From an extensive flashback to Ducky as a cool cat... to Tony getting into a mature romantic relationship with Zoe... to McGee fumbling around in his relationship with Delilah... to the ending of Mishnev and the introduction of a brand new terrorist cell which refers to itself as The Calling...
... NCIS Season 12 had it all.
Oh, and let's not forget: we lost Agent Ned Dorneget as well.
It's now time to cover some of the highlights of the season and give it a grade. Read our TV Fanatic report card and weigh in with your thoughts on how the season went..
Best episode: NCIS Season 12 Episode 15, “Cabin Fever”
There’s just something to be said for an episode that not only featured a drunken Agent Tobias Fornell, a dry-out session at Gibbs' remote cabin, and the dramatic death (some may call it murder) of Gibbs’ most heinous enemy, Sergei Mishnev.
To add to that: we got to see a rare side of Fornell. He was entirely in love with Diane and had begun to loathe himself for telling her that he thought their romance was a mistake before she was killed. He was certain she died thinking that he didn't love her.
You have to admit: Gibbs has a unique therapy technique that was well on display with this episode: invite a grieving drunk to a cabin, offer him more alcohol, dump all of the booze the next day and then get into a fist fight (although it wasn’t much of one).
Anyway, it worked.
Worst Not the greatest episode: NCIS Season 12 Episode 4, “Choke Hold”
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t the worst because this season has been so very well written and engaging all the way through. There was no "worst."
It suffered from two things, however. The first was the introduction of Agent Pendergast as a potential love interest for Tony. She was just another Ziva (but without any of her charm) in different clothing: disrespectful and brash. I hated her immediately.
The second involved his scenes as the series clown and butt of jokes. This episode wasn’t too far into the season however, and as memory serves, this may have been the last time he was ever portrayed that way.
Most absentee romantic interest: Abby’s boyfriend U.S. Park Police Sergeant Burt Moore
Abby’s relationship with Moore started on NCIS Season 12 Episode 2 “Kill the Messenger”. Although you could hardly call it a relationship so much as an intense interest they had for each other. The compelling variable was their shared love of tattoos.
We later saw him on NCIS Season 12 Episode 8 “Semper Fortis”. This time, we learned they had been dating for two months, and superstitious Abby was getting ready to kick him to the curb.
Despite McGee’s effort to convince her to stick it out (as her former boyfriend), she told him to mind his own business. This, despite the fact that a few episodes earlier she’d gotten all up in Tony’s business about his love life. Double standard, much?
The neat thing was that Burt brought her a bouquet of black roses — thereby saving him from the relationship guillotine. At least of now.
We haven’t heard a thing about him since.
Most evolved character: Tony DiNozzo
This one was easy. Tony’s gone from being the clown and frat boy of the show to the mature people-loving agent who has found a mate who speaks his language.
It was amazing to see him handle McGee love life panic in NCIS Season 12 Episode 18 “Status Update” — when he called him “honey” in fond exasperation over Tim’s repeated phone calls to Delilah.
Although he found an excuse not to meet his girlfriend Zoe’s parents (NCIS Season 12 Episode 16 “Blast from the Past"), he turned the tables and convinced her to meet his dad four episodes later on NCIS Season 12 Episode 20 “No Good Deed”. It could have gone a bit better, but as they say “Tony Senior is Tony Senior” — and he’ll always be a difficult person to deal with.
Still….this is Tony as we’ve never seen him. He’s got a mature relationship bubbling away and he’s putting others ahead of himself. We’re not even seeing as much teasing from him as we used to see.
The highlight of the season — in terms of Tony’s character development — was what I call the “McGee As Whiner” episode: when Tony and Gibbs read each other’s minds and they both made a beeline for MTAC (NCIS Season 12 Episode 19 “Patience”). Tony is a competent and trustworthy senior agent, and it was a treat to see Gibbs silently acknowledge that.
Most irritating quirk: Palmer and Abby (tie).
Palmer has a habit of saying the wrong thing all the time, and it’s usually about Gibbs. His shtick is getting beyond old, to the point where it’s now predictable and irritating. He’s not a stupid man, yet he comes across that way constantly, as he says something mildly derogatory about Gibbs and then widens his eyes as he suddenly realizes Gibbs is right behind him.
It’s an old clown trick passed down from Tony, and it’s a one-note disaster. The writers need to realize that you can easily wear out a joke by using it too often. This one is so old it needs to be taken out to the junkyard, shot and then burned.
Then there’s Abby. Dear sweet Abby. She’s a lovely character and I think she’ll always be cherished by the fans. But she’s also a grown woman, and that “Gibbs! Gibbs! Gibbs! Gibbs! Gibbs!” deal has to go. I’d like to see some evolution in her character. Maybe it’s time to drop the pigtails — let’s see her as the beautiful and highly intelligent woman that she is: still delightful and still Gibbs’ favorite.
Most surprising back-story: Ducky in NCIS Season 12 Episode 3, “So It Goes”
This story gave us an excellent glimpse of Ducky as a young man: bold, brash and dangerous.
We learned that he hated bow ties and detested the idea of being around cadavers. While his later adoption of the bow tie was explained, we never learned how he ended up working as a coroner. He still has some mysteries to reveal.
We found out that he had loved a woman named Margaret, and that he had a falling out with his friend Angus over her. He never got truly serious with any woman after her — his reason was that he had watched Gibbs suffer greatly through his relationships and didn’t want to repeat his mistakes.
My grade for this season: A.
Now it's YOUR turn. What grade would you give NCIS Season 12?
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.