'NCIS' Episode 400: The Beginning of Gibbs & Ducky's Beautiful Friendship (RECAP)

Mark Harmon David McCallum NCIS Episode 400 Gibbs Ducky
Spoiler Alert
Sonja Flemming/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 18, Episode 2 of NCIS, "Everything Starts Somewhere."]

NCIS celebrates a major milestone with Episode 400 (quite the well-deserved feat), and it has to be considered among the best of the series (not quite up there with the 300th, which was perfection and exactly what a milestone should be) simply because it focuses on one of the drama's core relationships and highlights how well the actors who portray the characters — in the past and present – work together.

"Everything Stars Somewhere" takes place in two pasts (1980 and December 2019) as Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and Ducky (David McCallum) get a blast from the past when the same family that brought them together for a case in the past comes back. Mark's son Sean Harmon and Adam Campbell reprise their roles as the young Gibbs and Ducky for the flashbacks, and they're just as good together onscreen as the regulars.

So how did Gibbs and Ducky meet? Read on to find out.

When Gibbs Met Ducky

Back in 1980, NIS (which would go on to become NCIS) is at a crime scene, where someone in a Mercedes was driving on the wrong side of the road; the victim, a civilian accountant at the Department of Defense with the rare LEOPARD syndrome, swerved to avoid him. But he died as a result of injuries he sustained prior to the accident (he was stabbed). He also had a bag with cash and a gun in his car ... along with Sergeant Leroy Jethro Gibbs in his trunk!

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The next milestone will air in Season 18 and focus on Gibbs and Ducky.

With that, Gibbs is introduced to NIS and the Zucados, a family of criminals, including the victim, Ringo, who had used an alias to get that job at the DoD. Ringo also had a mysterious keycard on him, and while NIS hopes Gibbs can shed some light on it, he can't. He's just in town for a friend's wedding and was forced into the trunk (he didn't want to risk fighting back with civilians around). He has the guy who was driving on the wrong side of the road to thank for his continued survival: the young Ducky.

To pay him back, Gibbs buys him a drink ... at different pubs around the city for three days. Ducky's the one who talks quite a bit, while he calls Gibbs "a man of few words." "You do all the talking," the sergeant says. (And so that relationship begins!) It eventually comes out that Gibbs broke up with his girlfriend, Shannon (who would go on to become his first wife and be killed, along with their daughter). Just as he's going to drown his sorrows some more, Jonny Zucado has his men pick up him and Ducky.

Gibbs takes a beating while Jonny demands information about his cousin, namely, is there anything not in the report (Gibbs' official NIS statement) "Freckles" got them? Ringo stole something very valuable from Jonny, but since he died before NIS arrived on scene, he couldn't have shared anything, Ducky interjects. Jonny sees no use for them, but Gibbs warns if he kills them, the Marines won't stop looking for him.

Adam Campbell Sean Harmon NCIS Episode 400 Young Ducky Gibbs

(CBS)

While regrouping at Ducky's new house (which is where Gibbs now lives), the sergeant wants to investigate the likely NIS mole (with Jonny having Gibbs' statement). But the former doctor knows Gibbs hasn't been the same since the breakup with Shannon. He accuses him of running, and Gibbs throws that back at him, since Ducky moved across the ocean to be an ex-doctor.

The future medical examiner is the one to realize who the mole is, after noticing Ringo's LEOPARD syndrome and a construction worker in NIS with the same freckling. It's as he's confirming his theory that he meets with the current NIS ME, Dr. Magnus (Thomas Crawford).

Later, Gibbs begins his tradition of steaks in that house's fireplace when he stops by Ducky's for a bon voyage meal. Jonny walked away a free man because there wasn't enough proof, and Ducky blames Magnus for missing something. Gibbs then suggests he give being a medical examiner a try; in that profession, he'd help the dead find peace and have a captive audience for his stories.

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In turn, Ducky convinces Gibbs to give true love a second chance (complete with a comparison to a ship in a bottle, apt to the guy who will one day begin building boats in the basement). "You’re a good man, and I do hope we cross paths again," Ducky says, and Gibbs has a feeling they might. (And hopefully we get to see more of Sean Harmon and Campbell together in the future.)

