‘NCIS’ Bosses on Tony & Ziva’s Reunion and the ‘Deep Cut’ for Gibbs

The North Pole
Erik Voake/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 17, Episode 10 of NCIS, “The North Pole.”

The threat to Ziva’s (Cote de Pablo) life is over now (really, this time), so she can return to Tony (Michael Weatherly) and Tali … right?

Ziva’s fall finale return saw her and Gibbs (Mark Harmon) learn that the woman they thought was Sahar was just a decoy. The real Sahar was Sarah (Louise Barnes), Gibbs’ neighbor. And to save Ziva, he took a page out of her book and killed Sahar from the top of a staircase.

What comes next? TV Insider turned to executive producers Frank Cardea and Steven D. Binder for answers.

First of all, the reveal of Sarah/Sahar was one of the most shocking moments of the series. When you knew you were bringing Ziva back for this multi-episode arc last year, how early did you plan out specifics of it, like that Sahar would pose as Gibbs’ neighbor?

Steven D. Binder: It was an interesting evolution because we had planned out the five episodes of Ziva pretty specifically before we started shooting or writing everything. That originally was not included and when our writers were off by themselves being brilliant, they came to us with something they were really excited about. When they started to pitch it, it had messed up something that we had been planning for months and months and months, and I’m thinking to myself, “Why are they going off this way? This isn’t going to work.” Then they dropped the bomb on us, and I was like, “Oh my God, we’re doing that, no matter what it costs.”

Frank Cardea: The primary reason it was done is if we were coming full-circle from Season 3 when Ziva kills her brother — she had a huge stake saving Gibbs’ life, killing someone close to her —  and if Gibbs were to just kill a guest star of the week to save Ziva… We needed to have an emotional stake in the person he was shooting to mirror what Ziva did in Season 3.

(Erik Voake/CBS)

Binder: It had to cost him. Because it cost Ziva to pull that trigger in Season 3. As Frank was saying, a guest star wasn’t going to cost him anything. But the mother of someone he developed a bond with would be a pretty deep cut for this guy.

We saw Gibbs’ reluctance to say out loud what he knew to be true as soon as Victor said her name. How much of it was because he knew it would likely end in him having to kill Phineas’ mom or at least watch her be killed?

Binder: He’s obviously a very astute agent with a really good gut sense about things, and yet he’s like the rest of us. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. It rang true to him. The flashbacks hit these touchstones where he started thinking back, “It was right there before me.” He just didn’t want to believe it, so he tried to hold off believing it for as long as he could.

Cardea: That’s why he says to them, “I need proof.” Although in his heart, he knew instantly.

Binder: If this was any other character at this point in the episode, he probably would’ve already put a bullet in the bad guy’s head.

This episode revealed that Ziva’s been in contact, albeit limited contact, with Tony, and they’ve even seen each other since she faked her death. How did you go about deciding how much Tony would know and when?

Binder: We were playing a game of Operation with this. On the one hand, we wanted to see a reunion and we think the audience wants to see a reunion and if there has been a full-throated reunion in the past, that’s a disservice to the storytelling on some level. On the other hand, when you’re a co-parent, letting your co-parent believe you’re dead is a pretty rough pill to swallow.

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

We had split the difference and thought, “What would really happen?” She really believes her life is in jeopardy, she really believes she needs to stay undercover, so she doesn’t tell anybody. But if Adam Eshel’s going to know, Tony’s going to know. Just because he knows doesn’t mean they’ve been vacationing in the Caymans and hanging out and having a good ol’ time. Just because he knows she’s alive doesn’t mean there’s been a relationship there, which still gives us space to do a reunion.

What are the chances of seeing that reunion and what will what Ziva’s experienced mean for that relationship? There’s a lot to come back from. They’ve been separated, we’re seeing Ziva dealing with anxiety…

Cardea: We’re going to get into some of that [in the January 7 episode].

Binder: In terms of the effects on the relationship going forward, that’s a trajectory that wouldn’t be answered in one episode anyway.

Speaking of her anxiety, which is very different from what we saw from Ziva when she was on the team, how much does that play a role in her delay to reunite with her family and reluctance to bring in Gibbs?

Cardea: It plays a big part. Part of what we explored in these five episodes is how everyone has changed. Gibbs is a different person, and certainly Ziva was. Ziva’s anxiety was a big part of that. It was something Cote embraced.

Binder: From a character point of view, something Gina [Lucita Monreal], our writer, created is taking a character who’s previously been fearless and giving her the worst fear possible. You don’t have anxiety issues if you’re afraid someone’s going to shoot you. This is someone who couldn’t even go into a crowd. It really handicapped her superpower, and then we got to see what was left.

(Erik Voake/CBS)

It was sad to see Adam go, but we got the flashbacks and saw what Ziva meant to him. Can you talk about having him be the one to help her all these years and why that relationship and being able to trust him was so important for her?

Binder: There’s also potentially things in that history, since we do occasionally do flashbacks, we might revisit in terms of exactly the nature of their relationship. We have established they had a romantic interest at one point and Ziva isn’t really someone who was a dater, necessarily, so if she’s going to open her heart to someone in that way, that’s an opening that’s going to stay permanent for someone like her.

Cardea: When we were planning the five-episode arc, we looked back at all of the Ziva history and lore and Adam Eshel stuck out as a character we could potentially use. Certainly a rich part of her history.

Gibbs paused at the bottom of the stairs as he tried to put off the inevitable and tell Phineas about his mother. Is that a conversation we’re going to see play out on screen?

Cardea: It’s certainly dealt with in the next episode, to a great extent.

What’s next for those two? And how much of what Gibbs knows about Phineas’ father is the truth?

Cardea: Again, a lot of that will be explained in the [next] episode. The history of Phineas and Sahar/Sarah and how she pulled that whole thing off.

You’ve put Gibbs through quite a lot, in general and this past year. His past regarding Pedro Hernandez came back to haunt him, then what happened with Fornell and his daughter, now this. How is Gibbs doing right now?

Binder: I would say in that regard, this is a general statement about humanity and specific to Gibbs, there’s only so much one man can take. Like you said, he’s taken a lot. He’s getting close to redlining. What that looks like, tune in.

(Greg Gayne/CBS)

NCIS, Tuesdays, 8/7c, CBS