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NCIS has been going strong for 16 seasons, but the long run of the show means that the team has had to say goodbye to some of their own over the years. Fortunately, many of the big departures happen because of the characters' choices rather than because of death, although there are exceptions. When Ducky announced his intention to leave NCIS in Season 16's "Bears and Cubs," fans had to balance sadness that he was leaving with at least relief that he was retiring rather than something much more tragic.
Ducky truly seemed like he was headed out the door, as he was firm on his decision to leave his role as Chief Medical Examiner behind. The very good news came in the subsequent episode when Vance and Co. figured out a way to keep him around: giving him a new job. Fans just didn't know that was coming when Ducky revealed his intention to retire!
Director Diana Valentine helmed the "Bears and Cubs" episode of NCIS that featured the reveal of Ducky's plan to leave his post as Medical Examiner but definitely did not reveal that he would simply get a new job at NCIS. Speaking with CinemaBlend, she explained why saying goodbye to Ducky in that episode was so different from saying goodbye to the likes of Abby and Tony:
If you've seen the new episodes that have aired, you realized that he's not actually leaving. He's going to go into a different capability, a different role at NCIS. So he'll still be there, popping in and out. So it wasn't like saying goodbye to a character who had been on the show for as long as those guys have and never seeing them again. Like with Michael Weatherly's character, and Abby's character. That's a completely different thing because that's a real goodbye where chances are, I mean who knows, you could maybe see them in the future, but it's not anything that you know for sure is going to happen. So with my episode, it was kind of a teaser into 'Oh my God, someone else is leaving,' but they're not really.
Back when it seemed like Ducky was really and truly 100% retiring from NCIS, his farewell didn't seem to get the fanfare it deserved if it really was his final bow. David McCallum did appear in promo photos for the next week, so it was clear that the end of "Bears and Cubs" wasn't the very end of Ducky on NCIS, but surely the character deserved a sendoff like Abby and Tony, right?
Well, the lack of drama surrounding the end of that episode turned out to be a very good thing, as fans weren't misled into believing that Ducky was as gone as Abby and Tony. Admittedly, as Diana Valentine said, there is the chance that fans could maybe see Abby and Tony again in the future, there's no confirmation that either Pauley Perrette or Michael Weatherly will return.
Just because their characters are still alive doesn't mean there's going to be an opening for them to return! That said, Michael Weatherly's follow-up show airs on CBS and Pauley Perrette's comedy pilot is in the works for CBS, so there's always hope. If NCIS can revisit Ziva, maybe any other past plots can be revisited as well! And Ducky will be around to lend a hand.
The latest episode proved that Ducky as NCIS historian could actually be one of the best things NCIS has done in a while, and not just because it provides a way for 85-year-old David McCallum to stick around while working a less rigorous schedule. His move to historian allows Palmer to step up as Chief Medical Examiner while not losing his mentor altogether, and it's a sign that NCIS can still go in fresh new directions after 16 seasons.
While speaking with CinemaBlend, Diana Valentine also revealed some things the NCIS franchise and Criminal Minds still aren't allowed to show, so there are certain directions fan probably shouldn't expect NCIS to explore in Season 17, assuming it scores the renewal. We'll have to wait and see. For now in the midseason, new episodes of NCIS air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.