NCIS - Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon portrays Leroy Jethro Gibbs in a recent episode of "NCIS." 

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The "NCIS" season 13 premiere is still a couple of months away. We're less than two months removed from season 12 of the CBS hit, which featured Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs getting shot in the finale and left viewers wondering about his fate.

With "NCIS" reruns keeping us occupied while we await the season premiere, I started thinking about some of the best episodes in the show's history.

The list you see below contains 12 episodes — one from each of the first 12 "NCIS" seasons. I believe these episodes are the best of their respective seasons. You may disagree. If you think other episodes were better, let me know in the comments or send me an email to robert.harding@lee.net.

Here is the list of the 12 best episodes from the first 12 "NCIS" seasons:

(1) Season 1 - "Bete Noire": This was the first "NCIS" episode where we saw Gibbs and the team handle a major crisis. This crisis happened to be playing out in the NCIS autopsy room, where terrorist Ari Haswari held Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard and his assistant Gerald hostage. Special Agent Caitlin Todd joined them.

This was the first real showdown between Ari and Gibbs. This one was won by Ari, though. He managed to escape the autopsy room after he exchanged gunfire with Gibbs. A SWAT team infiltrated the room and Ari was gone.

From that point on, catching Ari became an obsession for Gibbs and gave us the first major storyline of the show's run.

(2) Season 2 - "Twilight": If there's one thing you remember about this episode, it's the death of Agent Todd. Ari, armed with a sniper rifle, killed her after the the team took down a few terrorists.

This episode had a big impact. It was the first major change for the team and it set the tone for the first part of the third season. It also opened the door for a new team member — someone named Ziva David.

(3) Season 3 - "Under Covers": This may not have been the most important episode of the season, but it certainly had an impact on the future of the show. Ziva and Agent Tony DiNozzo go undercover to take down the individual (or individuals) responsible for hiring assassins. We saw the chemistry between these two and longed for more. It was also the episode where you sensed that Ziva was here to stay.

(4) Season 4 - "Angel of Death": The season four finale was, in many ways, the true season five premiere. NCIS Director Jenny Shepard begins to learn more about her father's death. She begins to question the official story and sets off alarms while she's digging for answers.

Meanwhile, DiNozzo is continuing to work undercover and is dating Jeanne Benoit, the daughter of La Grenouille, an arms dealer who Shepard suspects had a role in killing her father.

(5) Season 5 - "Internal Affairs": Season five is tough because there were so many good episodes. "Requiem" is a classic. The two-part finale was phenomenal. But my vote goes to "Internal Affairs."

Why? Simply put, it connects season 4's finale with the season 5 finale. It's the link between those two episodes. Tobias Fornell and the FBI are investigating the death of La Grenouille, and it's revealed in this episode that his body has been found. The whole team faces scrutiny for their involvement in assisting Jenny's personal agenda.

The one thing that was evident in this episode: The team is united. It may have been obvious at the time, but it was still a powerful message to send while they were facing another major crisis.

(6) Season 6 - "Last Man Standing": You won't see too many season premieres on this list, but "Last Man Standing" makes the cut.

Leon Vance took over as director after Shepard's death at the end of season five. In what appears to be a form of punishment, he has split up Gibbs' team. Gibbs now has to work with a new squad, which actually provides some light moments in this episode.

But this premiere also served as a reminder of what happened in season 5, arguably the best season in the show's run. The consequences are evident and Gibbs has been hit the hardest, both personally and professionally.

It was weird seeing McGee, Tony and Ziva working separately. They worked so well together from seasons 3 through 5. Seeing them in different places was a bit strange.

(7) Season 7 - "Outlaws and In-Laws": This was one of the best "NCIS" seasons and there are a few good episodes that could easily be considered the best. The season premiere titled "Truth or Consequences" is among them. 

But "Outlaws and In-Laws" stands out as the top episode of the season for a few reasons. The whole episode set up a major storyline for the season and introduced a new foe — Col. Merton Bell, who runs a private military contractor. And we meet Mike Franks' daughter-in-law and granddaughter in an episode that featured a brief family feud. 

(8) Season 8 - "Enemies Domestic": The second of a two-part episode begins with Director Leon Vance being found injured in a safe house after an explosion. Mossad Director Eli David, Ziva's father, was with Vance at the time of the explosion, but isn't at the scene.

The highlights of this episode include some of the former NCIS directors gathered in a room — one of whom winds up being the enemy in the latest storyline. 

The episode ends with the foe — former NCIS Director Riley McAllister — showing up at the hospital where Vance is being treated. McAllister is there to kill Vance, but Vance kills him with a knife Gibbs left for the current director. 

(9) Season 9 - "Till Death Do Us Part": The season 9 finale featured one of the most explosive endings to an "NCIS" season since the show began. 

Literally. 

A bomb planted by Harper Dearing detonated and damaged NCIS headquarters. One of the more memorable shots is when McGee is knocked off his feet by the force of the blast. 

This episode was supposed to feature a happier moment — the wedding of Dr. Mallard's assistant, Jimmy Palmer. But with the explosion, plans changed. Dr. Mallard, who learned of the explosion by phone, had a heart attack while walking on a beach. The season ends with a shot of Ducky laying on the beach, his fate unknown. 

(10) Season 10 - "Shabbat Shalom": This was one of the more powerful "NCIS" episodes. Ziva and Eli David were at odds for a considerable amount of time. Eli David came to Washington with a couple of goals, one of which was to improve his relationship with his daughter. 

Of course, there was a tragic ending. The father-daughter pair join Vance's family for dinner. An assassin fired several shots at the house. Eli David and Vance's wife were shot in the attack.

DiNozzo found Ziva crying and holding Eli David, who was already dead. Vance's wife also died from her injuries. 

(11) Season 11 - "Past, Present and Future": Ziva David, the character portrayed by Cote de Pablo, had such a huge impact on the show. She got her start in season 3 just as the team was dealing with one of its first major disasters — the death of Agent Todd. 

"Past, Present and Future" is — for now — Ziva's final episode. The scenes with Tony DiNozzo (played by Michael Weatherly) were fantastic. Many fans rooted for these two to get together at some point. The possibility of romance between these two was one of the underlying storylines throughout Ziva's run on the show. 

The pro-Tiva crowd didn't want to see Ziva leave, but they were mostly satisfied with how her departure was handled. The chemistry between Tony and Ziva was evident in their many appearances together. It was sad to see Ziva go, but there's always a chance she may return in a future episode. 

(12) Season 12 - "Neverland": The season finale of season 12 left us with one of the biggest questions since the show began in 2003: Is Leroy Jethro Gibbs still alive?

Gibbs was shot by a teenager — one of several children recruited by the Calling, a terrorist group. We don't learn Gibbs' fate and we won't know if he survived until season 13 begins in September. 

The storyline involving the terrorist group recruiting children heated up at the end of season 12. It will be interesting to see how the team deals with this new foe in season 13. 

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