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NCIS for the heart
January 19, 2011 - Pam Rodgers
Tuesday’s episode had a very strong message, and I’m not talking about the main story line. Sure that was strong too as it addressed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation in the military, but the sub-plot to me was more powerful. I’m talking of the former coroner coming back to NCIS headquarters because of the his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Dr. Walter Magnus, played by Bob Newhart, seemed a bit random at the beginning. He was there to visit Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard, but there wasn’t much advance notice. At first I thought he might be there as the random guest star that provides the essential insight that eventually solves the case. I was completely off track. It took a bit for the subtle hints to show, but I figured out what he was suffering from about 35 minutes from the end.
It strikes a personal chord with my family after seeing my grandmother go through Alzheimer’s when I was in seventh grade. I was a little too young to understand fully what it meant, but it didn’t take long for me to catch up. Luckily, she didn’t suffer too long, but it was hard to see my loving grandmother not recognize who we were.
In the show, Walter was in the early stages, so he was still mostly coherent with only minor bouts of forgetfulness. The scene where he finally admits to Ducky what he is going through brought tears to my eyes. Newhart did a great job expressing the angst of not being able to remember things that used to be so sharp in his mind.
Walter was a great corner for NCIS, and he used to remember every case he worked on. It helped him get through his retirement after his wife had passed. You could see the frustrations at not being able to recall what was once so fresh in his mind, and that was why he wanted to go back. Walter returned to NCIS to try to remember what once had been so important. NCIS had been his life, and he was losing the memories of what made it so great.
The end of the show was a real tear-jerker as the NCIS crew arranged a special treat for their visitor. Ducky promised that he could show Walter what he had done — to show Walter all the good he did with NCIS. Computer savvy Agent McGee wired up the MTAC (Multiple Threat Alert Center) for special access. He used the big monitors and computers to bring up the photos of all the people Walter had helped. It was a very touching scene to watch his reaction as the memories flooded back, if only for a short period of time.
One thing’s for sure, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Rodgers’s household.
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Bob Newhart, right, as retired corner, Walter Magnus in the Jan. 18 NCIS. He is standing with Michael Weatherly as Agent Tony DiNozzo, left, and David McCallum as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, center.