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NCIS Season 21 Brought Back A Huge Original Character For The Ducky Tribute Episode

"NCIS" Season 21 has taken quite the emotional turn, as its sophomore episode pays tribute to the late veteran star David McCallum and his legacy as the reliable team historian Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. But while the installment, titled "The Stories We Leave Behind," mostly focuses on the loss of one of the long-running procedural's most iconic faces, it also features a surprising return from a different lapsed cast member, as they come back to pay their respects.

After years' worth of rumblings about a possible return, the Ducky tribute episode in Season 21 finally includes a new appearance from none other than Michael Weatherly's Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo. The character hasn't been seen since Weatherly's exit from the series at the end of Season 13, making his return for the funeral of his trusted colleague all the more of an unexpected and welcome surprise.

DiNozzo's cameo in "The Stories We Leave Behind" is relatively brief, slotting in right at the end of the episode. However, it's still quite the impactful scene. As the former "NCIS" agent helps Brian Dietzen's Dr. Jimmy Palmer prepare himself for the funeral with a gifted Ducky-esque bowtie, he shares some heartfelt reflections on his dearly departed friend, noting that his legacy lives on through the people he affected and helped during his life.

It made sense to bring DiNozzo back for the episode

Michael Weatherly's cameo in "NCIS" Season 21 has been a long time coming. While the star has been off the series for nearly an entire decade, there had long been fervent rumors and speculation about a possible comeback — fueled in large part by Weatherly himself teasing whether DiNozzo will return. Nonetheless, the character's new appearance may not look exactly like how some fans anticipated, as the episode doesn't feature any sort of resolution or update to his shared storyline with former co-star Cote de Pablo's Ziva David.

While DiNozzo's long-awaited return doesn't wrap up many loose ends regarding the agent's story, the "NCIS" team elected to bring him back for the sake of crafting a resonant tribute to David McCallum's Ducky. "It all made a lot of sense," Brian Dietzen, who also co-wrote the episode, told TV Insider. "This character, in addition to being close with Ducky, was Jimmy's good friend, so when he comes to visit, it is to help the person who's left behind. It's really to be there for his friend."

Dietzen indicated that Weatherly wasn't the only old "NCIS" cast member the team considered bringing back for the episode. Indeed, fans have taken note of the conspicuous absence of Mark Harmon's Leroy Jethro Gibbs, despite the character's strong friendship with Ducky. Nonetheless, it seems that DiNozzo ended up being the best fit for a return in remembrance of the late actor and his beloved character. As for whether Weatherly will continue reprise his role in future "NCIS" installments, that remains to be seen.