Since we’ve known him, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs has never possessed what could reasonably be called a light and joyous heart. He’s too weighed down with his losses, his responsibilities, and his memories. But the NCIS 13th season premiere shows us a Gibbs who’s broken by the life he’s led and the people he thinks he’s let down. Thankfully, the damage done by one child is partially repaired by another one — with a little help from a new Duckie.
Last season, we left Gibbs in Iraq with multiple gunshot wounds courtesy of wee Luke, a pawn of (or player in?) The Calling, a group of kids co-opted by the suavely accented Daniel Budd to engage in global terrorism.
A barely conscious Gibbs is lucky to be rushed aboard the USS Daniel Webster because that’s where Dr. Cyril Taft (Jon Cryer, sporting no hair) has set up shop. Of course, the NCIS team stateside is devastated to learn about Gibb’s injuries, but it leads to this meta moment from Abby: “Gibbs has his very own Ducky performing his surgery.” John Hughes sees what you did there, NCIS, and he approves.
Anyway, Taft, a decorated Gulf War surgeon, is both the best possible and worst possible person to perform surgery to remove the shattered bullet from Gibbs’ chest. Best possible because, well, he keeps our Leroy alive. Worst possible because my word, is that man a chatterbox. A steady stream of cheerful patter spills from Taft’s mouth as he works, allowing him to assure his bemused medical staff, “No worries; I got this” without actually saying the words. Were he alert enough, Gibbs would haaaaaaate it. However, when his patient starts to flatline, Taft is as unflappable as Gibbs himself when facing a crisis.
In fact, Gibbs and Taft have more than cool-headedness in common: Taft and his wife lost their son to leukemia two years ago, which is why he ships out on aircraft carriers. The busyness keeps the depression at bay.
Gibbs isn’t so lucky in this episode. Unconscious and undergoing surgery, he walks with his long-dead daughter, Kelly, through a dream state, where he unburdens himself as she scolds him.
“You don’t have good days now,” she says. “You spend too much time thinking about the past.”
She tells him to knock it off and think about the future. “There are too many people counting on you.”
But poor Gibbs, with his chest cracked open, tells her he’s not sure he can continue to be there for the people who count on him every day. Kelly wants none of that, though, and urges him to fight back.
“If you don’t stop the bad people, who will?” Listen to the little ghost girl, Gibbs.
NEXT: DiNozzo finally gets his payback[pagebreak]
Speaking of the people counting on Gibbs, DiNozzo has shouldered all of the blame for Gibbs’ shooting because he let Budd’s taunting distract him. But that’s okay because it leads to one of the best standoffs ever when, months later, DiNozzo tracks Budd to Shanghai, where he’s trying to impress Chinese leaders by tricking the U.S. into nuking North Korea. After a chase, DiNozzo catches him in an alley, and Budd starts to give a grandiose monologue about his diabolical plans. Rather than listen, DiNozzo shoots him in the leg and tells him, “You’re not a Bond villain, Daniel. You’re a fraud, and frauds don’t get to speechify like Bond villains. They do get to die like them.”
First pumps! Fist pumps all around for DiNozzo shooting the Euro-snoot in the chest!
No, but seriously, the shadow of The Calling will presumably stay with Gibbs and DiNozzo well throughout this season. Back at HQ after the shooting, Tony asks Gibbs if they need to talk, and Gibbs blows him off. Tony doesn’t know what to make of that, but we do. We know how close Gibbs came to laying all his burdens down and following Kelly down that beach.
The hardest scene, though, is the final one between Gibbs and Taft. Gibbs admits he’s tired of people watching him for cracks. When he tells Taft, “I hurt,” it suggests that hurt runs far deeper than his new knee. Taft, meanwhile, can’t figure out if Gibbs is the type of patient who reveres him or despises him for saving his life. Worse, Gibbs doesn’t seem sure, either.
“Things are changing,” he says, instead of answering. “I can’t do it alone.”
This leaves Taft as confused as we are, because we’ve met Gibbs’ team. Who says he’s alone?
- Little girl ghosts are the best givers of advice and/or dire predictions. Let’s be grateful that Kelly fell on the advice side of things.
- After Gibbs stabbed Rousseau in the hand with a pen, didn’t it look like he tucked it back into his jacket pocket? That’s just not sanitary, man.
- Everybody sent Gibbs get-well bushels of fruit, but aren’t chocolate and trashy magazines the preferred recuperation gift? Ah, well, at least Gibbs won’t get scurvy.
- The lack of an “I forgive you” scene between Gibbs and Luke was a bit of a surprise. Luke’s swamped with guilt, thinking he killed Gibbs, yet when he Skypes an apology, Gibbs looks away rather than accepting. It’s understandable, but it’s not the gruff tough love we might’ve expected. Things are changing, indeed.
- It was sad to see Mimi Rogers’ character go. She masterfully skimmed the line between stoic and grieving. Is it too soon to start shipping her and Gibbs?
- Admit it: You yelled “Don’t go into the light!” when that dream elevator opened for Gibbs and Kelly.
- Would it have killed them to play Try a Little Tenderness during Jon Cryer’s operating scene?
- Which was the more disgusting Gibbs wound: the blood pouring from his chest and leg in this episode, or the enormous explosion burn on his nose in “Hiatus”? I give it to the burn by a … well, you know.