Major spoilers below for the latest episode of NCIS, titled "Winter Chill."
Now in the midst of its 18th season, NCIS has obviously delivered a lot of shocking and deadly moments over the years, with cast members coming and going for narrative-focused reasons, amicable personal reasons, and sometimes not-so-amicable reasons. But the hit CBS drama really walloped viewers over the head going into the midway point of the season by killing off longtime recurring character Emily Fornell, who has been portrayed by actress Juliette Angelo since Season 11.
The episode "Winter Chill" was largely about a case involving a dead body found frozen in a food chuck, but that somehow wasn't the most unappetizing plot point. During the third act, Mark Harmon's Gibbs met friend and P.I. Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano) in the hospital to wait for updates on the health of his daughter Emily, whom he'd found in bed unconscious and surrounded by pills. Emily was an addict in recovery, but unfortunately had a relapse that went downhill, and it was quite the depressing moment when a doctor came out to let Tobias know that she had died. And then things got even more touching as Rocky Carroll's Vance read out a poem by Merritt Malloy titled "Epitaph."
To be expected, NCIS fans were not ready to be hit with another big franchise exit so soon after Maria Bello's Jackie Sloane exited. Especially since Juliette Angelo appeared earlier in Season 18 whenever Gibbs was trying to track her father down. There was much heartbreak to be found on Twitter after the episode aired, with some fans broken up by the show delivering more emotional beats than usual.
Oh, but it can! And it probably will! Let's not forget that this season is reportedly the last one on Mark Harmon's most current contract, and it's possible he will opt out of signing on for an extension. There's a chance he will, of course, in either a full-time or recurring capacity, but it's also possible that NCIS is setting viewers up to say goodbye to all the characters (as well as those on NCIS: New Orleans). But that mourning is for another time.
For now, the spotlight is still on Emily Fornell, whose death marks another blow to Tobias' emotional stability.
There aren't very many scripted TV shows that have been successful enough to make it to 18 seasons, but in the cases of those that did, viewers probably aren't expecting tearjerker surprises to still be effective. But there was clearly a learning curve for some in that respect.
NCIS viewers still hadn't completely gotten over the fact that Jimmy's wife Breena Palmer was already killed off earlier in Season 18 due to COVID-19 complications. So having to witness another character's grief, on top of dealing with one's own sadness, is becoming a regular occurrence.
If only Andy Samberg's Brooklyn Nine-Nine goofball Jake Peralta were there to comfort all of us in our times of need. Of course, if he was around, then NCIS would probably kill off Jake's wife Amy (Melissa Fumero), and some viewers were quick to call the show out for having a particular inclination to kill off female characters.
With eight episodes left for CBS' NCIS in Season 18, there are still lots of chances for the writers to eliminate other characters from the equation, though they might have to deal with compounded fan anger by doing so.