Leroy Jethro Gibbs
|Leroy Jethro Gibbs|
Mark Harmon as Leroy Jethro Gibbs
|First appearance||"Ice Queen" (JAG)|
|Portrayed by||Mark Harmon
Sean Harmon (teenager)
Micah Tayloe Owens (child)
|Occupation||Supervisory Special Agent (NCIS)
Former Gunnery Sergeant (Marine sniper and military police) (USMC)
|Family||Jackson Gibbs (father, deceased)
Ann Gibbs (mother, deceased)
|Children||Kelly Gibbs (deceased)|
Leroy Jethro Gibbs is a fictional character of the CBS TV series NCIS, portrayed by Mark Harmon. He is a former U.S Marine Corps Scout Sniper turned special agent who commands a team for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Gibbs is the most accomplished marksman on the team and the most skilled at handling violent standoffs; he depends on his other agents heavily for technical forensics and background checks. He is patient but firm with his team and has little patience for bureaucracy; he commands most other main characters—including Anthony DiNozzo, Timothy McGee, Eleanor Bishop, Ducky Mallard, and Abby Sciuto—and is the backbone of the cast.
Development and casting
Series creator Donald P. Bellisario initially did not think Mark Harmon would fit the role of Gibbs, a "flinty type with a strong sense of honor and respect for the military", but changed his mind after viewing a tape of Harmon's portrayal of a Secret Service agent on The West Wing. Co-executive producer Charles Floyd Johnson recalls, "We all looked at that work. And everybody said, 'He's Gibbs.'" Harmon was cast in 2003, and Bellisario explained, "I said, 'Oh, my God, he's Gibbs.' He had matured. He's good-looking in a totally different way than he was as a young guy." At another point, he said, "I am so lucky to have Mark Harmon as the lead. You have no idea. This cast is gold. Mark Harmon is a Middle American guy, even if he was raised in Southern California. His values are exactly the same as mine."
Harmon said of his character, "I was attracted by [his] flaws. He has lousy taste in women. He's addicted to coffee."
Gibbs was initially written as "not too far removed" from characters like Dr. Robert "Bobby" Caldwell and Dr. Jack McNeil, both previous roles by Harmon. In an early episode, Gibbs "playfully smacked Weatherly's Dinozzo on the back of the head" resulting in the trademark "headslap" that later appeared in many episodes throughout the seasons.
In later years, he is scripted as more stoical, with Bellisario stating, "I thought the best thing to do was to give him a minimum of dialogue." It was not until the third season that the backstory surrounding his first wife and daughter's murder was revealed. His relationships with his coworkers were developed, with him becoming something of a father figure to Special Agent Ziva David and Forensic Specialist Abby Sciuto.
Mark Harmon's older son Sean has appeared on NCIS portraying a younger version of Gibbs in flashbacks.
In the backstory, Gibbs was born on May 2, 1958, and was shown in the episode "Heartland" to have grown up in Stillwater, Pennsylvania. The town is real, and the scenes in the episode were modeled after Bellisario's hometown of Cokeburg, although they are actually 250 miles apart. His father, Jackson Gibbs (played by Ralph Waite), owned and ran the Stillwater General Store. He is named after his father's close friend and partner, Leroy Jethro "LJ" Moore, in the store after they worked together in the coal mines (Winslow Mining Company). In "The Namesake", it is revealed that LJ, a World War II veteran and Montford Point Marine, had influenced the teenaged Gibbs to join the Marines. Gibbs left Stillwater in 1976 at age 18 to join the Marine Corps and, according to his own statements, did not return for over thirty years. In a flashback scene in the episode, as a teenager, Gibbs often provoked violence with defiance to his father, who constantly comes to his unwanted aid with a Winchester rifle or shotgun. He was also known around the area as a delinquent, as said by the new sheriff, one of the other delinquents during his teenage years, stating, "Funny, never expected to find you on the same side of the law." He met his first wife Shannon (portrayed by both Darby Stanchfield and Aviva), who worked at the local department store, when both were teenagers. In subsequent episodes, Gibbs is shown to be often known by his first name Leroy to family and people in his hometown, whereas at work, he is known as Jethro or "Boss".
Gibbs' mother, Ann, is introduced in "Life Before His Eyes", the 200th episode. Like all of Gibbs' wives, she is a redhead. As portrayed in "The Namesake", while she was dying of cancer, she committed suicide by overdose so her family would not have to watch her suffer. In the same episode, her death was revealed as the root of a long-standing feud between Gibbs' father and LJ as the elder Gibbs felt LJ should have stopped Ann from committing suicide.
