‘NCIS’: The Most-Loved Episode in 19 Seasons Featured One Death and a Goodbye

by Suzanne Halliburton
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The highest-rated NCIS episode ever involved one beloved character’s death and another’s tearful goodbye. It’s no wonder that six years later, fans still sob about “Family First,” the finale for season 13.

The episode, the end of a two-parter, was the NCIS goodbye for Michael Weatherly, who portrayed “very special agent” Tony DiNozzo from the very beginning. Fans loved the well-dressed, smooth-talking, ever-loyal DiNozzo. But Weatherly wanted to move on with his career. Later in the year, CBS made him the star of Bull.

If you check IMDB.com, you can find information on all NCIS episodes from the first to No. 436. Users can grade them all. And the one where DiNozzo leaves rated a 9.2, the highest of them all.

NCIS writers needed to come up with a compelling reason for DiNozzo to want to leave the job he loved so much. So they did so by killing off a character, one who hadn’t been on the show in three years. That was Ziva David (Cote de Pablo). The former Mossad-turned-NCIS agent had gone home to Israel in 2013. And as “Family First” opened, DiNozzo watched ZNN footage of Ziva’s home burning to the ground. McGee then booked his friend a flight to Tel Aviv. He went home to pack. His father’s there. Yes, NCIS brought Anthony DiNozzo Sr back for Tony’s farewell. The suave Robert Wagner played Senior.

Robert Wagner guest starred as Michael Weatherly’s father on this NCIS episode. (CBS/2016)

Abby and McGee go to Tony’s home to tell him in person. Yes, Ziva really was dead. There was proof. And Trent Kort, who’d tried to kill Tobias Fornell, also was responsible for firing a mortar shell into Ziva’s home.

DiNozzo goes back to the office. But no one is there except Gibbs. This bothered Tony. “We’ve lost agents before, and when we do, it’s all hands on deck,” Tony says. Gibbs, quietly, points out that Ziva was “more than an agent to you.”

“She was a daughter to you,” DiNozzo says to Gibbs. “She was a sister to McGee and Abby. (And) she was no more to me than anybody.” But all NCIS fans knew that Tony was kidding himself. He loved her.

The next day, Tony received a request from Vance. He needed to see him in his office. There, Tony found Mossad director Orli Elbaz. She had the only survivor from the blast that rocked Ziva’s home. It’s Ziva’s daughter Tali, who was named in honor of Ziva’s dead sister. No one knew Ziva had been pregnant. And Tony certainly never knew Tali was his daughter.

Tony’s friends come talk to him after Ziva’s daughter shows up in the office. (CBS.2016)

Meanwhile, Ducky Mallard was shaken by Ziva’s death. But he told Gibbs to keep an eye on DiNozzo. Yes, everyone wanted to catch Trent Kort. But “family first, Jethro,” Ducky said.

Eventually, most of the so-called family finds Kort, who claims that he didn’t know Ziva was in the house. “She was my family,” Tony tells Kort, who reached for a gun. However, he’s shot dead by several of the agents.

Gibbs (Mark Harmon) gives the best life advice in his basement. (CBS/2016)

In the next scene, Tony met Gibbs in Gibbs’ basement. Gibbs was working on his boat. And it’s the perfect place for a heart-to-heart between mentor and mentee. DiNozzo told Gibbs he knew what his life needed.

“You can’t only think about yourself anymore,” Gibbs told Tony. “I’ve never been anybody’s everything before,” DiNozzo responded. He’s going to take Tali back to Israel, then father and daughter will head to Paris, Ziva’s favorite place.

Tony said his goodbyes at the office, then he hit the button for the elevator. And with that, NCIS said farewell to the most beloved character this side of Gibbs (Mark Harmon).

Bull finished its series run last month. And there is so much fan chatter about DiNozzo making a return. He probably knows that Ziva isn’t dead. She turned up two years ago, explaining that she faked her own death. Maybe Ziva and Tony can return together? An NCIS fan can dream.

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