Following NCIS' season-ending explosion at the Navy yard, Gibbs & Co. will start the new season a little worse for wear.
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"There's a theme that's evolved this season and I call it 'Fallen Heroes,'" executive producer Gary Glasberg tells TVGuide.com. "We've got these people who've been knocked down and they have to pick themselves up again."
Although (needless spoiler alert!) most of the team makes it out with only a few cuts and bruises, the emotional and psychological scars of terrorist Harper Dearing's attack on the NCIS headquarters will be examined throughout the season as each character deals in his or her own way. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) begins a new project in his basement. Abby (Pauley Perrette) will seek out her brother. Tony (Michael Weatherly) will reflect on his time with his mother. And Ducky (David McCallum), who had a heart attack upon hearing the news of the bombing, has to contend with his increasing age.
"It's an eye-opening experience for him," Glasberg says. "He's going look at death a little differently now, and that's interesting for a medical examiner. ... Ducky really has to step back while he heals from what he's been through. Palmer [Brian Dietzen] has to step forward and their relationship is tested and is strengthened."
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Meanwhile team members Tony and Ziva (Cote de Pablo) may turn to each other in dealing with their feelings about the attack, especially while the two are locked in an elevator during the fallout. "Cote and Michael are very excited about the idea of pushing the Tony-Ziva relationship further this year, and we're excited about playing along," Glasberg teases. "We're spooning it out little by little, and it's little moments that are the most satisfying. We're in our 10th season and happy to let things take a step further."
Of course, the premiere won't just feature the characters moping around in their sadness. Gibbs takes the attack personally, and it won't be long before he goes looking for a fight with Harper Dearing (guest star Richard Schiff).
"The emphasis on family is always present," Glasberg says. "These people are a cohesive unit and when you mess with that unit, especially from Gibbs' standpoint as a father figure, there's going to be trouble. And that's exactly what Harper Dearing did. It really becomes quite a manhunt and a there's a tremendous amount of conflict."
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But even if Dearing is brought down, the memory of what he's done won't fade. An arc dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder during November sweeps will likely bring many of these emotions back to the forefront. "The beauty of Leroy Jethro Gibbs is that he never forgets," Glasberg says.
NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8/7 on CBS