Listen, we all know that Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) of NCIS follows a strict set of rules, but that doesn’t mean he always follows them. The NCIS Team Commander has a mysterious past that his coworkers and fans have gradually learned about over the course of the show’s nearly two-decade run. And the deeper we’ve gone down the Gibbs rabbit hole, the more we’ve discovered about his troubled past.
While there are many gruesome incidents both on and off the screen, one stands out above the rest. At first glance, picking the darkest action Gibbs has ever taken appears to be a difficult task. During any one season of NCIS, the former Marine Corps sniper and long-time law enforcement officer has found himself in more insane situations than most people do in their entire lives. However, one incident from Gibbs’ past clearly haunts him greatly.
While fans of the show will have their own opinions on the darkest thing they’ve ever seen Gibbs do, one storyline in particular stands out for us.
Gibbs exacted bloody vengeance on the man who murd3red his wife and daughter.
Long-time NCIS viewers may take Gibbs’ gruff and cold demeanor for granted, but there’s a reason he’s the way he is. Gibbs had a wife, Shannon (Darby Stanchfield), and a daughter, Kelly, prior to the start of the series (Mary Mouser). Both were assassinated by a cartel member named Pedro Hernandez (Thomas Rosales Jr.), against whom Shannon was about to testify. Their d3aths had a profound impact on Gibbs, as Harmon stated in an interview with TV Guide “His memory of great loss is not something that the writers, I, or anyone else expects him to overcome. It’s too in-depth.”
It took a long time for the rest of the NCIS team to discover this sad fact about Gibbs, and even longer for them to discover the other terrible truth about the situation. In retaliation for the murd3r, Gibbs tracked down and k1ll3d Hernandez. While it’s difficult not to sympathize with Gibbs’ desire for vengeance, he is a career military and law enforcement veteran, and extrajudicial execution is a serious offense. Someone with Gibbs’ experience should understand that taking justice into one’s own hands is a slippery slope that can lead to disaster.
It’s likely that Gibbs is aware of this, which is why he kept his involvement in Hernadez’s murd3r a secret for so long.
For decades, Gibbs kept the Hernandez murd3r a secret.
One of the clearest signs that Gibbs’ murd3r of Hernandez was the darkest moment in his life is that it took him decades to tell any of his NCIS colleagues about it. Fans, too, had to wait three seasons to find out. Shannon and Kelly’s existence was not revealed until the beginning of season 3, and viewers did not learn about Hernandez’s fate until the two-part season finale.
Abby (Pauley Perrette) discovers Gibbs’ secret by accident in the final episodes of season 7. The discovery comes as a complete surprise to her, and she is paralyzed by indecision over whether to expose Gibbs or assist him in keeping his secret. Finally, Abby writes a report about Gibbs’ role in Hernadez’s d3ath, which leads to the discovery of several other NCIS higher-ups.
Even after the secret is revealed, it remains on a need-to-know basis. In fact, some of the later additions to the NCIS team, such as Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) and Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham), don’t find out until the season 16 episode “…and Executioner.” All of the secrecy indicates that Gibbs is aware of how dark he became when he decided to exact revenge on Hernandez.
How Gibbs’ bleak past has shaped his personality
While most viewers were taken aback by the news of Gibbs’ vengeance k1ll1ng, in retrospect, it’s not surprising that Gibbs has some serious darkness in his past. The list of trag3d1es he’s been through may be long, but we’re going to go out on a limb and say the murd3r of your wife and child is likely near the top of the list for anyone.
Fans have known Gibbs as a quiet man who is more than a little frigid to those around him since the initial NCIS backdoor pilot that was part of JAG. One of Gibbs’ personality traits is his reluctance to get too close to people. This is evident in many of his interactions with his fellow NCIS agents, some of whom he has known for years. Although he is not completely closed off to people like Abby and McGee (Sean Murray), it takes him a long time to open up to them about things other than work. Despite the fact that we know he had a string of ex-wives after Shannon, we rarely see him engage romantically, and when there are sparks, such as with Dr. Jack Sloane (Maria Bello), he seems hesitant to act on them.
Fans have always known Gibbs as the steely quiet type, which is not surprising for someone who tragically lost their wife and daughter and has lived their life carrying a huge secret. Watching him deal with the darkness in his past is just one of the many things that keeps NCIS interesting after all these years.