When a show runs 18 seasons and counting, it’s only natural there’s a large cast turnover. Since NCIS began in 2003, the one constant has always been Mark Harmon as Jethro Gibbs.
His tough boss has handled scores of dangers and problems but keeps coming back to save the day. Even the dramatic Season 18 finale is unlikely to finally silence Gibbs. Yet while he always sticks around, almost the entire cast around him has changed.
While David McCallum is still around as Ducky, his appearances have lessened in the last few years. Tim McGee (Sean Murray) didn’t appear until late in the show’s first season before being promoted to regular in Season 2.
Since then, several recurring characters have come and gone while others in the main cast have seen some big exits. A few were notable with actors suddenly leaving and thus having to write the character out. Others were ones fans never saw coming.
A few exits have been emotional and memorable for fans. Others came off worse and not doing the character justice. Here is how every major NCIS character exit ranks to show who left the show more memorably than others.
The shortest-tenured member of the main cast, Alexandra Quinn deserved better.
Played by Blue Bloods vet Jennifer Esposito, Alex had been a former top agent who took a leave from the field after losing some fellow agents in a fight.
Possessing a nice humor, she got along well with the gang, even if other missions often sidetracked her. Still, it was jarring when it was announced Esposito was gone after Season 14.
Speculation is that it was due to some behind-the-scenes drama, with Esposito claiming she was only meant to be on for a short time.
In the end, it was simply mentioned that Quinn had left to tend to her Alzheimer-stricken mother. It was a pretty lame way to write off a former main cast member.
The latest exit from the series was a surprise to fans.
Given the unenviable task of taking over from the popular Ziva, Ellie Bishop was a great addition to the show. Emily Wickersham was fun in the role of Bishop, going from merely an analyst to a top field agent.
She handled problems like the ending of her marriage and some near-death experiences. She also had great chemistry with Torres fans hoped could become romantic.
The Season 18 finale had Bishop fired for leaking classified documents. It turned out it was all to set up a secret undercover operation for the CIA.
She and Torres had a final meeting with him heartbroken at her deceit and he and Bishop finally sharing a kiss before she left.
It was a sudden jarring exit, although it’s hopeful Bishop pops back sometime in the future.
Played by veteran Maria Bello, Jack Sloane was an excellent addition to the team in Season 15. The psychologist was a great person to help the team handle their various issues.
Her clashes with Gibbs were notable as she could ease his temper while also helping on cases. She was tough while haunted by being held prisoner by terrorists and reconnecting with the daughter she’d given up for adoption.
Season 18 teased Jack possibly leaving for some personal issues. There was tension when she and Gibbs went to rescue kidnapped girls in Afghanistan.
Thankfully, Jack survived and decided to stay and help the girls and others like them. It was nice that she got a warmer farewell than others in the main cast.
The former MI-6 agent was a late addition to the team in Season 14. He popped up now and then, offering advice on a case before being accepted as a team member.
Duane Harry brought a nice charm to Reeves’s role while having a friendly rivalry with Torres. He was humanized by the revelation he was a recovering alcoholic.
His exit was shocking as in the Season 15 finale, Reeves tried to save Abby from a hitman, dying to protect her. It rocked Abby hard to quit the team and set up a charity in Reeves’ honor.
It was tragic to see him go, but at least Reeves went out a hero.
From her debut in Season 3, there was tension between new NCIS director Jenny Shephard and Gibbs. That was due to the pair having once been lovers.
Jenny was able to handle it well, not afraid to put Gibbs in his place and keep the team in line. Lauren Holly brought a great presence to the role to make Jenny a strong boss.
She did wrestle with a mysterious illness that made her more sympathetic.
Her ending was amazing as she found herself holed up alone facing assassins sent by a Russian agent whose life she’d spared years ago. Jenny took them all down before dying of her wounds.
While Gibbs hushed up the truth, it was still notable how Jenny went down in a blaze of glory for a great exit.
Once, Ziva David’s exit would have ranked much lower as a poor one.
Cote de Pablo was a great presence on the show as her Mossad agent was undeniably beautiful but also tough as nails.
Her banter with Tony provided great highlights, so it was a shame when de Pablo left without warning before Season 11. Ziva was weakly written off as just going and in Season 13, was killed off-screen in a mortar attack.
Which made it stunning when the Season 16 finale had a very much alive Ziva returning. She was harder, feeling angry at the team never searching for her, and overcoming some feelings with Gibbs.
This time, her exit was better as she was able to reunite with Tony and their daughter in Paris. It was good for the show to give Ziva a far better goodbye.
Who would have guessed the arrogant and often obnoxious Tony DiNozzo would get such a warm-hearted farewell?
While a good agent, Tony was better known in the show for his snide one-liners and often getting a smack on the head from Gibbs over his behavior.
He and Ziva clearly had heat, but the show downplayed any real romance. Tony was obviously affected when Ziva left suddenly.
Tony was rocked when Ziva was apparently killed. He was then thrown to discover the daughter he never knew the two had. Finally stepping up responsibly, Tony agreed to take custody of his daughter to live in Paris.
While Michael Weatherly hasn’t returned to the show, it’s mentioned he and Ziva have reunited and got a warmer goodbye than most would have imagined with his character.
Abby was always a much-needed source of levity on the show with her quirky humor and striking style.
Pauley Perrette made the character a huge fan favorite, with Abby throwing herself into cases with ease and handling the wild antics.
A warm lover of pets and kids, Abby’s soft side came up several times. That played into her exit in Season 15. After Reeves is killed saving her from a hitman, Abby gets his murderer to confess.
She then leaves to set up a charity in Reeve’s name in England.
Perrette hasn’t been very cordial about the show since leaving, which is a shame as Abby did get a nice send-off to end her character’s popular run.
It’s still hard to get over how shocking Kate Todd’s death was.
Sasha Alexander’s feisty former Secret Service agent was a key character for the show since it began. From her banter with Tony to her toughness in the field, it looked like Kate could survive anything.
The second season finale had the team tracking ruthless terrorist Ari. When Kate takes a bullet to the chest, it’s worrying, but she gets up as she had a vest on.
Just as she’s making a joke about it, another bullet tears through her head. The sight of her lying dead is still the most stunning cliffhanger in the show’s history.
Alexander decided to leave, and she hung around long enough for Kate’s “ghost” to say goodbye. Yet it’s still jarring how she was taken so fast.
NCIS seasons 1-18 on Paramount Plus.