When NCIS season 12 ended with Gibbs being shot twice, it was only a question of how he would be saved, not if, and the season 13 premiere, “Stop the Bleeding,” does a good job of not dragging that out with the threat of the Calling still present.
Instead, thanks to a time jump mid-episode, Gibbs is able to return to work, albeit essentially chained to his desk (though that doesn’t last long at all), rather than keeping him in a hospital bed or drawing out his surgery or making it too easy to catch Daniel Budd following the Calling’s terror in the final three episodes of the previous season.

It’s Tony who’s out in the field with Teague and actively pursuing the leader of the terrorist group, citing one of Gibbs’ rules and struggling with his own feelings about his boss being shot and the role he feels he played in it.

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In These Dances, Gibbs Can Only Follow as Taft and Kelly Lead

It’s in the USS Daniel Webster surgical ward, “where the elite beat the desert heat and cheat the occasional IED,” that the man who will save Gibbs, Dr. Cyril Taft (played by Jon Cryer), is introduced. (Abby later calls him Gibbs’ “very own Ducky.” Cue the urge to rewatch Pretty in Pink.) “He’s lucky he has friends who care,” he tells a worried Tony. “He’s luckier that I care.” Dr. Taft is a man who can take control of the surgical ward one moment and keep his humor while operating on Gibbs in the next breath.

But it’s not his humor or his presence that Gibbs needs; no, he needs the surgeon who was nearly the President’s private physician because the bullet to his chest shattered on impact, and it’s up to Taft to fix the bleeders that resulted. While he leads Gibbs in the dance that saves his life, it’s not only Mike Franks offering input from beyond the grave. (“I told you, Probie. It’s all different now,” Mike comments as Gibbs is wheeled in on the gurney. “You trusted the boy, and look what he did to you. Kid caught us flying blind. Never saw it coming. Maybe that says something about us.”)

It’s Kelly who leads Gibbs through his in-limbo experience, guiding him out of the NCIS offices to the beach to watch a good day, of the Gibbs family together before he lost his wife and daughter. And good days aren’t things that Gibbs has anymore. “You spend too much time thinking about the past. You have to stop, Dad,” Kelly insists. “Things are different. It’s about the future now. There are too many people counting on you.” When Gibbs questions what more he can do, his daughter tells him to “fight back” because “bad people are still out there. If you don’t stop them, who will?” It’s a question that, even at this point in the episode, is clearly setting up the bigger picture for the show this season. 

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Fruit Baskets and Boring Home Visits Drive Gibbs Back to Work Early

While the team may have stopped the Calling’s attack on the Supreme Court justices, skip ahead a few months, as Gibbs returns to work and Daniel Budd is still at large. The team has been under orders to not talk to Gibbs about the case while he recovered, but it doesn’t take long for him to head out on a walk … to Lee Penitentiary to see what he can find out from Matthew Rousseau about Shanghai, since the latest tip places Budd and his operation there.

It may not be the most beneficial visit to an inmate, but Gibbs does get to ask, “Is that where I left it?” when Vance calls him out on stabbing his pen into Rousseau’s hand later on. (Best line of the episode? Probably, in large part due to Mark Harmon’s delivery.) And that’s the last we’ll see of Rousseau because prison walls can’t stop the Calling; he’s found hanging in his cell, and Ducky finds proof that his death was made to look like a suicide.

McGee and Bishop may not spend time in the field in “Stop the Bleeding,” but they and Abby have their hands full when chatter out of North Korea takes a dark turn and a sub is supposedly arming a nuclear warhead. NCIS is looped in because one of the computers found linked to the North Koreans is Dorneget’s laptop, not yet deactivated because Cyber Division keeps work stations tied to active cases up and running.

