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Why fans are confused after watching NCIS season 18's premiere

Since the year 2003, every September has been marked by the premiere of a new season of CBS' beloved crime drama NCIS. Every year, that is, except for 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show missed its usual fall anniversary. But thankfully, the delay wasn't long-lived. Season 18 debuted on November 17 with an episode that had some fans thrilled to see Special Agent Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and company back in action, and others scratching their heads in confusion.

We've known for a while that when NCIS did finally come back, there was likely to be some backtracking before we actually got to the meat of the new storylines. Season 17 was forced to cut itself short after it aired just 20 of its usual 24 episodes, and after the makeshift finale, the showrunners hinted that they would include elements of those four missing episodes at the beginning of the new season (via TVLine). As fans found out in the premiere episode, titled "Sturgeon Season," the show wasn't just backtracking to finish up where season 17 left off, it was rewinding time even further.

As the first episode of season 18, "Sturgeon Season" is a prequel of sorts, but it also sets up what will presumably be a major storyline for the rest of the season, in addition to providing deeper context for events we've already seen play out on the show. If that sounds confusing to you, well, you're not alone. After the episode aired, NCIS fans took to Reddit to discuss what they'd seen, and for many, their big takeaway was "Wait, what?"

The NCIS season 18 premiere got off to a shocking and befuddling start

The struggle to pin down exactly what was going on in the season 18 premiere of NCIS started before the main titles even rolled. In the opening scene, fans were treated to an intense sequence wherein Agent McGee (Sean Murray) dramatically drives onto the tarmac of an airport and prevents a plane from taking off. As he runs toward the aircraft with his gun drawn, a sniper shoots him in the arm and leg, dropping him to the ground. The camera then dramatically pans up to reveal that the sniper is... Gibbs?

Pretty crazy, right? What's even crazier is that after that scene, that's really all you hear about the incident in the episode. A title card announces that the show is going back in time several months to the events of the season 17 episode "Musical Chairs," which featured Gibbs mysteriously disappearing while the team worked on a case involving a member of the Navy's band being murdered. "Sturgeon Season" fills in the time Gibbs went missing, which we learn was to help his friend Tobias Fornell (Joe Spano, who was originally introduced all the way back in the first episode of the series) track down the people who supplied Fornell's daughter with opioids. As Reddit user Bpsmooth asked in the weekly episode discussion thread, "Someone help me out here, what did McGee getting shot 2 times at the start of tonight's episode, have to do with anything? I feel like I missed something."

They weren't the only one who was having a hard time parsing how Gibbs' off-the-books mission to help his friend with a deeply personal problem was related to him shooting McGee several months later orĀ the murder of a Navy musician.

The NCIS season 18 premiere episode felt disjointed to some fans

While there were fans who appeared to have a fun time with the episode, many couldn't quite figure out how it was all supposed to square up. One commentator, heed101, was able to chalk up the shooting in the cold open as a breadcrumb that would be returned to later in the season, but they still had some major issues with the format of the episode. "I'll accept that Gibbs shooting at McGee in the cold open is part of a longer, on-going story arc," they wrote, "but what the heck was going on with the Navy Band case? Just some background noise about weighing instruments to be filler behind the prepper murder & Gibbs/Fornell time?"

The idea of going back in time to solve a mystery that an older episode left open is actually a pretty cool concept. However, according to those who had trouble with the episode, the jumble of timelines and narrative threads just didn't work. User fskryz asked their fellow commenters, "Did it seem rather disjointed, like 3 episodes... the band instruments. Gibbs shooting McGee, Fornell and his daughter's drug abuse."

User 911targa answered their question and affirmed, "It's not your imagination. That was the most jumbled up mess of a script that I've ever seen..."

Perhaps the disjointed nature of the episode can be chalked up to the COVID-19 of it all and the show will iron out the wrinkles next week. But even still, the premiere of season 18 of NCIS left fans like Reddit user jordan_03011 saying, "I'm just really confused yall. Like wtf happened."

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