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NCIS is finally on the way back to the small screen for Season 18, which entered production later than usual this fall following a Season 17 that was cut short by several episodes in the spring. That said, the long-running procedural won't jump into business as usual with the beginning of Season 18, as the show is kicking off the action in a very weird way for Mark Harmon's Gibbs.
As fans will recall, the production shutdown before the end of NCIS Season 17 meant that the impromptu finale didn't end on any kind of wild cliffhanger or promise of what's to come, like what happened with the Season 16 finale shocker. Now, NCIS will pick up where a previous episode left off, but it won't be the Season 17 finale. NCIS is playing around with time to start the first episode of Season 18, to fill in some Season 17 blanks with Gibbs.
That's not to say that NCIS will go full Doctor Who or Legends of Tomorrow; the characters won't be traveling in time, but the show is revisiting a previous part of the timeline. NCIS co-showrunner Steve Binder teased what's to come in a chat with TVLine, saying:
We had an episode last year called ‘Musical Chairs,’ where Gibbs disappears from the squad room to go on a mission, and then he shows up at the end of the episode with a black eye. We are going to pick up Season 18 with that mission that Gibbs was on, back in time. We’re in a pre-COVID world for a little while.
"Musical Chairs" aired as the eighth episode of Season 17 back on November 19, 2019. Assuming NCIS makes its intended November premiere date, the Season 18 premiere could be set almost exactly a year earlier, when "Musical Chairs" originally aired. The story won't be resolved by the time the credits roll on the premiere either; this will be a multi-episode arc that picks up at the end of 2019.
That's not to say that the whole arc of multiple episodes will feature Gibbs but none of the other key characters, which makes sense with some comments from actor Wilmer Valderrama. The rest of the NCIS team will be working cases back in Washington while Gibbs is off doing whatever he needs to do. Following this arc, NCIS will pick up in "a COVID world," according to Steve Binder, although the episodes set closer to present day may not air until February 2021.
To contrast, NCIS: New Orleans is expected to address the COVID pandemic right off the bat in its upcoming Season 7. At the time of writing, it's not yet clear how NCIS: Los Angeles intends to approach the pandemic. For now, I'm mostly curious about what NCIS going back to November 2019 to start Season 18 means for Jack.
Maria Bello, who joined NCIS back in early Season 15 to play Jack Sloane, is slated to leave the show in Season 18, reportedly appearing in only eight episodes. If that is still the case, it's possible that most of Jack's scenes will take place in the late-2019 arc, and she'll have few if any appearances once the show moves into the present. And what does this arc mean for the milestone 400th episode?
Only time will tell. NCIS is already making some big changes behind the scenes, so fans can only hope for more news on the NCIS front during the wait for the November Season 18 premiere. For some viewing options to fill primetime ahead of NCIS' return, be sure to check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule! If you're in the market for a blast to the NCIS past, you can find the full series through the end of Season 17 streaming on CBS All Access now. Seasons 1-15 are available streaming on Netflix.