I'm a huge fan of alternative universes, so I was particular intrigued with the use of "What if . . ." in this episode. While Gibbs on the surface has dealt with his two biggest regrets in life, they come roaring back in full force here as he faces his regrets and deepest sorrows in not being able to protect Shannon and Kelly, and not being able to save Kate.
Would Kate and Tony have married and had a baby if Kate hadn't been killed by Ari? Would McGee and Abby become a couple, with a new place, happily cooking gumbo and bread pudding? Would Ziva have become more deeply emeshed in Mossad and Ari's terrorism tactics?
The real-time story of a man who made bad choices in trying to save his family didn't really quite mesh the way it was intended. It was supposed to serve as a counterpoint to "when good people do bad things" -- Gibbs killed Pedro Hernandez in revenge for the murder of his family. Does that mean that the father in this episode had equal cause for killing his co-thieves, to save the world from the results of espionage (and, by the way, put some money in his pocket so he won't have to face losing his house or telling his son that they can't afford college.) To me, the comparison didn't quite hold up.
In season 8, Gibbs tells Paloma Renosa that he didn't lose a single night's sleep over killing her father. But this episode seems to contradict that declaration. Mike Franks (in the role of "It's A Wonderful Life"'s angel, Clarence) suggests that if Gibbs had not killed Hernandez, his inaction would have eventually destroyed him. At one point, Gibbs tells him "I shot the son-of-a-bitch, but when I got home, my home was empty -- and my girls were still gone," which suggests there was going to be anguish and regrets either way. So what was the "right" choice?
Shannon suggests that if things had turned out differently -- if he had been able to save them -- then he would not have joined NIS, and would have stayed in the Marines. "And the loss would have fallen on us," she tells him gently. His death in battle would have meant that he would not have been at NCIS to solve the hundreds of cases that he had solved.
The parade of "This is your life" characters was entertaining. A beautiful Jenny, a sneering Ari, a somber Pedro Hernandez, Joan Matteson embracing a young Jethro -- and finally meeting Gibb's proud mother, Ann. It was strange to hear Shannon chide Gibbs -- "No Tony? No Ziva?" -- when he protested that he would have given it all up to stay with her.
This was a very different episode -- reflective and thoughtful. Every season gives us new insights into what made Gibbs the man he is today -- the sense of duty, the bruised honor that he reclaims with every case solved at NCIS. We have never gotten a true sense of resolution with Gibbs' shooting of Hernandez -- we saw his sympathy as Abby struggled with her discovery, but we never saw him deal with it. In this episode, we did -- and perhaps he can finally put it to rest.
(A small quibble: The editing in of Kate after the birth of the baby was a little clumsy. She was wearing almost the same pajamas that she wore in "SWAK", and her "What?!" was just a little too 'off' and obviously spliced in. I would have liked to have seen a warmer, softer Kate as a new mom.)