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Who Takes Over ‘NCIS’ Team Leader without Gibbs? (RECAP)

NCIS team

[Warning: The below contains Spoilers for NCIS Season 19 Episode 5 “Face the Strange.”]

NCIS fans must “Face the Strange” to borrow the episode’s title, as they enter a world where Gibbs (Mark Harmon) is gone fishin’ and the team must carry on knowing he’s not coming back. (But Harmon continues to star in the opening credits, so not everything changes, at least not for now). So, who will be in charge going forward? That’s probably not too much of a surprise.

But first, a short summary of the case: a petty officer is found in the woods, poisoned, and then his body explodes after being carried into the NCIS van. Although initially believed to be a suicide bomber, it turns out that he and his partner were in the process of hacking the lottery. He had also hacked medical records for a mafia kingpin, who was targeting the stenographer in his case. The petty officer was just the guinea pig, and the bomb was attached to his pacemaker. That’s what happens to the stenographer, but Dr. Palmer (Brian Dietzen) removes it in time.

Despite this explosive investigation, the focus, especially for Torres (Wilmer Valderrama), is on the state of the team in the future. Could they have stopped Gibbs from leaving? Who will be the team leader? “Face the Strange” confronts these questions head-on.

Missing Gibbs

Sure, Gibbs was suspended, but it was assumed he’d be back – and Torres is not handling the fact that he’t too well. “How could you leave Gibbs behind?” asks Torres McGee (Sean Murray). “I did not leave him behind. He wanted to stay,” McGee explains to him. “He seemed happy.” Happy in the sense of? “It felt kind of private,” McGee continues (and we like that, given the long history between him and Gibbs), but offers, “I think he probably has not been this OK in a long time .”

Vance (Rocky Carroll) is also the target of Torres’ ire. Gibbs has moved on, the director says. “And you let him,” Torres argues. “I know Gibbs is a father figure to the team and it’s hard when a father leaves, especially perhaps for you,” Vance says, which does not go over well.

Cliff Lipson/CBS

Torres is not the only one suffering after Gibbs’ departure. For Palmer, though, he’s just the latest in a string of people to leave him this year, including his wife (who died of COVID ) and Bishop. That’s why he’s upset about losing the old NCIS van and so eager for Ducky (David McCallum) to return permanently. (“It be different which would be different,” Palmer says of Gary Cole’s Parker, who may be taking over as team leader.) But Ducky knows it’s time for him to retake his rightful place as NCIS’ historian. “Yesterday is over, sad as that may seem, but change is the essence of life,” he says. Palmer knows that, but “this feels like a death.”

Ducky also misses Gibbs, but he’s not dead, and from what he hears, “it sounds like he’s starting to live again, maybe for the first time since losing his family. If that’s the case, then I am not mourning him, I am grateful for him. Our pain is a small price to pay for his peace. This is a great moment, considering Palmer did not have a farewell moment with Gibbs like almost everyone else did in “Great Wide Open.”

Who Will Lead the Team?

To the agents’ surprise, Vance has offered Parker the team leader’s job, which Parker who turned it down. The director convinces him to help with the case, even though Parker complains about missing a Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert for most of the day. Knight (Katrina Law) doesn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that she’s never actually worked with Gibbs before, pointing out that Parker is experienced and a solid agent. But Gibbs’ desk isn’t even cold yet, Torres protests.

Cliff Lipson/CBS

He thinks McGee should take over, and Vance does say he “did more than consider” the other agent for the job, refusing to reveal any more. And it seems that Parker is Gibbs’ choice after making an impression on him in Alaska. (Honestly? Could it have been any other way? The new team leader has to have Gibbs’ approval.)

So why did McGee turn down the offer to be the team leader? He claims that the “job wasn’t what I thought it would be — not nearly as fun, hours were even worse, don’t get to go out in the field as much, plus there’s all that paperwork.” But Parker doesn’t buy that, nor does Torres, who was listening at the bathroom door to their conversation. When McGee calls him on that eavesdropping, Torres tells him not to change the subject. “What subject, that I don’t want to be team leader because I’m not Gibbs?” McGee asks. “No, you’re not Gibbs, but you’re Timothy freakin’ McGee,” Torres argues. “You’re a cyber ninja. When people shoot you, you keep on coming.”

But that gets to the heart of the matter. “Yeah, except it was Gibbs who shot me, twice,” McGee reminds Torres. “He put two bullets through me, and you know what, it saved my life. Hurt like hell getting shot but I can’t imagine what it felt like pulling that trigger. Who could do that? Could I do that?”

Cliff Lipson/CBS

As Torres sees it, the fact that he’s asking that question is why he should be leader. But “I don’t want to be the guy that can pull that trigger, OK?” McGee says. “If there’s anything I learned from Gibbs, it’s that this job is all-consuming. It completely consumes you. You know what the guy had to do to escape? He had to go to Alaska. I got a family, Nick, that can’t be me.” That’s something Torres can respect, and it’s something the audience needs to hear to understand why McGee’s not taking over.

So does that mean Parker is? He basically does the job in this episode, leading the task force on the case due to his knowledge of parts of it. Then, near the end of the episode, Vance calls him out on the fact that there isn’t a Simon & Garfunkel reunion tour. “I just wanted to see what a regular day around here was like, and I was told it might spook the locals if they thought I had plans to stay. Wasn’t my idea, actually,” Parker explains. He says he’ll take the identity of that person to his grave, but come on, it had to be Gibbs’ idea. So is he taking the job? Yes, and he knows that “Gibbs was a lucky man,” he tells Knight as the newest members of the team watch McGee and Torres from the stairs.

And with that, the episode ends with “Changes” by David Bowie playing. Things certainly have changed at NCIS. What did you think of the first episode without Gibbs? Was it too strange for you to keep watching? Did Parker win you over? Let us know in the comments below.

NCIS, Mondays, 9/8c, CBS

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