‘NCIS’: Fans Question Why the Show Has Suddenly Turned Dark?

by Suzanne Halliburton

NCIS is getting a little dark — with the show killing off a couple of characters. And now, as the series is on a brief hiatus, we need to process the suspension of Gibbs.

Is it all too much change for a show that’s in its 18th season?

Fans are noticing the tweak in tone. The show always addresses serious issues, usually adapting their storylines to real-life headlines. But the cast mostly stays intact.

The first casualty was the wife of Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen). She died of COVID-19 earlier in the season. NCIS New Orleans also incorporated coronavirus deaths into its season, too. Palmer is the NCIS medical examiner. And after bringing extra disinfectant wipes to his co-workers, he told them that his wife, Breena had died.

Then, Tobias Fornell, played by Joe Spanos, lost his daughter, Emily, to a drug overdose. Fornell, who as an FBI special agent is a recurring character, called Gibbs (Mark Harmon) to let him know that Emily died. There were pills all over her bedroom. Then director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll), as a way to honor Fornell and his daughter, read a touching poem called Epitaph, written by Merrit Malloy.

Also, the show said good bye to Jack Sloan, played by Maria Bello. But Sloan didn’t die, she just left NCIS.

The show returns with a new episode, April 6. Pam Dawber, the real-life wife of Mark Harmon, joins the show for a four-episode storyline. She’ll play an investigative journalist. Meanwhile, Gibbs is serving a suspension. He attacked a dog abuser as NCIS investigated an illegal dogfighting ring. But he still was suspended for three weeks.

NCIS Reflects What’s Happening In Real Life

TVLine addressed the topic in its weekly Q&A with readers. TV reporter Matt Roush answered the questions. Here’s what he had to say about NCIS:

“If ever there were a year for formula procedural/action series like NCIS to acknowledge mortality, it was probably 2020-2021. It may seem like piling on, and I agree the optics aren’t the greatest when they repeatedly sacrifice marginal female characters. But I support producer/writers any time they try to introduce a reality check into these worlds where invulnerability is the norm.

“Emily’s tragic overdose, however upsetting, was a plot point at least earned by the gravity of her addiction. But it’s fair to criticize the show for dropping this bombshell so soon after the offscreen while-we-weren’t-watching demise of Jimmy’s wife during the time jump. That was even more jarring for most viewers (at least according to my mailbag) because there was no buildup. Still, in the bigger picture, how many thousands of COVID deaths blindsided their loved ones? It’s all fair game for storytellers, even on a supposedly “escapist” crime drama like NCIS.”

Plus, NCIS needed to compact the drama. Because of COVID, this season was shortened from 24 episodes to 16.

There’s also the on-going drama with Harmon and Gibbs. Harmon reportedly wants off the show as a full-time character. His contract is up this season. The show’s future also is up in the air. NCIS: New Orleans was canceled. Its final episode will air in late May.