Television

NCIS Season 21 Episode 2 Review: The Stories We Leave Behind

Saying goodbye to Ducky was difficult for his colleagues at NCIS and viewers.

The current incarnation of the NCIS Major Crimes Response Team bid farewell to longtime medical examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard on NCIS Season 21 Episode 2.

But only about half of this squad really knew Dr. Mallard, who started fading into retirement about four seasons ago: Jimmy Palmer (his protege), Kasie Hines (his scribe), and Tim McGee, the only agent to go back nearly as far as he did.

That isn’t to say the rest of them didn’t know and respect the legend of Ducky. But of those, only Nick Torres and Director Vance had much professional overlap with him.

Otherwise, Ducky was that cool old guy who would stop by and maybe consult when he wasn’t busy with a book tour or a teaching job. And let’s not forget his official role as NCIS historian, combining two of his passions.

So, how well did the episode handle the death of Ducky, necessitated by the passage of David McCallum at age 90 on September 25, 2023?

Well, if ever an episode cried out for being extended, this was it. Unfortunately, there were too many elements that a farewell to Ducky cried out for to fit into 42 minutes.

That isn’t to say that the script co-written by Brian Dietzen, McCallum’s screen partner for two decades as Jimmy Palmer, and longtime executive producer Scott Williams didn’t bring back the Ducky viewers grew to love over the lengthy series.

The spotlight fell on Ducky the Philosopher with well-curated clips as flashbacks from the longer established characters such as McGee, Vance, and Jimmy. 

And, as funerals cause the living to reflect, this was an organic way to bring back choice Ducky scenes from the past. These reminiscences that showed Duck in his glory were the most successful part of this tribute.

Also, Palmer dealing with more grief in his life showed how much Jimmy has grown. And a lot of that credit should go to his mentor, Ducky.

However, wedging a case of the week into a short time frame wasn’t ideal. That’s where an expanded time frame would have been helpful.

Even holding one earlier comedy and expanding NCIS to 90 minutes would have been helpful since the following NCIS: Hawaii was the second episode of a two-parter and shouldn’t have been held.

And indeed, those ads in the first half-hour would have sold for a higher price.

It didn’t help that it wasn’t a particularly suspenseful case. As soon as the wealthy businessman running for higher office on the back of a dead Marine was unveiled, it was evident who the villain of the piece was.

The only upside of the case is that the agents, only half of whom would have worked closely with Ducky, had to figure out how his mind worked. Still, this storyline wasn’t worth the precious minutes it ate up.

Finally, we have to talk about the elephant that wasn’t in the room: Gibbs. Ducky was Gibbs’ closest friend on the team. And Jethro doesn’t show up for his funeral?

Maybe DiNozzo was the better choice as the guest star since some philosophying was required. Could you see Gibbs doing that: “Rule 39: Treat people nicely when they’re alive, not just when they’re dead.”

Yes, Tony sparkled in his cameo, especially his Ducky impression. He was a good choice if you could only have one surprise guest.

But again, more time would have allowed for more returning stars, which viewers would have loved. As it stands, they should feel a little short-changed.

His colleagues and viewers have now lost the grand old man of NCIS. The elder spokesman is now, what, McGee? He doesn’t bring that same gravitas.

Some would point to Mark Harmon’s departure on NCIS Season 19 Episode 4 as the beginning of the end for the franchise flagship.

But Gibbs can walk back in the door (we wish he had). Ducky, as essential a character to the series, won’t. And there’s an inevitable loss of civility in the bullpen as a result.

Despite being known by many by his nickname, Dr. Mallard had no truck with them. To him, Abby was “Abigail,” Ellie was “Eleanor,” and Tim was “Timothy.”

Gibbs and Ducky had a special relationship, going back to when a younger Dr. Mallard saved an even younger Gibbs, a story finally told on NCIS Season 18 Episode 2.

Because of that bond, Gibbs was the only person who could call Dr. Mallard “Ducky” to his face, and Ducky was the only one who would call Gibbs “Jethro.”

In his day, Ducky balanced all those action-prone agents with his wide-ranging knowledge base.

He was an intellectual badass and had no qualms about sharing his knowledge with sometimes eye-rolling coworkers.

Dr. Mallard played a crucial role in NCIS investigations, which gained direction and impetus from his autopsies of the victims.

He also talked to those victims, although they hardly needed to be put more at ease.

He also was one of TV’s earliest psychological profilers, helping his squad mates to understand the killers they were pursuing.

Viewers are going to miss having Ducky, the kind of eccentric uncle or grandfather they didn’t have, occasionally visiting their living rooms anymore.

Rest in peace, Ducky. Your absence will lessen NCIS. 

What did you think of Ducky’s farewell?

Who did you want to attend the funeral that didn’t?

What’s your fondest memory of Ducky?

Comment below.

Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on X.

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