NCIS (RECAP): Nick Torres Painfully Faces With Gibbs’ Departure From the Team — and Him

“Life goes on,” Special Agent Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) says at one point in the latest NCIS episode, but that’s easier said than done, and his actions and words have the rest of the team concerned.

After all, he’s a bloody mess in the middle of a cage fight when we first see him. And, while he isn’t bruised, he appears to have had a rough night 36 hours earlier. He says he was out late with friends and got a second wind after bailing on Special Agent Jessica Knight (Katrina Law) and forensic scientist Kasie Hines (Diona Reasonover). And this after canceling plans with Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) and his wife just a week before. “We spend the entire day together at work,” Torres claims. “Does that mean we have to spend every second of our lives together?” Yes, the others confirm.

Then he begins to wonder if Special Agent Alden Parker (Gary Cole) is considering Special Agent Dale Sawyer (Zane Holtz) to replace him or Knight following their performance evaluations. “Whatever, I’ve lost a job before,” he says, surprising Knight. “Life continues.”

Everyone notices that something is wrong with Torres; as Dr. Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) points out when McGee and Knight join him, he’s been separated since Alaska. (In the fourth episode of this season, Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs officially left NCIS and stayed in Alaska after he and McGee finished a case.) Knight speculates that it could be a delayed reaction. They know Torres won’t talk to Dr. Grace, but perhaps he’ll confide in Palmer. “People have been known to bare their souls to you,” says McGee.

When Parker notices Torres “acting… something,” he seeks advice from those who are more familiar with him. McGee suggests trying to get him to talk during a stakeout, so Parker assigns Knight to do just that. Fortunately, the case requires one, and after launching into a game of 20 Questions, Knight inquires about his well-being, admitting her concern for him.

“I’m fine, just let it go, OK?” Torres makes an attempt, but she tells him she’s just trying to be a good friend. “We’re coworkers, not friends.” “On the job, we’re supposed to have each other’s backs, and that’s it,” he says. “What are you on about?” “I’ve only been here a minute, and I already know that’s not how Gibbs’ team operates,” Knight protests. “This isn’t Gibbs’ team any longer, is it?” Torres emphasizes, revealing the crux of the problem.

Even Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) gets a firsthand look at Torres and his new attitude when he teams up with Sawyer for an undercover op during the case; the v1ct1m was k1ll3d during an underground cage fighting match, and the two agents are going in to meet with the ring’s leader. Things get a little heated between the two, especially when it comes to deciding who will win (“Why don’t we just stick to the plan, or McGee and I will get in the ring?” “No one wants to see that,” Parker observes), and they must be separated.

Torres scoffs at McGee’s use of the word “team” before the fight, then refuses to back down when the situation changes. Torres will have to face one of the fighters instead of Sawyer. “Screw the job,” McGee says. “That’s simple for you to say,” Torres responds. He won’t even back down when the odds are stacked against him during the match, as we saw in the episode’s opening. McGee believes he is attempting to assassinate himself. “Okay, so?” Torres inquires. “Who cares anymore?” McGee is correct. “Until you don’t,” Torres says. “You’ve already got a family. You don’t require my assistance.” After the fight, McGee tells his friend, “Yes, McGee does” (and Torres wins).

At the end of the episode, McGee sends Torres to Palmer to be bandaged and to talk about “why you’re so angry,” as the ME tells the agent. “We all love you, Nick, but you don’t have to justify yourself to me. I understand… You feel abandoned, as if you’ve been left behind. “Believe me, I understand.” Torres believes it is because he was so close to the old team, but Palmer corrects him: he was angry with his wife, Breena, for dying, “despite the fact that she fought like hell to stay.” “How insane is that?” He does speak with Dr. Grace, and their conversations have led Palmer to the conclusion that “people leave. Fathers, too. And it has absolutely nothing to do with you.”

So, in the aftermath of the departure of the closest thing Torres has had to a father, Gibbs, “that’s when it’s time to lean on the people who are still here for you.” “If you ever want to heal, you have to be willing to be hurt again,” Palmer says, giving Torres something to think about.

But this isn’t something that should be overlooked. Torres could have been k1ll3d in that cage before McGee or anyone else could have intervened. And since Gibbs isn’t returning anytime soon, this team — Parker, McGee, Torres, and Knight — has become the new normal. Then there’s the Bishop (Emily Wickersham) of it; Torres hasn’t dealt with the fact that she left on an undercover mission just as they appeared to be working something out, and it’s not even mentioned in this episode. In other words, this should be the start of a multi-episode storyline for Torres, rather than a one-and-done.

In other news, Vance’s daughter has reached the age of eligibility to begin training at FLETC?! He’s trying to keep it quiet, but will NCIS keep her around long enough for her to become a junior agent or even just shadow the team during a case?