The Meat Puzzle is the thirteenth episode in NCIS Season 2 as well as the 36th episode of the entire NCIS series.
Having spent months working on the meat puzzle, Ducky soon realizes that the victims were all part of a case that he testified in, a case involving a would-be Medical Examiner. As a result, the team begin guarding Ducky in shifts and seek to find out what's really going on, only to discover that the supposed dead man might not be dead after all. Things get worse when it's discovered that Ducky's next on their list and when Ducky is kidnapped, the team find themselves racing against the clock to save him before Ducky becomes another victim of the murderous family hellbent on exacting revenge on the people involved in the court case.
Ducky then spots something wrong on the second body and immediately drags Palmer away from his musical adventure before grilling him about the mistake.
Palmer then defends himself, stating that the big toe matches perfectly with the scar line and his theory is that the person involved lost his thumb in an accident and had surgery to replace it with his big toe.
Suddenly, Ducky sees a flashback of himself sitting in a court with the man in question and then realizes that he knows who this person is.
It then cuts to Ducky who looks stunned.
It's all good talking that is until Kate gets the impression that DiNozzo's been following her on a Saturday night given that he knows all the areas she usually goes on with her dates but after Leroy Jethro Gibbs announces that DiNozzo's mother is dead despite Tony insisting on his mother's life that he was not following her, Kate gets a shock when Timothy McGee arrives in, asking about Tony's fraternity brother, Steve Adler, a revelation which leaves Kate stunned so much so that she actually calls on Gibbs to berate DiNozzo which he does.
However, they're interrupted by Ducky who announces that he needs Gibbs in the morgue.
In the morgue, after a long ramble concerning the "mistake" Palmer made, Ducky reveals that one of the victims is a D.A named Michael Grant who prosecuted several cases ten years ago, ones that Ducky himself testified in.
But given the nature the bodies are in and how mangled they are, there's no way to identify them which means fingerprints will have to do.
Just as Gibbs prepares to leave the morgue, Ducky calls him back and tells him that this isn't a coincidence before Gibbs gives him a pat on the shoulder and leaves, causing Ducky to remark, "I didn't think it was".
Gibbs arrives up from the morgue, announcing the news to his team.
Tony's impressed given that they've been working on this thing for six months.
Gibbs wants Tony to find if Grant's been reported missing while Kate is to pull up all the cases that Ducky testified on.
In a stage-whisper, DiNozzo wants to know if he should call Steve and cancel his fraternity brother's date with Kate, causing Kate to remark, "This is a nightmare".
In the morgue, Ducky and Palmer are busy examining the dental records and have determined that the body is that of Michael Grant.
Palmer then tells Ducky that he's determined to learn everything about it and when Ducky demands he get to the point, Palmer points out that he knows a difference between a toe and a thumb.
Once Ducky's gone, Palmer takes a moment to enjoy the fact that Ducky called him by his first name: "Jimmy" instead of Mr. Palmer.
Up in the squad-room, Tony's found the missing persons report on Michael Grant and that he disappeared while hiking on the Appalachian Trail with local police being unable to determine if he got lost or killed.
Ducky enters the bullpen, announcing that Grant was then dissected into smaller pieces, put in a barrel of alcohol along with two other bodies before the barrel was dumped outside Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Gibbs asks if the dental records matched. Ducky confirms that they did before Kate asks Ducky if he remembers a judge named Roland Davis.
She then tells Ducky that the judge was reported missing seven months ago and Ducky announces he'll run a dental comparison.
Kate then brings up the case involving Vincent Hanlan.
Ducky tells the team that Hanlan was a medical school washout who was studying to become a Medical Examiner but was accused of raping and murdering a Navy Lt. who worked at the Bethesda Pathology Lab. The Lt's name was Sylvia Waksal.
Hanlan stalked her, intending to rape her but his impotence got him so enraged that he beat Waksal to death instead.
When it went to trial, Grant was the prosecutor, Judge Davis presided over it and Ducky testified.
As this happens, it shows a flashback of the three men, each playing their respective parts in the trial.
Back in the present, Ducky tells the team that the evidence was all circumstantial and when the judge offered the jury second-degree murder, they accepted it.
