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The Ending Of NCIS Season 8 Explained

Crime procedurals never fail to connect with audiences, and "NCIS" is one of the most prolific. Starting as a spin-off of the popular Navy law series "JAG," the show originally focused on Special Agent in Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), who led the NCIS team for over 400 episodes (via IMDb). Gibbs is the strong and decisive leader that his band of crime solvers needs, but even the most unshakable figures have their moments of doubt. Season 8 of "NCIS" proves to be a challenging time for Gibbs as he must deal with a personal tragedy in addition to the day-to-day crimes his team has to solve.

The two-part season finale kicks off with Episode 23, "Swan Song," and concludes with the following episode, "Pyramid." For most of the season, the NCIS team tracks the movements of a serial killer that they have dubbed the "Port-to-Port" killer, so named because he has a tendency to murder various people enlisted in the military when they come off their ships. The final two episodes of Season 8 reveal the identity of the killer and explore the repercussions of the actions related to his case.

Gibbs says goodbye to an old friend

Stoicism is a defining trait of Gibbs which makes his emotional connections that much more powerful. One of his most significant connections is that of mentor and former NCIS agent, Mike Franks (Muse Watson). Tragically, his time comes to an end after Gibbs involves him in the investigation into the Port-to-Port killer. While outside of Gibbs' house, Mike has a deadly encounter in the rain. He challenges the killer to a fight but ultimately loses. After hearing the shots, Gibbs finds his friend dying from his wounds. Saying goodbye to a classic "NCIS" character is heart-wrenching for many. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Gary Glasberg addressed the departure of the character.

"It wasn't an easy decision for us," Glasberg stated. "We love Muse Watson, we love the character, their relationship is very special and unique." But as fans of the show may realize, this wasn't the end for the character. After Season 8 aired, Glasberg wasn't willing to let Mike go so easily. "The interesting thing is, we were very happy with the way that 'Swan Song' came out and the use of Franks as this voice that spoke to Gibbs internally," he said. "The opportunity is there for that conscience or voice to return again at some point. So I won't say that is the last time that you're gonna see Muse Watson." True to Glasberg's word, Franks does, in fact, resurface in later seasons in flashback and hallucination scenes. Gone but not forgotten.

Operation Frankenstein has deadly consequences

Though the Port-to-Port killer wreaks havoc wherever he goes, the real villain of Season 8 turns out to be the U.S. government. The serial killer only came about thanks to the ineptitude of the CIA. It starts with the black ops project Operation Frankenstein, which turned out to be Leon Vance's (Rocky Carroll) brainchild. The operation spins out of control after the CIA becomes involved and oversees the training of the operatives. The idea was to modify the behavior of certain Navy men to create the perfect assassin. This, of course, meant subjecting these men to painful and at times, torturous conditions. It was only a matter of time before someone would snap, and that individual happened to be Jonas Cobb (Kerr Smith).

After Cobb completes his first mission as an assassin, things take a turn. Cobb fails to return to duty or further training. Instead, he turns into the Port-to-Port killer, taking out those he blames for Operation Frankenstein. Without the suffering he was subjected to under the oversight of the CIA, he would not have gone rogue and Mike Franks would still be alive. Vance comes under fire for his involvement in the program, particularly from Gibbs, who is processing Mike's death. Vance — as well as the Secretary of the Navy Phillip Davenport (Jude Ciccollela) — had a hand in the project, and it casts a large stain over the department. 

Cobb's ultimate demise is tragic

As the team scrambles to apprehend the killer, it ends almost too easily. Cobb turns himself into NCIS and even endures an interrogation from Gibbs. As is common in most series, Cobb reveals that he turned into a villain because of his somewhat tragic backstory. He was a disappointment to a cruel father who was also in the Navy. But that doesn't excuse Cobb's actions, which are ultimately revealed to be more complicated. Cobb didn't turn himself in just for fun; he had additional targets in mind.

After torture and off-the-books operations, Cobb intends to take down the people he holds responsible for Operation Frankenstein, namely CIA operative Trent Kort (David Dayan Fisher) who trained Cobb and was directly responsible for most of his trauma. For good measure, Cobb also throws in Davenport's niece, Agent EJ Barrett (Sarah Jane Morris), who had been tracking him this season. Cobb's retribution is Old Testament-style. He demands an eye for an eye for what the Navy and the CIA did to him.

But it isn't a black-and-white story. Though he turned into a mass murderer, Cobb was done a disservice. At one point, Cobb was optimistic, believing in the good that the Navy could do for the country. But instead, he was turned into a victim, chewed up and spit back out by a system he had once been a part of. He becomes so broken he cannot be helped, and he is killed in a final standoff.

Secrets still run NCIS

With such a dark shadow over the department of NCIS, there is no question that repercussions are in order. Because of the actions of Davenport and Vance, a man went on a killing spree and took the lives of several agents. Cobb may be gone, but the story doesn't end there. Davenport could no longer continue on as Navy secretary in good conscience. He puts in his resignation following the hostage situation involving his niece. This brings about the arrival of the new Secretary of the Navy, Clayton Jarvis (Matt Craven). Though NCIS suffered great embarrassment because of the secret black ops program that created Cobb, the secrets are not over yet.

In Vance's first meeting with the new secretary, Jarvis reveals he has tapped Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) to scope out a mole in the department. Jarvis makes it clear that this is to be kept just between the three of them and is non-negotiable. Vance exhibits some discomfort with the idea, most likely because of his recent troubles. He feels responsible for his role in Cobb's carnage and the secrets he had to keep. Now there is an alleged mole that must be kept off the books. This is an intriguing setup for the next season, but it puts Vance in a tenuous situation. After so much pressure, Vance has no choice but to keep another secret under wraps.