NCIS has lost its fearless leader, with Mark Harmon exiting the long-running CBS procedural in the October 11 episode. To celebrate Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ legacy, we’ve chosen his five best episodes below.
“Hiatus (Part 1)” (Season 3, Episode 23)
“It’s a coma he doesn’t want to come out of,” observes the doctor treating Gibbs, unconscious after a terrorist blast. For a while, we kinda didn’t want him to either. The loner was reliving happy days of surfside horseback rides and movie night with his wife and daughter before his predeployment promise “I will come back safe. I love you.” But horrible recollections intrude: their deaths, contemplating suicide, revenge on their killer, lying in a field hospital bed after a 1991 explosion during Desert Storm. (Turns out, his current doc is the same one who treated him then!) Gibbs awakens and doesn’t even recognize his close friend Ducky (David McCallum). Heartbreaking.
“Heartland” (Season 6, Episode 4)
A case takes the team to Gibbs’ Stillwater, Pennsylvania, hometown, where we meet his complicated, often estranged pop, Jackson (Ralph Waite). Misty flashbacks recall how young Gibbs (played in a sweet twist by Harmon’s son Sean) first met wife-to-be Shannon (Aviva Baumann). It’s a gut punch to see how almost bashful he is. This is the man he could have been before combat hardened him. Bonus for superfans: We learn how she introduced him to the concept of having rules.“Everyone needs a code they can live by,” she tells the smitten Gibbs.
“Twenty Klicks” (Season 12, Episode 1)
Gibbs as you’ve never seen him: an action hero deep in the Russian wilderness! His and McGee’s (Sean Murray) helicopter is shot down while they’re escorting an NCIS system administrator home. As killers track the grounded team, Gibbs stays one step ahead with wit and grit. Highlights: a showdown with a snarling wolf, emergency first aid on a dying crew member (he compassionately tells her she’s “a hell of a pilot” as she’s fading) and Gibbs doubling back solo to take down the pursuers using his sniper skills.
“The Arizona” (Season 17, Episode 20)
This stirring episode features Christopher Lloyd as a Navy vet desperate to be buried with his fellow Pearl Harbor survivors. When Gibbs pushes the 95-year-old to recall that awful day in 1941, Harmon’s glassy-eyed expression is unforgettable. The exchange later triggers some strikingly un-Gibbs-like confessions to McGee about how Kuwait changed him: “You come home, and you’re like half a person.”
“Great Wide Open” (Season 19, Episode 4)
Our eyes started watering the moment Gibbs comments “Helluva boat” at an old tub docked in Alaska—was he considering staying? By the time he tells McGee, “I could not have hoped for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you, Tim,” we were inconsolable. All the feelings Gibbs would usually suppress came out (succinctly) in Harmon’s exit hour, and it was exquisite.
NCIS, Mondays, 9/8c, CBS