Gibbs enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1976 and was a military police non-commissioned officer at Camp Lejeune before becoming a Scout Sniper. He served on tours of duty in Panama (Operation Just Cause) and with the 1st Battalion 1st Marines in the Persian Gulf (Operation Desert Storm). In the season 6 episode "Deliverance", it is revealed that he was also deployed to Colombia on a classified mission and in one scene, his service record file is seen labeled as "top secret", suggesting he may have participated in special operations missions. Through interactions with high-ranking Marine officers, Gibbs was implied to be generally well-respected during his time in the Corps. Not long after returning from the Gulf, he retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of Gunnery Sergeant and joined the Naval Investigative Service (as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was called back then) in August 1991. In the JAG episode "Ice Queen", he is stated to be a Marine fleet reservist, but this has not been addressed since. As a junior agent, Gibbs was mentored by Mike Franks, and the two became close friends; Franks continued calling him "Probie" even after retirement. After Franks retired, Gibbs rose to become head of his own Major Case Response Team. Before the time in which NCIS is set, Gibbs was described to have traveled extensively on operations, particularly in Eastern Europe.
Gibbs is also written as a highly skilled marksman with both his agency-issued SIG Sauer P228 and a sniper rifle, as shown in the season 7 premiere, "Truth or Consequences", in which he kills the terrorists holding his team hostage from an exceptionally long distance and outshoots a professional hit-man in an approaching helicopter in "South by Southwest". In numerous episodes, his proficiency and familiarity with a variety of firearms is shown. That he is a deadshot marksman is further evidenced in "Hiatus" with flashbacks of him hitting a long-range headshot of his family's murderer, who was driving a moving vehicle; in "Jeopardy", he hits a kidnapper with a very swift killshot to the forehead despite being mostly hidden from sight in the car trunk and using his left hand. In the gunfight scene in "Bete Noire", with both men's weapons already drawn, Gibbs double taps Ari Haswari to the chest (who, unknown to Gibbs, was wearing a bullet-proof vest) while Ari manages just one shot. His knowledge of the Corps and training as a sniper often comes into use, as shown in the episodes "Ravenous", "Vanished" and "Twenty Klicks" where he uses his wilderness tracking skills and marksmanship to either aid the investigation and get the team out of trouble.
Gibbs is portrayed as a private man of few words who discloses little to nothing about his personal life. He avoids discussing his life or past before he joined NCIS, especially to agents and co-workers under him, which leads to his team members constantly speculating over his private life, as shown in the episode "Heartland", where McGee and Ziva secretly "report" to Abby and Tony about Gibbs' father and hometown. In "The Curse", he repeatedly dodges questions from Tony about his age and, in other episodes, he refuses to directly answer any of his agents' (including Abby's) questions regarding his ex-wives or military service. Aside from his tendency to use military slang, he rarely mentions or speaks at length about his time in the Marine Corps. However, he is still referred to as "Gunny" by other Navy and Marine officers, occasionally dons a "USMC" hoodie or T-shirt when off duty and has a replica of the iconic Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima photograph framed and mounted above the fireplace in his home. Through flashbacks, certain personality traits and mannerisms, interactions with other characters and the character's intimate knowledge of the Corps and the Navy are related.
Due to his military background, Gibbs holds service personnel in the armed forces in high esteem and to a higher standard. He becomes particularly indignant when the guilty party is someone in a position of trust and authority and has reacted violently on several occasions when apprehending corrupt high-ranking officers who committed crimes for monetary gain.
In the season 3 episode "Under Covers", Abby Sciuto wishes him "happy birthday", referring to the Marine Corps birthday on November 10, and he drinks a toast in the office after hours. The episode first aired on November 8, 2005, two days before the anniversary of the Second Continental Congress' passage in 1775 of a resolution authorizing the formation of the Continental Marines.
In the season 4 episode "Singled Out", McGee asks Gibbs how long he has been a special agent, to which Gibbs responds, "16 years". This contradicts Gibbs' statement in the JAG season 8 episode "Ice Queen", when in response to Harmon Rabb's question, "How long have you been doing this, Gibbs?", Gibbs responds, "19 years".
Marriages and liaisons
Gibbs has been married four times, and divorced three. His first marriage was kept a secret from nearly every one of Gibbs' current acquaintances until the episode "Hiatus (Part I)". The first hint of Gibbs' first family comes in the episode "Kill Ari (Part I)". During "Honor Code", Gibbs looks after the six-year-old son, named Zach, of a kidnapped Navy officer, much to the admiration of his fellow agents and even his boss, who points out how well Gibbs works with kids and asks if he has ever considered having any of his own. The episode concludes with a brief montage of flashbacks of Gibbs spending time with the boy in his basement working on a boat he has been building, with the boy wearing an old NIS sweatshirt, and then finally a clip of a younger Gibbs wearing his Marine uniform, holding a young girl, sanding the hull of a boat in Gibbs' basement, similar to the image seen of Gibbs and Zach. By the start of season 3, Gibbs asks Ziva if she has prepared a dossier on him, and whether she knows of his "first wife and daughter". She answers "Yes".
In the episode "Heartland", Gibbs is revealed by flashbacks to have met his first wife, Shannon (portrayed in that episode by Aviva), while waiting at the Stillwater train platform in 1976, where she tells him about her rules for life that would inspire a similar set of Gibbs' own that he now teaches to his subordinate agents at NCIS. In "Hiatus (Part II)", they were stated to have married in April 1982, and Kelly (Mary Mouser) was born in July 1983. He was unable to be at the birth of Kelly as he was deployed.
