‘NCIS’ Revealed Gibbs’ Complicated Back Story in Episode with His Mother-in-Law

by Suzanne Halliburton

A dozen years ago, NCIS gave everyone a huge helping of Gibbs’ conflicted past by introducing fans to his former mother-in-law, Joann Fielding.

Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs was a complicated man, a Marine who is haunted by the deaths of his first wife, Shannon, and only child, daughter Kelly. Shannon witnessed a member of a drug cartel shoot and kill a Marine at Camp Pendleton. Mother and daughter were placed in protective custody, with an NCIS agent was keeping them safe. But a cartel member shot the agent as he was driving a car that also carried Shannon and Kelly. The car went out of control and Gibbs’ wife and daughter were killed in the crash. Gibbs blamed himself because his wife and daughter died while he was fighting in Operation Desert Storm. But, using his skills as a sniper, Gibbs avenged their death when he killed Pedro Hernandez and walked away. When Gibbs left NCIS last fall, he still felt conflicted over all of it.

In a 2010, season seven NCIS episode called “Mother’s Day,” we found out how Gibbs’ mother-in-law dealt with the death of “the girls.” As the episode opened, we see that someone is shot. It’s an older couple. The dead man was a Navy captain. The woman, who is splattered with her fiancee’s blood, is sitting on a park bench when Gibbs walks up. It’s his mother-in-law, Joann (played by Gena Rowlands). The two haven’t seen each other since the funeral for Shannon and Kelly. And yes, Joann still blames Gibbs for not being there to protect her daughter and granddaughter.

Gibbs talks to his mother-in-law as he figures out she’s probably the killer. (Michael Yarish/CBS)

Wait. Dead Guy in This NCIS Episode Worked with Drug Cartel

But the murder of the Navy captain turns out to be so much more. Records show he’d also been secretly working with a drug cartel, coincidentally, the same one responsible for the deaths of Shannon and Kelly. So had one of his friends, a former fishing boat captain who joined the Navy.

Gibbs discovered that Joann had been paying a private investigator in Arizona. DiNozzo and Ziva flew there and discovered the PI was another victim of the cartel. Meanwhile, the former fishing boat captain turns out to be the main suspect n his friend’s killing, since the evidence now points towards him. Ducky studied the blood spatters on the captain’s dead body and figured out that Joann probably pulled the trigger.

Vance called in Gibbs. “We think she set him up,” Vance said of Joann. “Both men linked to the same cartel responsible for Shannon and Kelly’s deaths.”

“Really, Leon?,” a perplexed Gibbs asks. “Make her awfully clever; my mother-in-law, the vigilante.”

“Go ahead Gibbs. Cross it. Try me,” Vance tells him. Gibbs promises he’ll be more than able to arrest his mother-in-law. Remember that promise.

“M. Allison Hart (Rena Sofer) represented Gibbs’ mother-in-law in this 2010 NCIS episode. (Cliff Lipson/CBS)

Then Gibbs gives us a classic NCIS head fake. He called his sometime love interest M. Allison Hart (Rena Sofer). She’s a tough, opinionated defense attorney. He wants her to represent Joann. Then he asks if he can talk to her without Hart being with them.

Privately, Gibbs tells Joann he knows what happened. She confesses. The man she killed wasn’t responsible for her girls’ deaths. Neither was the man she set up. But they worked with the people who did. Then Gibbs tells her how he avenged the deaths. NCIS fans see this in flashback, with Sean Harmon, Mark’s son, portraying the young Gibbs and firing the shot. Gibbs stands up and as Hart comes into the room. He arrests Joann, who objects because Gibbs never read Joann her rights. Gibbs says, you’re right, he messed up. Joann got her vengeance, just like he did so many years ago.