NCIS season 18 finale explained: What just happened to Gibbs and Bishop?

NCIS season 18 finale
(Image credit: CBS)

The sun just set for the season with the NCIS season 18 finale "Rule 91," which seemed like it could have been more than just what we saw. So, beware spoilers below — as we're diving into the events of last night's episode, as well as the news about what's to come next season. 

All of the conversation about NCIS season 19 has focused around the "will he or won't he?" question of Mark Harmon leaving the show. But it seems like even the NCIS season 18 finale wasn't written with any assurances one way or the other — leaving things wide open for the future.

But more on that later. Let's start with the focus on the character that left the series in the NCIS season 18 finale, and why it's not exactly unlikely that they're gone for good. Yes, the trailers for Rule 91 didn't mislead us: Eleanor Bishop (Emily Wickersham) left the series she's been on for 8 seasons.

Bishop wasn't truly in the wrong, though, as those clips had made us believe — as the leaked NSA documents were cover for her to leave the NCIS team in convincing fashion. Now, Bishop is headed to an undercover opportunity, and Odette (Elayn Taylor) helped frame her to make it all look convincing. 

The only member of the NCIS team to know about these plans is Torres (Wilmer Valderama), who Bishop locked lips with in their emotional scene. The pair actually haven't hooked up yet, we learned. And since Torres knows the truth (having demanded answers), there's a big emotional vibe here that suggests Bishop could come back for him some day.

That said, Bishop also got a few other farewell-episode hallmarks. Conversations with McGee and Gibbs both suggested that Bishop's time could actually be up. The earliest she could return, we imagine, would be the season 19 finale. 

Gibbs' big NCIS season 18 finale moment

That said, though, Gibbs had an explosive ending for his season as well. After figuring out that his and Marcie's homes were bugged by the serial killer they were tracking, Gibbs piloted the 'Rule 91' boat (his vessel named after saying 'goodbye') to track down clues. 

And then Rule 91 did say goodbye — blown up to smithereens. Then, two things happened: first, Gibbs' body floated to the surface, making us wonder if he were dead, and then he swam away, without drawing attention. 

Of course, Gibbs' survival makes all the sense in the world given that we know that Harmon is returning. One wonders, though, if this series of events was meant to serve multiple masters.

Gibbs' body floating on the surface could have been the end of the scene, had Harmon not re-signed. And since Gibbs swam away so discretely, we're wondering if he's spending NCIS season 19 in hiding, to try and root out the killer who had bugged his home.

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Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.