DiNozzo’s NCIS Surprise Return Is Bigger Than Gibbs (& Better For The Future)


Michael Weatherly unexpectedly returns as Tony DiNozzo in NCIS season 21 and his comeback means bigger and better things than a Gibbs cameo.

NCIS season 21’s Ducky’s tribute episode brings back Tony DiNozzo, and while it isn’t Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Michael Weatherly’s comeback is bigger and better. In light of David McCallum’s death in 2023, the police procedural stages an emotional sendoff for his beloved character, Dr. Mallard. The actor is the final original NCIS character to be in the series. He remained a core cast member until his death, although he only appeared sporadically — a compromise made by CBS to give him more time to spend with his family, especially as he aged.

Ducky has worked with all iterations of the NCIS team since the beginning, so it only makes sense that he gets the tribute episode that he deserves. While the current roster includes long-time characters such as Timothy McGee and his protégé, Jimmy Palmer, there were still some expectations that other characters from that era of the series would come back. NCIS had an easy way to bring back Gibbs for Ducky’s tribute episode. However, instead of featuring a cameo from Mark Harmon, the CBS police procedural opted to recruit Weatherly to reprise his role as DiNozzo for the part.

Michael Weatherly’s Tony DiNozzo’s NCIS Season 21 Return Explained
DiNozzo’s return is more for Palmer than Ducky.

NCIS stages a Ducky tribute episode called “The Stories We Leave Behind,” which marries the team’s grief over his death with its case-of-the-week storytelling format. Upon learning of Dr. Mallard’s death, the squad also finds out that he was working on a case clearing the name of a late Marine. McGee, Palmer, and the rest sift through his notes to get as much information about the issue. Throughout the episode, flashbacks of pertinent moments with Ducky are incorporated into what’s happening in the present, which could have been NCIS’ way of featuring former characters of the series.

That said, in the outing’s final moments, just as Palmer tries to keep his emotions in check before delivering his mentor’s eulogy, Weatherly’s DiNozzo walks in to give his friend some words of encouragement. This marks the actor’s first return to the series since existing back in season 13. Dietzen explains why Dinozzo was chosen as the returning character for NCIS season 21, episode 2, saying that his close relationship with Palmer was a big factor in it.

“We ended up deciding on having the character of Tony come back. It all made a lot of sense. 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. Getting [Michael] out here and doing all this stuff under the cover of secrecy and the dead of night sort of thing was really cool.”


DiNozzo’s Return Sets Up A Better NCIS Future Than A Gibbs’ Cameo
Gibbs’ chances of returning full-time are very little to none.

As great as it is seeing Weatherly back, it’s still quite disappointing that Gibbs doesn’t show up for Ducky’s funeral. The pair was long-time friends, with NCIS even using one of their most poignant scenes together in their flashback sequence for the said outing. Their relationship predated the events of the show, so Gibbs’ return would have been more emotional than his former team member. In terms of the bigger picture, however, DiNozzo’s return sets up a much better future for the show.

Unlike Gibbs, who retired from the force after dedicating his life to the force for decades, DiNozzo’s decision to walk away from NCIS was motivated by external factors. He had just learned that he has a daughter with former teammate, Ziva David. Knowing what it feels like to have no proper parental figures, DiNozzo dropped everything to take care of the kid. Now, with Ziva back in the picture, he may be in a much better position to revisit his old job — something that he loved doing.

Weatherly has recently expressed his interest in coming back to NCIS, and if that mirrors his character’s desires in the show, the police procedural can bring him back full-time. This would mean a great deal for those who miss the earlier days of the series. For context, NCIS season 21 marks the first time that all original characters are gone, with McGee and Palmer joining the project subsequently. There’s very little chance that Harmon will be back on the show to reclaim his old spot, which means that any Gibbs cameo will just be that. Meanwhile, Weatherly’s appearance could become a regular stint.

Gibbs And DiNozzo Can Still Reunite In NCIS Season 21
NCIS season 21 has another opportunity to bring Gibbs and DiNozzo together.

Following Weatherly’s exit from NCIS, he went on to star in his own show, Bull, which kept him occupied for years. Now that it’s done, he has time to come back to his breakout series. This opens up the possibility of him finally reuniting with Gibbs — something that could still happen in season 21. The franchise’s overall 1000th episode is coming up, and celebrating it means putting the original show under the spotlight. It’s also a much better opportunity to stage a happy reunion between DiNozzo and Gibbs compared to Ducky’s funeral.

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