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Mark Harmon's Best NCIS Episodes Ranked By Action Level

Popular CBS drama "NCIS" follows a team of highly trained Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents who solve Marine Corps and Navy-centric crimes. The series began as a spin-off of the smash-hit "JAG," and has been on the air since 2003. That's not just an impressive run for the show, either — it's an impressive run for actor Mark Harmon, who leads the NCIS as Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Agent Gibbs starts his career as a Marine and eventually pursues a position in military law enforcement. He is a resourceful agent, a fearless team player, and a talented sharpshooter. Even more impressive is Gibbs' intuition, which he frequently uses to predict criminals' next moves and apprehend them quickly. 

As the leader of the NCIS team, Gibbs frequently finds himself at the center of the action. He works to crack cases and catch criminals by any means necessary, even if he has to put his life at risk. No matter how complex their current case may be, the other NCIS agents can always count on Gibbs to hold his own and save the day. Gibbs' most pause-worthy scenes fully demonstrate his impressive crime-fighting skills and are at the center of some of the most memorable episodes of the long-running series. Season after season, fans thoroughly enjoy watching the wise, no-nonsense agent achieve justice for his fellow military personnel. In celebration of his success, we're ranking Mark Harmon's best "NCIS" episodes by action level.

11. Keep Your Enemies Closer (Season 15, Episode 15)

The appropriately-titled Season 15 episode "Keep Your Enemies Closer" is the second half of a two-part story arc featuring the return of former FBI agent Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano). In this episode, Gibbs and Fornell must make a deal with one murderer to track down another. Ironically, the criminal NCIS desperately chases is Gabriel Hicks (Graham Hamilton), a suspected serial killer who walked free thanks to compelling testimony from Gibbs in an earlier episode. Reluctantly, Gibbs enlists the help of Hicks' former cellmate, Paul Triff (French Stewart), to link the exonerated killer to a series of crimes. Triff receives a 48-hour supervised release to help with the case and finds himself caged in his former home: Agent McGee's (Sean Murray) current apartment.

Unsurprisingly, chaos ensues as the NCIS team gets closer and closer to catching Hicks, and Agent Gibbs finds himself in the familiar position of having to save the day. Hicks forcibly kidnaps Fornell and heads to Agent McGee's home, where he confronts Triff and shoots him. NCIS comes very close to catching Hicks, but he flees with Fornell locked in the trunk of his car. Fornell frees himself and fights back, but Hicks overpowers him. Luckily, Agent Gibbs arrives on the scene just in time to tase the serial killer and save his longtime friend. Although the showdown between Hicks and Gibbs is not quite as dramatic as expected, the down-to-the-wire rescue of Fornell is exciting to watch.

10. One Shot, One Kill (Season 1, Episode 13)

From the very beginning of the series, Agent Gibbs establishes himself as a take-charge leader who isn't afraid to jump into conflict when needed. In the Season 1 episode "One Shot, One Kill," Gibbs goes undercover to stop a sniper who targets Marine recruitment officers. When local police officers find Gunnery Sergeant Freddy Alvarez (Francesco Quinn) dead, they initially believe his murder is gang-related. However, ballistics proves that Alvarez's killer is most likely a skilled sniper. The NCIS team is surprised by this development and knows they must act quickly to identify the killer. Unfortunately, the sniper claims another victim while the team is busy chasing down leads.

Fearing for the safety of other recruitment officers, Gibbs decides to take matters into his own hands. He poses as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas at a press conference announcing the reopening of the recruitment office. Unsurprisingly, the press conference lures the sniper, Kyle Hendricks (Noah Segan), out of hiding. Unfortunately, Gibbs realizes too late that Hendricks posed as a water delivery person to gain access to the recruitment office. The episode cuts to Hendricks taking aim and firing at the building. However, the sniper didn't count on an essential upgrade: bullet-resistant glass windows. Thanks to Gibbs' willingness to put his life at risk, the NCIS team apprehends Hendricks and puts an end to his short-lived crime spree.

9. Red Cell (Season 2, Episode 20)

Agent Gibbs is no stranger to hand-to-hand combat, and his skills are on full display in the Season 2 episode "Red Cell." NCIS agents investigate the murder of a young Marine after he's found dead at Waverly College. When they learn that the deceased lived on campus, they assume that someone at the college is involved in his murder. However, their prime suspect goes missing, and the team soon finds him dead. As NCIS continues to chase leads (including a mysterious hacker and an on-campus paintball league), Agent Gibbs finds himself face to face with an unlikely suspect: Gunnery Sergeant Leeka (Jeff Wincott).

At first, Sergeant Leeka seems like he may be helpful to the investigation. As the head of the ROTC office on campus, he offers to bring his unit in for questioning to get to the bottom of Turner's murder. However, NCIS quickly discovers that Leeka is behind two murders and a sexual assault. Unfortunately for Gibbs, the team figures this out while he's already in the ROTC office with the killer. Gibbs tries to apprehend Leeka on the spot, but the skilled gunnery sergeant kicks Gibbs' gun away. The two engage in a well-orchestrated fight, and for a moment, it seems like Leeka might be victorious. However, underestimating Gibbs is a big mistake for any criminal to make. Although Gibbs is obviously older than Leeka, he renders him unconscious just as NCIS agents break down the office door.

