It's not every day that a head scritch and a nose boop can bring on tears. But the writer and actors of this stellar episode managed to do just that.
The thread of hope and pain woven throughout this story was perfectly planned and executed. We were gradually introduced to the wonderful relationship young Ducky had with his half-brother Nicholas, right down to their ritual head scritch and nose boop.
At first it may have seemed cloying, but eventually you had to buy into the fact that, for them, it was quite real and sincere.
NCIS Season 13 Episode 11 introduced us to the search for Nicholas by means of an attack on Ducky.
A nefarious private investigator was at fault for this, as he pursued an elusive $500,000 stamp. He learned about the stamp, after first being hired by a saavy dead letter department manager at the post office who recognized a stamp that the Alzheimer's-suffering Nicholas had used in his search for Ducky.
The case of the week really served only as a side story, because the real focus was on Ducky and the merry-go-round he experienced in trying to get back to his little brother; a boy who had been ripped from his life by a woman far more evil than the bad guys in this episode.
There were so many fascinating flashbacks in this gem of a story which could easily have been stitched together as a standalone episode. And the style of those flashbacks was appealing, too.
First, there's the vernacular. It's so rare to experience the English tongue spoken with such precision and cadence. Young Angus, young Ducky and even the nurse at the military hospital all provided an experience with the language that was, to this writer, soothing and satisfying to the ear.
Young Angus: There is absolutely no way either you or your father will ever get custody of young Nicholas. Which is why I'm going to personally give you the 10,000 pounds required to buy that manky wench off.
Young Ducky: Angus! Angus I can't possibly accept.
Young Angus: And I quite simply and unequivocally do not allow you to refuse.
Young Ducky: There are no words.
Young Angus: Well give it a try. I mean I do so enjoy watching you flounder.
Then there was the renewed and repaired relationship between young Ducky and Angus, who originally grew apart because of their shared love for a woman. Their bond of friendship became so strong that Angus was willing to provide money to Ducky to pay off the "manky wench" so that Nicholas could stay in Ducky's care.
Ducky's entire wartime work probably has loads of possibility for future NCIS episodes. We need to see more of the younger Ducky.
People are rarely as outright evil as Nicholas' mother. It was hard to see any good side to this woman who regularly left her son alone while she was out tripping around town. A woman who didn't recognize the bravery of a boy who modeled the traditional British "stiff upper lip" and so often declared (echoing her) "I'll be fine."
Still, this was a very young mother who had married a much older man. Her immaturity had likely not loosened her penchant for narcissism, at first demanding a 100,000 pound payout from her husband in order to retain custody of Nicholas, then later reneging on it so she could keep him anyway.
And then to get her relative to cruelly put Ducky off his search by lying to him and saying that both she and her boy were dead.
Yeah, no I can't find a silver lining. The woman was an evil, evil bitch. Period.
You can tell there's a good story on the screen when you find yourself so wrapped up in the moment that the thought of the past or future of a character doesn't enter your consciousness.
Such was the way Ducky's pain was brought to the fore:
- at first there was his disappointment that the guy claiming to be Nicholas was an imposter
- then there was his discussion with Palmer about the way he had learned of Nicholas' death, coupled with his inability to accept Palmer's assertion that the relative must have lied to him. Ducky's comment rang with truth and anguish: a broken man has no business in polite society.
Then there was finally that last moment, when Ducky finally found his brother, sitting outside the nursing home, alone and confused by virtue of his Alzheimer's condition. Ducky realized that the only thing that would spark his memory would be their age-old scritch-boop ritual. And then there was the smile of recognition and relief on Nicholas' face.
Oh man. That was such a hard scene to watch, wasn't it? When the brothers finally embraced, I was undone.
And now we come to the other part of the episode, the B plot that is important and deserving of notice.
How many of you were relieved by Bishop's final announcement that the marriage was over?
Though I disagreed with Bishop's statement about the marriage being over long before the affair, the end result is what's important here, right?
Jake not only had the affair and lied about it, he used his NSA national security protocols to deflect some honest questions from Bishop about where he'd been. That's adding insult to injury.
All that stuff about how the NSA drew them apart...it could very well have been worked out. Lots of people do it; lots of people have obstacles far greater than "need to know" protocols, and they manage to tough things out and find ways to make their relationships work.
The outright lying and deception and deflection on Jake's part just shows him to be a narcissistic little weasel. There's just no getting away from that. I'm glad he's gone.
Some final observations:
- Ducky has a Scottish bagpipe ringtone on his phone.
- Abby's slap-a-Jake video game
- Gibbs' seeming omniscience has everything to do with the bullpen acoustics. Thanks Bishop!
- Abby's brilliance at figuring out the movements of that watch allowed her to actually determine what the wearer was typing? That's some magic science right there.
- I couldn't figure out the reasoning behind the fake Nicholas. Doesn't matter though: the fuller story trampled that one detail under in a hurry. No one cares about him.
- The dialogue, as captured in the episode's NCIS quotes were just astounding. There were lots of gems in there.
- This was the fall finale for NCIS for 2015. Be sure to check in with us in January when the show returns. In the meantime, you can always catch up on the other episodes this season when you watch NCIS online.
Now it's your turn! Let us know your thoughts on this Ducky-centric episode! Be sure to chime in with your opinions about Bishop and Jake, too!
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.