Kate reveals that Hanlan got eight years in the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center and Gibbs tells her to compose a profile on Hanlan while Tony is to find the whereabouts of finding everyone associated with prosecuting Vincent Hanlan. Gibbs then rounds on Gibbs, asking for an address for Vincent Hanlan.
McGee's found one but it turns out to be a cemetery address and that Hanlan's been dead over a year.
It then cuts to Gibbs who looks deeply annoyed.
In the morgue, Ducky compares an X-ray with dental records and sighs heavily before revealing to Gibbs that is just what they'd expect: the second body is that of Judge Roland Davis.
However, Ducky isn't sure who victim number three is with Kate and Tony arriving into the morgue and announcing that it's Carl Foss, the judge foreman who according to Tony has been missing last summer.
Kate states that Foss's X-rays are on their way over from his family dentist.
Gibbs wonders if Ducky's okay.
Ducky states that he assumes that this is being put on for his benefit before informing the team that his testimony was key to putting Vincent Hanlon in prison, purely thanks to Ducky managing to get a partial print belonging to Hanlan from Lt. Waksal's body, suggesting that he may very well be a future victim.
He admits that he was slightly unnerved by Hanlan during the trial.
When Kate wonders why, Ducky then closes his eyes and states that Hanlan did seem to be particularly agitated whenever Ducky was on the stand.
"You were the Medical Examiner he was never going to be", Kate states.
"I was using his failure against him", Ducky agrees.
Given the danger, Gibbs announces that Ducky will stay at NCIS as much as possible and that one of the team will be with him at all times.
Ducky protests, stating that his mother is ninety-six years old, that she suffers from dementia and apparently she also very gets nervous if Ducky isn't there in the evening.
Gibbs then assigns Tony to take the first shift, protecting Ducky's mother which has Kate smiling.
Tony displays some unwillingness to do the job but Ducky tells him the dogs are the thing his mother has left in this life, aside from Ducky.
Gibbs, on the other hand, is more concerned with the fact that if Vincent Hanlan is dead, then who's getting revenge?
"His family?", Kate suggests.
"Find them", Gibbs orders.
It then cuts to the bullpen as Kate grabs her PDA and joins Gibbs as he heads for the lift. She's found that Hanlan's parents are both morticians and that they've run a funeral home for the past thirteen years.
She's also discovered that Vincent has a brother who's a taxidermist.
As they prepare to enter the lift, Gibbs states, "Mortician, taxidermist, wannabe medical examiner" while shaking his head in disbelief.
"Yeah, the death obsession pretty much runs in the family", Kate admits.
A while later, Gibbs and Kate arrive at the Hanlan Family Funeral Home and meet Fred Hanlan who tells them that life was hard after Vincent got convicted and even more so after his death.
He introduces them to his wife, Mary Hanlan who is very hostile towards the two Agents, insisting that her son was innocent and she's relieved that the people involved in prosecuting her son are dead while stating that Vincent was a good boy and that he was in Medical School.
Gibbs coldly informs her that the infamous murderer, Jack the Ripper also went to medical school.
Mary tells them that when Vincent got out of prison, he had no hope, no promise because everyone labelled him a sex-murderer and she then callously hints she'd want to get revenge against the people who put her son in jail before ordering Gibbs and Kate to leave before she calls the authorities and maybe they'll go to prison before muttering, "Bastards" under her breath while resuming her work.
In the morgue, the dental records have confirmed that it's Carl Foss and when Palmer asks Ducky if he's scared, he admits, "Yes, I'm scared. Scared as Hell" before ordering Palmer to put the bodies away because they're tired of talking and they need to rest before leaving the room.
"Yes, Doctor", Palmer states grimly.
Tony arrives at the Mallard household and meets Ducky's mother, Victoria Mallard who believes that Tony is an Italian gigolo and as such, Victoria insists on having Tony move her furniture for her although her dementia means that she quickly forgets who Tony is over and over again, much to Tony's disbelief.
Gibbs then hangs up.
Back at the Mallard household, Tony's struggling with the commode when Victoria enters, wielding a knife and demanding to know who he is.
Tony tells that her that he's an Italian gigolo furniture mover.
