NCIS Recap: Rules That Make a Man

NCIS McGee's Father Dies

CBS’ NCIS this Tuesday celebrated Christmas with an episode that paid tribute to the many “rules” Gibbs has laid out over eleven-and-a-half seasons and also weaved in a surprising emotional punch.

On the surface, the holiday-themed outing was about a suspicious Washington, D.C.-wide Internet shutdown and how the NCIS team handled it, with the assist of three hackers that Gibbs & Co had put behind bars in recent years: “I.T. Kevin” (played by Ethan Rains), Heidi Partridge (Erin Allin O’Reilly) and Ajay Khan (Chuck‘s Vik Sahay).

McGee related the case to his father, Admiral John McGee, through a letter he typed throughout the episode, peppering his missive with references (and nostalgic flashbacks) to Gibbs’ Rules, probably accounting for most of them — including the mysterious No. 51, “Sometimes, you’re wrong.” That last one nudged McGee to not give up on getting hacker Heidi to roll on a compatriot dubbed “Krampus” but instead leverage her to see the “monster” she was lovingly abetting.

Case closed, McGee was meticulously positioning the new (and desperately needed) monitors that for too long had sat in a storage closet just down the hall when Gibbs urged him to go see the Admiral, who had cancelled a cancer surgery to spend the holiday with his family. “Your father made time for you,” Gibbs said. “Return the favor.”

And it’s a good thing Tim did, because at episode’s end, it was revealed that the letter he had been typing was not bound for any mailbox, but his father’s coffin, inside of which he tucked it.

After recounting the rules his own father enforced over the years — “Always be prepared,” “Always stand up for yourself” and “If you’re wrong, admit it” — McGee said to the late admiral, “Every moment with you, from growing up to these last few days, meant something to me. I’ve heard it takes a man to make a man. Well, you helped make me one.”

What did you think of the episode “House Rules,” its bevy of old clips featuring Kate, Ziva and others, and the sad final twist?


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74 Comments
  1. maria says:

    I loved this episode. Sean Murray did a fantastic job, and the flashbacks were a nice little bonus.

  2. Tina says:

    Classic NCIS, bravo!

  3. Joni says:

    “Every mom with you, from growing up to these last few days, meant something to me. I’ve ,heard it takes a man to make a man. Well, you helped make me one.”

    Every MOM with you?

    It was a great Christmas present from the show. I loved that they got in so many of the rules: 39, 2nd #3, both #1s, 10, 36,40,5,15,original 3, 8,22,12,13,42,6,51,45.
    Being the writer it was fitting that Tim be the one to be writing a letter to his dad.
    CBS gave too much away in their promo so I figured out that the Admiral was dead before the episode started. However, it didn’t stop me from tearing up when Tim leaned over to kiss his father goodbye.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      Yes, the typo was fixed immediately after publish. Crazy the things spell-check doesn’t catch.

      • usaffrank says:

        There’s nothing crazy about it. Spell check does just that: check spelling. “Mom” was spelled correctly. If you want to check word usage and context you need to use a grammar checker. Or you could just take a moment to proofread what you write before you post it instead of expecting spell check to do your work for you.

        • Lauren says:

          Pretty sure Matt was being sarcastic about “Mom” not being flagged.

        • Kosha, Slezak's Sister says:

          Knowing how these hard-working TVLine folks work, they write until late in the night/early in the morning to post these items on the web in time for us to arrive at work. Give them a break already!! I’m sure that everything you do is not without the occasional error!!

    • Peg Winton says:

      Where are all the rules written down? I have been looking for them all.

  4. 'A' Has Spoken says:

    I loved this episode! That ending broke me though. :\

  5. amy says:

    This episode was amazing. Now if you will excuse me, I need to crawl into tv and give McGee a big hug.

  6. Ree says:

    This episode is why NCIS is one of the top rated shows on TV. Loved the flashbacks and Sean Murray was excellent. Saving this one to watch again tomorrow.

  7. Ally says:

    Awesome!!! My favourite show really delivered. I liked the added bonus of the flashbacks…all the original casts. Dont quite remember the episode with tony boxing though. Anyway great episode

  8. Rick Katze says:

    A wonderful episode with a tragic but legitimate ending. All those wonderful flashbacks–definitely a payoff for a fan like me who has followed the show from its start as a pilot, embedded in another show which also had legs.
    Congrats to the NCIS family of shows for not having a cliffhanger episode. They don’t need it and all three shows were awesome.

  9. S. says:

    Great episode, though the end broke my heart.

