Mark Harmon bid a teary farewell to NCIS this week. And in the last scene, there was a brief mention of Gibbs’ dad.
You’ll recall that Gibbs and McGee were fly fishing in a gorgeous, tranquil spot in southwestern Alaska. As McGee said, there wasn’t a town within 50 miles. They’d solved the crime of the serial killer and who paid him to murder eight people.
But why were they fly fishing? Gibbs brought up his father. That’s Jackson Gibbs, who was last seen on NCIS eight years ago. Gibbs remembered that right before he went into basic training for the Marines decades ago, he and his father went fly fishing. Jackson wanted to make it an annual summer tradition and a bonding trip between father and son.
“That was the last trip,” Gibbs said.
Ralph Waite, who starred as John Walton on The Waltons, played Jackson Gibbs on NCIS. It was one of the final roles of his career. He died in February 2014, three months after his last NCIS appearance.
On NCIS, Gibbs And His Dad Reunited After Years Apart
In his NCIS backstory, Jackson was a pilot during World War II. He named his son after his best friend, who was a Marine. Gibbs and his dad didn’t have the greatest relationship. They didn’t speak for years after that one fishing trip.
Waite became a recurring character in season six. Gibbs brought Ziva to his hometown in Pennsylvania. Father and son started getting close again. In another episode, Gibbs calls Jackson to wish him a Merry Christmas. All total, Waite was in seven episodes.
But in season 11, after Waite died, it was time for NCIS to tell Jackson goodbye, too. Rather than have a suspenseful cliffhanger as a season finale, the show devoted it to Jackson’s funeral. In real life, Harmon and Waite were friends.
“Every character has their moment to say goodbye,” Gary Glasberg, the NCIS executive producer, wrote for Entertainment Weekly. “Tremendous thought went into the funeral scene. We knew we wanted to see some of Jackson’s old WWII buddies paying their respects. We knew we had to get Billy Dee Williams who plays Jackson’s buddy L.J. to help us, as well.
Gasberg continued: “we knew we wanted Jackson to have a military funeral. It needed to be a fitting goodbye for a decorated veteran. … It’s not easy to get through the funeral sequence without tearing up a little. … We get to feel his pain and his anguish and his sadness. And we get to see his pride. The pride Gibbs had in his father, regardless of their differences.”
So in Gibbs farewell in season 19, it was appropriate that Gibbs brought up his dad and that one fishing trip he took with him decades before. Gibbs was like a father figure to McGee, especially in the final scene of Monday’s Great Wide Open episode. McGee was trying to figure out how to fly fish. Gibbs tells him it’s about finding his rhythm. “It’s about progression,” Gibbs tells McGee, “not perfection.”
When Gibbs told McGee he was staying in Alaska, that he’d finally found some peace, both men tear up. They hug, with each saying “I love you.” It brought it full circle, just like a father and son.