" tablet PC, with the help of "Dr. McFrankenstein." They have discovered a series of passionate emails that Peyton exchanged with Dr. Ellen Gracey, Nick's doctor at the rehab center � something she failed to mention to McGee and Ziva. Also, while looking at Gracey's cell phone records, she received a phone call 10 minutes after the murder from a service station pay phone two blocks from the crime scene. McGee can't find any cameras in the neighborhood to check who it might be � but Gibbs tells him to take Ziva with him. McGee and Ziva confront Dr. Gracey, who admits to lying because it was unethical and unprofessional. Ziva asks if Nick knew she was seeing his dad, and Dr. Gracey shakes her head. McGee asks who called her, and she says that she was with a patient and the call went to voice mail, but that it was Nick. McGee asks to hear the message, but Dr. Gracey begins crying. When McGee reminds her that he can get a warrant, she pulls out her cell phone and replays a message from a distraught Nick, who is heard saying hysterically, "Where are you? He's dead � he's dead!"

It's Vance's turn in Interrogation, and he comes down the hall carrying an axe like the one used to kill Peyton. "It's showtime," Vance declares, and Gibbs reminds him, "You're bringing down a kid, Vance, not a tree." Vance is unimpressed, and enters Interrogation full-tilt. He demands to know if Nick has seen the axe before, but Nick says he hasn't. Vance goes on to say that Peyton was a hero, but that his son was a failure. Nick is tired, and teary, and repeats that his father loved him. Vance then asks him if his mother loved him, too. Vance is turning the screws: "Then why did she leave you? For that matter, why did your dad leave you? Was it to serve his country? Or just to get the hell away from you?" Nick is upset, and asks for Gibbs, but Vance ignores him. Gibbs is watching impassively from Observation. Suddenly Vance softens, and tells Nick that he is proud of him � it's a hard thing to do, to kill a man � and asks him if he remembers what it was like. He glances at Gibbs, and Gibbs plays back the phone message with Dr. Gracey: "Omigod, he's dead � there's blood everywhere � he's dead. Oh, my God." Vance goes on to paint his idea of what happened � Peyton was angry at Nick for ruining his life, for making his wife leave, and he did the worst thing a father could do � he gave up on Nick. "How do you know?" sniffs Nick, and Vance explodes, "Because he was a friend of mine!" Gibbs is taken aback. Vance continues: Peyton was an instructor at the Naval War College, someone that Vance admired, and who told Vance that he had told Nick to get out of the house and out of his life. "I was never in his life," retorts Nick, "The Corps was. 'God Bless the U.S. Marines'" he finishes, bitterly. Angrily, Vance takes the axe and slams it into the photo of Peyton. Startled, Nick leans back, and Gibbs watches alertly. "Is that what it felt like? Did it feel good?" demands Vance and Nick, sobbing, breaks down, "Yes, I killed him. And I'm glad he's dead." Vance leaves and rejoins Gibbs in observation, and tells him to tell the U.S. Attorney that they have their confession. Gibbs turns back to gaze at Nick. "There's just one problem, Leon � I don't believe him," he says.

In the office, the team is reviewing Vance's interrogation of Nick. "It looks like a confession," admits McGee. "It sounded like a confession," adds Tony. "It was clearly a confession," declares Ziva. "Except � Gibbs doesn't buy it," adds McGee. As Vance walks up behind them, unobserved, they wonder why Gibbs is skeptical. "I'd like to know the same thing," answers Vance grimly, as Gibbs appears on the other end of the office. Gibbs walks up to Vance and says softly, "Not here." The team tries very hard to look elsewhere as Vance and Gibbs go to Vance's office. Gibbs is angry, and asks Vance if he doesn't think it was a conflict of interest that Vance knew Peyton. When Vance reminds him that he got a confession, Gibbs tells him that "before you got all Paul Bunyon in there, he couldn't even look at a picture of his father!" Vance asserts that it is because Nick hated him, but Gibbs maintains that it was because he was afraid of his father, and the only time Nick ever confronted his fear of his father was with Vance. "Gibbs, we have a taped confession!" exclaims Vance. "You swung your axe at a scared kid, Director. If one person on a jury finds coercion in that, he will walk." "My confession trumps your gut, Gibbs, I'm calling the U.S. Attorney," declares Vance, reaching for the phone. Gibbs is angry: "This wasn't a favor � this was an execution! He didn't do it," he says as he slams out of the office. "Where are you going?" demands Vance. "To talk."