Shannon, along with their eight-year-old daughter Kelly, was murdered by a Mexican drug dealer named Pedro Hernandez on the last official day of Operation Desert Storm (February 28, 1991, although the temporary interment markers seen in Gibbs' flashbacks during "Hiatus", as well as the dates of death in the NCIS files on their murder, place their deaths on the nonexistent February 29, 1991); Gibbs had been an active member of the Marine Corps at the time and was still overseas when they were killed. In "Hiatus (Part II)" Jenny tells Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard—who apparently never knew—that Shannon had witnessed a murder of a Marine at Camp Pendleton, where Gibbs was based at that time. She identified the murderer as Mexican-born drug dealer Pedro Hernandez. Hernandez apparently killed the NIS agent driving their minivan in a sniper attack. The subsequent crash took their lives. In the episode when Jenny tells Ducky that attempts to extradite Hernandez had failed and that the case remained open, Ducky responds that the case is closed. He correctly noted that Gibbs "would have pursued the killer of his wife and daughter to Hell and back". According to the pilot episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles, Gibbs was suspected and investigated in connection with Hernandez' murder, but the agent leading the investigation, Lara Macy (Louise Lombard), decided not to prosecute despite sufficient evidence, as she considered the killing justified. (She herself would later be murdered on the orders of Col. Merton Bell (Robert Patrick)).
Even pathologist Ducky and Director Shepard, who had known Gibbs for many years longer than the rest of his team, had not known about Shannon until they discovered the file about her murder during Gibbs' coma in "Hiatus". The season 7 episode "Flesh and Blood", during a conversation with Tony DiNozzo's father, is one of the few times when Gibbs has ever explicitly talked about his daughter.
After Shannon and Kelly's deaths and before he married his second wife, Gibbs is suggested to have had an affair with a woman named Rose Tamayo in Colombia. He was on a classified drug interdiction mission as a Marine Scout Sniper, and was wounded during the mission. In "Deliverance", Rose's now-adult son Tomas is introduced as a person of interest in a case after Gibbs' Marine service number was found written in blood at a crime scene. Gibbs was suspected (by his team) of being the boy's father, but Gibbs later reveals to Tomas that she was already pregnant with him when he came to their village, but leaves out that the drug lord Gibbs was sent to assassinate was, in fact, the boy's father.
Gibbs also had a past romantic relationship with the (now deceased) director of NCIS, Jenny Shepard, who was also a redhead. In the first, second, and third seasons, he was seen in the company of a mysterious (and never-identified) redheaded woman. According to Bellisario, the purpose of "the mysterious redhead" was "to make everyone speculate".
His first ex-wife and second wife overall, Diane Sterling (Melinda McGraw), married FBI Senior Special Agent Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano). As she did with Gibbs, Diane drained Fornell's bank account upon leaving him. Fornell and Diane have a daughter, Emily, forcing him to interact with her. Fornell laments this fact, with Gibbs stating he had warned Fornell of Diane's nature. In the season 9 episode "Devil's Triangle", Gibbs tells Diane that he liked her—he always liked her, and still likes her. (Diane tells him their marriage fell apart because she was in love with him, but she could not compete with Shannon.) Diane is later shot dead by terrorist Sergei Mishnev (Alex Veadov) during the Season 12 episode "Check".
Gibbs' third wife (his second ex-wife), Rebecca (Jeri Ryan), is introduced in season 12. She and Gibbs divorced because Rebecca cheated on Gibbs and it is revealed in that season's episode 11 that she is marrying the man with whom she cheated on Gibbs.
Gibbs' most recent wife, Stephanie Flynn (Kathleen York), also a redhead, lived with him during his service in Moscow, Russia, for about a year. Ducky claims in the episode "Mind Games" (Season 3, episode 3) that Gibbs' wife found it impossible to stay in their marriage when Gibbs was hunting serial killer Kyle Boone, but to which wife he was referring was never specified. According to Gibbs, she was the one who left him.
In season four, he has a steady, serious relationship with Army CID agent Lt. Col. Hollis Mann (Susanna Thompson), but their relationship is revealed to be over at the beginning of season five, when Shepard reads a brief announcement in a military newsletter that Mann is retiring to Hawaii.
In season 7, Gibbs meets lawyer Margaret Allison Hart (Rena Sofer), who was sent by an old enemy (Col. Merton Bell) whom Gibbs had locked up in a Mexican prison. Though Gibbs and Hart oppose each other over several cases, they are also attracted to one another. In the end, when it turned out that Bell was responsible for the death of Lara Macy in connection with the long-ago murder of Pedro Hernandez, Hart turned her back on him, showing she cared more for Gibbs than for her boss. She later prevented the report incriminating Gibbs for Hernandez' murder from reaching Mexico and gave it to him. In the episode "Borderland" (Season 7, episode 22), an unknown conspirator manipulates events so that Abby ends up investigating the murder as a cold case and finds irrefutable proof that Gibbs is responsible. Despite this, she is conflicted on whether to drop the case or pursue it. Lara Macy was found dead in the episode "Patriot Down". These events were later revealed to have been manipulated by Hernandez' now-grown children: Paloma Reynosa, the head of the Reynosa drug cartel, and Alejandro Rivera, a high-ranking official of the Mexican Justice Department. In the episode "Spider and the Fly", Gibbs manipulates Alejandro into killing Paloma, and Alejandro is subsequently arrested. Shortly thereafter, Director Vance files Abby's report deep in the NCIS evidence room.
