The first episode of NCIS starts out with an incident aboard Air Force One, where a Navy officer guarding the "nuclear football" is poisoned. While the Secret Service and FBI are arguing jurisdiction, Gibbs, Ducky, and Dinozzo board the plane and basically steal the crime scene.

They pull this off by having Ducky pretend to be the local ME, and Gibbs and Dinozzo pretending to be his assistants. This fools the FBI long enough to get them off the plane. A major plot for the rest of the episode is the jockeying for control over the body between NCIS/FBI/SS.

Except -- the FBI lead on scene was Fornell, who has a long history with Gibbs (they share an ex-wife, for example) and NCIS in general. In the later seasons (the ones I've seen) the two behave as if they had been friends for decades. They certainly have no problem with joint investigations when their jurisdictions overlap.

Is it ever explained in a future episode why Fornell didn't immediately recognize Gibbs when he got on the plane?

  • 1
    You mean the very, very first episode? What's essentially the pilot? If I had to guess (which I am) it's an artifact of it being a pilot... and no one really knows the back story of the characters yet... so it's completely possible that, in the original draft, Gibbs and Fornell don't have a connection... and then the writers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to give them a convoluted backstory.
    – Catija
    Aug 29, 2015 at 1:28
  • @Catija the pilot was the two part episode in Jag, which NCIS spinned off from. Same as they did later for NCIS LA and New Orleans. Backdoor pilots.
    – cde
    Aug 29, 2015 at 1:43
  • @cde ah. I've seen every episode of NCIS and had no clue it was spun off from JAG... which I've never seen at all. Though I suppose it makes sense... still, the connection between Gibbs and Fornell probably was created later on.
    – Catija
    Aug 29, 2015 at 1:46
  • @catija I think it was season 10 or 11, they even bring back one of the JAG characters as a now private Attorney to protect Gibbs from the Federal IA agent that almost had the whole Mexican assassination thing uncovered. But yea, the Fornell thing was an early retcon.
    – cde
    Aug 29, 2015 at 1:50
  • @Catija Season 10 finale
    – cde
    Aug 29, 2015 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


No. It's a known continuity issue, along with his name in the first episode (Tom instead of Tobias). Never explained publicly. Even in later seasons though, Gibbs and Fornell outwardly portray the antagonistic inter-departamental grudge match, the typical jurisdictional fighting that competing government agencies are known for. Reverse Frenemies.

  • There is one scene season 3 or 4, Gibbs and Fornell have a shouting matching in the NCIS squad room, until they get to the elevator and then it's all cooperative from there.
    – cde
    Aug 29, 2015 at 0:24

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