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10 Most Intense NCIS Episodes That Shocked Fans

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NCIS is one of the longest-running scripted dramas currently airing on television. The crime procedural series follows agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service as they investigate military-based crimes relating to Navy and Marine personnel. The series has graduated from a popular series to a television staple during its 20 years on television.

NCIS manages to perfect the procedural formula by preventing the repetitiveness of the episodic formula by adding pulse-pounding action that keeps the viewers on their toes. These episodes perfectly encapsulate the intensity that has kept NCIS popular for so many years.

Cloak + Dagger is a Two-Part Espionage Thriller

Ziva and Tony investigating a case in "Dagger" NCIS

  • IMDB Rating 8.5 and 8.2 out of 10
  • Season 6, Episodes 8 & 9
  • Aired November 2008

“Cloak” and “Dagger” is a two-part thriller that incorporates the best elements of intrigue and espionage. When a mole makes its way into the inner sanctum of NCIS, the team engages in spycraft, subversion, and war games to hunt down one of their own who has turned into a traitor.

These two episodes are a fascinating look into the inner dynamics of NCIS and provides an outsider-looking-in perspective not only of Gibbs’ NCIS team but other supporting characters who work for NCIS. The framing of these episodes has the audience on the edge of their seat and just as surprised by the reveals and twists of the episode as the characters themselves.

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S.W.A.K. is an Early Season Thriller

Tony and McGee holding up the poisoned note in NCIS episode SWAK

  • IMDB Rating 8.9 out of 10
  • Season 2, Episode 2022
  • Aired May 2005

“S.W.A.K.” is one of the earliest NCIS episodes that ratcheted up the adrenaline past expected levels, and they did it by playing with a core team member’s life. When a letter containing a mysterious poisoned powder addressed to Dinozzo is opened by him in the bullpen, a lockdown is triggered, and DiNozzo is infected by a deadly pathogen. The team must hunt down the sender and hopefully find a cure to save his life.

S.W.A.K. does a great job of finding the ideal blend of investigative intrigue and character-based plotlines. This balanced combination, plus the addition of a race against the clock to save a character’s life, results in high stakes that are as emotional as they are intense.

Kill Ari (Parts 1 and 2) is a Bloodthirsty Revenge Thriller

Ziva and Director Shepard talking to Gibbs in NCIS episode KILL ARI

  • IMDB Rating 8.6 and 8.7 out of 10
  • Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2
  • Aired September 2005

NCIS’ two-part episode “Kill Ari” is an emotional rollercoaster for viewers. The episode follows the death of team member Kate Todd, who joined the team in the pilot episode and united the team with her dry wit and charming affect. The Kill Ari episodes are a revenge saga and mental reckoning for Agent Gibbs and his team. Kate’s killer, the turncoat international spy Ari, toys with Gibbs and his team like a cat with mice, which instills tension and dread into the saga.

Outside of the dramatic plotline of the episodes, two main characters join in this episode, Director Jenny Shepard and Mossad Agent turned NCIS Officer Ziva David, who would go on to become an incredibly popular addition to the cast.

Bloodbath Hits Home for the NCIS Team

Gibbs and Abby in an elevator in NCIS episode BLOODBATH

  • IMDB Rating 8.2 out of 10
  • Season 3, Episode 21
  • April 2006

“Bloodbath” may not have some of the higher stakes of some NCIS cases that deal with espionage or global terror, but sometimes, personal stakes can feel just as intense as professional ones. This episode follows the team hunting down a stalker of Abby’s, the team’s quirky goth forensic scientist, who is getting brazen in his attempts to reach his target.

The psychological intensity of a stalker case where a known and beloved character is a target. As the stalkers’ attacks ramped up in intensity, so did the fear of Abby and her loved ones that fans could feel through the screen. This episode had fans on the edge of their seats until the credits rolled.

Till Death Do Us Part + Extreme Prejudice Takes NCIS to New Levels of Intensity

Abby being tended to by an EMT post HQ bombing in NCIS "Extreme Prejudice"

  • IMDB Rating 8.8 and 8.2 out of 10
  • Season 9, Episode 24, and Season 10, Episode 1
  • May 2012, then September 2012

“Till Death Do Us Part” and “Extreme Prejudice” depict a worst-case scenario moment for the institution of NCIS. A high-stakes investigation turns into a terrorist ploy that results in a devastating bombing attack on NCIS headquarters and places the entire agency office in mortal peril. The entire foundation of NCIS is shaken to the core, and the team must nurse their wounds, bury their dead, and hunt down the terrorist before he strikes again.