In the season 6 episode "Heartland", Gibbs' frosty relationship with his father Jackson and the backstory behind it is revealed. His father had rarely been mentioned up to that point and Jackson had not known that Gibbs was a "boss" (head of the MCRT) until Gibbs and his team visited Stillwater to investigate a case. By the end of the episode, they make amends and the two have become closer ever since.
Gibbs had resented his father, especially after his mother's death. The resentment for his father was eventually revealed to have come from the difficult relationship between his parents. Gibbs' mother, Ann, was a hard woman to live with, and husband and wife mutually had affairs despite their strong feelings for one another. Gibbs blamed his father's affairs for his mother leaving. The only thing that kept Gibbs and his father in contact after that was Gibbs' wife, Shannon, of whom Jackson was fond. Gibbs took offense when his father brought his girlfriend to Shannon and Kelly's funeral, which further distanced father and son.
NCIS team and coworkers
Gibbs has a close relationship with NCIS Forensic scientist Abby Sciuto, and the agency's Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. He has known Ducky longer than any of the other main characters, often calling him by the shortened nickname "Duck". He is protective of and comfortable around Abby, often massaging her shoulders, and kissing her cheek when she does especially good work. He usually looks the other way in her style of dress and her quirks (Abby is a Goth), because he knows that she does her job very well. He also brings her her favorite caffeine beverage, called Caf-Pow. On several occasions, Abby has been described as "the favorite". Likewise, Abby is, along with Ducky, one of few main characters who are not afraid of Gibbs.
In "Safe Harbor" Gibbs calls Ziva his "kid" when she asks if he is lonely and he responds, "Never alone when you have kids," kissing her forehead and adding, "Good night, kid." It is implied that he may see the rest of the team in a similar light. In her second episode, Ziva saved Gibbs' life by shooting her murderous half-brother Ari, earning Gibbs' trust. In her early episodes, Ziva is one of the few who dares to challenge Gibbs' "famous gut" but she gradually comes to respect him as a mentor and a surrogate father figure since around the middle of season 3; in the episode "Reunion", she called him "the closest thing I have to a father". In the season three finale, she was the only one who was able to get him to remember after he suffered amnesia from an explosion by reminding him of Ari's death. He remembered that Ziva saved his life and that she had killed her brother to do it while Ziva broke down and cried into his arms. They share a number of traits: they both rarely show emotion, had difficult relationships with their fathers at some point in their lives, have a deep sense of loyalty towards their country, speak multiple languages, have served in the military at some point, and are extremely skilled at what they do.
Tony has a great deal of respect for Gibbs, and Gibbs has the tendency to smack Tony on the back of the head whenever he says or does something inappropriate. However, Tony has said that he regards the "headslaps" as a "sign of affection". Tony is Gibbs' most senior field agent and is well-regarded by Gibbs, who made him his successor during his brief retirement between seasons 3 and 4. Through flashbacks in the episode "Baltimore", it is revealed that the two first met around 2001 when Tony accidentally arrested Gibbs, who was working undercover, and both were targeting the same suspect for separate cases. Not long after, Tony is invited to Navy Yard by Gibbs and joins NCIS. In "Mind Games" and "Bait", both Ducky and Director Jenny Shepard have commented on how Tony was becoming more and more like Gibbs. In Season 4, Gibbs nonchalantly tells Jenny that he feels Tony was ready to head his own team, not knowing Tony already received the offer (and later turns it down). They have a mutual respect for one another and trust in each other's abilities without question, exhibited by the fact that they frequently back each other up during covert operations and when taking down armed suspects. They also know each other well enough to predict the other's next move and read each other's behavioral cues with a single look; Tony frequently had to explain Gibbs' behavior to Kate, McGee and then Ziva when they first joined (and thus becoming the audience surrogate). Like Gibbs, Tony lost his mother at a young age and was estranged from his father since adolescence. In "Flesh and Blood", it is shown that he has known about Tony's difficult relationship with his father since Season 2 and empathizes with him. In a private conversation, Gibbs tells DiNozzo Senior that Tony is the "best young agent I've ever worked with" and admonishes him for neglecting his son all these years while DiNozzo Senior replies that Tony "thinks the world of you". In later seasons, Tony begins to confide in Gibbs more, especially regarding his struggles in dealing with his love-hate relationship with his father and past relationships.
