The innate goodness of Jimmy Palmer saves the day after he impulsively climbs onto a ledge with a jumper

By Sara Netzley
January 24, 2017 at 11:24 PM EST
Monty Brinton/CBS
S14 E13
  • TV Show

Tonight, NCIS gave us the Jimmy Palmer flashback episode we didn’t know we wanted but that we all needed. Is it possible to watch this hour of television and not come away believing that positivity will heal the world?

We begin with Navy Capt. Paul Smith and his son, Ryan, fighting over Ryan losing his job that day. Not only that, but it’s Ryan’s birthday, and he doesn’t feel up to dinner. The captain gets worked up and blows a stop sign, causing chaos in the intersection. But he softens and offers to stop at the ATM to make sure Ryan has enough cash to carry him through to his next job. The captain parks and starts to cross the street to the ATM when a car mows him down without stopping. Horrified, Ryan races to his father’s body.

At NCIS HQ, Abby’s brought Palmer some cookies (decorated with skulls, natch) to cheer him up because he’s got the mid-winter blahs. His family’s out of town, his socks are itchy, and he’s questioning everything in his life. Ducky offers some advice: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Palmer says it’s more like heck, and then they’re called to the scene of the hit and run.

The NCIS agents are busy interviewing a witness when Palmer notices a figure on the ledge of the building next to them. He takes off running without a word to anyone else. Eventually, Ducky notices Palmer’s absence, and Bishop notices the person on the ledge… being joined by Palmer.

It’s Ryan (guest star Spencer Treat Clark) on the ledge, and Palmer grabs him by his belt in a “you jump, I jump, Jack” kind of deal, anchoring himself to a pipe on the building with his other hand. When Gibbs makes it up there, Ryan threatens to jump and take Palmer with him, so Gibbs retreats.

And then Palmer, who acted without thinking, starts talking to Ryan, who blames himself that his father stopped for cash and died a non-hero’s death. (Here we get a flashback of Ducky reminding Palmer that he’s training to be an ME, not an NCIS agent, which means he’s a different kind of hero.)

Down on the ground, Bishop notices there are no skid or swerve marks at the scene of the accident, so the team scrambles to find either the steadiest drunk driver in history or a person with a grudge against the captain. Gibbs tells Palmer not to lose his grip on the pipe, and he tells Torres, inside the building, not to let Palmer fall. Yep, that’s some good advice.

The team quickly realize they need to slip a mic to Palmer so they can hear his conversations over the sirens and helicopters, while on the ledge, Ryan’s upset that he can’t even kill himself without messing up.

Palmer points out that he messed it up by climbing out there with him, but Ryan says that killing himself has been on his mind for a while; his dad was the only thing stopping him. He chose college over the military and studying architecture over business. He didn’t even land the job he wanted and then got laid off. (Flashback to Palmer’s third day on the job. He was just a baby 14 years ago!) Always-sunny Palmer tries to hit Ryan with every positive cliché he can think of, but Ryan blows it off as “self-help karaoke.”

The team on the ground find footage from the ATM, which shows a black SUV hitting the captain, and they decide to sneak the mic to Palmer under the cover of sending in some food.

On the ledge, Ryan talks about his friends on social media all highlighting their promotions, weddings, and vacations, but Palmer’s quick to point out that it’s easy to ignore the hard or sad or dull bits on social media. He then talks about the way his coworkers lift him up (flashback to an Abby pep talk — or an Abby pep yell, more accurately).

However, this agitates Ryan, who makes another attempt to jump, knocking Palmer off balance. Before you can say “not the mild-mannered assistant ME with the deceptively nice abs!,” Palmer’s dangling off the ledge. Thankfully, Ryan hauls Palmer back up, which Palmer takes a sign that Ryan doesn’t really want to die. Why bother saving him if Ryan’s going to follow him in mere moments?

NEXT: Palmer spills Gibbs’ personal business

Torres and McGee have stuck the mic to the side of the hamburger box, confident that Jimmy would never litter by tossing it away, so the team can now hear Ryan tell Palmer as they eat that his mother died of cancer when he was 12. He says his dad was never the same, disciplining him one minute, then babying him the next.

Palmer (who, remember, doesn’t know about the mic on the box next to him or Gibbs pacing around the big orange room, hearing everything), tells Ryan about all the sadness that Gibbs has overcome. His wife and daughter were killed on the same day, so he buries himself in his work and builds boats in his basement. He kisses Abby on the forehead occasionally but isn’t a hugger and certainly has never hugged Palmer. “That man has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and you’d never know it,” Palmer says. “I really worry about him.”

(Flashback to the day Palmer’s adoption fell through and he and his wife lost their child. Gibbs comforted him when Palmer was in the process of moving the unopened baby gifts out of his home, yelling at him to fight for his family.)

