‘NCIS’ – ‘Life Before His Eyes’: It’s a wonderful life, Gibbs

I don’t write about “NCIS” all that often because, as entertaining as it is, it doesn’t particularly lend itself to episode-by-episode analysis. But I thought the occasion of its 200th episode last night merited attention, and I have a few thoughts on “Life Before His Eyes” coming up just as soon as we combine our snooping…

Some shows celebrate milestones (anniversary episodes, finales, etc.) simply by putting out an episode that stands as a good example of what they’ve been doing all along. “Life Before His Eyes” wasn’t that. It wasn’t a typical episode of “NCIS,” nor one that I imagine would have much resonance for a non-viewer or even a casual viewer. Instead, what showrunner Gary Glasberg went for was an unabashed love letter to the fans, one that revisited stories and characters from throughout the previous 199 episodes, that gave our beloved Gibbs a lot of emotional closure on his various demons, and that (like last week’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) presented alternate timeline versions of the characters before ultimately showing (like last week’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) that the show we’ve been watching for all these years is exactly what should have happened to everyone.

Glasberg tried to balance the “It’s a Wonderful Life” routine with a more typical case, but with so much time spent seeing what would have happened if Kate had survived or if Gibbs had spared the life of his family’s murderer, the case of the week felt fairly undercooked. (I don’t think, for instance, that we successfully made the leap from the son being bitter that Gibbs wouldn’t speak up for his father to the son trying to kill Gibbs in the diner.) But the emotional beats for Mark Harmon and the ensemble, and the chance to see lots of old friends and enemies (some with long speaking parts like Kate, others just nodding at Gibbs like Jenny Shepard or Tobias Fornell) was really all that mattered this week.

Also, I don’t know whether Glasberg (who came to “NCIS” only a few years ago) intended it or not, but the episode also felt like an homage to exiled “NCIS” creator Don Bellisario. One of the most famous episodes of Bellisario’s “Magnum P.I.” (whose mix of light comedy, episodic danger and longer-term emotional whammies provided the model for what Bellisario, Shane Brennan and now Glasberg have done with “NCIS”) was “Limbo,” which was supposed to be the series finale. In it, Magnum is critically wounded in the opening moments and spends the rest of the hour as a spirit taking care of unfinished business with all his friends before he gets to walk off into the clouds. CBS unexpectedly ordered another season, which opens with Magnum turning around from his journey to Heaven because he still has too much to do back on Earth. “NCIS” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – it’s more popular than ever, and has a good chance of being the first scripted series in years to finish a TV season as TV’s most-watched show – so “Life Before His Eyes” was never going to end with Gibbs choosing to go into the light to be with his wife and daughter. But watching the episode, I couldn’t help hearing echoes of John Denver’s “Looking For Space” (which played throughout “Limbo”). Whether intended or not, this TV geek enjoyed the parallels.

What did everybody else think? Did “Life Before His Eyes” feel like a satisfying way to celebrate 200 episodes? Would you have rather just gotten a kick-ass mystery with even more Tony/Ziva/McGee banter? And given that I so rarely write about this show, how is everyone feeling about the series at the moment? Still going strong, or showing signs of old age?