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NCIS was still going strong at the end of its shortened seventeenth season, with several long-running cast members still in the spotlight. Now, however, one series regular is slated to depart the hit CBS series in the upcoming Season 18. Maria Bello, who joined NCIS back in Season 15, is leaving NCIS (and Gibbs) behind when the show returns from hiatus. Here's what's happening.

Maria Bello's departure comes at the close of a three-year contract that originally brought her into the fold in early Sesason 15, but this won't be a case of a character simply disappearing over hiatus. Deadline reports that Bello will appear as Jack Sloane in eight episodes of Season 18, which is currently intended for a fall premiere. These final episodes should wrap up Jack's story.

Well, any fans who were holding out hope for a lasting love connection between Gibbs and Jack got some very bad news here! Jack's departure should be significant, despite the fact that Maria Bello hasn't been on board NCIS as long as some of the others regular. Jack has served as operational psychologist as well as agent during her time with the Washington D.C. division of NCIS, and Gibbs has benefited from her guidance... whenever his arm could be twisted into listening to her.

A big question now is how NCIS intends to write her out and if the show had plans to say goodbye to Jack back when Season 17 was still happening. Like many other shows, NCIS had to wrap early in the 2019-2020 TV season, ending short of its milestone 300th episode, so it's possible that there was an arc for Jack that never made it to the airwaves.

That said, NCIS ended on Episode 20 of an ordered 24, and Maria Bello will be back for eight episodes, and it's entirely possible that the NCIS team didn't know that Bello would be leaving back when Season 17 was still in production. From a story standpoint, perhaps it's for the best that the writers have the time to write her exit without undoing anything they might have done for Jack in the final episodes of Season 17.

Could Jack's daughter have a part to play in how NCIS writes Maria Bello's departure? An eight-episode run would be enough time to bring her back, and craft a story that might require Jack to leave NCIS to help her daughter. At the very least, my money is on Jack surviving the end of her time on NCIS.

An eight-episode build to her death might be underwhelming, and why not leave the door open to Maria Bello potentially reprising her role someday? Even if stars like Michael Weatherly and Pauley Perrette haven't returned yet (and Perrette almost certainly never will), the return of Cote de Pablo's Ziva David proves to me that the show can pull off temporary arcs with departed actors and characters.

For the time being, we can only speculate about what will happen with Jack in Season 18. If you want to relive Maria Bello's journey on NCIS as Jack, you can find Season 15 streaming on Netflix, as well as every season so far streaming on CBS All Access. If you need a break from all things NCIS, our 2020 summer TV premiere schedule has some new options for you.

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