However, the doorbell soon rings, sending the corgis and Victoria running for the door although Tony orders them back by identifying himself as a federal agent to Victoria who remarks, "That's what they all say".
Tony then heads to meet the Delivery Man and discovers that there's another metal barrel there, similar to the others they've already found, suggesting that there's a new victim inside.
It then cuts to Tony who looks grim-faced.
The team have descended on the Mallard household after discovering the new steel-drum and they soon realize that it's the missing Homicide Detective.
Gibbs is more determined than ever to make sure that whoever is targeting the people responsible for prosecuting Vincent Hanlan don't get near Ducky at all.
Once the drum's been loaded up, Tony happily declares that he's done watching Mrs. Mallard, but Gibbs announces that Kate has been assigned to guard Ducky while he and McGee go to talk to the guy who delivered the oil-drums, leaving Tony to watch Mrs. Mallard all over again.
Tony is on the verge of losing it but he then gathers himself and begins rounding up the corgi dogs back into the house, before firmly closing the door.
Gibbs and McGee talk to Jeffrey Wilson, who had the steel-drum delivered as a request from a customer.
Wilson reveals he was paid a lot of money for the job, and that the drums sounded like the contained liquid but he never questioned it. He informs Gibbs and McGee that the guy who bought the drums wore a hooded sweatshirt and glasses.
Wilson is stunned when Gibbs reveals that the drums in question contained meat puzzles.
Down in her lab, Abigail Sciuto's confirms from casket X-rays that the body in Vincent Hanlan's casket is his.
When Gibbs asks about a DNA test, Abby tells him that Maryland destroys all biological evidence three years after sentencing and as he leaves, Gibbs orders Abby to find an X-Ray before he went to prison.
A while later, Kate and Ducky arrive at the Mallard household where Ducky introduces her to the corgis, one of whom is named Tyson.
Kate believes if it's because he boxes but Ducky assures that it's because he bites.
Ducky then offers Kate a guest-room but she assures him she won't be sleeping.
Ducky then reveals that his mother sleeps downstairs because her snoring is rather deafening and that it keeps him awake all night and that it'll keep Kate up too.
They then head into a room where they discover Mrs. Mallard giving one of her dogs a make-over with Tony helping her.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Mallard doesn't take a shine to Kate and spits at her, causing Ducky to berate his mother for doing so while reminding her that Kate's here to protect them.
Mrs. Mallard then demands to see Kate's knickers and when Kate is left stunned, Mrs. Mallard tells her that she can tell a woman's intention by her underwear.
"That's always been my philosophy", Tony agrees, grooming the dog.
Ducky apologizes before escorting his mother out of the room as they've got to get dinner ready.
Once they're gone, Kate tells Tony that he's been relieved much to his joy. He introduces her to Contessa the corgi who "likes it rough", and casually announces he's going to meet Steve for a beer.
Annoyed, Kate throws the corgi's brush at Tony, but misses.
Back at NCIS, Gibbs gets a call from Abby who's in the morgue. She tells him that Vincent Hanlan's X-rays have arrived in from medical school.
Gibbs and McGee then head off to the morgue where Palmer explains that aside from some peculiarly rapid degradation, the teeth on Hanlan's corpse match his dental records.
Unconvinced, Gibbs orders Vincent Hanlan's body be exhumed and orders Abby to do it. Amazed by Gibbs's lack of approval for an exhumation, Palmer believes Gibbs might be wrong but Abby simply shrugs.
It's night at the Mallard household and everyone's asleep except for Kate who's reading a single magazine.
Suddenly, something sets off her senses and looking out the window, she sees Mrs. Mallard approaching a dog who's barking rather madly.
Kate draws her gun and ventures outside, cautiously approaching while calling Mrs. Mallard's name.
She then holsters her gun and the older woman who's smiling tells Kate that she knows that Kate was sneaking off after having her fun.
Kate tells her it's not like and that she needs to take her dog and go back inside.
Mrs. Mallard then states that the dog barking doesn't belong to her and that she only owns corgis.
Alarm bells ringing too late in her head and with her gun out, Kate storms into the house, only to find that Ducky's chair is empty with his glass and book on the floor.