In line with his unpredictable nature, Gibbs deals with his agents likewise which both frustrates and amuses them. He often enters the squad room without his team knowing and surprises them from behind with a comment about their conversation or by telling them to "gear up". For example, in the episode "Marine Down", during a session at the shooting range, he taped Tony's favorite cap and Kate's PDA to the edge of their targets, hypothesizing that it would force them to shoot more accurately, much to their chagrin. When McGee and Abby had a brief falling out in Season 1, he intentionally sends McGee to her lab to work with her. In "Caught on Tape", he sends Tony to clean up the interrogation room after a suspect urinated in it as "punishment" after overhearing Tony unknowingly calling him (Gibbs) "creepy". In "Ravenous", he forces Ziva to do a background check and research on a suspect despite knowing her intense dislike of the man as he had previously insulted her with racist comments.
Gibbs is very protective of his team, often becoming aggressive towards anyone who threatens or harms them, especially figures of authority who impede the investigation or criminals who attempt to harm his colleagues. For example, he angrily confronted the SECNAV on several occasions, in season 8 when Ziva was kidnapped by serial killer Jonas "the Port to Port Killer" Cobb (Kerr Smith), threatening consequences if she was hurt, and in season 9 to take action against a rogue agent who had attempted to kill DiNozzo. When Tony and McGee were implicated in Seasons 2 and 3 respectively of crimes they did not commit, he goes the extra mile to clear their names despite warnings from his director and clashing with other law enforcement agencies. In the season 7 premiere he shot dead the terrorist who had tortured Ziva, held the team hostage, and was believed to be responsible for Ziva's (presumed) death. He also generally has no qualms about cutting off a high-ranking officer mid-way during a phone or video conversation if he thinks they are of little help to his team's investigation, and regularly defends the competency of his agents to them.
In earlier episodes, Gibbs is portrayed as disliking interns and tends to be suspicious of new agents and "outsiders". New members of his team—as shown through Kate, McGee, Ziva, and Eleanor Bishop—all had to earn their place and his respect before being fully accepted by him. Stan Burley, one of his former protégés, who worked under Gibbs for five years, told Tony in "High Seas" that it took four years before Gibbs even acknowledged him by his correct name. However, in later seasons, Gibbs has taken in interns and recommended several rookie agents. Of his former rookies, Gibbs is shown to be particularly fond of Burley and Brett Langer, who had transferred to the FBI.
The team has likewise demonstrated unflinching loyalty to Gibbs throughout the years. During interrogations and investigations, the team members often defend Gibbs' unorthodox techniques to other military or federal officers. In season 3, Tony and Ziva refused to vacate the premises when Gibbs stayed behind with a suspected North Korean spy who had offered to defuse a massive bomb, despite being directly ordered to do so, and remained with him until after the danger had passed. In a similar incident in season 4, Gibbs, Tony, and McGee all insisted upon staying with Ziva while she disarmed a bomb with seconds remaining till detonation. They were also visibly shaken in the first part of the Season 3 finale "Hiatus" while investigating a bomb on a ship that had exploded near Gibbs and seriously injured him. In the early episodes of Season 9, worried that he is lonely, the team show concern that Gibbs is overworking and try to set him up with a date, much to his amusement.
As a non-commissioned officer is addressed by rank rather than "sir", Gibbs has sometimes been addressed as "Gunny" (a reference to his rank of gunnery sergeant) by acquaintances who knew him from his time in the Marine Corps and dislikes being called "sir" (like other NCOs, Gibbs tells people who call him "sir" that he works for a living). Among his colleagues he is usually called "Boss" by Tony, McGee and, formerly, Stan Burley and Brett Langer, while those closer to him such as Ducky and Jenny address by his middle name, Jethro. Abby, NCIS Director Leon Vance, FBI Special Agent Tobias Fornell, and deceased NCIS Special Agent Caitlin Todd all simply call him Gibbs, while assistant ME Jimmy Palmer calls him Agent Gibbs.
Gibbs generally dislikes having to deal with his superiors and other federal and military agencies, especially when "red tape" gets in the way. He has a professional working relationship with his last two directors as well as the current one, Leon Vance. At best, they share a cordial and strictly professional relationship with Vance frequently backing Gibbs whenever other agencies try to interfere with a case, but their relationship took a major turn for the worse when Vance becomes embroiled in Eli David's Mossad agenda. Their relationship improves by Season 10 and Vance plays a role in preventing Gibbs' arrest and indictment by shredding Abby's forensic report on Pedro Hernandez, whom Gibbs had shot and killed in revenge for the deaths of his wife and daughter. In Season 10, he also delays and stalls IG investigator Richard Parsons' investigation into Gibbs' team by allowing JSOC to assign Gibbs on a classified mission. Gibbs also extended his support when Vance's wife was murdered, leaving their two children motherless. Prior to her death, Gibbs had a romantic relationship with former partner and later his superior Jenny Shepard. In front of other agents they usually maintained a professional relationship and she highly valued having him on the team, even "forgetting" to file his retirement application early in Season 4. Another of Gibbs' acquaintances is senior FBI agent Tobias Fornell, who was once married to his ex-wife Diane Sterling. Gibbs and Fornell have a reputation amongst their own agents for an intense mutual dislike of each other due to inter-agency "turf wars" but in private are actually close friends.