“Hugs or no hugs, I will never forget his kindness that day,” Palmer says.

Ryan replies that he never questioned whether his father loved him; all his dad wanted to do was take him out to dinner for his birthday, and their argument almost caused an accident when he blew a stop sign.

This gets the attention of everyone in the orange room. Thankfully, Jimmy’s hung around NCIS long enough to know that he needs to ask the next question: What intersection? When Ryan tells him, the team scrambles to get the traffic cam footage. And sure enough, we see the car sail through the intersection and a black SUV slam on the brakes, then reverse to follow the car.

On the ledge, the two men watch the firefighters put up the bouncy castle falling pad thingy, and Palmer nervously jokes that it would be hard to hit. Ryan snarks that just his luck, he’d land right on it, and Palmer has had ENOUGH. He tells Ryan that he’s too hard on himself for his perceived social media failures, relationship failures, job failures. “If you change how you measure success, you might actually opt for happiness,” Palmer tells him.

Ryan scoffs and asks Palmer if he ever wanted more. And then, dear friends, we learn something amazing. Ducky’s praise and mentorship convinced Palmer to finish med school and take the ME test. He didn’t pass the first or second time, and although he never told anyone at work, the third time was the charm.

“So you’re an actual doctor?” Ryan asks.

“I am! Still, nobody at work knows,” Palmer replies, still unaware of the mic, poor guy. He says he’ll leave NCIS someday, but in the meantime, he likes the dynamic of working for a noble cause with Ducky, Abby, and the rest of his friends. “I opt for happiness.”

NEXT: If you’re going through hell, keep going

While Gibbs and McGee are ruling out a work beef as the cause of the hit-and-run, Abby and Bishop burst in, first to tell Gibbs that he should put Palmer up for a raise and then to announce that they linked the car in the traffic cam to a part-time handyman with a string of DUIs and vehicular harassment charges. The team easily find him and his banged-up SUV, making a swift arrest.

On the ledge, Ryan and Palmer are getting cold from being outside for hours, but Torres has no luck luring them into the warmth. Ryan says that not only does he have no dad, no job, and no good friends like Palmer, he’s unhappy with the state of the world. “You turn on the news, and we’re all so divided, yelling and pointing fingers. There’s so much meanness out there.”

It’s heartbreaking to think about the truth in that statement, and the people wrestling with loss, depression, and loneliness in a bumpy world. Palmer agrees, but he has a solution: “If you find meanness, you kill it with kindness… You open doors for strangers, you let a car go ahead of you in traffic. Who cares? Just smile more. And if you want good friends, be a good friend. They will find you, I promise.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please take a moment to appreciate the innate goodness of Jimmy Palmer, NCIS’ unsung hero.

But then he gets frustrated (flashback to Palmer’s breaking point when he refuses to autopsy Gibbs’ ex-wife Diane) and tells Ryan that he sees families in their darkest hours who choose to turn something bad into something good. For Ryan’s father, “you are the something good that he left behind.” Palmer says now Ryan has to make the same choice.

At this point, Gibbs is on the scene, and he tells Ryan from the window that it wasn’t his fault; the road rage guy would’ve followed the captain no matter when he stopped his car.  Then he hands Ryan his dad’s wallet with a well-worn picture of the two of them in it.

Palmer seals the deal with Ducky’s advice: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Palmer slowly releases his hold on Ryan’s belt, and the two men head inside. But this being NCIS, Palmer slips on his way through the window, requiring Torres to grab him. Not funny, show!

Once he’s inside, Palmer realizes that the whole team was listening in. Oops. Then he’s surprised to see Ducky waiting for him in the building

“Where else would I be, Doctor Palmer?” Ducky asks, and I’m crying.

The episode ends with Palmer answering a summons to Gibbs’ basement. Gibbs works on his boat in (what else?) stoic silence while Palmer babbles an apology for airing Gibbs’ painful history for a stranger. Gibbs cuts off his apology and wordlessly folds Palmer into a hug.

This is exactly how I expected this episode to end, but that doesn’t make it any less lovely or well earned. Strong work all around, but particularly from Brian Dietzen. Never change, Mr. Palmer — sorry, Dr. Palmer. Never change.

Stray shots

  • Pretty sure you’re not supposed to climb out on a ledge to reason with a jumper. If any negotiators are reading this, please let us know for sure in the comments.
  • Honestly, for a split second, I did wonder if all the flashbacks meant this was the last we’d see of Palmer, if you know what I mean. Were you also relieved when he made it back inside?
  • We live in a time of incivility and fear. Things can feel hopeless, and heavy social media use can make it worse. So close the browser every once in a while. Be good to each other. And ask for help if you need it.

  • TV Show
  • 16
  • TV-14
  • 09/23/03
  • In Season
Complete Coverage
Available For Streaming On

Episode Recaps