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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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I thought it was a great episode. Just love Mark Harmon (always have). He is such a good actor. Loved seeing some of the previous characters, especially Mike. Hated it when they killed him off. I have no problem with Ziva and Tony getting together, nor with Abbey and Tim doing the same. Absolutely love McGee! Also love Gibbs and Ducky. So glad that Palmer is still on the show, he is a cutie. Congrats on the 200th episode. KEEP THEM COMING!!!

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A truly Gibbs-worthy show, one I'll watch again and again. Mark Harmon certainly has proved himself an excellent actor over the years and seems to be a person I'd like to know. Very few actors would I say that about, another being David MacCallum (Ducky). The actors on NCIS feel like family and watching all the "what ifs" last night was fun and thought-provoking. The episode was well-conceptualized and written with many surprises, like seeing Gibbs mother. For those who didn't like it, why did you continue to watch? Something most people treasured you called trash. Don't write if you can't write constructively. BTW, rolfing is a great deep, deep massage technique that can be quite painful, but works well to stretch and massage the actual muscles not just the top layer right under the skin. And yes, here's to another 200 shows. Let's face it, Mark Harmon just gets better looking as the years roll by. Oh yeah, I do like my eye-candy.

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I keep thinking....it doesn't get any better than this....but it ALWAYS does....!!!!

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Congratulations on 200 episodes. This is without a doubt the best show on TV. Tonights episode was amazing. The expression on Jethro's face when he saw Shannon and Kelly was priceless, he truly was able to show his love for his family. Mark Harmon did a great job as always. Loved seeing his Mom and his best friend Mike Franks. The cast should be so proud, they all are wonderful actors. Here's hoping for 200 more.

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Wow! This episode blew me away. Emotions ran the gamut- laugh, cry , surprise, you name it. Mark Harmon is on hell of an actor. I've been watching him since Flamingo Road and St. Elsewhere. All the cast were fabulous as well. Loved seeing Mike Franks again. What a moment when Gibb's mom turned around and the look on his face! Thank you, writers and actors! Here's to another 200! Oh, and Tony saying 'Tiva' to Ziva was classic!!

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I believe Kate was just voice over. The image was from the episode "SWAK". You could tell Jenny Shepard was a digital image. I loved the show. I have watched it 5 times already. In Gibbs alternate life Rule # 12 was definitely out the window. Mark Harmon was brilliant as always. That basement scene was so far from normal Gibbs. I was shocked. As soon as his mom appeared, so did the tears. Thank you NCIS cast and crew. Keep up the great work. This fan isn't going anywhere.

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i love it what a show. i am so glad Tim is not going to Okinawa. Mark Harmon was superb, what a good actor he is. i want Tony with Ziva. excellent episode i loved to see everyone one more time. Best NCIS ever. you really needed to pay attention to it. congratulations to all. i l
oved Mike Franks, please bring him back someway.

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@chris - no offense but who are you to say who is a long time fan or not or how they should act - long time fans doesn't have to have all the DVDs to be a fan - and clearly you are not a long time fan as this episode's deep meaning seems to have have skipped over your head - maybe it just wasn't action enough for you? Too much actual thinking? Don't go judging others unless you want others to judge you. A fan is a fan -DVD or not. Anyways- onto more important things - did anyone see Agent Pacci? Because the actor's name was listed in the guest credits and was shown on the show but I did not see Pacci anywhere!

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Just super, very, very well done. I saw the ads and previews for this episode and wondered how this whle thing would play out and I loved it. Seeing Muse Watson again, I liked Mike Franks and was annoyed when they killed him off. I loved seeing the Mexican drug lord that Gibbs killed walk through as well. As for Kelly and Shannon, well I believe that Gibbs would rather have suffered through their loss than them suffering through losing him. It is that whole noble Gibbs thing. Oh, Gibbs Mom showing up was perfect, how many of us with dead parents wouldn't love a chance to chat with them. I though the pie bit was perfect,it reminded me of cinnamon toast with the crust cut off from my childhood. This show could keepgoing foryears, andI hope it does.

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kudos to all involved with that episode...mark harmon has to be the most handsome man on television..have been a fan for many years..i love the whole NCIS cast but he is the epitomy of great actors and handsome men

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