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NCIS 200th Episode Review: Again, For the First Time

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"We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot

Tonight's milestone episode of NCIS showed viewers a side of Leroy Jehtro Gibbs we've never seen before, which was the point, as the bulk of the action did not actually take place, other than in his mind.

I have not seen the 1998 film Sliding Doors, upon which "Life Before His Eyes" is loosely based, but I'm intrigued after Gibbs' introspective journey proved to be funny, moving, and surprisingly complex.

Only by looking back at the decisions he's made and the wide-ranging ripple effects that followed could our fearless leader truly understand the scope of what he's accomplished over the decades.

Seeing his life, in a sense, again for the first time.

Gibbs would love to live in a perfect world, to have it both ways. Wouldn't we all. But it doesn't work that way, as he learned time and again. That said, Gibbs wouldn't have his world any other way.

Gibbs and Mike

The filming style and the presence of familiar faces, past and present, going about their business in the diner gave the episode a surreal aura, one which could have fallen flat had it not fulfilled a grander purpose.

Leave it to old, wise Mike Franks (Muse Watson) to talk the original Probie through this out-of-body experience, one that reintroduced memorable characters and rehashed monumental NCIS events.

Mike's "Swan Song" last spring was another unconventionally brilliant installment, so it was only appropriate that Gibbs' longtime friend and mentor played something of an otherworldly role this time around.

With the help of Mike and others, Jethro came to the realization that everything that's happened and every choice he's made - even those with tragic results - has brought him to where he is now.

A simple message, but nonetheless profound. It doesn't work that way. We heard those words often as Gibbs relived not saving Kate, Kelly and Shannon, only to consider what good resulted from such devastation:

The team coming together. The criminals and terrorists locked away. The families given closure after suffering unspeakable losses. Gibbs' own family being spared that inevitable, dreaded knock on the door.

His choice. His life.

Utopian, it's not, and there will always be mistakes and what-ifs. But for a man who gets up every day with the purpose of protecting and serving others, it's hard for Gibbs to have many regrets in the end.

The alternate-reality scenes were near-perfect, offering terrific "here's to the fans" moments while dovetailing with the broader narrative and without dragging on so long as to feel like contrived, cheesy filler.

That's a tough line to walk and while some fans may have wished for a boilerplate episode - I was more than a little skeptical of the concept headed into the hour - it was executed flawlessly.

There were clear parallels between the case of the week, involving a father who did what he thought was just, despite the moral gray area he clearly crossed, and Gibbs' own contemplation.

Without that case and how Gibbs' lessons at the diner applied to it, this story would not have resonated, but Gary Glasberg's teleplay and Tony Wharmby's direction struck the right balance.

Life Before His Eyes Pic

Gibbs' rendezvous with Shannon and Kelly was the night's emotional high point, as well as his personal turning point. His loss would instead have been their loss, and NCIS would never have known Gibbs.

It felt like 2005 again with a flashback to Kate's demise, only to give way to a glimpse of what might have been. Think she really would have gone on to marry and have a child with DiNozzo?

Interestingly, in the other alternate universe, where Tony did not appear, Kate's baby was of the opposite gender, likely alluding to the fact that Tony wasn't in the picture in that scenario.

Seeing a married Tony wasn't just a gimmick, either, as we've witnessed him yearning for more out of life this season, and are about to meet the woman he was once engaged to marry, Wendy.

McGee-Abby fans were no doubt loving that couple's role, too, but unlike Kate, they're still around and very much fond of one another in reality. Might this be a gateway to something more?

Fortunately, he's not taking the job on Okinawa. What did Tim mean when he said he had more to accomplish here? He didn't have time to elaborate, but he couldn't mean just professionally.

"Life Before His Eyes" was not only an NCIS benchmark, but a crossroads for the characters that made these 200 episodes so strong; A reflection on where they've been, where they might've gone, and where they're headed.

For Gibbs, he's finally let go of the guilt. For the rest, we'll have to wait and see.

The screen faded to black with a thank you to the fans who've made this the #1 drama on TV in recent years. With episodes like this, the fans owe the actors, writers, producers and crew thanks as well.

