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For a series that deals largely in case-of-the-week plotlines, NCIS reached heightened levels of serialization in Season 16 with regular callbacks to its characters' pasts in different ways. The most exciting example, of course, came via the official return of Cote de Pablo's Ziva David, the former Special Agent who'd previously been thought dead by fans and characters alike.
Ziva's highly anticipated return in the Season 16 finale was celebrated like few things in NCIS' long history on CBS, with fans having wanted Cote de Pablo back on the show the week after she left in Season 11. But is it possible that NCIS' showrunners Frank Cardea and Steven D. Binder were pulling the wool over viewers' eyes when setting up Ziva's return in such a specific way? Could it be that Ziva's appearance in the finale was just a figment of Gibbs' imagination? Let's discuss.
Yes, Ziva Could Be A Figment Of Gibbs' Imagination
During the latter episodes of Season 16, NCIS put Gibbs through the wringer at certain points while playing up the notion that he was struggling with some mental hurdles. The episode tying that point in with Ziva's return was the installment "She," which was where Gibbs put to a fiery rest his all-important Rule #10: never get personally involved in a case.
"She" was also where NCIS revealed that Ziva was not only supposedly still alive, but she was tracking a cold case and keeping a small office inside a storage unit. A later episode had members of the NCIS team discovering Gibbs' big secret (murder), leading to Mark Harmon's character having a long and meaningful talk with his therapist, Laura San Giocomo's Dr. Grace Confalone. Gibbs then capped the season off by once again hallucinating his dead wife in the time span just before Ziva showed up.
So by all means, Leroy Jethro Gibbs was at a precipice of sorts where it wouldn't be inconceivable for him to hallucinate Ziva coming down to deliver some bad news. Ziva was already on his mind, as was Melinda McGraw's Diane, and she appeared only to Gibbs within his basement comfort zone, making it harder to prove she was there.
Plus, all viewers saw her say was just that she didn't have time to talk, and that Gibbs was in danger, which didn't note anything outside of Gibbs' realm of knowledge. Plus, she all but told him he looked like he'd seen a g-g-g-ghost, because his reaction was very much in line with someone seeing a ghost for the first time (that wasn't an ex-wife).
Bringing Cote de Pablo's Ziva back for any kind of big arc would almost necessarily warrant Michael Weatherly's Tony DiNozzo also returning, considering their "will they? / won't they?" romantic arc only got resolved after the actress left the show. That likely wouldn't happen, though, due to the heat that CBS has already taken for renewing Bull for a new season after Eliza Dushku's network settlement and accusations against the actor were made public.
Combine that stuff with the fact that Cote de Pablo hasn't officially been confirmed to reappear beyond the Season 17 premiere, and NCIS could very well water Ziva's return down by explaining it as happening only in Gibbs' mind.
No, Ziva Probably Isn't A Figment Of Gibbs' Imagination
This isn't exactly a rebuttal, but it deserves to be mentioned first and foremost that NCIS fans would likely revolt harder than disgruntled Game of Thrones fans if it's revealed that Cote de Pablo's Ziva David was only a mental manifestation. There was already a legitimate risk of a fan backlash going down had Ziva not shown up at all in the Season 16 finale, given the teases earlier in the season.
As far as a direct argument for Ziva's return to NCIS being genuine, the mightiest proof would arguably be the note that was left for Bishop inside Ziva's office. That obviously involved someone other than Gibbs, making it harder to limit her physical presence to just his basement. Unless, of course Gibbs found his inner Tyler Durden by faking and planting Ziva's note to Bishop without even realizing it. Not so likely, unless his mental fatigue is far worse than anyone is aware of.
Ziva obviously doesn't want anyone else out there in the world to know she's alive, so she'd have no reason to meet up with Gibbs anywhere else but his home. Not that getting in without knowledge or approval is the best way to enter a government agent's home, even when it's a friend's home.
As it was revealed by the showrunners after the Season 16 finale aired, the Season 17 premiere will bring Cote de Pablo as a guest star "as Ziva's warning to Gibbs unfolds." That wording would be pretty strange if Ziva really did end up being a ghost or a figment of anyone's imagination. Ghosts can be foreboding, sure, but this mostly grounded CBS drama probably isn't introducing the concept of supernatural entities having the agency to pose warnings to the living.
It's fairly easy to counter the notion that Tony would need to be around for Ziva's return to NCIS, too. If Ziva is in trouble along with Gibbs, which is likely the case, then it wouldn't make much sense for Tony to show up instead of staying with their daughter Tali and keeping her safe. Granted, there are other ways for her to stay protected, but that seems like the easiest way for the show to explain away his continued absence.
So combine that stuff with the reiterated assumption that fans would go berserk all over the place if NCIS faked Ziva's return, and it's highly unlikely that Cote de Pablo came back just to be one of Gibbs' fantasies. Anything could happen, of course, so fans will likely need to be patient until the showrunners and/or stars start to tease more about Season 17. Let us know what you guys think in the poll below.