How NCIS Decided On The Character Who Would Replace Mark Harmon's Gibbs

ncis season 19 cast parker mcgee knight torres
(Image credit: CBS)

Spoilers ahead for the October 18 episode of NCIS Season 19 on CBS, called “Face the Strange.”

NCIS delivered one of the biggest changes in its nearly two decades on television in Season 19 when Gibbs decided to stay in Alaska rather than return to the job with McGee, and Mark Harmon is out for the time being (although he remained top-billed in the opening credits for “Face the Strange”). This episode saw the agents trying to deal with Gibbs’ departure as much as fans, and a big question was raised: why was Vance trying to get Parker to join NCIS and take Gibbs’ old job as team leader, when McGee was right there? 

As it turns out, NCIS came up with a good reason for McGee not officially becoming team leader, despite unofficially filling that role through much of Season 18 while Gibbs was suspended. And that reason wasn’t that the show was looking for an excuse to cast Gary Cole as a series regular. In an interesting twist, the reveal only came because of Torres, who was frustrated that Parker was tagging along for the case of the week and had been offered the job of team leader instead of McGee. Vance eventually gave it away to Torres that he’d offered the job to McGee, but then turned to Parker on Gibbs’ recommendation when McGee turned it down.

But why would McGee turn down the job that he had earned, and had already proved he was more than capable of doing well? Torres asked McGee that very question, after revealing that he’d been hiding outside of the bathroom door when McGee and Parker were talking. Torres said that McGee was the right man for the job, thanks to his intelligence and his willingness to keep on going even when he was shot. McGee finally came clean, saying:

Yeah, except it was Gibbs who shot me. Okay? Twice. He put two bullets through me. And you know what, it saved my life. It hurt like hell getting shot, but I can’t imagine what it felt like pulling that trigger. I mean, who could do that? Could I do that? … Look, Nick, my point is, I don’t want to be the guy that can pull that trigger. Okay? If there’s anything I’ve learned from Gibbs, it’s that this job is all-consuming. It completely consumes you. You know what the guy had to do to escape? He had to go to Alaska! Like, Alaska. I got a family, Nick. That can’t be me. I can’t do that. It’s that simple. Go ahead, tell me again how dumb I am.

Torres couldn’t argue against McGee’s point, and I don’t think any fan could either after seeing everything that Gibbs had to either lose or give up as part of his job as team leader. None of his relationships could last, and he lived alone before seemingly snapping last season. McGee has a wife and twin children; of course he wouldn’t want the life that came with the team leader job after what he watched Gibbs go through over nearly twenty years!

So any fans who were hoping that McGee would step into Gibbs’ shoes got some bad news with McGee turning down the job, but NCIS didn’t spurn him or overlook him. Vance offered him the job, even though Gibbs had recommended Parker, and McGee had some very valid reasons for turning it down. This wasn’t a matter of any disrespect to McGee, or NCIS doing McGee dirty just for the sake of protecting the status quo as much as possible after losing Gibbs on an episodic basis.

Plus, the episode also took the time to let Parker prove that he has the skills to do the job, and the job piqued his interest by the end. And if even Torres could be convinced that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if somebody other than McGee could take the job, then that’s enough for me at least to be optimistic about how NCIS carries on into a new era without Mark Harmon. Find out what happens next with new episodes of NCIS (opens in new tab) on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS, ahead of new episodes of NCIS: Hawai’i.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.