With that, Gibbs calls Shannon before heading home to Stillwater: he has a question for her "that a gentleman doesn't ask over the phone."

Reunions Are Fun

In the present-ish (2019), the team doesn't have to go far for the body: the victim, whose ID says he's NCIS Agent Ronald Calloway from the Carolinas office, is in the basement. He asphyxiated, and there's a burned notebook next to him. But those credentials of his turn out to be fake and he's burned off his fingerprints. He died of a severe asthma attack because he didn't want to carry around an inhaler that could ID him.

Vito D'Ambrosio Mark Harmon NCIS 400 Jonny Zucado Gibbs

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

So who is he and what was he doing? McGee (Sean Murray) thinks he has an idea about the latter: trying to hack into NCIS' network. As for his identity, he's Maurice Zucado. As Ducky puts it, "just when we thought we were out." He and Gibbs know that Jonny has to be involved, and it just so happens the other Zucado's construction company is under investigation (by the Carolinas' field office) for bribery. Did Jonny send Maurice to access those files?

If he did, it's a sore point for Gibbs. (He still has the tooth that Jonny knocked out of his mouth in 1980?!) He's "the one who got away," Ducky says. "It seems that his reappearance is dredging up old memories that are better left unremembered." It's not easy for the former medical examiner, either. As Director Vance (Rocky Carroll) puts it, "I tried to talk to Dr. Mallard, but for the first time since D-Day, he hasn't had anything to say."

And it doesn't help that Jonny is so smug when they track him down (after he turns on his cell phone) and throw him in an interrogation room with Gibbs. He wishes he'd thought to send his cousin to steal the files, he says, because it would've been less risky than what he did. Furthermore, they can't even hold him because the bribery charges against him were dropped. "You couldn't get me 40 years ago, and you ain't gonna get me now," he boasts to Gibbs. "Reunions are fun, aren't they?"

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Don't worry, Gibbs throws that right back at him. Sure, Jonny's clearly responsible for the star witness' death, but that was a week ago. So what was Maurice doing in NCIS and with a notebook that had a map of the building? When they realize the handwriting in the book belongs to another Zucado, Emilio, better known as "Freckles," the "construction worker," they have their answer, since he's more than willing to talk in exchange for protection from his cousin. Forty years ago, Emilio had retrieved what Ringo stole from Jonny (the keycard), but when the young Ducky pointed him out to an NIS agent, the Zucado hid it behind drywall and made a hasty exit.

McGee delights in cutting into the wall to retrieve the card, which is a key to a Swiss safety deposit box, where Ringo hid the money he'd embezzled from the Navy while working as the accountant. And with Jonny's DNA under Ringo's nails, they have enough to arrest him for murder. "Reunions are fun, aren't they?" Gibbs remarks as Jonny's arrested.

Gibbs' Family

Ducky thinks Gibbs' grudge isn't just with the Zucados but him as well, because maybe if he'd let the sergeant go after Jonny back then, he'd have died and wouldn't have lost Shannon and Kelly. "No, they're the best thing that ever happened to me," Gibbs assures him. "I don't blame you. I owe you. You gave me time with them. Time is all we have."

David McCallum Mark Harmon NCIS Episode 400 Ducky Gibbs Zucado Photo

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

But as Ducky reminds him, Shannon and Kelly aren't his only family. And so with that in mind, he calls up McGee, who's celebrating the 20th anniversary of the day he decided to become an NCIS agent, to see if the team's still out. It's reminiscent of the 300th episode's dinner, though, admittedly, it doesn't quite hold the same weight simply because of how the team has changed over the years.

And a quick update on the mission to take down the leader of the drug ring whose counterfeit opioids almost cost Fornell's daughter her life: the former FBI agent is a week into the two weeks he told Gibbs he needed at the end of the premiere.

So overall, the case itself wasn't anything special, but the performances from the cast and the focus on Gibbs and Ducky elevate the episode to one that is quite memorable.

NCIS, Tuesdays, 8/7c, CBS