‘NCIS’ Introduces a Mystery About Fornell: 2 Theories About What Happened

Mark Harmon Joe Spano Gibbs Fornell NCIS Season 18 Episode 3
Spoiler Alert
Sonja Flemming/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 18, Episode 3 of NCIS, “Blood and Treasure.”]

Has Fornell’s (Joe Spano) investigation into the drug ring responsible for supplying the counterfeit opioids that nearly killed his daughter landed him in serious — possibly fatal — trouble?

NCIS Season 18 has almost entirely taken place in the same timeline as last year (except for the premiere’s opening scene jumping to March 2020), back when Gibbs (Mark Harmon) left in the middle of a case ostensibly for “sturgeon season.” He was, in fact, joining Fornell on his investigation into that drug ring, and the first three episodes have seen the former FBI agent determined to track down the kingpin. In “Blood and Treasure,” he makes significant progress, but has he paid a price for doing so?

Fornell followed in the footsteps of the “errand boy” he found dead of an overdose at the end of the premiere and got himself a job at Beltway Burgers. If the drug dealer was making thousands a week, why was he flipping burgers, Fornell wondered, and then (correctly) assumed the place is connected to the drug operation.

Just give him a few more days, he tells Gibbs in Episode 3, because he’s “this close to getting freezer privileges.” It’s one of two (the other the manager’s office) places he hasn’t been able to search. And that hunch pays off: Inside the freezer is a case Fornell’s able to unlock with the key he got off the errand boy. He slips a bag of drugs from it to Gibbs.

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Then Fornell calls to tell Gibbs he found out the alias of the drug kingpin: Merriweather. He’ll meet him at the drive-thru in two days to explain, he promises, but when Gibbs returns to Beltway Burgers, Fornell is nowhere to be seen — and hasn’t shown up for work for the past two days, according to the shift manager.

What happened to Fornell? It’s likely one of two things:

Fornell Is Following a New Lead on His Own

This is as personal as it gets for Fornell. He could’ve lost his daughter, who’d taken the counterfeit opioids. And while he may have said he wouldn’t make a move without Gibbs in the premiere, he did already go off grid (for two weeks, establishing himself at Beltway Burgers) this season. Is it so hard to imagine he’s doing something similar, perhaps following someone who could lead him to “Merriweather”?

Mark Harmon Joe Spano Gibbs Fornell Drive-Thru NCIS Season 18 Episode 3

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

Fornell Was Taken

We saw just enough of the manager at Beltway Burgers that he’s on our radar, and he was acting kind of shifty. If one of his employees, the errand boy, was part of the drug operation, is it crazy to think that the manager could be involved as well? After all, Fornell had mentioned he had two places he had to check out at the burger joint; might he have found the name “Merriweather” in the manager’s office?

Speaking of people on our radar from Beltway Burgers scenes, that man (Nick Boraine) standing by the door when Fornell walks in with the tray was acting mighty suspicious. He’s apparently the father of the girl who get a drop of milkshake on her shoe, but that doesn’t rule him out from being involved. (He’s even credited as “Merriweather” on IMDb, but until it’s confirmed onscreen that he’s the kingpin, anything is possible about that drug ring.)

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Whatever’s going on with Fornell, one thing is certain: This mission is about to heat up when NCIS returns in 2021.

NCIS, Tuesdays, 8/7c, CBS