“Till Death Do Us Part” and “Extreme Prejudice” put the NCIS team up against a devastating threat that pushes them to the limit, with new threats and challenges appearing at a shocking frequency. Despite the horrifying nature of the threat, in true NCIS fashion, it still ends with a message of hope and endurance.

Chimera is a Terrifying Military Mystery

Ziva, McGee, Gibbs, Dinozzo, and Ducky on an aircraft carrier in NCIS episode "Chimera"

  • IMDB Rating 8.4 out of 10
  • Season 5, Episode 6
  • October 2007

“Chimera” is an NCIS episode with a scary premise that only grows more terrifying as more facts of the investigation are learned. When Gibbs and his team are sent to investigate a death on a top-secret Navy research vessel, an abandoned ship and signs of an outbreak put the team in peril with no way off of the ship. The trapped nature of the team and the secretive nature of the operations of the ship intensify the fear and pressure to solve the case and save themselves.

“Chimera” has many layers to it and is much more than a simple investigation. With every answer uncovered by the team, ten more questions appear, which is not ideal when lives are at stake.

Judgment Day (Parts 1 and 2) Pushes NCIS to the Brink

McGee and Abby on the phone in NCIS "Judgement Day"

  • IMDB Rating 8.6 and 8.7 out of 10
  • Season 5, Episodes 18 and 19
  • Aired May 2008

The two-part Season Finale “Judgment Day” rips the rug out from under not just Gibbs’ team but NCIS as a whole. When an agent’s death appears to be more than just the natural causes that were reported, old friends of the agency are called in to help off the books by the Director. The investigation snowballs and results in old foes from past cases settling scores, including the murder of the Director herself. Viewers barely have time to breathe in between action-packed moments.

Such a big blow such as the Director’s death, changes the landscape of NCIS. A new Director comes in, Leon Vance, and quickly dissembles Gibbs’ team across the agency and leaves NCIS on a massive cliffhanger before the next season.

Truth or Consequences Has the Team Fighting For Their Lives

McGee passed out on the floor in NCIS TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES

  • IMDB Rating 9.1 out of 10
  • Season 7, Episode 1
  • Originally Aired September 2009

“Truth or Consequences” follows a cliffhanger Season Finale in the prior season that left NCIS Agent Ziva David in enemy hands. The next season’s premiere episode, “Truth or Consequences,” shows Tim and McGee being held in a similar position to Ziva and in bad condition. The episode incorporates flashbacks to the months the team spent looking for Ziva that all led up to the present moment of a (seemingly) failed hostage rescue.

As past details are revealed and the present-day hostage situation grows more fraught, viewers see pieces of the rescue plan come into play and the plot crescendos as the team pulls off the rescue and Ziva and her teammates return home as heroes. The intensity never wavers in this episode as viewers pray to see their characters pull off the impossible.

Endgame Sees an NCIS Team Member in a Killers Crosshairs

Director Vance at a crime scene in NCIS "ENDGAME"

  • IMDB Rating 8.1 out of 10
  • Season 7, Episode 7
  • November 2009

Director Leon Vance originally started as an antagonist to Gibbs, but he comes into his own as viewers uncover the man behind the Director’s desk and becomes a loyal team member to Gibbs and his agent, and there is no denying his prowess as an agency leader even when he was throwing wrenches in Gibbs’ plans. In “Endgame,” he engages in a cat-and-mouse game with a North Korean assassin he has a history with.

“Endgame” induces a creeping feeling of adrenaline as the deadly dance between Vance and the assassin plays out over the episode. Any moment can escalate with the assassin waiting to strike when Vance and his loved ones least expect it.

Enemies Foreign + Enemies Domestic Sees Past and Future Cases Collide

Flashback of a Young Vance and his agency handler in Europe in NCIS "Enemies Domestic"

  • IMDB Rating 8.2 and 8.4 out of 10
  • Season 8, Episodes 8 and 9
  • Originally Aired November 2010

“Enemies Foreign” and “Enemies Domestic” is a two-episode storyline that blends flashbacks to a past NCIS operation that started Director Vance’s illustrious NCIS career with a shocking act of violence committed against Vance and alongside Mossad Deputy Director David in the present.

Beginning the storyline with an attack on two political powerhouses gets the adrenaline flowing, and then continuing into a flashback case with just as much danger while the attack is being solved in the presence provides layers and nuanced intrigue into the storyline.

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