For much of the show Gibbs is portrayed to have few friends but is extremely close with and loyal to them. Of the secondary characters he is closest to his former boss and mentor, the late Mike Franks. Gibbs would mirror many of Franks' idiosyncrasies, most notably the trademark head slap. In Season 4 he finds out that Franks had a long-lost biological son Liam, who was coincidentally a victim in one of Gibbs' cases. Liam had smuggled an Iraqi woman named Leyla into the United States with the intention of marrying her. However he falls into a coma after being assaulted and thrown into a river and eventually dies without regaining consciousness. Franks took responsibility of Leyla and her young daughter Amira. Prior to Franks' death, Gibbs was named Amira's godfather and she and Leyla move to Washington, D.C. after Franks was murdered. Gibbs dotes on Amira and treats her like his own daughter.
In the Season 11 two-part episode "Crescent City", it is revealed that Gibbs and Franks were part of a group of young and accomplished NIS (as NCIS was known as prior to 1992) agents known as the "Fed Five" who gained recognition for apprehending the notorious "Privileged Killer" during the mid-1990s. One of the "Fed Five", Dwayne Cassius "King" Pride (played by Scott Bakula), now with the New Orleans field office, is introduced in the episode as Gibbs' long-lost colleague and close friend. Gibbs stated that they have known each other for "thirty years", implying that they likely met while in the military. Like Gibbs, Pride is good friends with Fornell despite frequently butting heads over agency jurisdiction.
A decorated Marine, Gibbs is portrayed as a consummate organizer, disciplined and demanding. These traits often put him in a stand-off with other authorities when they exert pressure on his team. He is a no-nonsense agent who displays a continuous urgency about the investigation he pursues, specifically when being given technical information about complex subject matter. The typical response to such information is "Give it to me in English", thus forcing the expert to get to the point, as well as making it easy for the audience to understand. It is a well-known fact with his agents that he dislikes any ambiguous references and terms such as "assuming" and "maybe" when discussing a case or dealing with evidence. He also displays elements of sarcasm, particularly in relation to someone in his company stating something obvious. The typical sarcastic answer "Ya think?" is his preferred retort.
His intimidating persona makes him a feared presence, especially to agents under him and suspects in the interrogating room. He is known for communicating displeasure, especially to his agents whenever they say or do something inappropriate or out of line, with a single look or by giving them the "silent treatment". One of his interrogating techniques is to sit and glare at the suspect for twenty minutes or until the suspect buckles under pressure. According to Tony, Gibbs' "steely gaze can cool a room by five degrees".
Despite his often emotionless and stoic façade, he is able to read and detect emotional and behavioral cues quickly and accurately. He is acknowledged as one of the "best interrogators in law enforcement" and has occasionally been requested by external agencies to conduct interrogations. Tony once joked to a probationary agent that "bad guys would rather confess than be interrogated by [Gibbs]". It is well known that Gibbs does not tolerate being interrupted when interrogating a suspect (which is also his Rule No. 22), as McGee quickly learned first-hand in "unSEALed" when Gibbs tells him off for doing so.
Gibbs is a workaholic and is frequently seen at his desk after hours. He will not hesitate to keep his team at the office into the early hours of the morning—the team has been seen sleeping overnight at their desks and in Abby's lab at times and even in the house where they were conducting an overnight search—or call them up in the middle of the night or on weekends, especially when a case demands urgency (e.g. bomb threats, national security issues). In "Safe Harbor", McGee described Gibbs as being "married to [his] work". However, he has little patience for the "politics" and bureaucracy his job entails, usually leaving that aspect to his director, and prefers to be out in the field working with his agents. In "Trojan Horse", he briefly served as acting director when Jenny Shepard was in Paris attending an Interpol conference and displayed an intense dislike of the paperwork that comes with it. In that episode, the entire team had bet on how long Gibbs could stay in the office and Ducky correctly predicted that Gibbs would last four days as director before returning to field work.
One of Gibbs' most noted traits is his unpredictability. When he has a lead on a case, he has a habit of suddenly getting up and ordering his agents to "grab your gear" or "gear up" without telling them the reason or where they are going. He often follows his instincts, or his "famous gut" as Jenny Shepard calls it. Tony, who has known Gibbs long enough to read his behavior, once explained to Ziva that "the Boss moves in mysterious ways" when she challenged Gibbs' judgment in "Honor Code" (later in the episode Gibbs is proven right). Likewise, in "Mind Games", McGee tells fellow agent Paula Cassidy that Gibbs makes the call and the rest of the team just follow without question. This unpredictability is also exhibited in his driving, as shown in several episodes where he abruptly made a quick U-turn in the middle of the road without warning his passengers, to return to the crime scene. He is well-known both within and outside the agency, particularly to the FBI, for using unorthodox methods to obtain evidence or solve a case. For example, in "My Other Left Foot", he charms the deceased victim's half-sister so that Kate can do a quick scan of the living room and do a profile. In other episodes, he employs underhand tactics to trick a suspect into confessing.
