The NCIS team on CBS’ long-running procedural are smart cookies. Solving crimes requires different types of brains, and we rank their intelligence.
CBS’ long-running NCIS follows a group of special investigators as they solve crimes related to American military personnel. As a result, there’s a lot of dealing with intelligence — that is, sensitive information that could make or break cases. This list doesn’t deal with that specific type of intelligence.
Instead, we’re examining 10 of the main characters from the 17 seasons NCIS has been on the air in order to rank them according to intelligence. There are many different types of intelligence in the world of NCIS. Some characters are emotionally intelligent — good at reading people and interpreting lies. Others are academically intelligent — able to use logical reasoning to puzzle together clues, or holding degrees that allow them to be experts in certain fields. No one in the world of NCIS is unintelligent, but some have a much wider range of knowledge than others.
Tony DiNozzo leads off the list not because he isn’t intelligent, but because he reacts to cases more so with emotion than intelligence. Fans don’t often get to see him putting the pieces of the puzzles together.
Tony is good at reading people, despite his tendency to annoy his team members in the early seasons of the series. He’s often able to quickly put it together when people are hiding something, or figure out what someone’s next step is. That’s where the bulk of his intelligence lies instead of in logic.
Nick Torres has only been a main character for three seasons, which is part of the reason he doesn’t move up higher on the list. Most of his intelligence (so far) rests in his ability to deceive people.
Torres was originally recruited by NCIS for work as a deep cover agent. He maintains over a dozen different aliases during his time as an undercover operative, working on jobs that place him in dangerous situations all over the world. So far, he hasn’t shown himself to be the kind of teammate who could solve a case on his own if needed, unlike most of the people who rank higher than him. Like Tony, he’s good with people, and good at his job, but logic and academics are not Nick’s strong suit.
Because he’s following in Dr. Mallard’s footsteps, it would be instinctive to bump someone like Dr. Palmer higher on the list. Ducky, after all, seems to know something about everything. Jimmy Palmer isn’t quite as experienced as his mentor, however, and that’s why he ranks lower.
Palmer is incredibly intelligent when it comes to the specifics of his job, but there’s a lot about the world he doesn’t know. Of the main group of characters, Palmer is certainly the most naive of the bunch. With more experience, his intelligence will only grow.
Like the others who ranked below her, Ziva’s placement on the list doesn’t mean she isn’t intelligent. There are, after all, different kinds of intelligence.
Ziva’s strengths lie primarily in combat and her associated skills. Like Tony, she’s good at reading people. Also like Tony, she tends to react to situations rather than wait to put all the pieces together, though she has become slightly less reactionary as her time with the series progressed. Ziva speaks multiple languages and has a working knowledge of the military systems of multiple countries.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs
As a team leader for at least two decades with NCIS, it wouldn’t be surprising for Gibbs to be near the top of the list. He doesn’t crack the top five, however, thanks to the rest of the incredibly intelligent team he’s had around him.
Gibbs has the benefit of military training for years before his time with NCIS, as well as training from one of the best (in his eyes) NCIS agents after that. He might not be the most book smart of characters, but he’s got great street smarts and perception. Not only can he understand people’s minds and motivations, but he’s also more logical than most of the agents he trains.
Before joining Gibbs’ NCIS team, McGee was little more than tech support for the agency. In fact, the first time he worked with Gibbs’ team, that’s exactly the role he played. He’s since shown his intelligence encompasses more than just computer coding.
While training under Tony, Tim becomes a capable agent, with emotional as well as academic intelligence. He’s also written novels in his spare time and become a mentor to other agents.
Introduced as a graduate school student under Ducky’s tutelage, Kasie became a more prominent member of the team when Abby left the series. She’s become the resident forensic specialist.
Though she doesn’t have the exact same level of skill as Abby did, she’s been holding her own. Kasie has proved herself a capable scientist, and someone whose own knowledge base outranks many of the long-time characters.
Donald “Ducky” Mallard
Leading off the top three is medical examiner Donald Mallard. Ducky, as he’s affectionately known by his friends and coworkers, has made his career out of giving a voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves.
Through his work with NCIS, Ducky repeatedly proves himself capable of figuring out the meaning behind the tiniest details. He also has a wealth of knowledge on a wide range of topics, always having an anecdote related to a case to share.
One of the newer members of Gibbs’ team, Ellie is certainly one smart cookie. She nabs the number two spot thanks to her seriously analytical mind.
Ellie began her time with NCIS as an employee of a different agency. She worked as a data analyst for the NSA, tracking files and communications from potential threats. Her abilities to comb through data quickly and work cases like logic puzzles have made her a huge asset to the team. Like McGee before her, her time in the field has served to sharpen her people skills as well.
The top spot in intelligence couldn’t really go to any other NCIS character, could it? Abby Sciuto was an NCIS forensic specialist for more than 15 years before she left the series behind.
During her time on the series, there wasn’t a chemical component she couldn’t uncover, a code she couldn’t crack, or a computer system she couldn’t find her way into. Sometimes, she needed help, but she always knew exactly who to involve to get results the fastest. Abby isn’t just book smart, she’s also got serious investigative skills, a pragmatic approach to divvying up work, and a knack for managing her time.
Abby remains the smartest character to be part of the main cast.
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