Gibbs and Nick are sitting on a bench outside as Nick wolfs down a hot dog. "I thought you were a vegan?" asks Gibbs. "Huh?" asks Nick. "Well, either you're a bad liar � or you're a bad vegan," smiles Gibbs. "I don't know what I am anymore," sighs Nick, and Gibbs tells him, "You're hungry � eat your hot dog." A moment passes, and then Gibbs gently asks him, "Why did you confess?" Nick says that he doesn't remember enough to prove I didn't, and you showed me enough to prove I did. So I did it � right?" he asks fearfully. Gibbs shrugs and tells him, "I don't think so." Nick goes on to say that he can't bear to look at a picture of Peyton because he remembers seeing the body on the ground � why do I remember seeing that?" "Because you did � you came home that night and found his body," says Gibbs, and goes on to say that between the fear and guilt and pills, Nick ran away from the scene. "You giving me a free pass?" asks Nick skeptically. "How do you know I'm not playing you?" "I don't," admits Gibbs, and then opens up a conversation about Nick's mother. Nick believes that she left because she couldn't take Peyton's deployments and Nick's behavior any longer, and then goes on to tell Gibbs that the main reason he went into rehab the first time was to see his girlfriend, Megan, who was also in the same rehab. She would sneak in pills and they would slip out and get high, but Megan, who was his best friend and next door neighbor, died six months before of a drug overdose. Gibbs begins to connect the dots . . .

In interrogation, Gibbs shows Megan's picture to Stafford and commiserates that he probably blamed Nick for Megan's drug use. Then, showing a picture of a pile of wood in the backyard, Gibbs asks, "Where's your axe?" and then goes on to point out that he was the only one who put Nick at the scene of the crime. Gibbs reminds him that he confronted Nick when he drove up that night, and Stafford admits that Peyton came out to "rescue" him. "He was defending him," suggests Gibbs, but the neighbor isn't buying it. "He was enabling him!" he declares, and then goes on to say that Nick should have been thrown in jail long ago and then Megan would have been safe. Gibbs observes that Stafford doesn't blame Nick so much as he blames Peyton. "She dead because he was a lousy father! He killed my girl!" he exclaims. "And you made him pay for it?" inquires Gibbs mildly. He clams up, and demands a lawyer. "You're going to need one," murmers Gibbs. "I didn't do it � I don't care what that kid or his mother says," Stafford insists, and Gibbs reminds him that the mother is gone. However, Stafford saw her in the house the night before . . .

Gibbs tells McGee to pull the phone records from the Peyton house for the last 24 hours. McGee is puzzled � "But Nick's been here ," he objects, but Gibbs tells him to do it again. Pulling up the records, he finds six incoming calls from a prepaid cell phone. "You'd think anyone calling would know he was dead by now," says McGee, but Gibbs tells him, "They weren't for the father."

Nick is in a café when his mother walks in, excited to see him. She gives him a big hug, but Nick wants to know why she left. She tells him that she couldn't be a good mom back then, "but I can now!" He asks her if she is back on her meds, and she hesitates before saying, "No, they made me worse." He asks her when she got back, and, confused, she says, "Two weeks ago, maybe?" and then says that she stopped by the house and Nick had just left, but she wanted to talk to his father. Nick asks her what happened, but she begins to cry, and he whispers, "Oh, no." She tells him that her father told her that she wasn't a part of Nick's life anymore, and, angered, she lashed out at him. "I didn't think I had hit him that hard," she cries, and even though Nick tells her that she should stop talking, she goes on to tell him that she panicked and got an axe from next door, to keep Nick out of trouble and throw suspicion on Stafford. He sighs, and shows her a microphone taped to his shirt. Stunned, she asks what it is, and as Gibbs enters the café, Nick stands, leans over, and tenderly kissing his mom on the forehead, he turns and hands Gibbs the concealed tape recorder and leaves.

Back at the office, the team is sealing the evidence boxes back up, and Gibbs tells them to move them out of the office. Tony asks Gibbs if he thinks the kid is going to be ok, and Gibbs answers shortly, "Don't know � it's up to him, now," as he gazes up at Vance, who is staring down at them from the walkway in front of MTAC. As Vance receives a phone call, Gibbs turns away, and we hear E.J. Barrett on the other end of Vance's call, "I got your message." "I'm glad you called," Vance tells her, smiling, and turns toward his office. Gibbs goes to Interrogation, and gazes thoughtfully at the table with the axe cut scarring the middle of it. He turns off the lights, and remains silhouetted in the doorway, as still as a statue.

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