‘NCIS’: Torres Painfully Faces Gibbs Leaving the Team — and Him (RECAP)

Wilmer Valderrama as Torres in NCIS
Spoiler Alert
Sonja Flemming/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for NCIS Season 19, Episode 12 “Fight or Flight.”]

“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 very worried about him.

After all, when we first see him, he’s a bloody mess in the middle of a cage fight. And 36 hours earlier, he may not be bruised, but he looks like he had a rough night. He was out late with friends, he says; he got a second wind after bailing on Special Agent Jessica Knight (Katrina Law) and forensic scientist Kasie Hines (Diona Reasonover). And that’s after he canceled plans with Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) and his wife a week earlier. “We spend all day together at work,” Torres argues. “Do we have to spend every second of our lives together, too?” Yes, the others tell him.

Then, he starts wondering if Special Agent Alden Parker (Gary Cole) is looking at Special Agent Dale Sawyer (Zane Holtz) to replace him or Knight after their performance evaluations. “Whatever, I’ve lost a job before,” he says, to Knight’s surprise. “Life goes on.”

Everyone’s noticing that something’s going on with Torres; as Dr. Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) voices when McGee and Knight join him, he’s been distanced since Alaska. (Mark Harmon‘s Leroy Jethro Gibbs officially left behind NCIS in the fourth episode this season and stayed behind in Alaska after he and McGee wrapped a case.) It could be a delayed reaction, Knight suggests. They know Torres won’t talk to Dr. Grace, but maybe he’ll open up to Palmer. “People have been known to bare their souls to you,” McGee points out.

Once Parker catches on to Torres “acting … something,” he turns to the others, who know him better, for advice. McGee suggests trying to get him to talk during a stakeout, so Parker assigns Knight to use her hostage negotiation skills to do just that. Fortunately, the case calls for one, and after starting a game of 20 Questions, Knight asks how he’s doing, admitting she’s worried about him.

Wilmer Valderrama as Torres, Rocky Carroll as Vance in NCIS

Sonja Flemming/CBS

“I’m fine, just drop it, OK?” Torres tries, but she tells him she’s trying to be a good friend. “We’re colleagues, we’re not friends. We’re supposed to have each other’s backs on the job, and that is it,” he says. “What are you talking about? I’ve only been here for a minute, and I know that’s not how Gibbs’ team works,” Knight protests. “Well, this isn’t Gibbs’ team anymore, is it?” Torres points out, revealing the heart of the problem.

Even Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) gets a front-row seat to Torres and his new attitude, when he faces off with Sawyer for an undercover op during the case; the victim was killed during an underground cage fighting match, and the two agents are going in to score a meeting with the head of the ring. Things get a bit too heated between the two, including over who’s going to 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 remarks), and they have to be pulled apart.

Heading into the fight, Torres scoffs at McGee’s use of “team,” then refuses to back down when circumstances change. Instead of facing Sawyer, Torres has to go against one of the fighters. “Screw the job,” McGee tells him. “That’s easy for you to say,” Torres replies. He won’t even back down when it’s looking really bad for him during the match, as we saw in the episode’s opening. It looks like he’s trying to get himself killed, McGee says. “Yeah, so?” Torres asks. “Who’s left to care?” McGee does. “Until you don’t,” Torres tells him. “You already have a family. You don’t need me.” Yes, McGee does, he tells his friend, after the fight is over (and Torres wins).

Wilmer Valderrama as Torres, Sean Murray as McGee in NCIS

Sonja Flemming/CBS

At the end of the episode, McGee sends Torres to Palmer to get bandaged up and for that talk “about why you’re so angry,” the ME tells the agent. “We all care about you, Nick, but you don’t have to explain yourself to me. I get it. … You feel abandoned, you feel left behind. Trust me, I do get that.” Torres thinks it’s because he was so close to the old team, but Palmer corrects him: He was angry with his wife, Breena, for dying, “even though she fought like hell to stay. How crazy is that?” He does talk to Dr. Grace, and their sessions has led Palmer to the conclusion that “sometimes people leave. Even fathers. And it’s got nothing to do with you.”

And so in the aftermath of the closest thing Torres has had to a father, Gibbs, leaving, “that’s when it’s time to lean on the people that are still here for you. You have to open yourself up to getting hurt again if you ever want to heal,” Palmer says, giving Torres something to think about.

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But this isn’t something that can be forgotten about. Torres could’ve gotten killed in that cage before McGee or anyone else could have put a stop to the fight. And Gibbs isn’t coming back anytime soon, so this team — Parker, McGee, Torres, and Knight — is the new normal. Then there’s the Bishop (Emily Wickersham) of it; Torres hasn’t really dealt with the fact that she left on an undercover mission just as they seemed to be working something out and that doesn’t even come up in this episode. In other words, this should just be the beginning of a multi-episode storyline for Torres, not a one-and-done.

In other news, Vance’s daughter is now old enough to be starting training at FLETC?! He’s keeping it as quiet as possible, but will NCIS go on long enough to see her become a junior agent or even just shadow the team during a case?

NCIS, Mondays, 9/8c, CBS