NCIS exclusive interview: EPs set up Ziva’s return, ‘The North Pole’ conflicts

NCISTuesday night marks the final episode of NCIS in this calendar year, and it’s fair to say it’s a big one. Rather, it’s an enormous one! With the title being “The North Pole,” this serves as an opportunity to see potentially a holiday celebration. Also, you have Cote de Pablo coming back as Ziva so that she can finish doing the one thing that she needs to do in order to reunite with Tony and Tali.

So what can you expect within this episode from a storytelling perspective? Today, we spoke with executive producers Steven D. Binder and Frank Cardea and they shared some details with us pertaining to this episode — with a few possible teasers on the future within.

For more discussion on this interview (and a few extra interview tidbits not mentioned here), be sure to watch our brand new NCIS video below! Be sure to subscribe to CarterMatt on YouTube for weekly NCIS videos and view our show playlist.

CarterMatt: A lot of times the Christmas episodes are fairly standalone, and here it feels like this is a two parter. Why the change up?

Steven Binder – We don’t usually bring back former stars of the show for multiple episode runs. One of the things we talked about is how and when we want Ziva to reappear on the show. There were certain things we wanted to do, and that will become more apparent once you watch the episode. The timing of it just sort of worked out.

Frank Cardea – There is a nod to Christmas — there are Christmas decorations, but it’s not your typical Christmas episode.

The title for the episode is “The North Pole” — what does that then mean?

Cardea – It factors in prominently to the episode, but it has another meaning.

Binder – It’s some clever writing by Gina [Monreal] in that episode.

The synopsis for the episode details that Ziva is back to do the “one thing” she needs to do before she reunites with her family. What can you say about that?

Binder – We talked about how for years, Ziva’s been out there in the world looking for the person who is trying to kill her. She’s a loner, but she hasn’t been alone. She’s had people helping her. She has incurred personal debts to these people for that help. Now that Sahar is gone, there are things she needs to do before she can put it behind her.

Debts is a bad word, because it feels like she owes someone something transactional. It’s more than that. These are people who have been there for Ziva — they aren’t mercenaries. They are very close to her, and out of that closeness, she wants to make sure everything is good with everybody.

Back at the start of the season, Ziva questioned Gibbs over him not looking for her after her apparent death. We know that he’ll be working with her coming up — does he feel responsibility because of what he didn’t do in the past, or is just about him wanting to help someone who he cares about?

Cardea – Without being too vague, it’s both. We’ll discuss Ziva’s disappointment again that he didn’t come looking for her. That will be resolved, but I think it’s also the past relationship.

Binder – When Ziva left him in Odette’s shed, he gives her a pretty heartfelt mea culpa. We don’t want to hit that over the head too much. He said he was sorry, and I think what matters is that this is someone he’s always cared about.

Sloane wasn’t around when Ziva was, and in that way I don’t know if she looks at her with the same mystique. In the promo, you see her showing some concern over Gibbs working with her. How much is that going to play out?

Binder – She’s certainly going to question it, but she trusts the team and the team trusts Ziva.

I know Brian [Dietzen] posted something on social media of himself and Cote working together on the episode. Will that reunion with Palmer and Ziva be a nice moment of levity?

Cardea – Jimmy gets to talk on-camera about his disappointment of not being able to reunite with Ziva; they will get together. Hopefully, it will be satisfying for the audience.

I know that Phineas and Sarah are both set to appear in this episode. How are they going to factor into this episode?

Binder – I think there was one episode where someone said Gibbs had a pep in his step. We sort of use them as a counterpoint to the heavy things that are going on in the episode.

Cardea – Gibbs’ relationship with Phineas has been important to him. It’s given him a new direction, a new meaning.

Binder – We lean right into that again in this episode.

Is there going to be a big cliffhanger on Tuesday?

Binder – Frank and I were just discussing this. There are cliffhangers that are annoying, where you just want to throw something at the TV.

Cardea – Ziva thought that she had one problem that she had to solve, but in solving that, she created another problem. It’s the second problem we’ll address on January 7. There will be some resolution.

Binder – The train will arrive at the station, but it’ll head out to another one.

So they will be linked in some ways.

Cardea – They are linked, but not in your typical cliffhanger way.

Binder – One thing leads to another for sure.

I know you can’t answer whether Tony or Tali is going to show up, so let me phrase my question like this — no matter what happens at the end of this arc, is the door still open for more of Ziva, or of her family, down the road?

Binder – We’re planning on being on the air another ten years, minimum (laughs jokingly), so we’re going to need it.

Cardea – If you asked us three or four years ago if Cote would be back, we wouldn’t know how to answer that question. So if you were to ask us if Ziva or some other characters would be back in three or four years, we really can’t answer that. Not because we don’t want to, but because we just don’t know.

I’ll be honest with you guys — a couple of years ago, I wasn’t sure we’d see Ziva again, but here we are.

Cardea – It’s been a great experience, off-camera and on-camera, for all of us.

Beyond the Ziva arc, is there anything else you’re cooking up in the writers room for the new year? I know there’s still the storyline with Fornell that started at the end of last season.

Binder – We talk a lot about how Ziva’s life has caught up with her, with her living the life that she has. We’re also looking into Gibbs — what is the penalty for him living the life that he has? He’s not retired and is not off in some retirement community playing video games and having fun. Something’s gotta give, which might be a good episode title name (laughs). We dived into this at the end of last season.

Cardea – In a couple of episodes we’ve made brief mentioning of the Fornell problem, and that’s still out there.

The last time I spoke with the two of you, you mentioned having an idea-bin of sorts for the 400th episode. Where are you at now with it?

Binder – We want to do something that isn’t just another episode of the show. We want to do something that looks back upon the show in some meta way. It’s not Jack Tripper sitting on the couch saying ‘what happened on Three’s Company last week,’ but something where the show is about the show in some way and not just the case, though there will be some case. That’s what we think our 400th should be.

I know there’s already been a big episode for Kasie this season. Is there one coming up for Palmer or Ducky?

Binder – Things are still subject to change because it’s still early, but there are only two people on the show who have been there from the beginning — Gibbs and Ducky.

Cardea – McGee came in on episode 7, but the originals were Gibbs and Ducky.

Binder – McGee is an honorary original cast member, but on day one it was Gibbs and Ducky. I think they will have an outsized role in the 400th because of that.

Related News Be sure to get some information regarding Tuesday night’s new NCIS!

What do you want to see on NCIS season 17 episode 10?

Be sure to share right now in the comments, and be sure to also stick around for some other news when it comes to the series. (Photo: CBS.)

Love TV? Be sure to like CarterMatt on Facebook for more updates!