She spots the open doors and races out just in time to see a silver van fleeing the scene.
She glances at the car, but the air has been let out of the tires, preventing her from chasing after the van.
It then cuts to Kate who after hurriedly holstering her gun, grabs her mobile and speed-dials a single number while restlessly pacing back and forth.
The next morning, the mood is grim in the aftermath of Ducky's kidnapping with Kate apologizing for botching her job.
Gibbs corrects her, stating that he is to blame for assigned her to guard two people: he should have assigned two people to guard the Mallards and that she was just as responsible for Ducky as Kate was for Victoria.
Tony then arrives in with the news that the tire tracks are made from Uniroyal Laredos and that they're standard on Chevy Express cargo vans.
Glancing at his screen, McGee then realizes that both the funeral home and the taxidermy business own Chevrolet Express Cargo vans.
Gibbs states that it's good enough for a search authorization and orders Tony and Kate to take Jonathan, the "turkey-stuffing" brother while Gibbs and McGee handle the Hanlan Family Funeral Home and the timid father as well as his pissed off wife.
A while later, Gibbs and McGee along with a group of NCIS agents descend on the Funeral Home and unsurprisingly, Mary Hanlan's annoyed with their appearance.
She even tells McGee not to ma'am her before calling him "a simpering wimp".
"No, ma'am", McGee remarks.
Mary then prevents them from going through another door by blocking it with Gibbs telling her that he's got the right to break down that door as well as anything standing in his way.
For once, Mary relents and as they search the room, Gibbs orders McGee to take a sample from the funeral incineration for testing back at the NCIS lab before Gibbs confronts Mary over the fact that one son beats a young woman to death while the other plays with dead animals while wondering where they get it from.
"From their mother", Mary snaps.
In the morgue, Vincent Hanlan's body has been exhumed and it looks like it's him.
That is until Jimmy gets a brainwave and gives Abby a tooth from the skeleton before asking if she could get a blood type from the nerve tissue in the tooth.
Abby states that if she can rehydrate it before asking Jimmy what he's thinking.
"I am thinking something crazy, Abby", Jimmy admits.
"Crazy is good", Abby replies before she heads off to the lab to begin testing.
Back at the funeral home, Gibbs and McGee find a body whom Mary Hanlan confirms is a man named Mr. Goldberg who's being buried in the morning.
McGee is forced to frisk the coffin but comes up empty with Mary telling them that she'll inform the Goldbergs that Mr Goldberg was frisked by NCIS.
She adds that the Goldberg are litigators which draws a small smile from Gibbs.
Outside, McGee watches as the Hanlan van is driven off to NCIS for processing and as the other agents leave, he rejoins Gibbs inside.
Mary Hanlan coldly suggests that Gibbs made a mistake and they should leave.
Gibbs's phone rings and it's Tony who tells him he and Kate have found nothing but to startle the Hanlans, Gibbs orders Tony to bring "him" (Jonathan) in for interrogation and the two then hang up.
In the funeral home, Gibbs and McGee soon leave and as soon as they have, Fred freaks out, informing Mary that Jonathan called and NCIS are searching his shop too.
But when Fred tries to do to the right thing, Mary tells him not to start thinking because he's too old for that before heading off, leaving Fred alone in the room.
Jonathan has been dragged into Interrogation and is relaying the story of how Vincent died to Gibbs who soon picks up on the fact that Vincent, not Jonathan was Mary's favorite and that she blames Jonathan for his brother's death.
Gibbs then leans in and tells Jonathan that if his friend dies, then Gibbs is going to blame him too which leaves Jonathan shaken.
The interrogation is interrupted by Kate's voice on the intercom where she tells Gibbs that Jimmy Palmer and Abby need to see him immediately.
Gibbs storms into Observation when Jimmy and Abby excitedly tell the team that one of the teeth Jimmy gave to Abby and that the tests have determined that the blood type from the tooth doesn't match that of the corpse.
Jimmy tells them that the teeth are Vincent Hanlan's but they were put into this mouth, therefore revealing that the body isn't Vincent Hanlan's.
Abby then reveals that she found traces of Super Glue in the root of the tooth.
"Just a drop", Jimmy announces. "It would never show up on a x-ray".
