This is the NCIS headline we’ve all been waiting for: “The first episode is getting the band back together,” says executive producer Steven D. Binder of the military procedural’s 19th installment. Which means former special agent in charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon, reportedly appearing in significantly fewer episodes)—last seen in the wreckage of his bombed boat—reunites with his team in an Ozarks-like environment to solve a mystery.
What’s Gibbs’ status? “He either comes back and he’s an agent or we make permanent his separation,” Binder says. That question dominates the first four episodes, devoted to one case. Here are more left turns.
When it comes to Gibbs, be afraid. Be very afraid.
“He’s been dangerous; now it’s going to be the subject of all the stories. Gibbs is going to be fully unchained,” says Binder, who adds that criminality is in our hero’s DNA. He points to a 2008 flashback episode, “Heartland”: “He was a little rapscallion in his small hometown, straightened out by the military and NCIS. When you take those things away, does he revert? You [get violent] too many times, you end up in jail.” Gibbs behind bars? Never say never. He’s certainly livid about losing his beloved boat, Rule 91, and the serial killer who is the likely culprit should watch out. Investigative journalist Marcie Warren (Harmon’s real-life wife, Pam Dawber) returns to close that chapter. (“Whatever jeopardy our people are in, it won’t be for that long,” Binder notes.)
The cliffhangers keep coming
“We’ve got a lot more DJ mixing—the next episode feeds into the last,” Binder says, adding, “We drop some pretty big surprises.” Expect the first four hours to be “more intense than normal,” with a cat-and-mouse chase in No. 2 and an “interesting” road trip in No. 3.
Two major characters sign on
The departures of forensic psychologist Jack Sloane (Maria Bello) and agent Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham) make room in the bullpen for NCIS special agent Jessica Knight (series regular Katrina Law)—whom we met after her entire team was killed in an explosion—and FBI special agent Alden Parker (series regular Gary Cole). Similar to Gibbs’ buddy Fornell (Joe Spano), who also worked at the Bureau, Parker has the potential to be a friend or an enemy. “You should be prepared to like him,” Binder says. “We naturally like good guys. And there is nothing better than a likable bad guy.”
One of these two gives Gibbs a fresh perspective on himself. “Sometimes new people have insights that people you’ve known your whole life haven’t seen,” Binder says. Will it be enough to get our favorite rule-maker back on the straight and narrow?
NCIS, Season 19 Premiere, Monday, September 20, 9/8c, CBS
This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s 2021 Returning Favorites issue. For more inside scoop on the new fall TV season, pick up the issue, on newsstands now.