  10. Jim Zimmer says:

    Iam very happy that NCIS finally made a show honoring fatherhood. We have not seen that before even with Magee character his father was not honoring even as an admiral in the navy. Good job this time NCIS. Great acting Sean.

    • drhenning says:

      What about Gibbs’ father (played by Ralph Waite) being honored at the end of last season??? Father’s of characters have it rough on this show… Ziva’s father was killed, Gibbs dies and now McGee.. Thankfully, Robert Wagner appears in pretty good shape so maybe her survives the series. A wonderful show.. I will say that fathers in this universe play important roles at times… On JAG, Harm spent the first few years of that show searching for his POW/MIA father before finding out he died saving a woman in Siberia after fathering another son who Harm met later. Mac had a bad relationship with her father but went to him as he was dying. Bud had a bully for a father ( played by Bellisarius regular Jeff MacKay)..

  11. ndixit says:

    I didn’t like the episode. It was disjointed and dull and the plot was lifeless. The hackers were just around for 2/3 of the episode for no reason. The last minute emotional change by Heidi felt too sudden. Only thing that worked was McGee’s final scene with his father. However, even that didn’t really have the emotional impact because of the disjointed narrative. The plot was the issue here. I mean there was so little story that it felt that the writers were just spinning their wheels until the last break.

    • Steve says:

      How does it feel to be the only one who feels that way?

      • Jake says:

        He/she actually makes some good points. No need to be critical just because someone doesn’t share your views.

      • ndixit says:

        Well I’m not! You check the imdb page for the show and you will see plenty who disliked last nights episode for the same reasons. But even if I were alone, I wouldn’t care. It was a disappointing episode after such a fantastic thanksgiving episode a few weeks ago.

        • toddbeall says:

          I thought it was great overall, but I agree that I am not a big fan of the disjointed plots (writing the letter with the rules recaps, etc.). I just think it worked this time. And the end was amazing. If they did the disjointed narrative every week I;d agree with you.

          • Anna D. says:

            I agree with toddbeall about the disjointed plots. I also think the show tries to pile a lot into an hour episode, which sometimes comes off with major holes in the plot. In this case I think they did a wonderful job overall, but having lost both of my parents, it wasn’t an easy episode for me to watch. Sean did an amazing job.

        • leia says:

          well that’s because most of the folks who have issues with NCIS seek to lurk on imbd. Its their bit**ing board of record. I give the writers and actors chops for trying something really different, so not like their regular shows. And of course since McGee’s dad had Stage 4 cancer when we met him almost two yrs ago I wasn’t expecting a Christmas miracle. But hearing a heartfelt message from a son to a father is just that, a wonderful gift.

      • JoMarch says:

        The poster isn’t the only one; I felt the same way. And why should it feel any particular way. Are you a sheep that has to follow the herd and expects everyone else to? Poor you.

    • ravencurls says:

      I agree with you. Very, very poorly written episode and I thought their “use” of Cote de Pablo was shameless. Also thought the man in the casket at the end was the writer, who must have died before finishing the script as it was so choppy and so below the standard they’ve set for over a decade. Worst episode I’ve ever seen of NCIS. And before this one, there were no bad episodes of the show for me, not one, not ever. The New Orleans episode which followed this was so well written and superior in every way. And where was Shannon, the mother of all rules? And where was Rocky Carroll? He’s a computer expert and should have been knee deep in finding the hacker. Crazy. Very, very poor writing.

      • Darlene says:

        And was there “use” of Sasha Alexander, Lauren Holly, and Muse Watson shameless as well?

        • ravencurls says:

          Don’t know. Need to look into it s’more. But I ask: Are there huge numbers of NCIS fans clamoring for the return of Sasha, Lauren and Muse? Is there teasing going on about their return from the show’s producers and cast? If so, then yes, it was a shameless use of Cote’s image. Overall, I found the inclusion of all the clips from old shows was very disruptive to whatever storyline they had. But I did find the clips of Cote to be insulting. I confess to being a big fan of Cote. Why she was replaced with a bowl of vanilla ice cream (it’s the character, not the actress Emily, that I criticize) is something I cannot fathom.

          • maria says:

            It seems to be impossible for some people to read even one NCIS recap without stomping their feet and whining over you-know-who. Las Vegas casinos ought to start running odds on it.

          • Peggy White says:

            Honestly, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The constant whining when there isn’t mention of Cote and the constant whining when the clips are considered, “insulting”–and you wonder why the regular fans of NCIS have finally lost patience with the lot of you?? You just aren’t happy either way. I honor and respect Cote’s decision to leave and do other things. I certainly DON’T “clamor” continually for her return, WHEN SHE DOESN’T WANT TO DO SO!! For crying out loud, leave her and the rest of us alone!!

