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Ziva's NCIS Return: Three Reasons Why It's Real and Not Just in Gibbs' Head

It was no less than thrilling to see Ziva frickin’ David appear at the top of Gibbs’ basement steps at the close of NCIS‘ Season 16 finale. And yet the moment was tempered by the fact that Gibbs had spent much of the preceding episode seeing and talking to dead ex Diane Sterling (or, worse, channeling Diane for Fornell).

As such, an immediate theory — and one that merits consideration — is that Gibbs was merely imagining Ziva, as well.

What we know for a fact thus far is that Cote de Pablo will be back in this fall’s Season 17 premiere. Beyond that…? Who’s to say. As for the nature of the beloved alumna’s top-secret encore, the CBS drama’s showrunners teased in a statement, “This surprise moment is just the beginning,” adding: “We are thrilled to share that Cote de Pablo will guest star in the NCIS Season 17 premiere… as Ziva’s warning to Gibbs unfolds.”

Having sat with that season-ending scene (embedded above) for a couple of weeks, I have to think that Ziva is in fact back, in the flesh, and not as any sort of sage apparition. Here’s why:

1) On a practical level, and as many were quick to observe, when Diane “left” Gibbs moments earlier, there was no sound of her closing any doors or leaving the house (because she be dead after all). Ziva’s arrival, meanwhile, was preceded by the sound of his front door opening/closing and then her footsteps. Ergo, one lady is a ghost, the other isn’t.

2) Ziva’s warning, among the few words she said to Gibbs as she descended into his workshop, was that his life is in danger — this coming on the heels of him pulling at the thread of an illegal drug pipeline based out of Canada. Since de Pablo is only announced as being back for one episode (thus far), you can have Ziva slip back into Gibbs’ orbit to dump some intel on whatever hornet’s nest he has poked, and then slip right back out like the ninja she is, without having to get too deep into visits with other characters or hand-waving her baby daddy’s whereabouts, seeing as former cast member Michael Weatherly is busy headlining his own CBS drama. (Say what you will about it being “the same network” and that Bull could easily “loan” its star to NCIS, I’d argue it’d be even harder to limit a united “Tiva” to a single-episode visit.)

3) Gibbs was unarguably out of sorts for the second half of Season 16, ever since he destroyed Rule 10 in an episode that also leaned heavily on new Ziva mythology. And yet the show (or at least the showrunners) pointedly stopped short of calling it a “breakdown” (namely in the episode where he ghosted his team to grab an appointment with Dr. Grace Confalone). One can surmise that there’s a certain protectiveness when it comes to the series’ famously stoic-and-steady lead character and his mental state. It’s one thing to give Gibbs the occasional chat with Mike Franks or Diane; it’s another to make it an ongoing, multi-episode arc.

What is your current thinking on Ziva’s return?