NCIS: Season of Change for Gibbs!

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NCIS (CBS, Tuesdays, 8/7C) opens its thirteenth season (!) with the conclusion of the 12th season’s cliffhanger conclusion. In Iraq, chasing down leads on terrorist organization The Calling, NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs had just been shot by the boy he had tried to befriend.

The perhaps a bit too on the nose Stop the Bleeding opens with Gibbs (Mark Harmon) being rushed into an operating room on an aircraft carrier, where a very Hawkeye Pierce-like surgeon named Cyril (Jon Cryer) is about to cut into him and try to save his life – while a powerless Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) is shunted out of the room.

In the last few seasons, NCIS has gotten metaphysical/spiritual/whatever to a larger and larger degree. Here, before Cyril begins operating, Gibbs gets an earful from his late partner Mike (Muse Watson) and, while he’s being operated on, Gibbs finds himself in his favorite diner with his late daughter Kelly – then on a beach on one of the best days he can remember. Their conversation is a key in Gibbs’ moving forward.

Once back in DC, DiNozzo and CIA officer Joanne Teague (Mimi Rogers) and DiNozzo are sent after The Calling’s leader, Daniel Budd (Giles Matthey), while the rest of the team works on intel for them (and worry about Gibbs).

While working on rooting out Budd, Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) and the team are alerted to a North Korean sub that’s taken a nuclear bomb aboard. It looks like the U.S. will have to destroy the sub because the bomb’s arming codes have been detected.

Stop the Bleeding isn’t about the possibility of Gibbs dying – it’s about the effect his almost dying has on both him and his team. So, when DiNozzo and Teague find Luke Harris (Daniel Zolghadri) in Shanghai (Budd not only moves around, he’s looking to sell something valuable to the Chinese), it’s about change.

When Gibbs returns to duty (two weeks early – very Gibbs behavior), he’s stuck at a desk supporting Tim McGee (Sean Murray) and Bishop (Emily Wickersham) until he decides ‘to go for a walk.’ That walk leads to a confrontation in which Gibbs’ interrogation technique veers radically – the first sign that there’s something different about him (well, besides looking like he’s lost a lot of weight and seems a bit brittle).

While Gibbs’ shooting has taken a toll on the entire team, it only manifests in small ways – a DiNozzo line about frauds and Bond villains seems a bit forced, for example. And though the team does its job, there’s a definite feeling that they are all very aware of their mortality.

The script, by showrunner Gary Glasberg and Scott Williams, takes the show into slightly different territory in ways that promise to play out of the rest of the season. Tony Wharmby, the show’s best director, plays with the tones required for Gibbs’ near death experience (if that’s what it is),
Cyril’s OR, Shanghai and the NCIS HQ such that they feel delicately balanced and on the verge of (but never quite) tipping.

Stop the Bleeding works as a kind of sift reboot – signalling change but not losing familiarity. It’s a good start to the (lucky?) thirteenth season.

Final Grade: A-