SPOILERS below for the midseason finale of NCIS, so be sure to watch before reading on.
The first half of NCIS' seventeenth season has been as memorable as ever, thanks to the limited return of former star Cote de Pablo as a slightly more fractured Ziva David. The details surrounding her return were flipped upside down in the most recent episode, which served as the long-running drama's fall finale. As fans have witnessed, though, Ziva's return has been entirely centered on the Sahar(Sarah) case, while very little screentime and conversation time was devoted to teasing a reunion with estranged beau Tony DiNozzo.
The logistics behind avoiding that information are salient, in that Cote de Pablo only signed on for a five-episode arc in Season 17, while Michael Weatherly has had his own CBS show keeping him busy in the past four years. But according to longtime executive producers Frank Cardea and Steven D. Binder, the creative team worked the current storyline in such a way that it keeps hope alive for a Ziva and Tony reunion. According to Binder, Tony almost definitely knows Ziva is alive, so it's just a matter of time.
She really believes her life is in jeopardy, she really believes she needs to stay undercover, so she doesn't tell anybody. But if Adam Eshel's going to know, Tony's going to know. Just because he knows doesn't mean they've been vacationing in the Caymans and hanging out and having a good ol' time. Just because he knows she's alive doesn't mean there's been a relationship there, which still gives us space to do a reunion.
By all means, NCIS fans would probably move mountains and oceans to give producers enough space to configure a big reunion between Cote de Pablo's Ziva and Michael Weatherly's Tony. Now that the show is reaching the end of this twist-driven storyline, there's less of a reason for Ziva to stick around in full, so it seems like it would be smarter to set up a rekindling with Tony sooner rather than later.
It sounds like the key to this whole situation hinges heavily on the idea that Ziva and Tony haven't spoken to each other or been in each other's presence since right around when she left. (Which is presumably around the time she got pregnant.) Here's Steven D. Binder talking about that element:
We were playing a game of Operation with this. On the one hand, we wanted to see a reunion and we think the audience wants to see a reunion and if there has been a full-throated reunion in the past, that's a disservice to the storytelling on some level. On the other hand, when you're a co-parent, letting your co-parent believe you're dead is a pretty rough pill to swallow.
For the sake of pure drama, it would have been more emotionally ideal for the writers to craft a situation where Tony and Tali were kept in the dark about Ziva's survival, only to bring everyone together for a gobsmacking reunion. However, it probably wouldn't have earned Ziva any sympathy points had audiences been told she chose to fully keep her existence a secret from Tony and Tali. Sure, it's likely devastating to know that someone you love is out there in the world and unable to return home, but if the opposite involves breaching safety and putting a child at risk, it's understandable.
It appears as though the winter premiere, airing in January, will connect some more dots between Ziva and Tony, by way of how she might react to such a reunion given al the things she's been though in the interim years. Here's how Frank Cardea and Steven D. Binder put it to TVInsider:
Cardea: We're going to get into some of that [in the January 7 episode].
Binder: In terms of the effects on the relationship going forward, that's a trajectory that wouldn't be answered in one episode anyway.
Clearly, ZIva's years in hiding have taken a toll on her mental state, as well as her previously championed ability to be the most badass person in the room at any given moment. She's been living in a much different world from whatever Tony is doing these days, so a reunion could feasibly do damage to that fan-favorite relationship. Not that I think the writers and EPs would want to poke the bear that much, but it could happen.
Here's hoping the January 7 winter premiere offers NCIS fans some answers and a promise of closure on the Ziva and Tony front, among others, but even if it doesn't, at least Cote de Pablo is around for one more episode! (Let's just hope it sees an uptick in the ratings.) While waiting for CBS' primetime to kick back into high gear in 2020, check out all the other great shows that are on the way in the new year.