8. Neverland (Season 12, Episode 24)

Some "NCIS" episodes are packed with non-stop action, while others are defined by a single moment. The NCIS team combats terrorism several times throughout the series, but Season 12's "Neverland" features a particularly harrowing encounter for Agent Gibbs. In this episode, a terrorist organization known as the Calling targets members of NCIS after they capture former member Luke Harris (Daniel Zolghadri). Harris is a young Iraqi boy who lands in NCIS custody while they investigate the Calling in a previous episode. Unfortunately, the terrorist group kills Harris' parents in retaliation for his decision to cooperate with Gibbs and his team. Therefore, when Harris reunites with the Calling in "Neverland," Gibbs is concerned that the young boy will turn against NCIS.

This season finale is intense from start to finish, and Gibbs' most significant action scene within it is one of the series' most memorable and shocking moments. After NCIS tracks the Calling's leader, Daniel Budd (Giles Matthey), to Iraq, the agents prepare for a final showdown. Unfortunately, Budd uses a young girl as a diversion, and the girl leads Gibbs right into a trap. In the end, Budd isn't on the scene, and Gibbs finds himself face-to-face with an angry Luke Harris. Before the agent can say a word, Harris shoots him twice. The episode ends with a cliffhanger: Audiences don't know if Gibbs will survive this surprising attack until they watch the Season 13 premiere.

7. Truth Or Consequences (Season 7, Episode 1)

Time and time again, Gibbs' expert skills and perfect timing help his agents survive dire situations. The Season 7 episode "Truth Or Consequences" picks up where the dramatic Season 6 finale leaves off: Audiences learn that Agent DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) has been taken hostage in Somalia while tracking a terrorist group. Unfortunately, his captor, Saleem Ulman (Omid Abtahi), holds NCIS responsible for the death of his men and will stop at nothing to get the information he wants. However, audiences soon learn Agent McGee and Agent David (Cote de Pablo) are among those captured by Ulman. With three of his best agents in danger, Gibbs has his work cut out for him.

Gibbs proceeds to rescue his team and produce one of his most memorable demonstrations of marksmanship. As tensions escalate in Ulman's encampment, DiNozzo asks, "Remember when I told you my boss was a sniper?" Right on cue, a long-range bullet whizzes through an open window and kills the terrorist instantly. Audiences see a perfectly camouflaged Gibbs lying in wait on a nearby hilltop, staring through his rifle's scope. In an instant, U.S. forces converge on the encampment and free all NCIS agents. Gibbs arrives just in time to shoot a guard before he can stop David and the others from escaping.

6. House Divided (Season 15, Episode 1)

The "NCIS" Season 15 premiere, "House Divided," continues an action-packed storyline from the previous season. Gibbs and McGee are prisoners of the Revolutionary Armed Council in Paraguay. The duo is filthy, starving, and desperate to find a way home. Audiences learn that they've been in captivity for a few months and are slowly working on an escape plan. Naturally, the conditions of their prison are appalling and their captors subject them to torture. Gibbs even endures waterboarding after he refuses to give them information about NCIS. Despite this treatment, Gibbs remains steadfast in his plans to escape.

Later in the episode, Gibbs and McGee stage a fight in their cell. The ever-resourceful agents manage to steal a knife from a guard who tries to break up the scuffle. Gibbs makes short work of their captors in impressively ruthless fashion, saving his torturer for last. However, this is just the beginning of their daring journey to freedom. McGee uses the RAC leader's phone to call NCIS and miraculously gets through. As help races to their location, Gibbs and McGee have to fight their way out of the underground encampment with the RAC leader as a hostage. The two agents survive their escape attempt and return to the U.S. to reunite with their team.

5. Kill Ari Part II (Season 3, Episode 2)

Ari Haswari (Rudolf Martin) is a rogue terrorist associated with Mossad who becomes Gibbs' arch-nemesis in the first two seasons of "NCIS." Prior to this, Haswari kills Caitlin "Kate" Todd (Sasha Alexander), a beloved member of the NCIS team. However, Gibbs finally gets the best of his enemy in the Season 3 episode "Kill Ari Part II." This episode features the thrilling conclusion of Gibbs and Haswari's final face-off, which begins in the Season 3 premiere. 

At the beginning of the episode, medical examiner Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) is Haswari's reluctant-but-cooperative hostage, and the rest of the NCIS team is trying to track his location. Although Gibbs finds Ducky unharmed later in the episode, he's not content to let Haswari escape. He hunts his nemesis doggedly, and, as luck would have it, soon finds himself face-to-face with Haswari in his own basement. The terrorist breaks into Gibbs' house and finds the agent's rifle, which he uses to try and intimidate him. The two share an intense moment as the terrorist explains his plans to make Gibbs' death look like a suicide. However, just when it seems like Gibbs might actually face defeat, Agent David springs into action and shoots Haswari. Although Gibbs doesn't get the chance to kill Haswari himself, he is undeniably brave in the face of a near-death situation and survives the encounter unscathed.

