How Did NCIS Say Goodbye To David McCallum's Ducky? Here's What We Know About The Special Episode After Actor's Death

NCIS paid tribute to longtime cast member David McCallum with a special tribute episode, incorporating the death of his character, medical examiner Donald Ducky Mallard, into the show.

Published on Feb 22, 2024  |  08:55 AM IST |  138.7K
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NCIS Said Goodbye To David McCallum's Ducky After Actor's Death (PC: Getty Images)

David McCallum was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on September 19, 1933. He died on September 25, 2023, just days after turning 90. On Monday 19 February, the NCIS costars to the role he played for 20 years, bid him farewell in an episode that summoned laughter and tears in equal measure, both onscreen and off.

NCIS is an American military police procedural television series and the first installment in the NCIS media franchise. The series revolves around a fictional team of special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, combining elements of the military drama and police procedural genres with comedy.

How did NCIS say goodbye to David McCallum's Ducky? Exploring the episode in detail

David McCallum beloved on NCIS for his role as the eccentric chief medical examiner Dr. Donald Ducky Mallard since 2003, finally received his emotional send-off in Monday's episode titled “The Stories We Leave Behind”. The episode begins with Jimmy Palmer (Brien Dietzen) entering Ducky's home with coffee and greets Ducky's corgi, Solo. He discusses classical music and art on the walls while opening curtains to let morning sunlight enter his mentor's bedroom. “Dr. Mallard,” he calls Ducky who is on the bed. Then his smile slides off his face. “Ducky?” he calls again.

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Jimmy bends to rest his hand on the side of Ducky’s face before sinking to the bed, curling his fingers around Ducky’s hand as the Bach plays on. Tributes pour into the Big Orange room after credits, including an envelope from Naktok Bay, Alaska, featuring McGee, Ducky, and Gibbs. All spin-off offices are represented with magnolias from New Orleans, roses from L.A., golden wattles from Sydney, plumerias from Hawai'i, and cherry blossoms from the Far East office.

NCIS (Getty)

Vance (Rocky Carroll) reminds the crew that their loved ones die a second death when their stories stop being told. They will solve a crime but are here for the team's stories about Ducky. Palmer feels guilty for not visiting Ducky the night before his death, and stands alone in the NCIS historian's office, filled with books, mugs, memorabilia, and photos of the team.

As Palmer takes it in, he recalls arriving at a Gibbs/DiNozzo/Ziva crime scene on the back of Ducky’s ATV before he’s interrupted by an angry teenager wanting to know why Ducky hasn’t called her back.

She’s Serena Zawadski (Olivia Sanabia), and Ducky performed the autopsy on her father after he was killed in Afghanistan in 2013. She contacted Ducky when Allan Berger (David Starzyk), a city councilman running for Senate, started publically calling out her father as a deserter who was found shot to death in an Afghan brothel with heroin in his system. Not only is it incredibly upsetting, but the bad press is making it tough for Serena to apply to colleges.

Ducky promised to help clear her father’s name, but Kasie (Diona Reasonover) finds that his autopsy of Daniel Zawadski is pretty much all redacted. Alden Parker and Vance contact Berger, who promises to stop mentioning Zawadski for political gain. Berger's family owns BergTel Technology, and Zawadski was his bodyguard during Kabul power grid reconstruction. Vance comments on Berger's twitchy reaction to Ducky's autopsy, indicating suspicion.

The team is working on solving Ducky's final case, reminiscing about their adventures, including a disagreement over firearm ownership, treating McGee for poison ivy, learning about Gibbs' loss of Shannon and Kelly, and examining the body of Vance's old friend Tyler Owens, who may have switched identities with Vance decades ago. “He provided a little glue to keep us all together,” Vance says.

NCIS (Getty)

At Ducky’s home, Palmer walks Knight through some of Ducky’s favorite mementos, including a photo of his mother, his motorcycle helmet, and the heirloom model of a Mallard train that used to be on display in the lab. After forcing himself to use past tense to refer to Ducky, Palmer grabs his detailed case journals so the team can go through them looking for Zawadski’s entry. Ducky, who didn’t even have a junk drawer, left a cryptic final entry, “Our answer lies with the team, however cluttered it might be.” 

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Serena receives a voicemail from her dad confirming Berger's mistake. McGee and Torres find an unhoused vet named Jonesy in D.C., who was close with Zawadski in Afghanistan. Jonesy accepts a sandwich at NCIS HQ but remains hesitant about his memories of his buddy. Palmer, meanwhile, is keeping himself busy by obsessively cleaning Kasie’s lab, which is home to a big black floral arrangement that has a skull design tucked in the middle. 

In a flashback, Ducky encourages Palmer to keep going despite adversity, and he hangs his drawings, leaving him in charge of the lab, a memorable episode from the series. Palmer quietly admits he doesn’t want to be in autopsy right now, lamenting the time, the hours, the stories he and Ducky shared. “Why do we do that? Why do we hold back on telling people every day how much they mean to us?”

NCIS (Getty)

Kasie assures Palmer that Ducky knows about his actions and expresses her love for him. They prepare to talk to Jonesy, who shares that Berger was involved in heroin smuggling in Kabul. Zawadski went off base, never returned, and Berger destroyed the logbook where he signed out, threatening Jonesy with harm if he spoke up.

Berger is brought in for questioning, and Parker and Vance keep him busy while the team searches Ducky's files for evidence. McGee discovers the answer lies behind the team's junk drawer. McGee hands Parker a file with evidence that Zawadski's body was moved hours after his death, and only heroin byproducts were found on his clothes. Berger, accepting bribes from smugglers, used his family's influence to cover up his former bodyguard's murder. Jonesy delivers the coup de grâce with the ripped-out logbook accusation.

Berger suspends his Senate campaign, Zawadski's discharge is reversed, and Ducky's recommendation for Serena's tuition assistance is landed. The team gathers in an autopsy before Ducky's funeral, and Palmer eulogizes his eulogy. In a flashback, Ducky reminds Palmer that change is sad but also the essence of life, and that his pain is a small price to pay for his peace. Palmer expressed gratitude for his departure and the impact it had on his life. “I don’t mourn his departure. I’m grateful for it. Our pain is a small price to pay for his peace.”

ALSO READ: NCIS: Is Mark Harmon planning to reprise his iconic role as Leroy Jethro Gibbs? Here's everything we know

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