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A par-for-the-course shocker on NCIS usually falls into the "Oh, that guy was the killer?" territory, but the CBS staple will occasionally deliver a twist that dwarfs everything else that happened in a given season. Season 16's finale dropped audience's jaws in a huge way when Cote de Pablo's Ziva David popped up in Gibbs' basement with a warning for her former superior.
Though fans might not expect NCIS's producers to take notes from the secrecy-minded playbooks of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, it was precisely that form of TV trickery that was employed. As star Rocky Carroll recently revealed, the cast and crew unwittingly filmed a fake ending that the writers had cooked up to fool everyone. According to Carroll:
So I’ve learned that, being in this business for a while, when something leaks, when a secret leaks, it usually comes from the set. One of the things that I thought was really ingenious that they did…we shot a false ending. So our last day of shooting on the show, we shot this false scene that was never gonna air to begin with. Everybody, cast and crew, we finish the scene, and the producers come up and say ‘Thank you all for a wonderful season. Have a great hiatus. We’ll see you next year.’ Everybody leaves, and about an hour later, maybe about ten people – the camera operator, wardrobe, hair and makeup – they all come back, they bring in Cote and they shoot the scene. So most of the people connected to our show didn’t even know that she was gonna be in it.
If he hadn't called it ingenious, I certainly would have. Granted, Cote de Pablo's return was fully expected after it had been hinted at earlier in the season, but there was always a fairly decent chance that the Ziva's survival mystery would have just been stretched out into next season without fully addressing her presence. That would have been the worst, but it's neither here nor there, since NCIS did fans right by locking de Pablo in for a role reprisal.
Considering the cast and crew were privy to the Ziva teases (such as her makeshift office) that got filmed, showrunners George Schenck and Frank Cardea had to come up with just the right way to be able to pull off the secret final scene. Sure, the skeleton crew could have gotten together at a completely different point in order to film it, but it was just as important to get everyone else focused on filming an incidental "final scene" that pulled their attention away from inquiring if anyone ever spoke to Cote de Pablo about returning, and so on.
After Rocky Carroll explained that situation on The Talk, I wish he would have gone into details about what was actually filmed for those final unaired moments. I'm strangely fascinated with the idea of writing up a false scene that hits all the same notes as a legitimate one, in order to to fool everyone involved. The layers!
It just goes to show how correct Rocky Carroll probably was in basically saying how the more loose lips there are, the more ships there are going to be on the bottom of the ocean. And it seems like all the right people were chosen for the secret production, since nothing had leaked out ahead of time about Cote de Pablo's return.
Thankfully, the showrunners put all speculation to rest on the night of the finale by revealing that Cote de Pablo is indeed coming back as a special guest star for the Season 17 premiere, though it's not clear if anything else will come of it. (It's not even 100% clear that Ziva is real, although it can be safely assumed she is...maybe.)
Could we see something similar from Season 17, by way of Michael Weatherly making a return as Tony DiNozzo? (We know for sure that Pauley Perrette isn't going to rush back with open arms.) And what about on Criminal Minds? Could the long-running series bring back Thomas Gibson's Hotch for the final moments of its final season?
NCIS will return to CBS for Season 17 on Tuesday, September 24, at 8:00 p.m. ET. Here's hoping the show gets her involved immediately after things kick off.