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Abby Sciuto's Tattoos On NCIS Explained

If you thought about forensic scientists at all before 2003, you probably pictured a grey-haired, white-lab-coat-wearing old dude staring sternly into a microscope. NCIS changed that picture for good when they introduced goth with a heart of gold Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) in the series premiere that year.

In addition to the standard lab coat, Sciuto is famous for her love of black clothes, big boots, skull designs, studded chokers, and high double ponytails (dyed black, of course). But she's perhaps best known for her many tattoos, some of which are more obvious than others.

Her most visible design is the spider sitting on its web that's usually in view on her neck (yes, you can even buy your own temporary copy). In season three, we get to see an even more extreme tattoo — one totally in keeping with Sciuto's goth aesthetic — in the form of a cross that takes up most of her lower back. She also has tattoos on her shoulder blades, fingers, forearms, and ankles, all of which are really inked on Perrette, who has lost count of how many tattoos she has (via Parade). In fact, they may have helped her land the role. Here are Abby Sciuto's tattoos on NCIS, explained.

NCIS creator Don Bellisario wanted to give the world a happy goth

Don Bellisario was a TV legend before he created one of the the most-watched TV dramas in America. Before putting the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on screen, Bellisario saw the reality of Navy life. From 1955 to 1959 he served in the Marine Corps, which is of course a distinct branch of the military (but its members often work closely with the Navy).

That military experience helped with his first big hit show. Running from 1980 to 1988, Magnum P.I. starred Tom Selleck as an easygoing private investigator and Vietnam veteran in Hawaii. Aside from launching a trend for bushy mustaches and Aloha shirts, the show was credited for going against the trend of portraying Vietnam veterans as unhinged violent criminals, instead showing characters who had readjusted to civilian life.

Bellisario brought this desire to present a different side of a popular trope to NCIS. In 2007, Pauley Perrette said, "he wanted to take an alternative-style person with tattoos and make her someone who is happy, totally put together and successful." That's why the actress's tattoos were seen as a selling point: "Not only do they love my tattoos, but they give me more," she added.

Unfortunately, Bellisario's experience at NCIS turned out not to be so happy. The creator left the series in 2007 over a dispute with star Mark Harmon.

Pauley Perrette came equipped with most of Abby Sciuto's tattoos — but not this one

As mentioned, Pauley Perrette already has most of the tattoos we see on Sciuto. However, she said that Bellisario specifically wanted the character to have a tattoo that could be seen at all times, which is why Sciuto has that spiderweb on her neck (via TV Guide).

Although Perrette likes the design itself, she hated the process it took to get the fake tattoo applied for every shoot. In a 2008 promo video that shows how she transformed into Sciuto, Perrette was shown having the temp tattoo applied by makeup artist Joe Hailey, saying that it was the part of getting into character that she most dreaded. 

"I hate the tattoo: it's sticky, he has to put water all over me and it goes over my back," Perrette explains. She's described the tattoo as feeling like old gum, and said that throughout the day it would get sticky and occasionally come off, especially when she was wearing one of Sciuto's favorite chokers. This meant it often needed to be reapplied: Perrette and Hailey estimated that by 2008 they'd applied the tattoo about 600 times, meaning that the process must have been repeated a ridiculous number of times by the time she left the show ten years later. 

The other tattoo Sciuto has that Perrette doesn't: that giant cross. Fortunately, Perrette and Hailey mostly managed to avoid constant reapplications of that one by having her wear clothes that come high enough up her back to 'hide' the tattoo.

The spiderweb tattoo wasn't the reason Pauley Perrette left NCIS — but as much as fans love Sciuto's unique style, she probably wasn't sorry to see the last of it.