Why NCIS' Season 17 Finale Is An Unusual Episode

ncis gibbs in hotel with christopher lloyd

It's no mystery at this point that NCIS had not planned for the now-final Season 17 episode to be the official finale, with lockdown-related delays causing the CBS drama (and many more) to end prematurely. While it's perhaps not the most ideal situation, the NCIS co-showrunners are making the best of it, since the episode now set as the finale is such an important installment, and a pretty unusual one at that.

With the beloved Hollywood icon Christopher Lloyd guest-starring as a supposed Pearl Harbor-surviving soldier, NCIS is eschewing its usual narrative path and expected crime drama standards. Here's how showrunner Frank Cardea put it to TVLine:

It’s a very special episode. And it’s an unusual episode — there’s no killer, there’s no bad guy. It’s just all about NCIS agents trying to do this wonderful thing for an old man.

After 17 years on the air, it's pretty awesome that a show like NCIS can still find stories to tell that haven't been tackled a million times already, while also bucking its own conventions in the process. Granted, NCIS fans might not be as plentiful on a yearly basis if the show just featured Gibbs & Co. starting a Meals on Wheels knockoff and visiting nursing homes, but it will hopefully be just fine to have the team trading corpses for...Christopher Lloyd.

Even getting Christopher Lloyd involved with the story was an unusual occurrence for NCIS, in that he was the ideal actor for the part in Frank Cardea's mind. In his words:

I wrote it with [Christopher Lloyd] in mind, with his voice in my head, so when he said yes and we got him, it was such a thrill. The amount of times when you have somebody in mind and it ends up being that person…. It’s rare.

Christopher Lloyd will be joining NCIS as the simply named Joe Smith, a bitter 95-year-old who aims to be interred at Pearl Harbor when he dies, with claims that he was serving on the battleship Arizona during the time of the infamous attack on December 7, 1941. However, a quick search finds no one named Joe Smith was serving on the Arizona at the time, so it's up to the team to figure out if Joe is lying about his past, or if there's something else at play. (Which presumably doesn't involve lots of mysterious killers.)

The importance of getting this story out was big for Frank Cardea and others in the cast and crew, with the idea of crafting a Pearl Harbor episode floating around NCIS' writers room for years. Time is definitely of the essence, however, since there are so few survivors left to pay respect to. Just as the episode was coming together in February, one of the three survivors (Don Stratton) passed away.

Frank Cardea told TV Insider what almost happened with the episode, and sounds optimistic about the episode being viewed as a proper season finale. In his words:

It's such an emotional story. It resonates with so many people — obviously most of our audience wasn't even alive in 1941 — but it's just such a deeply moving story. We had talked about making this the 400th at one point, and thank God we decided to go do it earlier. It certainly could have been a final episode, and unfortunately, it turned out that way.

Speaking of NCIS' 400th episode, which will now be a part of the yet-to-be-ordered Season 18, the co-showrunner dropped a very interesting detail about it recently that should make it one worth fans' wait. Hopefully so, since it'll be a longer one, given we're only in April.

With a presumed jump in the nightly ratings, given this is the last episode of the season, NCIS will air its finale on Tuesday, April 14, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.