Ralph Waite, Mark Harmon
Though NCIS season finales are known for being action-packed cliff-hangers, the final episode of Season 11 may have fans reaching for tissues rather than sitting on the edge of their seats. The episode will pay tribute to actor Ralph Waite, who died unexpectedly in February.
"Everyone involved really wanted to do this," creator Gary Glasberg tells TVGuide.com. "We wanted to do this properly and say goodbye to a character that we all really enjoyed writing over the years, and goodbye to an actor that meant a lot to us. ... This was such a significant event for us, both on-screen and off, that we wanted to handle it properly and do it well, and let people mourn the passing of Gibbs' dad with him."
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in the finale, titled "Honor Thy Father," Gibbs (Mark Harmon) returns to his childhood home after learning that his father Jackson (Waite) has passed away. In addition to paying homage to Waite, the plot will reveal a few things about Gibbs as well.
"It's a really touching, emotional look back and looking forward at Gibbs and the loss of his father," Glasberg explained. "[Fans will get] more insight into what makes Gibbs who he is, some stuff from his childhood and morally, just who he is."
The episode will also explore more of Jackson Gibbs' past through flashbacks, with Rob Norton playing a young version of Jackson.
At the same time, Gibbs' help is needed with the crime of the week, when the crew investigates a fire on a Navy ship that may have been set intentionally to allow terrorists who were being detained on the ship to escape. "He clearly has his mind elsewhere," Glasberg notes.
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With the show undergoing so many changes this year (as well as Glasberg getting ready to launch the spin-off NCIS: New Orleans, which CBS recently ordered to series), producers wanted a finale that would bring the season full circle. And once producers learned of Waite's sudden passing, any doubts they had were laid to rest.
"We wanted to do a finale that was a little different this season," Glasberg explained. "It's no secret that Season 11 had all kinds of challenges that came up — Ziva's departure, Bishop's arrival, and then we did the New Orleans episodes. A lot has happened, and we wanted to not necessarily do another cliff-hanger, but do something that informed our characters and brought our family and our team together. ... I really wanted to just sort of solidify the team again. And this was such a significant moment for Gibbs as a character that, emotionally, I wanted to focus on that and then leave for the season knowing that this group stands together."
The NCIS season finale airs Tuesday at 8/7c on CBS. Catch up on recent episodes here, and check out a clip from the finale below.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)