NCIS is no stranger to losing some of its big stars over the years, from Michael Weatherly to Cote de Pablo to Pauley Perrette's somewhat controversial exit. Similarly, the CBS drama is no stranger to giving Mark Harmon's oft-divorced Leroy Gibbs relationship woes. Both of those elements come into play, in a manner of speaking, with the eighth episode of NCIS' 18th season, which is Maria Bello's final installment as special agent and psychologist Jackie Sloane. Though the two characters haven't officially become an item, Bello reflected on Sloane and Gibbs' "great love" as her exit draws near.
While NCIS fans might have expected Jackie Sloane's final days with the team to be handled in a smaller and personal way, the episode "True Believer" will actually be sending her back to Afghanistan after her name is discovered near an abandoned bus where its driver was murdered. Gibbs goes with her, of course, as they attempt to locate a group of girls from the bus who were taken captive. Considering Sloane's P.O.W. past, this trip likely won't be a very pleasant and relaxing one, and though Maria Bello told TV Insider that her character and Gibbs very much want to handle the mission together, it doesn't sound like the episode will give the pair much time to address their more personal feelings.
That said, Maria Bello deserves some credit for keeping hope alive, saying this about Sloane and Gibbs' undefined relationship:
As you’ve seen over these last three and a half years, Gibbs and Sloane have become good pals. They really like each other. They really respect each other, they really trust each other. They have a good sense of humor between them. I think it’s been teased a lot. Some people are like, ‘Are they really sleeping together? Weren’t they? Was there a romance?’ Who knows if that question will ever be answered? But safe to say it will be a continuation of that great love that they have for each other.
There's a lot to chew on there, if you're into such speculation. Maria Bello first reaffirms the obvious by pointing out that Sloane and Gibbs mesh well together both on the job site and elsewhere. Trust is obviously key in their line of work, and there's also a clear line of communication between them, even if they haven't been overtly open about their shared feelings in front of viewers.
But it's Maria Bello's following comments that should really have fans' antennae standing tall. Amusingly enough, she mentioned sex before she mentioned romance, though that's probably more of a reflection of where the fanbase's interests lie. She then teased the idea that fans could legitimately come away from her final episode without actually getting any big resolutions with Gibbs and Sloane, which just seems cruel! Especially if Mark Harmon does indeed intend on slowly exiting the show once his contract expires this year.
However, I think that comment was just for show, and that the episode will deliver something more concrete in terms of the "continuation of that great love." How weird would it be if Gibbs proposed, thus giving the NCIS franchise two big weddings on the way?
Following its temporary hiatus through most of February, NCIS returns to CBS for Maria Bello's final ep on Tuesday, March 2, at 8:00 p.m. ET, and will hopefully air for quite a few weeks after that without further airing delays. And before saying goodbye to Jackie Sloane, be sure to say hello to star Wilmer Valderrama's new baby girl.