Spoilers ahead for the Season 19 winter premiere of NCIS, called “Pledge of Allegiance.”

NCIS returned in 2022 with an episode that put the agents on the case of the theft of classified Navy software that could control drones, and the guilty party turned out to be in front of them almost the whole entire time. While the case was all about the stolen software, there was a background mystery concerning $10,000 that was deposited into the bank accounts of each McGee and Palmer, but not Torres, Knight, Cole, or Kasie. The mystery was solved at the end of the hour courtesy of Vance, and it involved a secret about Gibbs coming to light about something he has been doing behind the scenes for decades.

In true McGee fashion, he was initially attempting to give the money back to the bank since he had no idea where it came from. For his part, Palmer had no idea what had happened either when he dished the details to Knight, but it turned out that the money was earmarked for his daughter. Vance, knowing McGee and Palmer were in the dark about the very large deposit in their accounts, called them into his office, and it turns out that there was nothing nefarious happening at all, and they weren’t in trouble. Vance explained:

I just wanted to welcome you as the newest members of the Leroy Jethro Gibbs College Scholarship Club.

Both McGee and Gibbs immediately said that it was too generous and they can’t keep that much money, but Vance said that they can’t give it back, because he tried to do the same thing years ago, when his kids were the same age as McGee’s and Palmer’s. The two agents were clearly touched, but also confused about the big gift for their kids. Vance finally cleared the air:

It’s in memory of his daughter, Kelly. When she was young, he started a college fund. When she died, Gibbs never closed the account. In fact, he kept adding to it. So since then, he’s helped a lot of agents’ families. Kids all going to college in Kelly’s honor.

It’s very Gibbs to do something so generous but not actually tell them in person, and Palmer said that he wished he could thank Gibbs in person. Vance simply responded that “hopefully one day you will” get the chance, which isn’t exactly a guarantee that fans will see Mark Harmon back in action as his iconic character again any time soon.

Still, it seems pretty clear that some of the people he left behind are still in touch with him, even though the dynamic is different. Palmer seemed to be planning on thanking Gibbs, but probably via a phone call rather than in person. Vance technically could have just connected the dots about the mysterious $10,000 without hearing from Gibbs, but I got the impression that he had the information straight from the source.

This secret about Gibbs is a touching one, particularly considering how long McGee and Palmer have known Gibbs. It also isn’t one that sets up a return for the former NCIS star, so fans may need to keep waiting a while longer for any signs that he might drop back in on his own team. Be sure to keep tuning in to NCIS to find out what happens next, with new episodes on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS

The show is crossing over with NCIS: Hawai’i for the first time later this year, so something big is coming up, even if it’s not necessarily Mark Harmon’s return. For more of what to look forward to in the new year, check out our 2022 winter and spring premiere schedule.

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