Is it possible to be too trusting? After meeting Luca, Abby’s brother, in the Tuesday, Jan. 5 “NCIS”/”NCIS: New Orleans” crossover, the answer is a resounding yes, even though it turns out that there’s more going on than the two teams think.
Crossovers are tricky. Sure, it’s easy to have one person cross over from another show every so often – as Vance has done with “NCIS: Los Angeles” and as various other cast members have done in the “NCIS” franchise. But when it’s a full, two-part crossover like “Sister City: Part One and Sister City: Part Two,” it becomes a matter of making sure the crossovers feel organic (something “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Med” have done successfully) and don’t take away from the storyline, and each half feels like the show it should or both hours feel like a mix of both. In this case, the first half does feel like “NCIS” and the second has more of an “NCIS: NOLA” fee to it, though it also seems like the first hour is used to set up the second more than anything – other than to introduce Abby’s brother and develop that relationship on screen after only hearing about him up until now.
Fortunately, that is something that is done quite successfully, so much so that by the time the interrogation/signing scene is over, it’s hard not to already want him back for future episodes. Pauley Perrette and Tyler Ritter bring that sibling relationship across on screen so well, and Ritter’s Luca is just what you’d expect from a Sciuto. Is he perhaps too innocent and too trusting? Of course he is; as Abby puts it – and he later echoes – he’s all sunshine, while she can acknowledge that there is a dark side in the world. That can be linked back to their jobs; he’s a chef, while she works for NCIS and sees what people are capable of every day.
However, it is a shame that “NCIS” waited this long to bring in Luca – it’s the 13th season, and other than Gibbs, everyone is now just meeting Abby’s brother (McGee has been around since season 1 and Tony and Ducky have been there longer), but Abby’s line about both being super-dedicated to their work and Luca hating to fly helps explain that away. Moments like those are necessary because this is the first time seeing him on screen, and while he may know Gibbs, it’s clear he doesn’t know much about Abby’s work – or about her boss. Abby has to introduce him to Tony – calling him a friend with a badge – and Luca hopes that signing in interrogation will keep Gibbs from finding out about the woman he’s protecting, only, as Abby knows, Gibbs can follow that line of questioning just fine. Things like that show that as close as brother and sister may be – talking every day, shared family vacation memories that can be used as clues – they don’t know everything about each other, just like he kept Eva a secret from her. Bravo to “NCIS” for bringing that across on screen, as it’s almost entirely done in the first hour, with the second featuring ignored phone calls and a worried sister.
The crossover for the two teams feels a bit more organic this time – and not just because Bishop, who met nearly everyone else last time (Percy’s the exception), is the one to transport the body down to NOLA. There’s something natural about Brody and Percy talking to Tony about his breakup, helped by the fact that Percy knew Zoe in ATF. And yes, Tony and Zoe broke up off screen and spent one last night together, and it was amicable. The others enjoy reading into his behavior to see what they can discern about the end of that relationship.
Speaking of ends of relationships, Bishop and Jake are divorced, and everyone knows it, offering various words of support/comfort. Though she claims to not want to talk about it, Bishop ends up blurting out to Brody that it doesn’t feel different; she and Jake are still who they are, but they’re just not together anymore. Yes, it’s sad, but it’s also right. It was hard not to have reservations about this storyline surrounding Jake having an affair, but “NCIS” has managed to handle the aftermath quite well, with the team behind her, Bishop taking time to figure out what she wants and doing what she feels is right.
As for the case, it takes the two episodes to solve it. After those on board a private jet (owned by tech billionaire Jenner Blye) heading for D.C. from New Orleans die after being exposed to a neurotoxin – the same flight Luca was supposed to be on, but someone else is found burned beyond recognition (but fortunately with attached ear lobes, which Luca doesn’t have) wearing his chef jacket – it’s up to the two teams to figure out what’s going on. With Luca MIA since he wasn’t on the plane (confirming Abby’s insistence that she would now if he were dead), the NOLA team searches his apartment and finds a hidden bag with money, weapons and a listening device inside. Furthermore, video footage shows that Luca was the last one to handle the silverware that carried the neurotoxin that killed the passengers. (One of those passengers is a commander who was flying to meet with the Secretary of Defense about an unknown matter after meeting with Blye himself in New Orleans – and Blye is missing, as his chief of security and CFO eventually admit to Gibbs and Bishop.) And so when Abby does find Luca, thanks to a mini scavenger hunt, Tony has to arrest him.
