Is ‘NCIS’ Suspending Gibbs to Set Up Mark Harmon’s Exit From the Show?

Mark Harmon NCIS Season 18 Episode 10 Gibbs Arrested
Spoiler Alert
Edward Chen/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 18, Episode 10 of NCIS, “Watchdog.”]

The NCIS team has to figure out how to operate without its boss, Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), for an unknown period of time. The question is, will they have to do it permanently?

At the end of the March 17 episode, “Watchdog,” Director Vance (Rocky Carroll) suspends Gibbs “indefinitely,” not due to his actions during the case (which did land a suspect in the hospital), but because of his attitude after the fact. And with rumors that Harmon could be ready to leave or only return for part of a potential Season 19 — the drama has yet to be renewed for the 2021-2022 season — we can’t help but wonder if this arc is setting up that possibility, and what it would mean for the show and Gibbs’ team.

During the latest episode, NCIS stumbles on a dogfighting ring. Gibbs discovers the man running it, Luke Stana (Max Adler), was killing the dogs that lost. After pulling a kennel with one of those dogs out of a lake, Gibbs, angry, goes after Luke, and it takes the rest of the team to pull him off before he kills him.

NCIS Inspector General Eugene Coyle (Hugo Armstrong) questions Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham), and Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) about their boss’ actions. Starting with McGee, they all claim Stana was fleeing Gibbs when he tripped and fell.

Gibbs had told them to tell the truth, and he offers to do just that to Coyle, as long as the IG doesn’t go after his team for lying to a federal officer (a felony). However, to his agents’ surprise, the interim report into Gibbs’ use of “unnecessary force” states that “a conclusion has not yet been reached due to evidentiary issues. Further investigation is required.” Why? As Vance explains, Coyle has two rescue dogs and doesn’t want to be the one to bury Gibbs.

But Vance needs to hear from Gibbs (who’s keeping a dog that survived Stana’s abuse — look how cute they are below!) why he shouldn’t be the one to bury him. “Tell me you regret what you did,” the director requests. But he doesn’t get the answer he needs.

“I do,” Gibbs says, but he can’t offer a former apology to Stana because “I regret I didn’t kill him.”

“You are putting me in an impossible position here, Gibbs,” Vance says before suspending him, and asking for his badge and gun.

Presumably, we’ll see McGee in charge of the team during Gibbs’ absence; the Senior Field Agent has taken lead in the past. But this is different from Gibbs being off on his own mission (like he was helping Joe Spano’s Fornell in tracking down the opioid ring at the beginning of the season). Presumably the team can’t rely on Gibbs for help via a phone call given why he’s not at work.

NCIS Season 18 Episode 10 Vance Gibbs

Edward Chen/CBS

And we don’t know how long Gibbs’ suspension will last, especially with his response to Vance’s request for an apology and declaration that “something’s broken” since he wasn’t charged with a crime for his behavior.

It seems the focus should be on where Gibbs’ head is right now. Clearly, more time is needed to address what happened in that final scene. And with therapist Grace Confalone (Laura San Giacomo) putting in an appearance (via video-chat) in “Watchdog,” we expect her to be part of whatever happens next with Gibbs.

Could the next however many number of episodes be to test how NCIS might do without Gibbs, whether for the short term, half a season (if Harmon only returns for part of next year), or even longer? While it’s nearly impossible to imagine the procedural without Gibbs (or Harmon), we’re sadly facing the possibility that it may happen.

NCIS, Tuesdays, 8/7c, CBS