Note: contains spoilers for the NCIS season 16 finale.
It seems as if the rumours were correct – despite being declared dead some years ago, NCIS Agent Ziva David, formerly of Mossad, is returning to NCIS, still one of the most popular dramas on American television. The final shots of the season 16 finale – aired this week in the US – showed Ziva arrive in the basement of Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs and tell him that his life is in danger.
The showrunners, Frank Cardea and Steven Binder, released a statement after the episode aired indicating that "this surprise moment is just the beginning. We are thrilled to share that Cote de Pablo will guest star in the NCIS season 17 premiere this fall, as Ziva's warning to Gibbs unfolds."
It was a surprise even to many on the show, with de Pablo smuggled onto set in secret. The scene was filmed at the end of shooting, an hour after the season had officially wrapped – and probably only confirmed after Mark Harmon’s signature was finally on the dotted line to return for season 17. (The other show with which he’s involved, NCIS: New Orleans, to all intents and purposes prepared and aired a series finale in case there wasn’t a pick-up.)
But does that brief appearance by Cote de Pablo for the cliffhanger mean Ziva is really back, and if so, is she back for good? Context, as so often is the case, is king, and in this case, it sheds a very different light on what’s going on.
Ziva’s arrival comes at the end of an episode in which it is established, once and for all, that Gibbs can see and hear dead people. In this case, it was his ex-wife Diane, who was concerned about the welfare of her daughter (by her other husband, Gibbs’ best friend former FBI Special Agent Tobias Fornell – who says it’s just soap operas that get complicated?), but he’s also seen his former mentor and others over the years.
Given how much that is hammered home during this instalment, there has to be a huge question mark over the reality or otherwise of Ziva, who, as far as we knew until comparatively recently, was killed in a fire. There’s nothing in the showrunners’ statement that categorically says Ziva is alive, after all; she could be back to give Gibbs aid in the way that Amy Rutberg played the Angel of Death haunting Scott Bakula’s Dwayne Pride on NCIS: NOLA this past season.
Equally, the producers have set it up that this *could* be the real Ziva. Earlier this season, the NCIS team discovered that Ziva maintained a secret hideaway during her time as an agent. Agent Ellie Bishop had very good reason to believe that Ziva might not be dead after all, after a note was left asking her to keep Ziva’s continued existence secret.
That’s what fuelled the fire of de Pablo’s potential return in the first place, and there’s been plenty of time for the showrunners to judge the public reaction to a guest starring, or other, spot (including our poll on Digital Spy which suggested that 96% percent of you wanted her back).
What this certainly doesn’t mean is that Ziva David is back on the show regularly. As we’ve noted before, NCIS has moved on a lot since her departure – her lover, Tony DiNozzo, is currently looking after their child in Paris; her great friend Abby Sciuto has herself left, so it’s not as if there’s a Ziva-shaped slot waiting to be filled.
Over the years, there have been many recurring characters on NCIS – Tobias Fornell prime among them – whose intersections with the team have usually been dictated by story-led concerns.
Mossad agents, most recently including Marina Sirtis’ director Orli Elbaz, have been an important part of the show, and anyone with any knowledge of real-world spycraft wouldn’t hesitate to believe that the Israeli secret service would carry out a deep undercover operation that involved faking Ziva’s death if it was the only way to get at the sort of enemy that Ziva is hinting at in Gibbs’ basement.
It could well be that this is the culmination of something that we’ll be led to believe has been planned for years. (It’s worth a reminder, though, that de Pablo’s original departure from NCIS was not well received by her then-castmates. In the real world, this is a definite change of plan.)
There’s another possibility for Ziva’s future, which also derives directly from the finale. Gibbs learns of the existence of a drugs mastermind whose actions led to Fornell’s daughter’s overdose. We’ve seen him beat himself up in the last few weeks over his execution of the men who killed his wife and daughter decades ago – maybe he can use Ziva as a weapon here?
In any case, if you’ve been watching NCIS: Los Angeles (hoping for the quite-clearly not coming JAG reunion), you’ll know this may all be irrelevant – as of that show’s cliffhanger, we’ve got seven minutes till World War III breaks out!
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