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'NCIS' 'Honor Thy Father' recap: Doing good work

'NCIS' season 11 finale "Honor Thy Father"
'NCIS' season 11 finale "Honor Thy Father"
Sonja Flemming/CBS, used with permission

The Tuesday, May 13 episode of "NCIS" is the season 11 finale, "Honor Thy Father," and its focus is on the Silver Fox himself, Gibbs. Not only does he find out that his father has died, but he also finds out that someone from his past has made quite the deadly move against him.

Compared to other season finales – not just of "NCIS," but of other shows as well – "Honor Thy Father" is, in a way, quiet, and that's how it should be. Even though Alejandro Rivera marks his return in a big way and the case that lands on the team's desks involves a fire set to mark a prison break, there isn't the sense of urgency that we've felt with other season finales. Even with a hit out on Gibbs, there's no real sense of "Oh no, what's going to happen?" and that's not just because this is Gibbs and there is no "NCIS" without him.

Instead, the episode becomes one marked by bittersweet flashbacks to Gibbs' childhood with his parents (and more so with his father, which the episode calls for) as Gibbs prepares to bury his father, with Tony taking lead on the case and responsibility for not telling Gibbs until he has no choice when Rivera become part of it and the case, while the majority of the episode, instead feeling almost like it's the B-storyline, and not in a bad way. We've had the big finales before, we've had the deaths and the explosions and the manhunts that have become personal. We didn't need that this season. What we needed was a strong end to a somewhat shaky season, and we got just that. Now, let's get to the recap:

A seemingly easy burglar takedown "Honor Thy Father" opens up with the team in the middle of a case, tracking down a burglar at a bar, with McGee and Bishop inside (and McGee awkwardly dealing with a woman flirting with him) and Tony and Gibbs spending some quality time together in the van. They catch the burglar, Wayne Levinson, in the act, and it seems easy. While he does run after seemingly giving up, they catch him easily enough, and with that, "the snail just became escargot," Tony quips. Case closed, right?

Case not so closed Wrong. The rest of the team has a case to work. A seemingly accidental galley fire on the USS Niagara turns out to be anything but, as it two prisoners escaped. Most of the prisoners had been captured based on their interrogation of Parsa, and while the Brotherhood stood to gain and the second-in-command took responsibility, they didn't have the financial capabilities to pull it off. The raft the prisoners used to escape on is found on a beach, and one of them is found dead inside, presumably no longer of use to Lateef Mir, who has been tied to the Brotherhood from the beginning and is a chameleon, highly skilled at changing his appearance.

Abby tests hairs found in the raft and determines that Mir has once again changed his appearance, but she's able to give them a composite of what he looks like, and they've got a hit: at the same bar they caught Levinson. Levinson eventually admits that the money he was taking was his, payment for untraceable guns, and the woman who dropped off the upfront money had a baby. The only name he can give them is Alejandro Rivera, and with that, Tony can't ignore Gibbs' calls any longer.

Talk about holding a grudge Tony is the one to visit Rivera in prison, but Rivera denies having any contact with Levinson since he left prison. He also comments on Gibbs' absence and remarks that Gibbs killed his father in cold blood. It turns out that Rivera's second cousin just happens to own that bar, so he already took care of the guns. But they do get a name for the woman who dropped off the money, thanks to Rivera's visitor logs: Leticia Gomez. Not wanting to lose her baby, she admits that she does jobs for Alejandro and that he contacted the Brotherhood and used cartel money to fund the prison break because they have an enemy in common. Any prisoner who escaped was ordered to hunt down and kill Gibbs.

That's when Gibbs returns to NCIS, and he doesn't care for Vance's explanation that he was respecting his situation, even when the Director brings up his own loss. "I don't need to be handled," he tells him. "I still have a job to do. …This job, it's what I have. Don't ever tell my team to hold out on me again." Scenes like that and episodes like this? Why Mark Harmon is such a wonderful lead for this show. When Gibbs arrives home, he finds the start of a flood in his basement, and when he goes to fix it, he notices the live wires. When the lights go out in his house and someone enters the basement, Gibbs, from his position flat on the stairs, takes him down, and the man falls into the water and is electrocuted.

The man burned the tips of his fingers with acid, so there are no fingerprints, but he matches the description of what Abby said Mir would look like. With that, Gibbs pays Rivera a visit to let him know he didn't win. Leticia gave him up, thanks to intel, they killed all the remaining leaders of the Brotherhood and Mir's dead. There's one major problem, though: DNA comes back and reveals it wasn't Mir. The man was a hired mercenary, and Mir set it all up. Mir is still out there and Gibbs isn't answering his phone, but even without a gun on him, he still takes him down, with the help of his father's (now unloaded) rifle and a truck.

Honoring Ralph Waite's memory It all begins when Gibbs pauses in the field and we get a flash of a memory. Then, Jackson's employee calls Vance since he didn't have Gibbs' cell number, leaving the Director to deliver the bad news: Jackson had a stroke, and he's gone. After that, the episode is filled with flashbacks, both to Waite's time as Jackson on the show (the rifle, the sweater he gave Tony, giving the Gibbs stare to Gibbs) and to Gibbs' childhood with his father. "There's a lot in this world you can't make right, but this, you can always make right," he remembers his father telling him as they worked together.

Once in Stillwater, Gibbs meets Cal, his father's employee, and Cal explains that Jackson saved his life, saved him from heading down a bad road by telling him that the world was bad enough as it was; he didn't have any right to make it any worse. It's no surprise when Gibbs gives him the store, telling him it's what Jackson would've wanted. "Just do good work."

Gibbs' NCIS family joins him for the funeral, as does LJ. "He was proud of you, Leroy," his father's friend tells him. "Proud of him too," Gibbs says, marking the poignant scene. When he gets home, he takes out a box marked Chickadee, his mother's nickname. Inside is a model boat, with that name on the side. "Water never forgets. Anyone with a boat named after them will live forever," his grandfather used to say, and with that, Gibbs gets to work.

"NCIS" will return for a 12th season in the fall on CBS. What did you think of the season 11 finale "Honor Thy Father"?

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