It has been nearly three years since Ziva David was presumed dead after an attack on her farmhouse in Israel. That's how season 13 ended. Now, in season 16 of "NCIS," there is a major question looming: Is Ziva still alive?
If the ending of Tuesday's "NCIS" episode is any indication, the answer is yes.
The episode focuses on a case that the team learns was one of Ziva's first cases as a probationary agent. It involved the disappearance of a Navy recruit who was reported missing. The recruit hasn't been found.
The NCIS team heads to Norfolk for a case after officers found a young girl hiding in a storage unit. The girl is disheveled. After Gibbs tries to talk to the girl, he lets Bishop give it a try. Bishop is able to learn the girl's name — Lily — and that the girl had been living in a basement. Based on the description given by Lily, it's obvious she and her mom were being held captive.
A DNA test reveals that Lily has a familial match with the Navy recruit, Morgan Burke, who has been missing for 10 years.
Bishop and Torres head to evidence to learn more about the case from 10 years prior. There is a box containing images of Ben Ramsey, Burke's boyfriend at the time of her disappearance. In one of the images, Bishop notices a familiar face: Ziva, whose reflection wound up in the photo.
The more Bishop and Torres look at the case, it becomes clear that Ziva's investigation was a solo job. Bishop theorizes that Ziva wanted to keep her investigation a secret.
Bishop wants to talk to Ramsey, but Torres thinks they should tell Gibbs about what they found. Bishop wants to skip that step. She feels cheated that she never got to meet Ziva.
"There are things I could've learned from her that I couldn't get from anyone else," she said. Torres reluctantly goes along with Bishop to talk to Ramsey.
Ramsey remembers Ziva. He shared an important piece of information — that Ziva cleared him in the course of her secret inquiry. He was aware that Ziva continued to investigate what happened to Burke.
As the episode progresses, the team learns more information about the potential abductors. Palmer conducts an "autopsy" on Lily's stuffed animal and finds two DNA matches: Robert and Bud Hill, brothers who are now prime suspects in the investigation. The team heads to Bud Hill's last known address, where they find him dead on a couch. Robert Hill is nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, Bishop goes to meet a woman who rented an office to Ziva. This winds up being an important revelation in the episode. Ziva, we learn, rented the office and continued to make payments even after her departure from NCIS. The landlord opens the office for Bishop.
There are signs that the office was Ziva's at one point. There are some clothes hanging by the door and there are miscellaneous belongings throughout the small space. There are cabinets in the office. Bishop opens the cabinets and finds several journals.
At this point, Bishop finally lets Gibbs in on what she's doing. Gibbs and McGee come to the office and look around. Bishop learned that Ziva started renting the office not long after she became a liaison at NCIS. The journals? She created one for every case she worked on while at the agency.
Bishop asks why the Morgan Burke case was so important, but Gibbs isn't happy. He scolds Bishop for withholding information and threatens to fire her if she does it again. He orders her to return to the office. Before she leaves, Bishop grabs Ziva's journal about the Burke case. Gibbs didn't see her swipe the book before departing.
Bishop's search for more information takes her to Palmer, who recalls that the Burke case was one of Ziva's first as a "probie." When Ziva arrived at the scene, the sheriff's office told Ziva the case was theirs, Palmer said. It was Ziva who handed over the case to the sheriff's office. Gibbs, apparently, wasn't pleased that Ziva handed over the case. Gibbs told Ziva, according to Palmer, that Burke was Navy "and we never hand over one of our own."
"It was a mistake, and it was a mistake Ziva never forgot," Palmer added.
Bishop is hesitant to read Ziva's journal, but Palmer assures her that Ziva would want her to read every word.
As Bishop continues her effort, the NCIS team introduces Ramsey to Lily. Ramsey is Lily's father, but they've never met. Lily told the team earlier that her mom said her dad looked like Superman. Ramsey is able to get more information from Lily about how she escaped the basement. Burke burned Lily to make it seem like she had been bitten by bugs to encourage Robert Hill to dispose of the mattress. Burke then stuffed Lily in the mattress so she could escape.
The NCIS team tracks down the mattress at a nearby landfill.
Back at headquarters, Bishop and Gibbs are in the squad room. Bishop said she learned more about the case from Ziva's perspective. That's when Gibbs learns Bishop took the journal from Ziva's office. Gibbs isn't happy, but Bishop insists "the stuff" in the journal matters. She then points Gibbs to a page in the journal. Burke's mom, who was dying of cancer, dictated a letter Ziva wrote down that would be read to Burke's captor if they ever made an arrest.
At this point, Gibbs is angered by Bishop's actions. He reminds her of Rule No. 10, "Never get personally involved in a case." The rule, Bishop says, is "B.S." Gibbs says every time he looks at Ziva's old desk, where Bishop sits now, he sees that she's not there. "You ignore rule 10, you end up like her," Gibbs says. He then orders Bishop to go home.
Instead of going home, Bishop heads down to Kasie's lab. She's hiding out in the office half of the lab and taking phone calls on the tip line for Burke's case. Gibbs and the team head down to the lab to determine where Robert Hill is located.
There's a hint found in the mattress from the landfill: bird poop. The poop is from a certain type of parrot. The clue leads the team to Fairfax County and the likely location of Robert Hill. Kasie returns to her office and sees that Bishop overheard the findings. She left.
Gibbs, McGee and Torres find the location where Lily and Burke were being held, but no one is there. Bishop is at a different location: A shed of sorts where Hill is with Burke. Hill wants to escape and takes Burke with him. He heads to a boat, but then holds Burke at gunpoint when Bishop confronts him. Hill tells Bishop to put the gun down, and Bishop complies. But Burke hits Hill and jumps in the water. Hill scrambles to find his gun. Bishop jumps in to save Burke.
Hill fires shots into the water, but misses Bishop. Bishop finds Burke underwater and takes her to safety. As this scene is playing out, Gibbs is narrating. He's reading from Ziva's journal on the case. Gibbs and the team apprehend Hill.
Gibbs is shown reading from Ziva's journal while sitting in his living room. Bishop is there, too. Gibbs tells Bishop that Robert Hill had a heart attack and was transported to the hospital. He shares the room number and tells Bishop, "Do what you have to do."
After Bishop leaves, Gibbs walks over to a cabinet and pulls out a small box. It contains his rules on pieces of paper. He pulls Rule No. 10 out. He tosses the paper into his fireplace.
That's usually where other "NCIS" episodes may have ended. But not this one.
Bishop heads to the hospital to read the letter Morgan Burke's mother dictated to Ziva. When she walks into the room and tells Hill why she's there, he reveals that someone else already read the letter. Bishop finds the letter, which was torn out of Ziva's journal, on a tray next to Hill's bed.
Bishop returns to Ziva's old office. She notices some things are out of place — a coat was moved from a hook next to the door and is now resting on a chair. She finds a note on the desk.
It reads, "Eleanor Bishop, for the safety of my family, please keep my secret."
The note suggests Ziva David is alive.
It's quite a development in the 16th season of "NCIS," especially after the departures of Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) in previous seasons. Will Ziva return for an on-camera appearance? Hopefully we'll get that moment before the end of the season.