After Luca lawyers up, Abby gets him to talk. Someone drugged him, and he woke up in a motel and saw the news report about the plane. He was scared. However, after he uses the same phrase he used with their parents when he was hiding something, Abby knows there’s more – and there is. He’s protecting a woman, Eva, leading to Abby explaining to the others that he’s drawn to strays, but unlike her, he only sees the good in people. He insists Eva’s different. He met her in church, and she’s on the run from an abusive husband. She’s also the one who calls him, changes phones a lot and didn’t let him take her photo. And he doesn’t know her last name. (If it sounds like she’s a spy, who used Luca to get close to Blye, well, all signs are pointing to that being the case.) Fortunately, he did draw a cartoon photo of the two of them, and Abby uses that to ID the woman: Eva Azarova, who just so happens to work for Pavlenko.
A call from Eva is just a way for Gibbs and Tony to find Pavlenko, who insists he’s helping and they have to meet in secret because he’s going against his government. The man who took Luca’s place on the plane was going to represent him in the meeting with the Secretary of Defense. He wants to prevent a war because his government is planning to steal tech Blye had developed for the military. Considering he then ends up poisoned and dead just like the others, it seems likely he’s telling the truth. In order to keep his body in custody, however, the team has to pull off a sweet ruse, with Bishop transporting Pavlenko down to New Orleans in a nondescript van, while Ducky and Palmer are driving along through the night with nothing in the back when Russian men – with diplomatic license plates – pull them over.
Luca is back in New Orleans by this point, still set on believing Eva is “innocent until proven guilty,” something Abby and their parents taught him, and when Pride tracks him down, Eva’s in the restaurant. When Pride tries to get her to come in, however, she refuses even though she says she hasn’t killed anyone, and it’s Luca’s trusting nature that leads to him creating a distraction for her to escape. That leads to him being detained, but he still refuses to help bring Eva in.
Thanks to mosquito bites on Pavlenko’s body, they’re able to figure out where in New Orleans he had been, specifically, a area in the wetlands that is home to a research facility of Blye’s. When they et there, they find Blye inside, and just as he’s refusing to go with them, he too falls victim to the neurotoxin – though he does live, facing permanent paralysis in his left leg. The finger is once again pointed in Eva’s direction, but why is she sticking around? Who else was at the meeting with the other people who have been attacked? That would be Luca, who was cooking that night.
Thanks to Sebastian’s Bluetooth, they then figure out that someone had bugged Pavlenko’s body, placing a transmitting in his tooth, and that’s something they can use to their advantage. Sebastian heads to D.C. to work with Abby on it, while Pride and Percy track down the origin of the signal to one Paulina Kurteva, (former) GRU and currently working in diplomatic court. She and Pride know each other, leading to quite a few entertaining exchanges and the opportunity for Pride to clone her men’s phones. After Bishop and Brody follow her and her men and find her hiding in a wardrobe (and the others dead), Pride has what he needs to bring her into interrogation, and she finally admits that Eva was working for Pavlenko, assigned to spy on Blye. However, she never responded when she called her in. What’s worse, this is when Percy reports that Luca is gone, still choosing to go find Eva despite Percy’s attempt to talk to him using her own experience lying undercover.
Back in D.C., Sebastian does a horrible job of trying to keep Abby calm with her brother MIA using Schrodinger’s cat, but his reminder that she knew Luca didn’t die in the plane crash and he sent her “signals” makes her realize they can use the transmitter in Eva’s tooth to find her. They do find her, moments after Luca does – and moments before Blye’s head of security begins shooting at them. Eva goes after him, but while Huxley manages to gain the upper hand, Pride shows up in time to shoot him. And while Eva’s facing treason or espionage charges, whether she talks or not, she does eventually tell Pride the truth after he reminds her that Luca risked a lot for her.
Pavlenko was her mentor and taught her that their work was more than spy game, that there were human lives on the line. He had learned that their government had stolen Blye’s project designs, but then people started dying and though she wanted to find out who killed her mentor and make it right, they were on her every moment – thanks to the transmitter in her tooth. It’s how she’s lived her entire life, she explains, as a tool, not a person. Until she met Luca. So yes, she used him as bait, to save his life.
But why did Huxley want everyone silenced? On orders from his boss. Lasalle catches up to Blye as he’s about to board a plane to Venezuela and its complicated extradition. He had poisoned himself and wanted them to find him. After allowing Eva a moment to say goodbye to Luca, Pride stops Paulina from taking her into custody. She has to be debriefed in D.C., and that could take months. As for the project, that’s taken care of too. No international incident, and for now, it’s just “until next time” for these two teams.
“NCIS” season 13 airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS. What did you think of the crossover with “NCIS: New Orleans”?