A refresher: In the Season 10 finale, Tony (Michael Weatherly), Ziva (Cote de Pablo) and McGee (Sean Murray) all handed in their badges to protect Gibbs (Mark Harmon) in the wake of a Department of Defense investigation into the agency. The episode then jumps ahead four months, when Gibbs is aiming a sniper rifle with FBI Agent Fornell (Joe Spano) in his crosshairs.
Although we doubt it's what was originally intended, Ziva's resignation will likely stick. As fans are well aware by now, De Pablo announced over the summer that she'll be leaving the show. Will the team (and the show) be able to go on without her? Why is Fornell a target? And what additional fallout will result from the investigation into Gibbs? TVGuide.com took these burning questions and more to executive producer Gary Glasberg and Weatherly. Here are the biggest issues the show needs to address early on in Season 11:
1. How will Ziva's story line be wrapped up? As Glasberg has previously said, the two-part Season 11 premiere (beginning Tuesday at 8/7c on CBS) will be dedicated to writing Ziva off of the show. In the season opener, Ziva is "out in the ether" and Tony is tasked with finding her and bringing her back to NCIS. "That's where they're going to spend some quality time together," Glasberg teases — even if Tony is ultimately unsuccessful in getting her to return to the organization. "People are going to get some real insight into psychologically what makes Ziva tick, and it's insight that goes all the way back to her childhood," Glasberg adds. "It's insight in terms of what happened when she joinedNCIS regarding [her brother] Ari ... [and] not only what's caused her to do a lot of the things that she's done leading up to this point, but looking forward and where her head is." But while viewers may get "insight," they might not walk away with a black-and-white biography. "Ziva has always been a mystery, and she remains a mystery," Weatherly says of his on-screen counterpart.
2. Will Ziva and Tony get a happy ending? "The will-they-won't-they is answered," Weatherly promises. "It covered all the bases, for me." Less clear is whether fans will get definitive answers about Tiva's history (like what really happened in that Paris hotel room!)."The second episode is really all about Tony and Ziva, and I hope delivers all the things that the Tiva fans are going to react to and want," Glasberg says. "There's some really lovely moments between Tony and Ziva, and a really passionate, lovely goodbye."
3. How will Tony deal with Ziva's departure? "This is something that's going to really linger with him and resonate for him," Glasberg promises. "There's going to be a certain maturity that's going to come out of this for Tony." It's a change that Weatherly says he's looking forward to portraying. "Tony might begin to step into a new, maybe a more authentic, version of himself, a more connected version of himself, because he's not in a constant holding pattern emotionally," the actor hints. "I think the floodgates open."
4. Who's going to replace Ziva? Technically no one, according to Glasberg. "I have no intention of trying to replace Ziva," he stresses. "I don't think I can replace her. What I can do is try to come up with a new character that's organic to the team, that fills a void, that's something different." Translation: expect a lot of recurring characters and guest stars, at least for the first part of the season — including the recently-announced addition of Sopranos alum Emily Wickersham. "There are going to be tryouts, and that's the fun," says Glasberg, who makes it clear he's not looking to force fans into a rebound relationship after Ziva's departure. "This audience needs some time. Our group needs some time. It's almost like they're mourning the loss of someone. So we're very aware of that as writers, and we don't want to rush into something. We want to give people time to get there, and when the moment's right, then we'll try something."
5. Why is Gibbs targeting Fornell? The mystery of Gibbs apparently shooting Fornell in the Season 10 finale will be solved — but not without a little backstory first. The premiere will fill in the gaps of what happened in the four months between Ziva, Tony and McGee resigning and Gibbs pulling the trigger. "We don't pick up in that exact moment," Glasberg says. "We actually go back to when he's given this assignment, and then that moment pays off at the end of the second episode." But it all ties back to the investigation by Richard Parsons (Colin Hanks), as well as the homegrown threat that Morrow (Alan Dale) referenced in the Season 10 finale. "Everything is sort of interwoven," Glasberg says.
6. Professionally, what will the team be dealing with this season? It sounds like the team won't have much time to sit back and mourn the loss of Ziva. "There's a job to do and they have to stay focused, and they have to keep doing what they do and get through it and work through it," Glasberg says. "We're going to establish an adversary that's going to carry all the way through the season. He comes up in the first episode."
7. How will Gibbs deal with three of his team members resigning, and will there be any other repercussions from the investigation? "He's got a lot of work to do in that cabin," Glasberg says. "I think he recognizes at the end of the day how dedicated his team is." Losing Ziva permanently will also throw Gibbs for a loop. "The fact that he's going to be losing one of his team will not sit lightly with him." Will Ziva's absence mean trouble for Gibbs and Tony's relationship? "I think this change affects DiNozzo and Gibbs in a classic father/son way," Weatherly explains. "[Tony's] dynamic for a long time, with occasionally jockeying for position, has always been the loyal number two, the faithful dog. I think that this change that's going to happen will directly impact Gibbs and DiNozzo and will force a kind of reassessment of their dynamic. It's a source of great drama."
8. Will Tiva 'shippers get a new romance to root for? Maybe not with the same intensity and devotion — but love is in the air for McGee this season. Fans will finally meet Delilah (Margo Harshman) in the premiere, but one person who's less than thrilled about her arrival is Abby (Pauley Perrette). "They have a really wonderful scene together with Abby that causes this fantastic triangle," Glasberg teases. "We'll probably see her again a little bit later on." McGilah has a nice ring to it!
The Season 11 premiere of NCIS airs Tuesday at 8/7c on CBS. How do you think the NCIS team will handle Ziva's departure?
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
Additional reporting by Adam Bryant