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The Real Reason NCIS Killed Off Mike Franks

When you're a fan of a show as fond of killing off its important characters as NCIS, it can be easy to build up a thick skin. But sometimes, a major death really hits you right in the feels. That was the case for gruff and good natured former marine Mike Franks (Muse Watson). Franks entered the NCIS world in a season 3 flashback where he was revealed to be Leroy Jethro Gibbs' mentor, who taught the NCIS leader everything he knows — including Gibbs' habit of smacking his subordinates upside the head.

After he was brought into the current timeline to help coax Gibbs (Mark Harmon) out of the amnesia he was suffering from following a terrorist bombing, Franks became a regular recurring character on the series. He popped up every so often to become embroiled in NCIS cases, despite the fact that he was supposed to be retired on a beach in Mexico. Eventually, his luck ran out, and Franks was killed by the Port-to-Port killer in one of the series' most emotional episodes.

Franks' death left fans wondering why the beloved supporting character had been written off of NCIS, despite his popularity and increasing involvement in the squad's cases. So what exactly were the reasons behind the death of Mike Franks?

Was Franks' death on NCIS controversial?

Franks' demise was in the works before he actually bit the dust. In the eighth season's penultimate episode, "Spider and the Fly," it was revealed that Franks was suffering from terminal lung cancer. As if that wasn't bad enough, there was also a serial killer targeting Navy personnel on the loose. By the end of the episode, the Port-to-Port killer had shown up outside Gibbs' house ready to add another name to his trophy list. Unfortunately for him, he met Franks first, who declared he had "One last fight in him" before injuring Gibbs' would-be killer and scaring him off. However, Franks was stabbed in the process, and he died of his wounds before the lung cancer could take him.

While many fans were heartbroken at Franks' death, it didn't seem totally out of nowhere. He was a well-liked character, but not crucial to many storylines — and after eight seasons, the writers need to make sure they were keeping the stakes of the show high. Killing off Gibbs' mentor was a great way to do that, and it also provided their lead with a big, emotional, character-defining moment.

In the aftermath of Franks' death, actor Muse Watson didn't reveal any behind-the-scenes reason for his character's demise, as is sometimes the case on shows like NCIS. So, it seems that Franks was killed purely to advance the story. However, that doesn't mean Watson was entirely happy with the way his character went out.

Why Muse Watson wasn't happy with Franks' death on NCIS

In June of 2012, Watson sat down with NCISfanatic for an interview about his tenure on the show. While he spoke highly of his experience and his co-stars, when he was asked about Franks' death, he spoke candidly about his misgivings.

"To be fair, I think in planning it, it sounded good, but the way it played out — I think Mike needed more," he said. He went on to clarify exactly what about Franks' death sat wrong with him, saying, "When you sum it up to a boy in the rain with a scalpel... it just wasn't enough to get Mike."

A few months later, Watson made a similar statement on Twitter. When a fan asked him, "Why did you leave?" he responded: "Because they wrote that I got stabbed by ONE young man with a [scalpel]. LOL... and yes I was packin."

It doesn't appear that there were any hard feelings about the fact that Watson had been written off the show, just how exactly he was written off — and Watson's continued relationship with NCIS is further proof that the actor himself was not the cause of Franks' departure.

Mike Franks has continued to appear on NCIS after death

In an Entertainment Tonight interview with the show's cast and crew, actor Rocky Carroll, who plays Leon Vance, stated that Franks was one of the characters he missed the most. It's a sentiment that is apparently shared by the show's producers, as after his death, Franks has made almost as many appearances on the show as he did while he was alive.

Even before his death, the show introduced the concept of him appearing to Gibbs as a kind of guardian angel. After he died, he continued to show up in his role as spectral advisor. This began in the season 9 episode "Life Before His Eyes" and continued through season 15, when the character made his last appearance on the show (for now). His post-death appearances are so numerous that fans have taken to categorizing them, noting which are during Gibbs' hallucinations, which are flashbacks, and which are merely archival footage.

Mike Franks' illustrious post-death career on NCIS is proof that sometimes, the producers of our favorite shows have just as hard a time letting go of characters as the fans do.