He displays a degree of impatience toward high-tech hardware, as seen in the Season 4 episode "Witch Hunt" when he stomps a Roomba to pieces in order to prevent it from vacuuming up evidence at a crime scene. He does not use power tools when building his boat and instead prefers hand tools. It is revealed that he learned to use hand tools from his father, likely out of necessity given the rural location of their hometown. In "Switch", after catching Tony playing Tetris on his cellphone, he grabs it and hurls it into Tony's drink without a word. More than once, he has also damaged his cell phone (including throwing it into a jar of paint thinner) and computer in frustration. Tony keeps a supply of new phones in his file cabinet drawers as Gibbs regularly damages his phone whenever he is frustrated with it.
When he thinks it absolutely necessary, he will turn over command of the team to one of his agents and displays implicit trust in them. In Season 2, he sent McGee, who was still relatively new to the team, to check out a possible murder case and takes his word that they should launch an investigation. In the Season 6 episode "Bounce", the murder of a Navy officer has apparent connections to an embezzlement case handled by Tony DiNozzo years earlier, so Gibbs trades places with him. Gibbs' laconic explanation: "Your case, your lead" (which is also rule no. 38). The two resume their normal roles by the end of the episode. On rare occasions, if the usual judicial process is incapable of bringing a suspect to justice, he will turn a blind eye and allow "street justice" to run its course. One example occurs in the Season 3 episode "Iced", when a street gang member suspected of killing three of his subordinates must be released for lack of evidence. Gibbs drops him off on a street corner where he runs into several angry gang members, who have learned of the circumstances through a visit to the NCIS morgue; the team later sees a TV news report that the suspect has been shot dead, but Gibbs suggests that they stop watching and get back to work.
He is a dedicated coffee drinker, a fact played out with his team setting up someone to innocently drink or spill his coffee, incurring Gibbs' ire. In the episode "Forced Entry", when McGee unknowingly drinks Gibbs' coffee, an on-base security officer explains that rule No. 23 is "Never mess with a Marine's coffee if you want to live." At episode's end, Gibbs endows McGee with a cup of coffee as a thank-you. On more than one occasion, he has also threatened Tony if the latter drank his coffee. In the episode "Hiatus (Part I)", Ziva claims that if Gibbs had been killed in the explosion on the ship, the color of his guts would "be more coffee brown than red". Gibbs has dropped or voluntarily given up his coffee, of his own volition, three times; all three incidents have involved forensic scientist Abby Sciuto. He brings his own coffee, revealed to be a mixture of coffee and chicory, on overnighters during an investigation. He is unwilling to drink coffee brewed at NCIS Headquarters, telling Agent Todd following an accident when she offers to pour him another cup, "That's not coffee."
His hobby is woodworking. Gibbs is shown to have a wooden-hulled sailboat under construction in his basement, which he builds entirely by hand without power tools. In the episode "Tribes", he tells FBI Agent Langer: "Finished it twice. This is number three." He later tells NCIS Director Jenny Shepard that he is working on his fourth boat, and that he named one of the previous boats after his (then current) wife when he finished it, then burned it after their divorce. When asked why he did not simply sell it, Gibbs replies that he "couldn't stand to see someone else sailing Diane". Dr. Mallard tells Colonel Mann that another of Gibbs' boats was named after his daughter, Kelly. It is not revealed what Gibbs did with the other completed boats, nor how he could remove their twenty-five-foot hulls intact from his basement. When asked by McGee, Gibbs cryptically replied, "Just break the bottle." In the episode "Honor Code", when Gibbs is talking with a lieutenant commander's son, he does mention a possible method which would involve taking down part of his wall and hauling it out through the now wide enough space, thus breaking the bottle. Gibbs has also been shown making wooden toys around Christmas time, fixing the roof on Mike Franks' beach house, and offering to build Franks a teak hot tub. In "Pyramid", it is revealed that Gibbs built Mike Franks' coffin.
One of Gibbs' "trademarks" is that he will often slap the members of his team on the back of the head when displeased with their performance or, if they get sidetracked on another topic, to get them focused back on the case. He does this more frequently to DiNozzo than the other members. In the episode "SWAK", when a pneumonic plague–infected DiNozzo seemed to be unresponsive, Gibbs slapped him on the forehead. When Gibbs "retired", and Tony gained his position as leader for a short while, Tony often slapped the team members in a similar fashion; in the episode "Hiatus (Part II)", Mike Franks is shown slapping Gibbs in the same manner in a flashback. As revealed by Ducky in the episode "Mind Games", about ten years earlier he was just like Tony. When asked why he slaps his team only on the back of the head Gibbs responded, "A slap to the face would be humiliating. Back of the head is a wake-up call." At one point he also threatens to slap Abby, though not on the head. In the episode "Family Secret", Gibbs even slaps his own head for breaking chain-of-evidence rules. In "Driven", the team, including Gibbs, attends a sexual harassment seminar where they are told that the head slaps must stop or else they would face charges, but no charges or other consequences have come forth.