          • toddbeall says:

            She was replaced because she left the show of her own volition. The NCIS folks wanted her to stay. And I think Emily is an excellent addition, though Ziva was great.

    • Nan says:

      I so agree…boredom city

  12. Lori From York Pa says:

    This is 1 of ONE OF THEORY BEST shows on TV. Anyone who rated this or any of the episodes lower than GREAT doesn’t know what GREAT is. The cast is just THE BEST EVER!!!!!!!! LUV THEM ALL.

  13. Emily Morgan says:

    Like JAG before it, NCIS always has great Christmas episodes. Tonight’s was not only well written, but highly poignant and an excellent showcase for Sean Murray and his terrific McGee. Kudos to all for the way this was done. Am really going to miss the Admiral–and really want to hug McGee–fantastic job NCIS, crew, writers and actors!

  14. Stephanie says:

    It was a great episode. I’m just bummed that we only got to see Jamey Sheridan on one NCIS episode. Casting nailed all three roles for the fathers to Gibbs, McGee and DiNozzo and now Robert Wagner is the only one left… (and hopefully he’s not going anywhere in the near future)

  15. Tarna says:

    This episode touched me like none has in quite a while – for any show for that matter. Seeing Tim break down like that and realizing his Dad was dead – the tears were flowing. Excellent job by the entire NCIS family – thank you.

  16. arial2 says:

    Loved that McGee got a really touching story line that didn’t make him look like the weak guy on the team. Sean Murray was great. I loved that Jenny was included in the flashbacks. And I giggled over the Outlander reference (cool show). There were Wall Street rumors last month that CBS is interested in buying Outlander’s home channel, Starz, but no one has bought it yet.

  17. Pat says:

    I loved this episode. Of course by the end, my tears were flowing.

  18. tim says:

    Great show as always. I figured out was happening in the scene where Tim was talking and tying his shoes and his suit coat. I looked at my wife and said “Aw, his died has died” and sure enough the next scene the priest comes in the room. Sad but yet uplifting story. In this Christmas season I always miss my Dad.

  19. Susan says:

    My daughter and I both thought this was an awesome episode, one of NCIS’s best! It was especially moving for us since we lost our Mother/Grandmother around this time last year. Kudos to the writers and actors for this one. Merry Christmas!

  20. disonba3 says:

    Are they ever going to show anything about Jenny Shepard, the argument between her and Sean Brennan must have been very bad, but I WANT to at least find closure about her death, as far as I’m concerned the chemistry between her and Mark Harmon was electric and Lauren Holly DESERVES more than a shoot-off and dying

    • arial2 says:

      I always wondered why, if Jenny died, we never saw her body in the morgue or elsewhere. They ended Kate’s story beautifully, even though Sasha Alexander quit the show, so Jenny deserved that much respect, too. I always hated the way they changed the character from an experienced, brilliant agent-turned-Director into someone only bent on revenge. When they had Ducky get secretive about blood work, I assumed it was about her father’s death, so when there was no body for us to see, I assumed she was still alive (witness protection or secret mission). Only Diane Neal’s Abby Borin has ever come close to the chemistry between Gibbs and Jenny. I just wish I knew what really happened behind the scenes for that story to have changed so unrealistically.

      • Kevin in CT says:

        Hear Hear!! Enquiring minds would like to know. I really liked the Jenny character and it seems that Lauren Holly hasn’t done much since she left NCIS.

      • Anna D. says:

        That’s interesting. I did love Lauren Holly and her character but also didn’t like the change either. Can’t stand Diane Neal, though. I even like EW as an actress better, and that’s saying something!

    • leia says:

      I think that she, like Sasha wanted to stop to raise her kids. As for Jenny Shepard’s not being dead well come on Tony and Ziva were there, they found her body. Some actors do feel that their careers need to take a back seat for their kids, Sasha did, Lauren did, Mark Harmon did for a while when his kids were young. You miss too much when you’re gone on a shoot 15-20 hrs a day or worse spending 2 months on location, thousands of miles away. In the real world I can’t even imagine how the folks in the military deal with the separation of long deployments. That really takes guts and dedication. For actors its simply a choice, but one I respect also.

  21. reed says:

    It was a excellent episode. I know that because my wife said “I’m can’t watch that one again” as she wiped away her tears.

  22. Patricia Nordman says:

    I dearly love Sean Murray – there’s something so gentle about him, makes you want to know him personally!