A few closing thoughts and observations - and please, add your own below, because there are almost too many to list after such a head-spinning hour - before turning it over to your comments:

  • I loved seeing Gibbs' father (Ralph Waite) as well as young Gibbs (Sean Harmon) and Matteson, from this season's "Engaged", even if they were mostly on the periphery.
  • It goes without saying, but Mark Harmon was outstanding tonight.
  • Gibbs' mom was a redhead, too? Somehow not surprising.
  • Did Sasha Alexander actually film that scene, uncredited?
  • Tony calling faux Ziva "Tiva" in the interrogation? Classic.
  • Who knew Palmer had abs like that, indeed.
  • ROLFING?

What did you think of tonight's NCIS? Discuss below!

Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (468 Votes)

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.

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Eagleone

200 thank you NCIS cast and crew. Great gift.

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I thought the story line would be something like this: Gibbs gets shot...near death....sees his wife who tells him it's not his time....go back and take care of his "family".. Gibbs questions her statement...Shannon shows him examples of how he has cared for his team (family) and they cared for him....ex. Gibbs helping Tony to grow and Tony saving Gibbs life, etc. Gibbs awakens in the hospital surrounded by his team/family. The show is all about quirky people who blend into a cohesive team who care for one another like family. That should be the theme of the episode.

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200th episode awesome thank you. this such a great show.

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I do hope we get into why Mcgee didn't go to japan it has to be more then just staying at NCIS

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I don't like Michael, since I'm one of the people he calls stupid -- but he seemed to especially enjoy this episode, which actually made me glad for him. It had the very elements he desires ... and it made me think that all of us NCIS fans have characters or scenarios we each particularly like, and all together we all are fans of the whole show. For instance, I like episodes that feature Tony showing leadership and initiative (rescuing Ziva was one of my favorites and season 3 is still my favorite season), but I know a couple who love NCIS, but don't like Tony at all, consider him a shirker and immature and only tolerate him because they love the show. So, Michael got one he enjoyed a lot. Good for him!

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I feel disappointed. After 199episode I expected something different.
The only what if I liked was kelly/Shannon because it gave gibbs a closure.
Didnt like tony/kate.. never though of them as a couple.

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While I certainly didn't hate this episode - I found it imaginative, but a little disjointed, I had really hoped that the 200th episode would focus on the whole team and have more characteristic NCIS humor in it. Instead it was a rather heavy hearted sad Gibbs centric story. Mike Franks and Riley McAllister had more screen time and significance than cast members who have been on the show since episode 1. The biggest thing that sets this show apart is the humor and relationships in this ensemble cast, that Gibbs is the head of. While I liked the episode, I don't think that NCIS is a one man show, and so I felt a little disappointed that the team was pretty much MIA. The entire cast and their interactions are a huge part of what make NCIS unique IMO.

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Absolutely phenomenal. After Grey's desastrous attempt at a "what if" episode last week, I wondered if it could be done well, but once again NCIS blew me away. Then again, comparing Grey's and NCIS is like comparing Meyer and Rowling... Amazing show, no wonder it's the #1 drama. Well done!

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@Nick...Hello to you, too. Thanks for the complement. I LOVE the show and enjoy posting about it. RE my comment about Tony and Wendy, I was simply trying to make the point that just because Tony has had other relationships didn't mean his feelings for her went away or could not be rekindled. Maybe saying she was the one who got away was overstating my point a bit.

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This was a really fun episode. We need to see more of Frank's ghost coming to Gibbs's aid. My only problem with it was that the case of Rose was not resolved. It seemed as if the entire reason for the flashbacks was to show Gibbs that sometimes doing wrong is right. That gave me the impression that he was going to go to bat for Rose after what he felt he had to do to get out of his situation. That was left up in the air. It is not like Gibbs to behave the way he did about the Rose family. It is also not like Bellisario to leave a story up in the air with no hint of resolving it. Why all of the soul searching and then just leave the story unfinished. But all in all it was a great 200th episode and it was good to see that Gibbs finally laid his conscience to rest. I am still wondering what happened to the dog??

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