NCIS Says Farewell to Ducky: Who Returned for David McCallum Tribute? — Plus, Grade the Episode

The following contains spoilers from the Feb. 19 episode of CBS’ NCIS, titled “The Stories We Leave Behind.”

CBS’ NCIS this Monday night said a very fond farewell to Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard and, in turn, his portrayer, late cast member David McCallum. How did the extremely emotional script by cast member Brian Dietzen and executive producer Scott Williams capture the death’s impact on not just current colleagues but past team members, as well?

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“The Stories We Leave Behind” opened with Dietzen’s Dr. Jimmy Palmer stopping to pick up Dr. Mallard — who was at long last home from the book tour that had kept him off-screen as of late — only to discover that his mentor had quietly passed away during the night.

Explaining that choice of a cold open, Dietzen told TVLine, “So many people I’ve talked to have felt, like, a real loss” with McCallum’s passing. “For the people that are my dad’s generation, who grew up watching him in Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Great Escape, and then watched him in NCIS, you’re talking about 50 years of entertainment, so I felt that it was really important to allow people who loved this character, but also loved this man, to be able to share in this this moment of communal grief, to have that, ‘S–t, why did this have to happen?’ moment together.”

Dr. Palmer’s heartbreaking discovery teed up a distinctly different, sadder version of NCIS‘ opening theme.

“Our wonderful editor, Greg Gontz, pointed out that to come out of that [sad] moment with the very upbeat, energized NCIS theme felt almost disrespectful in a way,” Dietzen recalls. “So, he remembered a cue from, I want to say, 12 to 14 years ago that was our opening title sequence music but done very melodically. Our wonderful composer, Brian Kirk, then did the redo of it and made it fit correctly, and we took out some of the explosions at the end and put in more appropriate visuals, and I think it turned out well. I’m glad that we were able to do it.”

The episode’s second scene, set in the big orange room and abundant with memorial flowers, established that every NCIS office had paid their respects with local flora — roses from Los Angeles, magnolias from New Orleans, wattles from Sydney and cherry blossoms from the Far East office. We also glimpsed an envelope addressed from Gibbs in Alaska to McGee, inside of which was an old Polaroid of the two of them with Ducky.

The unanticipated Case of the Week involved a young woman who had reached out to Ducky to ask for his help in clearing the name of her father, which as of late was being smeared by a U.S. Senate candidate. The team jumped into the investigation and, with one final assist via a cryptic clue left in one of Ducky’s journals, found the smoking gun that connected the brazen politico to the Marine’s heretofore-suspicious death.

All along the way, though, Jimmy and other characters flashed back to memorable conversations and cases shared with the sage M.E.

At episode’s end, just prior to everyone leaving HQ for Ducky’s funeral, Jess and the others gave Jimmy a moment alone in the lab. Moments later, who comes strolling in but Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, played by series vet Michael Weatherly, not looking like a day has passed. (Check out BTS pics of Weatherly’s surprise comeback.)

After gifting Jimmy with a black bowtie that he had picked up en route to the States (and then helping him tie it), Tony did his best Dr. Mallard voice while vividly recounting a Ducky-like anecdote. Tony then assured Jimmy that when we die, it’s not just “stories we leave behind,” as had been said earlier — but also the people whose lives we touched. McGee then came to fetch the guys, and Jimmy turned off the lights before leaving.

The episode closed with an In Memoriam card that read: “In Memory of Our Dear Friend and Colleague David McCallum — We Will Miss You.”

What did you think of NCIS‘ tribute to Ducky and David McCallum? And if you have any questions for the cast or EPs, I will be on-set Tuesday for the filming of the franchise’s 1,000th episode — email!

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