"So the teeth were pulled from Vincent's mouth?", Kate asks.
"One-by-one", Jimmy replies. "And they were glued back into this jaw".
Horrified, Kate and Tony turn around, glancing at Jonathan who's sitting in Interrogation and who they all silently realize might be the only key to finding and saving Ducky before it's too late.
His mind reeling with the new information, Gibbs storms back into Interrogation, wearing evidence gloves and also armed with the skeleton and teeth.
He angrily confronts Jonathan with the damning evidence Jimmy and Abby have uncovered and tells Jonathan that someone took his brother's teeth and put them in the skull.
Jonathan states that he had nothing to do with it before stating that it was them. Gibbs realizes he's talking about his mother, Mary and brother, Vincent.
Jonathan nods and he finally cracks, telling Gibbs what really happened.
Vincent was actually drunk that night when they hit the tree and that the brothers got out before the car burst into flames.
When they got home, their mother had a body that had been in a car accident on in the embalming table and it's clear that keeping the secret is beginning to put a strain on Jonathan as he breaks down.
He tells Gibbs that it was a closed-casket job and that Mary came up with the idea of giving Vincent a new life.
In Observation, Tony believes that Jonathan's telling the truth and when Kate asks why, Tony tells who would make that up?
In Interrogation, Jonathan tells Gibbs that after Mary had removed Vincent's teeth and put them in the body that had been in the car accident, she then proceeded to burn the corpse beyond any hope of recognition.
Gibbs wants to know where Vincent is but Jonathan's stating he's with Mary (their mother) and that he's always with her.
When Gibbs ponders further, Jonathan tells Gibbs to look harder despite the fact that they already searched the funeral home and then states that the two have terrible secrets with one another before gathering up the teeth.
Gibbs then hands him a cell-phone, ordering him to call Mary to tell her that NCIS has released him, to tell her that everything's alright and that they've hit a dead end.
Gibbs then orders Jonathan to convince her or else Gibbs will tear every single tooth out of Jonathan's skull.
In the funeral home, a lone figure heads into a secret bookcase and opens a giant door before revealing that Ducky is inside, tied up with tape over his mouth.
Outside, the plan has worked as lights are on in the funeral home.
To cover more ground, the team have split up with Gibbs and Kate being paired together while DiNozzo gets McGee.
DiNozzo wants to move but Gibbs orders for them to wait until the Hanlans have gotten Ducky out of wherever they've been storing him.
Once a single light emerges, Gibbs orders the team to get into positions and with that, they get ready to storm the funeral home.
In the embalming room, Ducky, the final victim is lying down, strapped to the table as the not-dead Vincent and his mother, Mary begin make final preparations as they get ready to dismember Ducky in revenge for Vincent's imprisonment, starting with draining his blood.
Vincent tells Ducky that it's going to take four minutes for his blood to be drained which in Vincent's mind is only fair considering that Vincent spent eight years in the same cell, staring at nothing but the same walls twenty-hours a day.
"He's getting off easy, angel", Mary assures her son and she slips a single tube into the lower side of Ducky's neck, causing him to cry out.
It then shows that the first traces of Ducky's blood are rushing down the table.
Meanwhile, the team have invaded the funeral home and are checking for any sign of danger.
Back at the embalming room, Ducky's struggling as his life slowly slips away while his blood edges closer to the drain.
The team then reach the outside of the embalming room and meet Fred Hanlan who silently directs Gibbs to the room with his eyes.
McGee then frisks Fred and doesn't find anything resembling a weapon before rejoining the others who have been waiting for him, their guns drawn.
Inside the embalming room, Mary strokes Vincent's chin lovingly but the moment's interrupted by the team who finally crash into the room, their guns drawn.
Vincent reacts by grabbing a scalpel and Ducky's cries begin getting more and more louder as his blood finally enters the drain.
Taking charge, Gibbs orders Mary and Vincent to move back or else he and the team will shoot them dead.
As he says those, Tony, Kate and McGee also have their guns trained on the mother/son serial-killing team as Ducky's cries continue.
Once the Hanlans are at a distance, Gibbs orders Tony to remove the gag from Ducky's mouth which he does.
