We Review the Latest Episode of NCIS SN14 EP19 – “The Wall”
One thing about NCIS, they don’t just have a superficial relationship with the veterans their fictional team fights to serve. The episodes that have the most heart are the ones that bring veteran issues to light, and this is one of those episodes.
It begins with a veterans tour of Washington, DC sites conducted by an organization called Honor Flight Network, a real charity that flies veterans from across the country to Washington so they can experience the memorials set up the the wars in which they served. We meet a particularly grumpy Vietnam War vet named Henry Rogers, played by seasoned character actor Bruce McGill. His volunteer escort, Marine Corporal Andrew Beck (Delpaneaux Wills) is trying to get him to bond with his fellow comrades, but Henry’s having none of it; he just wants to be left alone. While the two are arguing, Beck suddenly starts struggling for breath and collapses, dying in front of Henry.
Back at NCIS headquarters, our sub-sub-plot begins to unfold, revealing a bit of history between Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) and Quinn (Jennifer Esposito). McGee (Sean Murray) tells Bishop (Emily Wickersham) that he’s learned from a friend that while at FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which is never explained in any series I’ve watched) the two had an affair. The two decide they need to do some investigating, proving that no office is above water-cooler gossip.
Ducky (David McCallum) discovers the cause of Beck’s death is a tiny injection that contained botulinum. Abby (Pauley Perrette) suggests that the killer used a silenced air gun to make the injection, which would have had to be made at close range, and since those guns can only be purchased on the dark web, it would be impossible to trace. Ducky also informs Gibbs (Mark Harmon) that it could have been injected up to two hours before the time of death, so there’s no way to pinpoint when the injection was made. It seems downright impossible, but that’s never stopped Gibbs & Co.
Elsewhere, Reeves (Duane Henry) is meeting with Director Vance (Rocky Carroll) to try to get another high-risk assignment after Project Willoughby ended. Vance tells him MI-6 wants him back, but he’s not letting him go so quickly. He promises he’ll find him another risky assignment, but first, something closer to home – keeping an eye on Henry, who, like Garbo before him, just wants to be alone. It’s a job he fails at miserably. He ends up handcuffing Henry to a chair, only to lose him again while stopped at a red light on their way to the Vietnam Memorial. He later discovers that Henry had received the Navy Cross for running into fire saving most of his crew. Henry only focuses on the ones he lost, though.
Back in the investigation, McGee and Bishop discover that Beck was an all-round awesome guy, volunteering not just for Honor Flight Network, but also for Metro Ties Crisis Center, taking calls from people who just need someone to talk to about anything that concerns them. They discover that the center was hacked and that someone erased the calls from the last night that Beck volunteered there. Eventually they trace a call from a woman that lasted an extensive time. Torres and Gibbs go to ask her some questions, only to find her dead as well, with a cryptic note scribbled on an envelope.
After losing Henry yet again, Reeves comes to Gibbs to see if he knows where he is. Gibbs takes him to the one place Henry really wanted to go, despite all his protestations to the contrary, the Vietnam Memorial. He’s there in the evening, when all the crowds are gone, and the Wall is solemnly lit from below. Having been to the Wall, I can tell you it is a tremendously moving monument, but it is terribly crowded, although the weight of the place keeps everyone somber and respectful . Henry breaks down over the weight of the three lost men whose names he has come to find. Gibbs meanwhile points out the similarities between himself, Henry, and Reeves, despite their different generations. We discover that Reeves’ parents died when he was three, and all the high-risk assignments he’s been going on are his way of keeping people at bay. Like Henry, he just wants to be alone. Like Henry, he needs to know he’s not alone. The episode ends with Reeves and Gibbs escorting Henry back home, only to find a heroes welcome, arranged by Reeves, since Henry had no one at home to give him one.
The investigation takes a back seat in this episode, and in fact, seems downright trivial and far fetched. The writers choose to focus not on finding justice for a fallen soldier, which is the common theme for almost every other episode of the show, and instead focus on the soldier’s homecoming experience. The condemnation that most Vietnam-era soldiers received on returning home is practically unheard of these days, but the fact of the matter is, many soldiers suffered just for fighting in a war they didn’t even want to fight. In turn it also focuses on the universality of the fighting experience, the survivor’s guilt, and the loneliness many soldiers feel, even when they are surrounded by their loved ones. It’s a powerful moment at the end of the episode, seeing so many people welcoming Henry home, a welcome that for many, was too long in coming.