Another of Gibbs' quirks is his tendency to stop the building's elevator between floors if he needs to have a short, urgent, private conversation with someone. He does this most often with his agents, and occasionally with his superiors or other law enforcement personnel.
When somebody mentions the loss of children and wives, Gibbs rarely comments although he may react slightly. When Caitlin Todd was killed, Ducky, who at that point did not know of Shannon and Kelly's story, mentioned that Ari was targeting women and neither of them (Ducky or Gibbs) has ever lost a loved one, Gibbs paused and did not say anything. However, he is especially sympathetic to the family members of the victim, especially if he or she was a member of the military. From Season 4 onwards, after the deaths of Shannon and Kelly were revealed, he avoids mentioning them altogether and "shuts down" if pressed about it. Gibbs still cared for Jenny at the time of her death and he was unable to open her body bag and look at her corpse.
In the episode "Faking It", it is revealed that Gibbs speaks fluent Russian, and he at least speaks a little Japanese and Chinese ("Call of Silence" and "My Other Left Foot", respectively). He also signs American Sign Language, which appears in many episodes in conversations with forensic scientist Abby Sciuto.
In the episode "Heartland", it is revealed that he bought a 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T, which he planned to restore but never did. Later in the same episode, it turns out that his father had restored the car the way Gibbs wanted it. The car was yellow with a black hood stripe and was stated to have the 426 HEMI and R/T suspension package. He drove the car with a smile on his face the first time out. Apart from the Dodge Challenger, Gibbs drives a Ford F-250 as shown in "Shalom" and in "Life Before His Eyes". He also drove a full-size Chevy when he and Shannon had to leave her mother because of his orders from the USMC in "Mother's Day".
Awards and citations
In the episodes "Model Behavior" and "Murder 2.0", Gibbs is awarded the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award. At the end of the episode "Murder 2.0", he was awarded his seventh Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award, but as with the other six times, he did not attend the award ceremony, at which Tony accepts the medal on his behalf. When Gibbs shows no interest in it, Tony locks it in a box containing several similar presentation cases, all of which, as mentioned in the same episode by Tony, contain similar kinds of medals awarded to Gibbs. One of these medals is revealed to have been a Silver Star, which Gibbs bestows on Corporal Damon Werth in the episode "Corporal Punishment". It is revealed in the episode "Hiatus Pt. 1" that Gibbs received the Purple Heart after being injured in Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War and was in a coma for nineteen days as a result.
Gibbs was shown wearing the following awards and decorations in the episodes "One Shot, One Kill" and "Honor Code". Note: The Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Medal ribbon is placed as a U.S. non-military personal decoration in the order of precedence.
Early reception was primarily positive. During NCIS ' first season on air, Ross Warneke wrote of Gibbs, "He's still wincing from three failed marriages and is a bit of a renegade within the service." He further called Mark Harmon's performance "convincing" and added that the character "has a heart of gold". Two years later, in November 2005, Noel Holston from the Sun-Sentinel said, "NCIS special agent, Jethro Gibbs, is one of those hard-shelled, soft-centered guys' guys Bellisario loves to write, a clear-thinking, decisive leader in whose crankiness his subordinates take an almost masochistic pleasure."
William Bradly of The Huffington Post wrote an opinion piece in 2011 in response to NCIS being voted America's favorite television show in which he commented, "Gibbs is a hard-ass, but a very nice hard-ass, who usually has all the answers thanks to his well-honed 'gut.' And when he doesn't, the quirky science nerds are there to help him out in their reassuringly civvy ways." In 2012, Kyle Smith from the New York Post praised the show's respect for the military and Harmon's portrayal of a Marine.
One reviewer wrote a long analysis:
Never, have I seen a show portray such an accurate description of leadership. Agent Jethro Gibbs is a very intimidating leader; to his agents, and to his suspects. No one wants to mess with Gibbs, and that is no surprise. He is incredibly strong emotionally, and a very loving person to his family. His top qualities are leadership and fearlessness. Gibbs is also very impatient, and easily angered, which don't serve him well in his relationships.
Leadership is Gibbs' best quality. On the outside, he is tough as nails, seemingly impossible to break. On the inside, he is a compassionate person, who is extremely supportive of his friends and family.
In 2011, June Thomas from Slate magazine wrote, "Team leader Gibbs (Mark Harmon) is a coffee-slurping stoic, a former Marine often exasperated by his sometimes-silly underlings." She also discussed the show and its characters' appeal to conservatives: "They're intelligent, hard-working, and devoted...Gibbs is an old-fashioned man: strong and silent, a skilled woodworker who doesn't lock his front door." Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Monthly also suggested that Gibbs, "a former Marine with a Bush-like faith in his 'gut'", appeared as a distinctly conservative figure in the series, in contrast to "liberal stand-ins" McGee and Abby Sciuto.
In 2011, it was reported that the role had made Mark Harmon the fourth most popular actor on primetime television. Several other members of the NCIS cast were also listed in the top ten, including Pauley Perrette (Abby Sciuto), Cote de Pablo (Ziva David), David McCallum (Ducky Mallard), and Michael Weatherly (Anthony DiNozzo).
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