It occurred to me the other day that I might have spent more hours watching “NCIS” — the original series, what those who follow the industry call “the mothership” — than any other TV show.
As my wife would tell you, I’ve watched a lot of television ... and what I haven’t watched, I have kept up on through conversations and reading. There are long-running shows of which I’ve never seen a full episode (“Beverly Hills, 90210” comes to mind in these days after the death of actor Luke Perry), yet I can discuss plot points, behind-the-scenes scandals, and cast changes without being out of my depth.
If, that is, it’s possible to be out of your depth when discussing “90210.”
But “NCIS” has been my comfort food, my north star, the place I can go on a Tuesday night on CBS, or a weekend marathon on USA Network, and know that the apple cart won’t be upset.
Until, that is, a few weeks back.
Until, that is, the show pulled the rug out beneath the feet of its followers and intimated rather strongly that a character believed to be dead still might be among the living.
“NCIS” devoted an episode to bring closure to a long unsolved case, one that former agent Ziva David continued to work on for years after the trail went cold.
And then Ziva died — killed as part of a labyrinthian plot by mercenaries hired by a treacherous CIA agent.
(This would lead, of course, to the villainous, one-eyed Trent Cort being dispatched, in true “NCIS” fashion, by a hail of bullets by numerous agents after being given enough time to tell Ziva’s star-crossed love, Tony DiNozzo, that her death was “strictly business, nothing personal” — which allowed those at home having TV trope contests to shout “Bingo!”)
Ziva’s “death,” in an explosion at her home that somehow a) spared the daughter she had with DiNozzo (and whom she had named after the sister she lost in a bombing), and b) left no trace of her body’s remains (like THAT wasn’t a tipoff), wasn’t much of a surprise to the show’s followers.
After all, women tend to die on “NCIS.”
The wife and daughter of series lead Leroy Jethro Gibbs were killed in a car crash caused by a Mexican drug lord.
The agent Ziva had replaced, Kate Todd, was sniper-shot through the head by Ziva’s half-brother (I don’t have enough time to explain) — a death mimicked years later by a Russian terrorist who also was a half-brother of the sniper (but not of Ziva), when he killed Dianne, Gibbs’s third red-headed ex-wife.
Agency director Jenny Shepard, who was dying of an illness anyway, was killed in an epic gun battle with a quartet of Russian thugs.
Agent Michelle Lee, who had been forced to betray her country after a blackmailer had kidnapped her sister, died when she told Gibbs to shoot her — so that the bullet would pass through her and kill the bad guy as well. (Bingo!)
Agent Paula Cassidy died thwarting a terrorist bomb threat, while Jackie Vance — wife of the director who replaced Shepard (are you taking notes?) — was collateral damage when a gunman shot up her house in a successful attempt to assassinate Ziva’s father.
(Men have died as well, but those have been recurring characters or guest stars — mourned and forgotten as their photos go up on the ever-expanding Memorial Photo Wall tucked in a back hallway behind a staircase at NCIS headquarters.)
But 370 or so episodes into the 16-year run of “NCIS,” those presumed dead have not come back to life — except in memories, flashbacks, or the occasional Gibbs fever dream.
Which made the resolution of the cold case episode such an unsurprising surprise. In the final moments, the agent who replaced Ziva — Ellie Bishop (who has been shot, but not killed ... yet) — ventured into Ziva’s secret sanctuary to find that someone had been there. Someone who left a note asking her to keep this secret “for the safety of my family.”
And if you read through the list of deaths above, you know there ain’t much of Ziva’s family left to keep safe.
Fans have long suspected that Ziva was alive and well and living in Paris with Tony (who had left the show a couple of seasons after she died) and their daughter. There had been no confirmation, however, and the circumstances of actress Cote de Pablo’s exit from the show made the possibility of her return questionable.
So, now what?
“NCIS” has opened a door that seemingly had been closed. The question becomes ... what responsibility does the series now have to resurrect the character, if only to bring actual closure to her story?
The theory that introducing a plot device requires it to be played out is known as “Chekov’s Gun” — named for Anton, not Pavel, for whom it would be named “Chekov’s Phaser.”
Would “NCIS,” or any show, risk 16 years of fan loyalty by dropping such a bread crumb and not having it lead anywhere?
While we wait, a word of advice to Ellie Bishop: Watch your back.
Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin, email@example.com, began watching “NCIS” when neither he nor Mark Harmon had gray hair.