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The Only Episodes Where Gibbs Was Not In Charge Of The NCIS Team

It's hard to imagine anyone other than Gibbs heading up the team on NCIS, but there are a couple of episodes where he stepped away from his leadership role. The only episodes where Gibbs isn't in charge can be found at the start of season 4: "Shalom" and "Escaped." After the traumatic events of the terrorist attack in the season 3 finale, the senior field agent decides to retire and leave his career behind, which leads to DiNozzo taking on the role of team leader in his absence.

The move could have led to a major shakeup for the team, but Gibbs gives up on retirement by the end of the season's second episode. In "Shalom," the season 4 premiere, he ends up being called in to help Ziva, who the FBI suspects is a double agent. After sorting that situation out, he briefly plans on selling his house and moving somewhere tropical, but F.B.I. Special Agent Fornell asks him to work one more case after an escaped convict threatens his daughter.

Even though DiNozzo is technically in charge during both of the episodes, Gibbs manages to take the lead during the investigations, proving that even when he's not technically the lead agent, he has trouble answering to other authority figures. By the time the third episode of season 4 aired, Gibbs was not only out of retirement, he was back to taking the lead on cases. And while the repercussions of his decision to temporarily retire continued to reverberate throughout the rest of the season, he and DiNozzo fell back into their old routine with almost zero drama.

Was Gibbs supposed to leave NCIS at the end of season 3?

Despite the cliffhanger ending involving Gibbs' early retirement in season 3, there was never any real danger of actor Mark Harmon leaving the show. But that doesn't mean there wasn't any drama brewing behind-the-scenes during this period. In 2007, Harmon clashed with series creator Don Bellisario over the writer and producer's alleged "chaotic management style," according to a TV Guide report. Their dispute ultimately led to Bellisario being ousted from the show, while Harmon was promoted to executive producer.

Since the tumultuous season 4, Gibbs' role as the leader of the NCIS team has gone unchallenged. Although, the events of season 18 have some fans concerned that Harmon may be preparing to retire. In February 2021, The Hollywood Reporter revealed the actor's contract is up at the end of season 18, and if the show does return for season 19, he may only be in a handful of episodes.

Aside from his brief retirement at the start of season 4, the NCIS agents have never worked under anyone other than Gibbs. And even in those episodes, Gibbs and Harmon's presence loomed large, proving that if Harmon ever does leave, NCIS will have to work hard to find someone with enough presence to step into his well-worn shoes.