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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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@coco14...you are right...I meant MH gave the ULTIMATE performance of his career. As an English major and aspiring writer, I deserve a major-league Gibbs slap for that misuse of the word penultimate. Very embarrassed. Thank you for correcting me. Now, @bagle...in the episode "Heartland", we see young Gibbs and Shannon meet while waiting for the train. When Shannon learns bis name is Leroy Jethro Gibbs, she says,"I think I'll just call you Gibbs."

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Wonderful episode. I've watched them all over and over again and rewatched this one already. Nice interplay between past and present and Mark Harmon never disappoints. Liked the scenes with his mother because I always wondered about her and still don't quite know what happened to her. Loved the scene with Shannon and Kelly because it was so bittersweet and helped him come to terms with not every decision being under his control. Best of all was Mike Franks appearing as his scenes with Gibbs are always the most fun and provide much background information without being maudlin. Last night's episode was different, and seemed like a family reunion with all the characters from years back. Not something you would want to do every week, but perfect for the 200th!

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I always watch NCIS but i throught last nights was not as good as the others nights. but i will still watch them.

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You know what shock me was that Mcgee did not take that offer in Japan he should of that would of been a great storyline

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i think the scene with Kate was cut and pasted in from the "Plaque" episode. A scene with Jenny would have been great. I do think it could have been 2 hours. Mike Franks was great as usual. Great episode.

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watch NCIS devoutly. Loved past weaving into present story about a father who made bad decisions to help his son. Thought Gibbs would find something for the kid to do, place to live, way to get thru high school to college as a way to acknowledge he understood dad made wrong choice for right reasons. Instead, told the kid he could leave NCIS. Silent when the kid pleaded with him. Remarkably un-Gibbs like. Gibbs excusing his own behavior with Pedro yet being very judgmental with kid about dad. Kid screwed up his life too. Gibbs didn't help or show compassion. From conference room to the end, stupid. It is not enough that Gibbs didn't kill the kid when he could have or that he ducked from the bullet, the complete loop would have been for Gibbs to help that kid in some way so he wouldn't be lost, just because of his dad's decisions. Complete circle.

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I loved the episode and am in total agreement with Ann Woodward. This show rarely disappoints. Tuesday night was a great way for 'probies' to catch up with us senior agents.

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This episode was great, loved it... I would love to see Abbey and Tim get together, they are.. from outside appearances totally opposites,yet they are so very much alike and our made for each other.. Please lets not see Tony & Ziva together, that would be too predictable and I see them bonded together more like brother and sister, very protective of each other.. I love Gibbs, Mark Harmon is my eye candy he is Hot!!! So is Ducky, and I love his character. I would like to see Gibbs a bit more relaxed, enjoy life a little more, let go of the guilt... I too miss Mike..

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Such a good episode, but I am prejudice as Tuesday is NCIS night and after watching for so many episodes I feel as if this group of actors is family. They are so good at making me laugh, and sometimes cry and above all giving quality entertainment for an hour each week. There are only a very few tv programs on these days that live up to that standard.
I agree that this could have easily been a two-parter as it was fun seeing all the former characters.
This show has continued to go beyond expectations and that's why we can say Congratulations on 200 episodes and hope for many more.
Ann

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The Boat. :)