[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 18 premiere of NCIS, "Sturgeon Season."]
NCIS Season 18 is playing in two timelines in the premiere: March 2020 and November 2019. So why, exactly, does Gibbs (Mark Harmon) shoot McGee (Sean Murray) twice to stop him from stopping a plane in the former?!
First, "Sturgeon Season" goes back to "Musical Chairs" in November 2019, when Gibbs used that as his excuse to leave in the middle of a case. (Because Gibbs would leave work to go fishing.) What he told Jack (Maria Bello) — that he needed to help Fornell (Joe Spano) after Emily left rehab — is "not quite true," but "not quite a lie," the men say as the premiere offers a look into that mission of theirs. She's completed the program, but Fornell can't leave the past in the past. He has a lead on the errand boy who supplied the counterfeit opioids that almost killed his daughter, and he hopes that guy can lead them to "the head of the snake."
Gibbs agrees, as long as they "do it the right way." Fornell agrees, which lasts about as long as it takes to see anyone connected to the case heading into a clinic. The former FBI agent wants to jump on bringing in the doctor selling drugs on the black market, then the errand boy, Josh, instead of going with the original plan of following him.
Gibbs eventually agrees to let Fornell go inside as a guy looking for pills for a bad hip while he listens on the phone. But Fornell is distracted when he sees a girl near Emily's age waiting in the chairs, and Gibbs intervenes. Fornell is "Uncle Ed," who's not all there, and as Gibbs pulls him out of the clinic, he takes an elbow to the head (hence the black eye he had when he returned at the end of "Musical Chairs").
What's worse is Josh's car is gone when they step outside. Fornell swears he'll make up for them losing two days of work by staking out the clinic himself and he won't make a move without Gibbs. "Kid, the next time I say, 'Let's go someplace like Bolivia, let's go someplace like Bolivia,'" Gibbs says.
With that, Gibbs returns in time for Palmer to catch him up on what he's missed: a body, Marine Corporal Richard Darby, that NCIS Special Agent Ronnie Tyler (Victoria Platt) from the night shift brought in, has gone missing. And then Palmer's car explodes, from a somewhat basic device on the door. Long story short, Ronnie stole the body after the killer forced her by kidnapping her daughter. The team gets her daughter back. (The killer tried to rob Darby after catching wind he'd closed his bank accounts and taken his life savings out in cash.)
Meanwhile, Fornell continues to watch the clinic in hopes of spotting Josh. He can handle it, he assures Gibbs over the phone. "My emotions are completely in check, Gibbs, and I'm sticking to the plan," he promises.
But the final scene reveals that's not exactly true. Gibbs checks back in with Fornell, who has found Josh, but there's a problem: he won't be much help because he's dead. "What'd you do?" Gibbs asks. "Nothing," Fornell says as he grabs a keychain off the errand boy. "Check back with me in two weeks. Two weeks tops, that's all I need, and I promise everything's going to make sense."
What's Fornell up to? Why did Gibbs shoot McGee? No, really, why did Gibbs shoot McGee? Those hits looked very real...
NCIS, Tuesdays, 8/7c, CBS