NCIS recap: Alden Parker’s a hard man to get over

Parker (Gary Cole) finds himself face-to-face with the one who got away — love edition, not c***e edition — in this week’s excellent follow-up to the mega NCIS crossover.

At first, it seems way too unlikely that Ensign Ashley Watts would be found dead in a motel room rented under Parker’s name, but that’s only if you forget about Gibbs’ 39th rule.

In fact, the Navy accountant was dating Ryan Aaronson (Austin Cauldwell), the son of Parker’s first love, Joy (Rachel Ticotin). But Ryan was wooing Ashley under the name Travis, which uncovers a whole mess of lies. Most concerning is that Ryan, who has the rap sheet of a con man, entered Ashley’s life the day after Parker’s stolen identity was used to access the DOD mainframe and Ashley’s files in particular.

Ashley’s grieving parents — let’s call them, oh I don’t know, Elizabeth and Phillip — explain that Ashley was adopted out of foster care at 13. Palmer’s (Brian Dietzen) autopsy shows that her last meal was a crab roll, and she used her self-defense training to put up a good fight before her d***h.

But was Ryan the one who k****d her? Parker clearly hopes not. He tells the team that he and Joy broke up when her family moved away from Philadelphia, and he wrote her many, many letters that she never responded to. Joy’s divorced now, and although Parker knows that she lives just outside of Maryland because he lowkey stalks her on social media, he’s never had the courage to reach out.

““Bridges” – Parker discovers he’s a victim of identity theft while investigating the unusual m****r of a Navy ensign. Also, Knight and Jimmy face hurdles in their relationship as their connection heightens, on the CBS Original series NCIS, Monday, Jan. 16 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+*. Pictured: Sean Murray as Special Agent Timothy McGee, Wilmer Valderrama as Special Agent Nicholas “Nick” Torres, Katrina Law as NCIS Special Agent Jessica Knight, and Gary Cole as FBI Special Agent Alden Parker. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.” data-title=”Bridges” data-shop-image=”false” data-original-width=”2000″ data-original-height=”1333″ data-high-density=”true” data-crop-percentage=”67″ data-tracking-zone=”image” data-orientation=”default” data-focal-point-x=”1440″ data-focal-point-y=”279″>

Sean Murray as Special Agent Timothy McGee, Wilmer Valderrama as Special Agent Nicholas “Nick” Torres, Katrina Law as NCIS Special Agent Jessica Knight, and Gary Cole as FBI Special Agent Alden Parker

So yeah, showing up on Joy’s doorstep after literal decades to tell her that her son’s likely a k****r con man isn’t how he imagined their reunion going. When he can finally bring himself to ring the bell, there’s a pregnant pause as the former lovers gaze at other… until Joy hauls off and decks him in the stomach. “You had that coming to you for 40 years, Park,” she spits out. “You ruined my life.”

She’s feisty. I like her.

She invites Parker and McGee (Sean Murray) inside, explaining that her family moved from Philly to get her away from Parker’s bad influence, particularly after what happened at the St. Paddy’s Day parade. (Sadly, no further details are divulged here.) But she still remembers how he takes his coffee, and she kept the letters he wrote her all those years ago.

Since Parker never came back for her, she married a man who’s currently in prison, and Ryan joined her ex’s partner, Todd, in the drifting business. Ryan even stole those old letters to glean the personal details he needed to steal Parker’s identity.

Joy insists on accompanying the agents to Todd’s pool hall, where they interrupt him hustling a literal priest. She’s ready to throw down, but Parker barks, “This isn’t god cop, bad Joy.”

Todd accidentally admits to knowing about the identity theft, then comes clean: he and Ryan were running a CIA recruiter con on Ashley to access the Navy accounts she oversaw. But Todd always felt that something was off about her.

When Parker heads back to reinterview Joy (we love a flimsy pretext!), he’s shocked to find Ryan there with her, and Joy convinces the two of them to work together to untangle what happened. McGee’s concerned that Parker won’t be able to bust his ex’s son if necessary, Parker says he will. Still, Joy was the kick he needed to get his life straight, so he’s not going to let her down now if he can help it.

And it turns out that Ryan fell for his mark. He told Ashley everything, and she forgave him and promised to fix it all. He booked the motel under his fake identity, but Ashley was dead when he joined her there.

Ryan seems convincing, but, you know, con man. At least he has a voicemail of Ashley sounding scared and telling him she loves him.

The next step is to examine the voicemail for background clues, and while Kasie (Diona Reasonover) works, Knight (Katrina Law) asks if Palmer’s said anything about her recently. See, Jimmy got squirrely when Jess asked if the two of them could take his daughter on their upcoming movie date, prompting her to awkwardly ask if their relationship is going okay. Palmer assures her it is with an equally awkward fist bump.

But when Knight tells Kasie that it’s the newest Code Name Fury movie, Kasie’s whole demeanor changes, and Knight starts to figure it out. Those films were a Palmer family favorite, and this new release is another bridge Jimmy has to cross without Breena.

But she realizes that the even bigger bridge, maybe the last one, will be letting her be part of Victoria’s life. Palmer chokes back tears as he admits that it’s really hard, even though it’s a step he wants to take. They hug, and there’s no trace of that earlier awkwardness.

Okay, back to the case. The voicemail gives up its secrets: Ashley took the Red Line out of the city to Blue’s Crab Shack and the storage units across the street. Knight notices that the interior of hers is smaller than the rental agreement, and she and Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) find a false wall hiding a secret room full of passports, foreign currency, and a whole arsenal.

So Ashley’s a spy, which explains why she jumped on Ryan’s “join the CIA!” con. It also explains why she forgave him so quickly, and it likely means her handler is the one who m******d her.

Against Joy’s wishes, the team uses Ryan as bait, but the pair who arrive at the “leaked” location are Ashley’s parents, speaking angry Russian. Yep yep, their family were all sleeper agents straight out of The Americans!

Once the dust settles, Parker tries to tell Ryan that he’s been there, and Ryan scoffs, “The love of my life was a foreign agent m******d by her own country. I don’t think you’ve been there.”

Yeah, fair. But Parker does know what it’s like to be on the wrong path with the wrong people. In fact, that’s how he lost Joy. So he’s giving Ryan a way out by letting him serve his probation using his grifter skills to help the FBI, like Leo in Catch Me If You Can.

Look, I know I jokily ask for spin-offs all the time, but for real, Ryan’s a charming con man who’s gone straight thanks to the mu******d spy he fell for, and how he has the chance to work for the FBI? It’s White Collar meets The Americans meets Alias, and I want it. I want it right now, Veruca Salt-style.

Anyway, after Ryan jumps on board, Parker can’t help but ask how often Joy talked about him as Ryan was growing up. Ryan doesn’t give many details, but he says Parker’s memory always put a smile on Joy’s face.

In the end, Parker turns up on Joy’s doorstep one more time with a Philly butter cake from their old neighborhood. Joy admits that Parker’s ex, Vivian, visited her after their divorce to meet the woman her husband was in love with, and y’all THIS IS SUCH GOOD STUFF.

Parker barely hesitates before admitting that Vivian had it right; he never got over Joy. And when he point-blank asks if Joy feels the same, she doesn’t answer, but my optimistic heart says that answer is yes.

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