NCIS finales usually include big explosions or chasing down a season-long villain. Season 11 will end on a more somber note as Gibbs (Mark Harmon) says goodbye to his father Jackson Gibbs, and the audience says a final goodbye to late actor Ralph Waite.
Grab a box of tissues and read on to see how Gibbs and the NCIS team will pay their final respects to this wonderful character.
The Cast & Crew Pay Tribute To Waite
The actor, who became a household name as the Waltons’ patriarch, first appeared on the CBS crime drama in the season six episode “Heartland” and returned on-screen for another six episodes. The show announced the tribute episode a week after Waite’s death on Feb. 13.
Harmon received the initial call that his friend and co-star had died, and he broke the news to executive producer Gary Glasburg. The two reminisced about Waite’s storied career and determined the best way to pay tribute to his character. They knew they wanted a gesture bigger than an In Memoriam card at the end of the next episode to air after his death, Glasburg wrote for EW.com.
It didn’t feel like enough of a gesture. We contemplated re-running “Better Angels,” his last wonderful storyline with us. It felt redundant. Ralph deserved more. He would have wanted us to stretch, to push the story envelope, to leave people feeling the loss of Jackson Gibbs, not just reflecting on it.
Glasburg told TVGuide.com that “everyone involved really wanted to do this.” Waite last appeared on the show in last fall’s episode “Better Angels”.
“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.”
Star Pauley Perrette echoed his sentiments in a tweet on the day Waite passed away. Her character Abby loves giving people hugs and Gibbs’ dad “gave the best hugs,” according to the lab tech.
So Sad. Ralph Waite has passed away. Papa Gibbs. We love him at NCIS SO much. So so sad.
— Pauley Perrette (@PauleyP) February 14, 2014
Waite also recurred on Fox’s Bones as Seely Booth’s (David Boreanaz) grandfather who raised him growing up.
There’s Still A Murder To Investigate
The case of the week takes place on a Navy ship where a fire breaks out. The team will have to determine whether the fire was an accident or set deliberately in order to help a group of held terrorists escape the ship.
Gibbs will have trouble helping his team solve the case though when Vance delivers this crushing news. “He clearly has his mind elsewhere,” Glasberg said.
Michael Weatherly Pays Tribute To His Co-Star On Set
— Michael Weatherly (@M_Weatherly) May 10, 2014
Weatherly acknowledged Waite’s lasting presence on NCIS by placing an empty chair on set with Waite’s name monogrammed on the back. The chair sat on set during the shooting of the finale.
Weatherly’s character Tony also welcomed back his on-screen father Tony Dinozzo Sr., played by legendary actor Robert Wagner, earlier this season in the show’s 250th episode.
A Friendly Face Returns For Jackson’s Funeral
Jackson’s best friend and the namesake of Gibbs and Jackson’s best friend, Leroy Jethro Moore (Billy Dee Williams) will return for his buddy’s funeral. NCIS fans discovered the little bit of Gibbs history when LJ first appeared in the season 10 episode “Namesake”. The two old friends were estranged for years until Tony and Gibbs found LJ’s Medal of Honor award in a pawn shop.
Billy Dee Williams spoke highly of Waite to Yahoo! TV.
Ralph Waite was wonderful. He is one of my favorite actors. In fact, I told him that he is one of those actors that if I see you in something, I am always looking forward to seeing what you are going to do. He has a wonderful intensity.