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Spoilers ahead for Episode 19 of NCIS Season 16, called "Perennial."
Leading the team on NCIS is no easy job, and Gibbs has been doing it for a very long time. By this point in Season 16, Gibbs has seen a lot of agents and friends come and go, and it never seems to get any easier. Sure, there are fewer explosions and shootouts to traumatize on NCIS compared to NCIS: Los Angeles, but Gibbs has had a rough career.
Now, after the events of "Perennial," other recent Season 16 episodes, and the promo for next week's episode, I have to wonder if Gibbs needs a serious break.
"Perennial" saw Gibbs and Co. tasked with investigating the case of an active shooter lockdown at a naval hospital. A suspect fled the scene, but this wasn't just another case of the week. Sloane's daughter that she gave up for adoption decades ago happened to be inside the hospital at the time of the shooting, and she saw the shooter's face.
Sloane was understandably off her game when faced with the daughter that she never thought she'd get to meet. Torres wasn't especially on his game either, as he wasn't taking the case of the shooter well. He had a "swan" of a problem, according to him.
Bishop wasn't without an issue either, as she brought a very dead plant to the office with the goal of waking it up. This last issue might have been the comic relief of the episode if not for the reveal of where it came from: Ziva's office.
Gibbs seemingly wasn't struggling with any personal issues of his own, but he was affected by all of theirs, as he explained to McGee at the end of the episode:
I got one with a swan, I got one with a kid, I got one with a plant... I wanted to shake 'em all. I wanted to say, 'Rule 10.'... I couldn't. I burned Rule 10. No going back. Worked out okay today, but... I didn't do it for me. I'm not sure if it's right. Yeah. And I don't know where I'm gonna end up without it.
As NCIS fans know, Rule 10 is "Never get personally involved in a case," and Gibbs operated by that rule (and insisted that his agents try to operate by that rule) for a very long time. That he "burned" the rule is uncharacteristic on its own; his statement to McGee that he should always keep his head on straight is a bit troubling.
Gibbs isn't sure of himself, and that certainly hasn't always been the case. This is the same guy who recently warned Bishop that Ziva ignoring Rule 10 is what got her killed!
Revisiting what happened to Ziva also seems to be taking a toll on Gibbs. He asked Bishop to take care of Ziva's old office, as he couldn't bring himself to do it, and he seemed unsettled when he learned that the dead plant Bishop was carting around had come from Ziva's office. How will he be affected if it becomes common knowledge that Rule 10 didn't actually get Ziva killed?
The promo for next week's episode indicates that Gibbs would probably benefit from taking a break of his own volition before it gets out of his hands. Take a look:
McGee appears to be sidelining Gibbs in the next episode after they discover a connection between Gibbs and the crime of the week. Would McGee go this far if he hadn't witnessed Gibbs admitting that he gave up one of his rules while looking forlorn and exhausted in his own basement?
Gibbs presumably won't be going anywhere, assuming NCIS scores a renewal for Season 17. Mark Harmon denied that health issues were taking him out of the game, and his comments about when NCIS should end point toward the show still having life for the foreseeable future. Could a change in job be in Gibbs' future?
A couple of years ago, an episode dropped a hint that Gibbs could have a future as NCIS Director. If Vance decides the time has come to retire, perhaps Gibbs could make a big step up the ladder. It's not unprecedented for a procedural to take its main character somewhat out of the action as a series ages. Law & Order: SVU did it by promoting Olivia Benson; surely NCIS could pull it off by promoting Gibbs.
Only time will tell. New episodes of NCIS air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.