  23. geek says:

    This episode was produced, directed and written with the style and polish that NCIS has consistently shown since season 1. The original producer set the bar and maintaining the high quality continues. The episode was excellent. I was impressed that essentially the entire cast was woven in. It is evident why NCIS is at the top and enduring.

  24. Mr. Smith says:

    This is why I watch NCIS! Wonderful story telling and full of characterization. Applause!

  25. Paulette Stepp says:

    NCIS is back in form. There was a bit of a rocky period when Ziva left, but they are back hitting their stride with recent episodes. This is a gem, great job by everyone. Loved the flashbacks.

  26. Jennifer says:

    Even though i saw it coming, I cried like a baby. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Sean Murphy always does a great job, and the flashbacks were a great addition.

  27. 833 Jarnigan Morristown tn 37813 says:

    ncis is my number one show that I faithfull watch every since it has been on tv keep going strong

  28. About halfway through i turned & told my mom “he’s gonna be dead”

    while the case wasn’t that strong it really wasn’t supposed to be it was good filler though
    & the episode was an excellent lover letter to dads & gibb’s rules

  29. lame says:

    You can always count on the NCIS Christmas episode to leave you with a lump in your throat, this one was the size of a grapefruit. Incredible way to end the episode.

  30. Nichole says:

    Hands down the best episode in a long time, though such a sad ending for McGee. Sean Murray was excellent. Some of the best episodes of NCIS have been those that focus on something going on with a team member and this time was no exception. For me it would definitely be a top 5.

  31. Lynn says:

    I love Sean Murray so much that the hokeyness of the “main”story didn’t matter. He was great and finally given a chance to show his stuff. The letter and the funeral, great!!!

  32. sladewilson says:

    Sean Murray did a marvelous job. And a very good rendering of the “Gibbs Rules”….

  33. John NYC says:

    Not much of a Christmas episode and the case was too weak to hold my attention. Some of the clip choices were very nice. Happy to see “old friends” like that.

  34. Gloria C says:

    I thought the episode was Awesome… especially when I figured out at the end that McGee’s dad was dead and how he reacted… I was crying too.
    Best show on the Air.

  35. wander says:

    I love how Timmy associated Gibbs Rules with his father ruled and the way he was brought up. Timmy is the better man for seeing it as Gibbs did. The season finale was excellent as well as different from the norm. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  36. sherry says:

    I liked the show, except there was too much of the hackers. Instead of just having the father dead in the end, I would liked to have seen an emotional good bye scene between father and son. I hope this is not the end of seeing McGee family. We have only seen his grandmother and sister once. We never met the mother.

  37. Jackie says:

    I enjoyed seeing the previous characters from the past, especially Ziva, and having McGee at the lead of an episode. The less we see of Bishop, the better I like it.

  38. BCsDave says:

    One of the best episodes this season. Glad it was McGee in the lead and was eventually about him.

  39. Devin says:

    One of the best episodes yet. Sean Murray was excellent!

  40. Shannon says:

    Haven’t almost cried like that since Ziva left! I always knew Tim had more to offer as a character, and I love when his geekiness makes him in charge rather than go-fer. The hacker story was funny, intriguing, and touching, and taught a little interesting trivia (Krampus? Who knew?). This is the stuff NCIS is made of.

  41. paula says:

    I have to admit when I saw the preview I thought “OK, either Tim’s father dies in this episode or is given days or weeks to live and dies before the show starts back in January”. So I kind of expected this but I thought it was done well. I think they did a show a few years ago where Jimmy was writing to his parents and talking about what had happened in their latest case but without the flashbacks of this episode or Gibbs’ rules. One of NCIS’s strengths is they give each character a chance to be the center of the episode regularly so each gets their moment. This one was Tim’s. Also they acknowledge some of the on going questions – Gibb’s ex’s, Ducky’s ties, Abby’s boyfriends, etc. – so this one was about the rules. Now that Gibbs, McGee and Ziva have all lost their fathers on the show they could make a remark about watching his back when Tony’s dad comes back next year.

  42. Gabrielle Mead says:

    The ending was a true tide changer. Tears rolled down my face. The rules! We’ve all had rules we abide by, and dear one’s who won’t sit at this holiday table. Hats off to my Mom, it also takes a woman to make a woman. This is my favorite program.

  43. Julie says:

    Can anyone tell me which episode Gibbs was stuck in the submerged car when Tony had come to the rescue?

  44. Arden Connors says:

    I love all three Ncis shows but wish Ziva was back.