Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A Little Ducky Send-Off: How ‘NCIS’ Half-Heartedly Said Goodbye to David McCallum and Ducky Mallard

HomeEntertainmentA Little Ducky Send-Off: How 'NCIS' Half-Heartedly Said Goodbye to David McCallum...

David McCallum, the last remaining original cast member of NCIS, shuffled off this mortal coil in September 2023 at the ripe old age of 90. The Scottish actor, who played eccentric but brilliant medical examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard on the show since the dawn of time (or 2003 to be more precise), received a loving if rather unremarkable send-off from his NCIS co-stars and producers in a memorial episode that aired last night.

The writers room, led by showrunners Steven Binder and David North, apparently gave about as much thought to commemorating Dr. Mallard as he gave to the actual causes of death of the corpses he examined each week. Which is to say, not a whole lot.

The episode, titled “The Stories We Leave Behind” in a nod to Ducky’s incessant rambling yarns, opens with Ducky’s protege Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) cheerfully arriving at Ducky’s house to pick him up. Palmer lets himself in only to find the dear old geezer lying deceased in his bed, still in his monogrammed Dr. Mallard-edition pajamas.

This shocking discovery sets a rather somber tone that quickly devolves into standard NCIS procedural fare. After notifying the team, there’s the obligatory “he lived a long life” and “time to celebrate his legacy” pep talks from Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) and Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll). Like a hamster spinning a wheel, the writers can only take this maudlin exercise so far before reverting to the safe, predictable show formulas NCIS viewers have grown accustomed to.

So of course there has to be a “case of the week” plot – the last open investigation Ducky was tangentially involved with, naturally. It involves a marine named Danny whose reputation is being unfairly tarnished by an ambitious political stooge named Allan Berger. The official story is that Danny died in some Afghan cathouse riddled with drugs. But his daughter Serena – who literally no one cares about – thinks otherwise and enlists Ducky’s help before he croaked.

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The NCIS team takes the case, does some half-assed digging, and surprise! Danny was actually whacked by the political dude because the marine was going to narc on Berger’s shady business dealings in the heroin trade during his time as a contractor in Afghanistan. Yet another diabolical cover-up unraveled by our intrepid federal agents.

With the perfunctory “case closed” wrap-up out of the way, the writers lob one final meatball at Ducky fans in the form of surprise cameo from Michael Weatherly as former team member Tony DiNozzo. Tony shows up out of the blue to gift Palmer a bowtie to wear to Ducky’s memorial service – just like the ones the Scotsman favored in his lab getup. Some heartfelt bromance ensues and off they go to lay Ducky to rest.

The memorial itself is completely glossed over, of course. No returning cast members, no montages, no poignant speeches. Just…nothing. Move along, nothing to see here. We do get one final glimpse of Palmer turning off the lights in Ducky’s old lab before the lights go out once and for all on the character. A title card then appears: “In Memory of Our Dear Friend and Colleague David McCallum. We Will Miss You.”

Aww, ain’t that sweet?

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This half-hearted, phoned-in farewell from the NCIS showrunners and cast is almost as disappointing as that moldy ham sandwich Palmer probably found in Ducky’s fridge when he showed up that fateful morning. We get it – no one wants to dwell on death. But you’d think after two decades of stellar work by McCallum, helping make NCIS one of the most watched shows in television history, the creative team could have mustered a little more effort. Ducky deserved better than this lackluster send-off.

Over his venerable career, McCallum entertained generations of TV and movie fans – from his breakout role alongside Robert Vaughn in the 1960s spy drama The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to appearances in classics like The Great Escape. Late in life, he found renewed fame as NCIS’s quirky but lovable coroner whose long-winded tales of escapades from his misspent youth were often met with eyerolls and sighs by his millennial colleagues. Ducky may have uttered more lines of dialogue than anyone in NCIS history – which would be an understatement on par with his own conversational excesses.

But beyond his on-screen presence, McCallum was apparently beloved by his NCIS castmates – many of whom lamented his passing in heartfelt tributes. “It seems like he knew everybody,” said Brian Dietzen, who co-wrote this rather forgettable memorial episode. “He was just the brightest part of coming to work.”

Wilmer Valderrama, who plays Special Agent Nick Torres, called his time working with McCallum “inspiring,” recalling how the 90-year-old actor would commute weekly from his New York home to film his scenes and was always “off-book” and ready to “swing hard” take after take. “He never left food on the table,” Valderrama gushed. “He reminded me that we always have to do more.”

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Such reverence makes this phoned-in Ducky death episode even harder to swallow. The writers could have done so much more to honor this NCIS legend. A one-hour clip reel showing Ducky’s greatest hits and celebrating McCallum’s illustrious career would have been easy enough. Or bringing back Cote de Pablo, Pauley Perrette, Michael Weatherly, and other beloved former castmates like Mark Harmon to share memories of the Scotsman’s indelible stamp on the series.

Hell, they could have even let Dietzen and the crew wear some kilts for once rather than those stodgy suits. At the very least, they could have found a decent Scottish bagpiper to play “Amazing Grace” at the memorial instead of the obvious stock music that served as funeral accompaniment.

Sadly, the NCIS team dropped the ball, failing to rise to the occasion and give McCallum the proper swan song his talents deserved. For a character who could scarcely shut his yap, it’s a shame the writers couldn’t have found more words to properly salute Dr. Ducky Mallard and the remarkable man who played him. He may have died twice – once in life, and again when the stories stopped being told. But this half-baked effort certainly didn’t do justice to Ducky’s legacy or McCallum’s enduring impact on the show.

So long, Ducky. You had a good run. Pour some haggis on the barbie, tip back a nice glass of Glenlivet, and rest easy, my friend.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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