Things You Never Noticed In The First Episode Of NCIS


Before there was Tiva, before Sloane (Maria Bello) and Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) arrived on the scene, before the Port-to-Port Killer or the Frog, there was “Yankee White.” The very first episode of NCIS (if you don’t count the backdoor pilot on JAG) premiered September 23, 2003 and introduced a wider audience to Gibbs (Mark Harmon), Abby (Pauley Perrette), Tony (Michael Weatherly), and Ducky (David McCallum). It was also the debut of Secret Service Agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander), who would become an NCIS team member by the end of the episode.

For such a historic moment in the NCIS universe, the episode is a relatively minimalist affair, mostly taking place on Air Force One. When a Navy Commander on the plane with the president has a sudden stroke, and dies, NCIS takes over the investigation. They come to find that not only did the victim not die of natural causes, but that the whole thing may be part of a larger plot to assassinate the commander-in-chief.

In typical NCIS fashion, the episode is full of enjoyable character moments and satisfying twists and turns — and there are also a lot of little details you may have missed, the last time you watched. Here are some of the best.


NCIS, with special guest star George W. Bush


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One of the weirder things about the inaugural episode of NCIS is how the then-president, George W. Bush, appears as a small side character. Of course, it’s not surprising for the president to have a presence on the episode, considering he’s the ultimate target of the attacks on Air Force One. But “Yankee White” doesn’t just mention him: they have an actor playing him, in several scenes.

In fact, the character of President Bush is the first to have a line in the entire series. He’s played by Steve Bridges, and if you were left impressed with his Dubya impression, know that he wasn’t just some random TV actor with a particularly good Texas drawl. Bridges was a famous impersonator of political figures, with President Bush being one of his most notable imitations. In fact, he had previously played President Bush on an episode of JAG, and Bridges’ Bush was so popular that he did a bit at the White House Correspondent’s Association dinner where he performed with the actual President Bush (via BBC).

Does the fact that the President Bush from the JAG and NCIS universe met the real President Bush present some kind of timeline paradox? Could it be responsible for everything going on in 2020? Sadly, “Yankee White” doesn’t provide any answers.


A rocky introduction for a regular guest star


Another character we meet early on in the episode is FBI Special Agent Fornell (Joe Spano). Fornell would go on to be one of the series’ most frequent and longest-running guest stars, appearing in nearly 50 episodes over 16 seasons. However, in the first episode, it seems that the show had not hammered down their plan for the character, as there are a couple of discrepancies regarding how he is portrayed here, versus later on in the series.

First, in “Yankee White,” the character is referred to as Tom, even though the show later gives him the name Tobias. There’s also a large plot hole in his relationship with Gibbs. One of the first times we see the NCIS team leader in action is when he and Ducky board Air Force One under the guise of being a team of local medical examiners, so as to not immediately tip off the FBI that they are planning on taking over the investigation: Fornell buys this explanation, until Gibbs orders the plane to take off back to DC, and he shuts the door in the agent’s face.

While that harebrained scheme is a bit overwrought, its also at odds with what we later find out about Gibbs and Fornell’s relationship. As it turns out, Agent Fornell was once married to and had a child with Gibbs’ ex-wife, Diane (Heather Scobie and Melinda McGraw). Just because they shared a spouse doesn’t mean that Gibbs and Fornell would have been close, but surely Fornell would have known enough about Gibbs to recognize that he wasn’t actually a medical examiner’s assistant when he boarded Air Force One.


That Harrison Ford Movie


The big twist of “Yankee White” is slowly alluded to throughout the episode as Gibbs tours the plane making notes about its layout. More specifically, Gibbs spends much of the hour comparing the actual Air Force One to a movie about a plot to hijack the plane that he only refers to as, “That Harrison Ford movie.” As it turns out, the actual plot to assassinate the president was partially derived from That Harrison Ford Movie, which is how Gibbs is able to intercede before it’s too late.

The vagueness with which Gibbs references the movie that eventually helps him crack the terrorist’s plan makes it sound like a fake movie within the NCIS universe. After all, an action film set on Air Force One where Harrison Ford plays the President of the US, who must go Rambo on a group of terrorists, does sound like a made up movie that would exist in the same world as Caf-Pow.

And yet, That Harrison Ford Movie is actually very real. 1997’s Air Force One had a brief moment of cultural relevance thanks to its strong box-office performance and solid reviews. In the film, the titular plane is hijacked when — as Gibb’s puts it — a “Secret Service turncoat” helps a group of terrorists access the plane’s armory. One thing that Gibbs fails to mention in the episode is the rather hilarious name of that movie’s turncoat: Special Agent Gibbs (Xander Berkeley).

Abby’s patriotic accessory


Of all the characters we’re introduced to in the first episode of NCIS, none are quite as eye-catching as forensic scientist Abby Sciuto. In a world of stuffy secret service agents and Tony’s yuppie haircut, Abby’s goth aesthetic and penchant for accessorizing makes her feel like a breath of fresh. Throughout the 15 seasons she was a series regular, there were many notable Abby fashion moments — and “Yankee White” is no exception.

One thing Abby is known for are her necklaces, which are usually quite bold. In “Yankee White,” we see her rocking a large silver pendant, shaped like an eagle, whose talons are ready to catch some prey. This is both a stunning statement piece, and also possibly a nod to the themes of the episode. Just by its premise alone, NCIS is a show steeped in American culture, but the US government plays an especially important role in “Yankee White,” given that the President himself is the target of the would-be assassin. It’s fitting, then, that Abby is wearing a necklace depicting an eagle, an image that is strongly associated with the United States.

NCIS would go on to reach higher-highs than “Yankee White,” but for a first episode, it more than fulfilled its duty.


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