(Caution! Spoilers about NCIS: New Orleans ahead!)
NCIS: New Orleans roared back from its holiday break Tuesday with a murder on the high seas.
Just as executive producer Brad Kern told TVGuide.com would happen, this half of the season would start to delve deep into drama with the Ciudad Natal Cartel, and it got underway fast. It began with the Coast Guard investigating why a boat, Golden Girl, is just chilling in the middle of the sea like it's in a rap video. That was, we learn, not only because it's full of (drunk, likely) girls celebrating Eliza West's (Amanda Clayton) bachelorette party, but because there's been a throat slit, a possible robbery and some criminal fleeing. Perched in a high drug trafficking area, old Golden Girl, it turns out, belongs to Javier Garcia (Julian Acosta) — the primary target in the Cartel investigation — and the soon-to-be husband of Eliza who, surprise! Agent Pride (Scott Bakula) knows from back in the day. Uh-oh.
Meanwhile, as FBI Agent Tammy Gregorio (Vanessa Ferlito) asks her boss Isler (Derek Webster) to be officially transferred to New Orleans, she sniffs around and discovers Garcia isn't smuggling drugs but cash. As she and LaSalle (Lucas Black) sneak around the city to figure out the connections between Garcia, the cash and Garcia's apparent middleman lieutenant Ernesto Blanco (Abel Becerra), Pride and Isler corner Garcia, who plays dumb better than any criminal that's ever done it. He's not the only one hiding information though: Pride doesn't come clean that he's friends with Eliza either, committing a rare act of dishonesty/conflict of interest in the greater good of keeping Eliza from getting 86'd by her bad boyfriend. What a guy.
By the middle of this increasingly funky investigation, Isler is pretty well fed up with how it's coming along and shoots out a "You're off the case!" to Gregorio, who storms off. LaSalle, along with Coast Guard Agent Joan Swanson (Toni Trucks), makes the connection between Garcia's business with Eliza's horse ranch. When Isler and Pride follow up on that lead in person and confront her about it, she's still all, "I had no idea! I just want to play with my ponies!" Previously, she couldn't (or didn't) answer when Pride asked her what Garcia does, so at this point we're convinced she's either really naive or a bad liar too.
Pride tries to explain to Eliza that Garcia has married her just to clean the blood money he's making and gain access to the city's most powerful and influential institutions through her daddy. Poor Eliza can't wrap her head around it — that girl is in love, y'all — but finally comes around to taking down her man when Pride convinces her she needs to protect her father's legacy. That did the trick!
What didn't work was Sebastian (Rob Kerkovich) in the field. When he and Gregorio go off chasing a lead, she gets blindsided and then engaged in hand-to-hand combat. She's tough, as we know, but when the suspect has a knife to her throat and Sebastian has a gun — and the need to shoot, if there ever was one — he froze. Luckily LaSalle was there to pop a few hot ones in the guy's back, as Sebastian still stood there trembling like he just finished a Polar Plunge. He's going to need more field training, obviously, and kudos for Gregorio for being way more forgiving than most of us might be when someone almost gets us killed. You'd think all those video games would prep him for a moment like this, no?
Eliza proves to be the real hero in this episode — sneaking off to hack into Garcia's files to help the investigation while Pride keeps him busy in the living room. Tense! After she swipes files, the team now has lots of informational ammo to take Garcia down, and Eliza gets shuffled off to a safe house until this gets sorted out.
One hitch though: at the same moment the team learns all those files only led them back to Eliza and her horses, they also find out she's a target, and, yeesh, minutes after she goes off to start a new life she's mowed down in an SUV on the street. Now Isler is beyond fed up — not only is this investigation botched, but people are dying too — and tells Gregorio her career is over. Ouch. Pride, naturally, is distraught, and funnels his sadness and disappointment into jazz. As he tickles the ivories, he promises to bring the Cartel to justice and it's clear this battle is only just getting started.
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NCIS: New Orleans airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on CBS.