Here is where it gets predictable and here lies one complaint I have about the premiere (though maybe I just watch too much TV). It takes a bit too long for someone to realize that this is all Budd’s handiwork. Thanks to a conversation with Luke, who needs to see Gibbs to believe he didn’t kill him, they find out that Budd is using the Calling as a way to show what he’s capable of as he auditions his services for the Chinese. Upon realizing that Dorneget was spying on the Calling, they used his computer to hack right back and create a phony red flag. McGee is able to intervene before someone does something that can’t be undone and potentially starts World War III. But Budd is still out there…

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This isn’t a Bond Movie

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Tony and Teague track down a factory of Budd’s teenagers, which is where they find Luke. The kid also tells them about Budd’s plan to meet with the Chinese for a business deal, and so Tony turns the tables on the terrorist, this time being the one to call him to let him know he’s been caught. That takes Tony one step closer to his version of a perfect day: shooting him in the chest at close range and then getting dim sum.

When Tony chases him down, Budd boasts that he’ll be able to manipulate the legal system, and so Tony shoots him in the knee for what he calls a threat. “Did you enjoy the rush? The power?” Budd asks him, but Tony refuses to let him “speechify like Bond villains” because he’s a fraud, and the only thing frauds get to do that’s like Bond villains is “die like them.” When Budd reaches for his gun, Tony completes the first part of his perfect day (and inflicts wounds just like the ones Luke gave Gibbs) and shoots him in the chest.

States of Mind

Dr. Taft may be cracking jokes left and right in surgery, but that’s just one sign there’s more to him. There’s also the fact that he’s a Navy reserve captain, a decorated Gulf War veteran and a former chief trauma surgeon, but he keeps leaving behind his private practice. It’s out of boredom, he says at first to Gibbs in the final scene as the two sit down in the diner, before admitting it’s because of depression. He and his wife lost their son two years ago to leukemia, and in his own words, “If I wasn’t back at it, I’d be nowhere, literally.” I for one cannot wait to see what NCIS is planning to do with Gibbs and Dr. Taft’s friendship in Jon Cryer’s remaining episodes.

Tony very much struggles in the aftermath of his boss being shot, blaming himself for not being on his six and letting Budd distract him with the call, even as Teague argues that none of them could have seen it coming. And even after enough time has passed for Gibbs to return to work and for Tony and Teague to head to Shanghai, Tony’s attitude hasn’t changed. “Rule 45,” he says when Gibbs gets on the phone before hanging up. “Clean up your own mess,” he explains to Teague when she asks, and she once again tells him that it’s not all his fault. The others know what it’s doing to him as well; McGee tells Gibbs that not catching Budd has been eating at Tony.

It makes this case — and catching Budd — personal for Tony, who warns Budd during a phone call, “You will be [breaking up] into little pieces, as soon as I find you.” And nothing makes it clearer than Tony’s actions when he does come face-to-face with Budd in Shanghai. Then when it’s over and he’s back at the office, he asks Gibbs if they need to talk. “What would you like to talk about, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asks before leaving. As someone who has loved seeing the relationship between Gibbs and Tony since the JAG episodes, I cannot wait to see what this means moving forward.

Just like Tony’s state of mind is obviously something that will be explored over multiple episodes, so is Gibbs’, and I can’t wait to see what Mark Harmon gets to do with it. It all begins with his conversation with Kelly, carries through to Teague’s “take care of your team and maybe let your team take care of you” and concludes with his conversation with Dr. Taft in the diner. Everyone is worried he’s going to break, and yes, the pain is still all there, he admits to his surgeon, who calls his return to work after everything he’s been through “ill-advised at best.”

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“I have two kinds of patients,” Dr. Taft goes on to tell Gibbs. “Those who revere me for saving their lives and those who despise me for the same reason.” Which one is Gibbs? “Things are changing,” Gibbs says. “Can’t do it alone.” But the doctor has met his team and asks, “Who says you’re alone?”

NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8pm on CBS.

(Image courtesy of CBS)

Meredith Jacobs

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

If it’s on TV — especially if it’s a procedural or superhero show — chances are Meredith watches it. She has a love for all things fiction, starting from a young age with ER and The X-Files on the small screen and the Nancy Drew books. Arrow kicked off the Arrowverse and her true passion for all things heroes. She’s enjoyed getting into the minds of serial killers since Criminal Minds, so it should be no surprise that her latest obsession is Prodigal Son.