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The Ending Of NCIS Season 9 Explained

If there's one thing "NCIS" has proved more than capable of doing, it's being able to captivate fans from start to finish of every season. Season 9 is no different, as it's filled to the brim with surprising twists, grisly murders, and warm scenes that make Leroy Jethro Gibbs' (Mark Harmon) team feel like they're more than colleagues. It's the latter where Season 9 of the series truly shines, as it plays on the idea of the NCIS team acting like a family to each other. The 9th season has many standalone episodes that present excellent moments of the NCIS unit bonding beyond the level of mere co-workers.

The episode "Restless" features Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) getting some help from Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) in dealing with his bullied past. In "Safe Harbor," the team tries to set up Gibbs with the perfect woman after his numerous failed romantic relationships. And in "Thirst," the team even has to contend with a serial killer who also happens to be the same woman Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) is dating. In these instances, it's made clear just how much the members of NCIS care for one another. And with that in mind, that's probably why the ending of the 9th season is a bittersweet way to end things. While at their closest, the episode places the entire team in the direst situation. Let's break down what happened during the ending of "NCIS" Season 9.

Till Death Do Us Part has an explosive ending

In one scene of "Till Death Do Us Part," Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) remarks about the influx of pressing cases interrupting Jimmy Palmer's (Brian Dietzen) impending wedding. As Abby says to Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), "I know it sounds selfish, but I was really looking forward to happy time for our little family." Abby's line serves as a reminder of just how close the NCIS team has become after all these years. Considering what unfolds in the finale, it's also just cruel foreshadowing. "Till Death Do Us Part" sees the team dealing with domestic terrorist Harper Dearing (Richard Schiff), who is out for revenge against the Navy for the death of his son.

Dearing has hit the Navy with a series of explosions. The team does everything to track Dearing down, from enlisting help from Dr. Samantha Ryan (Jamie Lee Curtis) to begrudgingly using rogue operative Jonathan Cole (Scott Wolf). Yet it's all for naught by the time the episode ends. Dearing places a bomb near NCIS headquarters, which goes off. The blast hits the building with nearly everyone still in it, except Ducky. Instead, the beloved medical examiner delivers the episode's heartbreaking final scene. He collapses on a beach from a heart attack after hearing the news of what happened at headquarters.

Gary Glasberg wanted to end the season with a cliffhanger

We were expecting Dearing captured, with wedding bells sounding for Palmer. But "Till Death Do Us Part" delivers a wallop of a cliffhanger. The fate of the NCIS team, especially that of Ducky, is unknown. This is familiar ground when bringing the series' past finales into the picture. Up to this point, "NCIS" finales usually feature a big season villain attached to a major story arc. But they don't necessarily end with the entire team in jeopardy. The worst villains like Ari Haswari (Rudolf Martin) do have a history of getting the last laugh — and at the cost of a central character's life. However, the ending of Season 9 feels so much different because we don't know who makes it out alive or unscathed. And this horrifying fact comes right when the season and specifically "Till Death Do Us Part," reinforces the intense familial vibes of the team, with Palmer's wedding serving as a kind of plot catalyst.

It's enough to punch the emotional gut, but it was necessary to serve the show's goals. As the episode's writer, Gary Glasberg, told Entertainment Weekly, the purpose of the ending for "Till Death Do Us Part" was to end the season with a definitive cliffhanger. Glasberg also noted to the publication that he planned for Ducky's heart attack scene for quite a while before the episode was produced. Ducky's collapse may have played into Glasberg's suspense-inducing plans, though on the other hand, it might have also gone too far for some fans.