4. Extreme Prejudice (Season 10, Episode 1)

The NCIS team faces its fair share of harrowing situations. The Season 10 episode "Extreme Prejudice," which reveals the aftermath of an explosion at their headquarters, is a great example. The explosion occurs in the Season 9 finale, and "Extreme Prejudice" begins with Gibbs searching for survivors among his team. Luckily, the most prominent characters survive the blast and band together to catch Harper Dearing (Richard Schiff), the dangerous criminal behind the attack. Dearing's son died in a Naval vessel explosion, and the bereaved father intends to take his revenge by blowing up other ships. Since he succeeds at his aim in Season 9, Gibbs and his team know they must work quickly to prevent any further bombings.

NCIS and the FBI work tirelessly to track Dearing, who stays one step ahead of law enforcement for most of the episode. However, Gibbs is undeterred by Dearing's cat-and-mouse game. He relentlessly pursues the criminal, finally locating him at the former Dearing family home. Dearing has a gun, but Gibbs uses his hand-to-hand combat skills to defeat his opponent. The fight is short-lived, but this high-stakes scene reminds audiences how well Gibbs uses his military training. Gibbs frequently carries a concealed knife with him, and this trusty weapon comes in handy when disabling the father-turned-bomber. In the end, Gibbs kills Dearing and ends his string of crimes against the Navy. 

3. Nearly Departed (Season 19, Episode 2)

Gibbs was a skilled sniper while he served in the Marine Corps, and he puts his marksmanship to good use in the Season 19 episode "Nearly Departed." This episode is one of Gibbs' last appearances on "NCIS," and it's a doozy: He goes rogue to finish hunting a serial killer who almost killed him at the end of Season 18. To deceive the criminal, NCIS publicly announces that Gibbs is presumed dead. However, the team also aligns with the FBI, who are investigating the same string of murders. Gibbs boldly tracks their prime suspect, Paul LeMere (Jason Wiles), and subdues him in a cemetery.

Despite finding himself surrounded by agents once he's in NCIS custody, this killer isn't willing to go down without a fight. While in an interrogation room at the team's headquarters, LeMere lunges at Agent Jessica Knight (Katrina Law). He escapes and runs for the door, taking forensic scientist Kasie Hines (Diona Reasonover) hostage. He holds a letter opener against her neck and threatens to kill her if any NCIS agents try to prevent him from leaving the premises. However, Gibbs has other plans for LeMere. Without missing a beat, Gibbs calmly emerges from behind the killer, aims, and kills him with a single shot. This type of decisive action is something fans miss after Gibbs departs "NCIS" for good.

2. Bete Noire (Season 1, Episode 16)

Hostage situations are an unfortunate reality in law enforcement, but Gibbs faces a particularly harrowing one in Season 1's "Bete Noire." This episode marks the first appearance of Ari Haswari, who serves as the primary antagonist for much of Season 2. When Haswari invades the NCIS morgue, he takes Ducky and his assistant, Gerald Jackson (Pancho Demmings), hostage. Unfortunately, he also captures Agent Todd after luring her down to the morgue with his other two hostages. Naturally, Gibbs becomes suspicious. His fear that something has gone wrong is confirmed when the team discovers that Haswari has disabled the morgue's security cameras.

Aware that he has a hostage situation unfolding in his headquarters, Gibbs contacts the FBI for backup. As if the stakes weren't already high enough, Haswari shoots Jackson in the shoulder after learning that Ducky has tried to trick him. Eventually, Gibbs makes his way to the morgue and confronts Haswari. Both men aim their weapons at each other and shoot. Gibbs hits Haswari in the chest and thinks he's neutralized him, but Haswari is one step ahead of the NCIS. When the Hostage Rescue Team uses flash grenades to bring the situation under control, Haswari uses the confusion to his advantage and escapes. Gibbs saves his teammates from being killed by Haswari, but the encounter begins a long rivalry between the two men.

1. Twenty Klicks (Season 12, Episode 1)

Season 12's "Twenty Klicks" puts Gibbs to the ultimate test and delivers some very satisfying action scenes. In this episode, Gibbs receives a special request to escort another NCIS employee, systems administrator Kevin Hussein (Iman Nazemzadeh), back home from Russia. Gibbs and McGee fly to the American embassy in Russia to retrieve Hussein, and all goes according to plan — at first. But then a missile hits their helicopter, leading to a crash landing in a heavily wooded area. The helicopter passengers find themselves stranded in a forest with a malfunctioning radio and one dead pilot. Gibbs immediately takes charge of the situation, a task that necessitates fending off a wolf with his signature knife and assessing everyone's injuries.

Soon after the crash, the people who shot down the helicopter descend on the site to kill any survivors. Gibbs puts his knife skills to work and kills a mercenary before he can kill the surviving pilot, Lieutenant Commander Banks (Alison Haislip). Although the pilot eventually dies, Gibbs uses his expert survival skills to move the rest of the group out of harm's way. As the episode unfolds, Gibbs takes out multiple enemies who stand between his team and safety. His excellent marksmanship and the element of surprise serve him well, and the crash survivors are rescued, just in time to evade capture.