'NCIS': Maria Bello's Final Episode Ends With a Bittersweet Goodbye

Time to say goodbye: On Tuesday's episode, Sloane moved on to begin a new chapter in her life. But did she and Gibbs finally kiss?

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Tuesday's episode of NCIS.

NCIS said goodbye to one of its own.

Series regular Maria Bello exited stage right on Tuesday's episode of the CBS procedural after three seasons as Dr. Jacqueline "Jack" Sloane, when her past came back to haunt her and ended with a bittersweet goodbye for the former army lieutenant-turned-forensic psychologist in her farewell.

For a minute now, Sloane had been toying with possibly leaving her post at NCIS and turning her badge in for a less grueling lifestyle on a Costa Rican beach. During a conversation with Gibbs at the top of the episode, Sloane confessed she was ready to move on. "I'm serious, I need a change. I'm ready for sun and sand and not tasting murder every single day," she told her friend and colleague, before showing him a home she's thinking about buying. "I actually found a place by the beach. I'm putting in an offer."

But after Sloane's name was discovered on the side of an abandoned school bus in Afghanistan, she and Gibbs (Mark Harmon) packed their bags and embarked on a dangerous mission overseas to find the group of missing girls who were kidnapped from the bus and who they believe were captured by the Taliban. While Sloane was prepared to dive in headfirst into saving the girls the second they stepped foot in Afghanistan, Gibbs warned her it was imperative they be smart about their approach with young girls' lives in danger.

As it became clear the magnitude of the situation in Afghanistan, Sloane reached her boiling point when an old friend and acquaintance, Darya (one of the kidnapped girls), who helped save her life years earlier, was thrown off a truck and left to die. (There had been some thought that perhaps Darya was in on the whole ruse. She clearly wasn't.)

"I'm done," a tearful Sloane exclaimed to Gibbs. "This is why I want out. This. We chase bad guys. We put them away and nothing ever changes except for us. Darya risked her life to help me. We're all so twisted we couldn't see that basic act of humanity for what it was. So call it what you want: quitting, running, I don't care. I'm out. I'm done!"

Sloane and Gibbs have a tense argument about what they should do next, following her emotional plea to leave the rigors of NCIS life. And her plan consists of arming up with all the ammo she can find and charging in and go on the attack... alone. Gibbs, though, wasn't interested in hearing about her suicide mission. Instead, they ended on a compromise. They'll get as much intel as they can and go in together to save the abducted girls.

What they found out was a tad more disconcerting: It wasn't Darya who was the mole but Nabi, Sloane and Gibbs' local translator and guide, who was responsible for the girls' kidnapping and who played a role in Darya's death. When Sloane confronted him, she learned the true depths of his hatred of Darya and her dreams for the girls (which included teaching them English, math), instead agreeing to sell the girls into slavery because he didn't agree with her vision for their futures. (Apparently, that was an unexpected development as he had only planned to get them married off to "good men.") Thankfully, Sloane and Gibbs were able to save the kidnapped girls after threatening Nabi with violence (and death), reuniting them with their relieved families.

Patrick Wymore/CBS

But then came time to say goodbye. Was Sloane going to return to NCIS? Or fulfill her dream of living comfortably with her dream beach house in Costa Rica? After a roller-coaster experience in Afghanistan, Sloane felt reinvigorated and that she was meant to stay put and help keep the villagers safe from Taliban control. 

"I think you probably already know," Sloane said, after Gibbs approached her following their successful mission. "You're never going to Costa Rica," he stated. 

"And you know I'm not coming back with you either... We're down a leader. The town's still vulnerable to Taliban attacks, and hey, I did say I needed a change," Sloane joked. "I have loved my time with NCIS. Been a really good path. But you don't need me anymore."

"I'm not sure about that," Gibbs said, hoping to sway her one last time. An emotional Sloane brushed off his comments, knowing that she was meant to stay in the field, not being a pencil-pusher or enjoying retired life somewhere. "Come on, I don't belong behind a desk. I never did. And you're right, I was running. I don't want to do that anymore," she said. "I think I can make a difference. I want to make a difference here. And I know you understand that."

And while Sloane and Gibbs have danced around their mutual attraction for a while now, they finally sealed it with a kiss. Unfortunately, it was a goodbye kiss. "As for you, if you ever want a visit...," Sloane said before she and Gibbs shared a lingering bittersweet kiss.

"Bye, Jack," Gibbs said to Sloane as he walked out of her life, possibly forever.

Bello's exit was first reported in July. The actress joined NCIS in season 15 and appeared in 73 episodes, including eight this season, before her departure. 

NCIS star Brian Dietzen recently opened up to ET about his character, Jimmy Palmer, losing his wife to COVID-19 in a heartbreaking episode earlier this season.

"I certainly think that it's more of a processing than anything else. I told the writers and the producers on our show that what I really didn't want to see with Jimmy Palmer was for him to lose his eternal optimism because of something like this. And I think that all of us were totally on the same page," Dietzen shared in February. "They said, 'Oh gosh, yeah, we need to have Jimmy be that light that's on the team for sure.' And if there's ever a test for that light, it's a loss of this nature. So I think that moving forward, we're going to definitely see Jimmy Palmer process this more. And I've already certainly shot other episodes where he's had to have moments of reflection upon what's happened. But a lot of what he's going through and a lot of the culmination of how he's going to deal with it, we do get to see in this week's episode, which was a pleasure to be able to perform."

NCIS airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For more, watch below.

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