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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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You really had to pay attention. No time to get snacks... Awesome. Can hardly wait to buy the season 9 dvd, so I can watch it again and again. Here is to another 200 episodes.

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@ Michael Shut up please. Kate is dead. There is a reason she is no longer on the show. Tony deserves someone alive because I am almost positive that he is not a necrophiliac. Stop living in the first two seasons.

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It was really good to see the reason why Gibbs did what he did and the "What if". Then with the understory of the actual case gave cause to his "rethinking", I often wondered in those episodes that drove Gibbs for an answer what he was thinking. Plus with the hidden story of Tim being offered the position in Japan and then declining it with the line "there is so much more I can do here" echoed Gibbs own story and how he has affected his team individually. Over all it is a well written episode with a good tie to lose ends. I'm looking forward to 200 more.

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Long time fan have all the Dvd's. Worst episode ever. Watched the whole thing, was very hard not to turn it off. Not worthy of the best show on TV.

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The premise of this show could have made it a real snoozer, but, thanks to the brilliance of all involved, it turned out to be another reason why the show is so popular. This was not easy to pull off, let alone make it memorable.

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You react to what you've seen before; I just wasn't expecting George Bailey ("It's a Wonderful Life"). Once Mike flicked away that bullet that was hanging in mid-air, I was reassured. In the end, of course, "what if" in the past is just fiction. As we get older, we learn to live with that -- or go mad. I'm glad Tim is not going to Okinawa, but I still feel uneasy about a McAbby partnership. Romance is a good way to spoil a beautiful friendship.

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Loved it. I'm going to watch it again as I'm sure I missed some references.

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I like the what-if scenarios. And I like knowing what became of everyone had Kate survived and there was no Ziva. I have been watching the show since the beginning, and I agree with the person who said Kate and Tony had better chemistry than Tony and Ziva(and I'm not necessarily speaking to the romantic side either way, just simply their characters clicked better)...If Tony and Ziva end up together, that would just be the worst! I'm hoping the writers will realize that people don't watch this show for the romantic relationships. They watch it for the family-like friendships that this group has. It's unlike any other show around, and if you change that by hooking up your main characters together(even Abby and McGee, as cute as they are), it will totally change what the show has been all of these years.

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Best episode ever! Congrats to the screenwriter and director! Love this show for it's complexities, and Mark Harmon....well, been a fan of his many years, he just gets better and better. Kudos to the whole crew.

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I loved the show last night. The basement scene really made me tear up. I hope this sets up Gibbs to get over some of his guilt and sadness. I also think it is sad that Kate had to die but what would have become of poor Ziva's life with her her being stuck in the Mossad? And McGee and Abby were adorable in the AU.

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