Having regained the ability to talk, Ducky demands that his hands be released which Tony does, removing the straps.
Tony grabs a towel and presses it against Ducky's neck in hopes of stopping the bleeding.
When it looks the Hanlans are going to move, Kate orders them to stay still.
Mary's raised her hands but Vincent hasn't done anything and says that he "can't go back there". Mary urges her son to do what NCIS tell him.
Gibbs orders the two to turn around and face the wall.
Mary then orders Vincent to obey the command and as she does that, Vincent tells her that he loves her but he refuses to return to prison.
With a blade, Vincent commits suicide by slashing his throat with a razor.
Mary's loud sobs echo through the room and everyone watches as Vincent hits the floor, now dead for real.
Tony and Kate grab the still grieving Mary and drag her out of the room while she loudly protests that NCIS killed her son.
Gibbs, on the other hand tends to Ducky's injury while McGee hangs around for support. Ducky then weakly remarks that Vincent was the one who got off lightly, before asking a smiling Gibbs what kept him.
Back at NCIS, Gibbs strolls into the bullpen as Tony asks about Mary Hanlan.
Gibbs then tells him that she only gave a statement which consisted of two words, alluded as a swear at NCIS.
Tony then asks if Kate's seeing his frat brother tonight.
She tells him that she is because Steven feels bad and that he'd like to make it up to her.
"How's that?", Tony asks.
"By telling me some things about you", Kate replies.
"The fraternal oath is sacred", Tony announces.
Just before she leaves, Kate tells Tony that some things are even more sacred and then exits the bullpen, leaving Tony stunned which gets a smile from McGee.
It then cuts to Tony who is speechless.
- Victoria Mallard, Ducky's ninety-six year old mother is introduced for the first time and it's shown that she suffers from dementia.
- While Ducky's giving Kate a tour of the house, there's a photo of Ducky's actor, David McCallum with his father, David McCallum Senior visible for a few seconds in the sitting room.
- When Kate asks Gibbs what Ducky looked like when he was younger, Gibbs replies "Illya Kuryakin." Illya Kuryakin is the character that David McCallum (who plays Ducky) played on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." in the 1960s.
- When Gibbs is interviewing Vincent Hanlan's brother, Jonathan again, this time about the fact that Vincent's death was actually faked, the legs of someone, maybe a crew member probably holding a boom mike can be seen in the interrogation room as well.
- Season Two Cast
|Leroy Jethro Gibbs||Mark Harmon||An NCIS Special Agent in charge of the main NCIS Major Case Response Team.|
|Anthony DiNozzo Junior||Michael Weatherly||The Senior Agent of the main NCIS Major Case Response Team and also the second-in-command.|
|Caitlin Todd||Sasha Alexander||A Secret Service Agent previously assigned to the Presidential Protection Detail on Air Force One and who is now an NCIS Special Agent as well as Tony DiNozzo's partner.|
|Abigail Sciuto||Pauley Perette||A Goth who is also the Chief Forensic Scientist and who also works for the NCIS Major Case Response Team.|
|Timothy McGee||Sean Murray (actor)||An NCIS Special Agent previously assigned to the Norfolk Naval Base who is now the Junior Agent of the main NCIS Major Case Response Team.|
|Donald Mallard||David McCallum||NCIS's Chief Medical Examiner.|
|James Palmer||Brian Dietzen||Gerald Jackson's temporary replacement as the Assistant Medical Examiner.|
|Jonathan Hanlan||Pat Healy||A taxidermist who is the brother of murderer Vincent Hanlan.|
|Mary Hanlan||Lee Garlington||Vincent and Jonathan's mother and Fred's wife. Attempts to murder Ducky.|
|Fred Hanlan||Holmes Osborne||Mary's husband and Vincent and Jonathan's father.|
|Vincent Hanlan||Morgan Weisser||A murderer.|
|Jeffrey Wilson||Jesse D. Goins||A former Machinist's Mate who cleans and sells oil drums to those who want them.|
|Victoria Mallard||Nina Foch||Ducky's mother who is 96 years old and suffers from dementia|
|Delivery Man||Dave Shalansky||A man who delivers a meat puzzle to Ducky's house.|