Warning! The following contains spoilers for the NCIS episode "The Arizona." Read at your own risk!
NCIS aired its Season 17 finale on April 14, and while it wasn't the ending CBS originally planned, it didn't end in a way that was completely unsatisfying to viewers. In fact, the episode delivered what may be one of Gibbs' most personal fears, and it only came after an episode of helping an old veteran fulfill a dying wish. After pressuring the veteran (played by Christopher Lloyd) to relive his experience of the attack of the USS Arizona, Gibbs later confronted some of his own experiences from war.
Shortly before delivering the ashes of the veteran Joe Smith to his proper burial space, Gibbs asked for McGee to hang out while he talked about Joe, and himself. Gibbs talked about how war can change a person and, much like he believed was the case with Joe, he confessed to McGee that he was transformed by his time in Kuwait. War transformed Gibbs so much so that he feared his wife and daughter would hardly recognize him when he returned.
As NCIS fans may remember, Gibbs never got the chance to see his wife and daughter upon returning home from war. Both of them were murdered by a drug dealer, whom Gibbs later tracked down and murdered in cold blood. It makes one wonder: would a pre-war Gibbs done something so drastic, or was Gibbs' war experience another motivator in him going to such extremes for vengeance?
What's more important is that this reveal shows just a sliver of the baggage Gibbs has carried with him for decades. The NCIS head still lives with the thought that, even in a world where he still had his first wife and daughter, they may have left him anyway because of how serving in the war changed him. I'm sure the string of failed marriages he had after has reinforced that as well, which made this whole reveal extra tragic.
If it felt like an uncharacteristically vulnerable moment for Gibbs, it was. NCIS co-executive producer Gina Monreal spoke to TVLine about the moment, and how Mark Harmon's performance took the scene deeper into Gibbs' character than even what was said.
To me, this was a way of doing a father story for Gibbs. He sees his father in Joe, he looks at his bracelet several times, he says, 'That’s how these guys are,' WWII vets. He’s talking about his dad in a certain way. It’s an opportunity for Gibbs to connect with someone like his father, and through this story he does open up. But the Gibbs of three years ago might not have gotten there. He’s definitely evolving.
NCIS has really put some work into progressing Gibbs' character in recent seasons, and with each step forward, some might wonder when the ride will be ending. For now the ride looks like it'll continue for at least another season (assuming NCIS is renewed), but who knows? This franchise has surprised audiences before.
NCIS is done for Season 17, but will most likely return for Season 18. Continue to stick with CinemaBlend for continued updates on what's happening in the world of television and movies.