NCIS loves Thanksgiving. It’s pretty standard for a long-running show to incorporate holidays into its storytelling, but the procedural drama has played the Turkey Day card countless times over the years, and the results are usually pretty great.
Because there have been eight (!) Thanksgiving-themed episodes over the years, we decided not to focus on one, but to do a definitive ranking of all of them, so that you can best determine which ones to watch during your own Thanksgiving celebration. Or, you can just watch them in ascending order! Here’s what we came up with:
8. ‘Ready or Not’ (Season 15, Episode 9)
The team is called upon to find an international arms dealer who killed an MI6 officer. It’s a solid enough premise, nothing too special in terms of NCIS cases, but the real heart of the episode is with Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) and Delilah Fielding (Margo Harshman), with the former driving the latter to the hospital when her labor starts three weeks early.
Some great character stuff in these moments, though “Ready or Not” ranks lower on our Thanksgiving list because the Thanksgiving element is not front-and-center.
7. ‘Turkey Trot’ (Season 20 Episode 8)
This is the first Thanksgiving episode after Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) left. Fortunately, the rest of the team made up for his absence with an exciting story based around a Thanksgiving 5K marathon. An unknown shooter incites chaos at the marathon, and the NCIS team, led by Alden Parker (Gary Cole) has to spring into action and figure things out.
There’s a secondary plot involving Kasie (Diona Reasonover) joining Knight (Katrina Law) for Thanksgiving dinner. Not an all-timer but a solid holiday outing.
6. ‘Shell Shock (Part II)’ (Season 10, Episode 7)
NCIS has always prioritized the characters over the cases, but the two-part “Shell Shock” was more of a case-driven affair. There’s some intense stuff involving PTSD (as the title suggests), as well as some really emotionally moving scenes involving Ziva (Cote de Pablo) and her struggle to find happiness during the holiday season due to it coinciding with her dead sister’s birthday.
5. ‘Sins of the Father’ (Season 9, Episode 10)
Thanksgiving is about setting aside family differences and sitting down with loves ones to express thankfulness for the good fortune that the year provided. The thing is, that’s a lot easier said than done. Sometimes family members are irksome, or they do things that drive you crazy, as seen in this charming episode about Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) and his strained relationship with his father.
4. ‘Enemy Combatant’ (Season 14, Episode 8)
This episode is a showcase for Eleanor Bishop (Emily Wickensham). The character has to juggle personal and professional complications when a mission to gather evidence for a Navy chaplain murder forces her to reconsider her previous career with the NSA, AND she she hosts her brother for Thanksgiving. It’s exciting/stressful to see Bishop have to switch between her different selves, and it’s a reminder how much of an asset she was for NCIS.
3. ‘Grounded’ (Season 12, Episode 9)
This one is fun and relatable for anyone who’s been stuck traveling during the holidays. DiNozzo and Eleanor Bishop are stuck at the airport after all of the arriving flights are delayed, and they find themselves caught in a tense stand-off with a killer who stole someone else’s identity.
The banter between DiNozzo and Bishop is top-notch, and seeing them struggle to makes of the case in the irregular setting is enough to make this one a must-watch this holiday season.
2. ‘Blood Brothers’ (Season 13, Episode 10)
Not a major episode in terms of events, but a knockout in terms of quiet, memorable character moments. We get to see each of the core NCIS members navigate the holidays in their own way, which includes confronting some unpleasant truths about themselves, and coming terms with the way they feel about others. Sometimes they say what they mean, and other times they don’t. It’s an unusual outing but it’s all the more memorable (and Thanksgiving-appropriate) as a result.
1. ‘Child’s Play’ (Season 7, Episode 9)
What a charming episode. We have a good opener, with a body dressed as a scarecrow being found, and a dynamite gag running throughout, which is Ducky (David McCallum) conducting a morbid criminal investigation while trying to plan the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Abby tries to make cranberry sauce for Ducky’s turkey, Gibbs brings dinner rolls, and given McCallum’s recent passing, it’s nice to see all of the OG NCIS characters sitting down for a meal together.
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