'NCIS' Season 17 Finale is a powerful nod to unacknowledged WWII veterans through Gibbs and Joe Smith's bond
We have to thank Mark Hammon for that exceptional portrayal of Gibbs — the very person who made sure the veteran's wishes are respected
Spoilers for Season 17 Episode 20 'The Arizona'
Ever since it was announced that this season of 'NCIS' would be cut short due to the ongoing coronavirus lockdown, fans have been waiting with bated breath for the finale, which promised a feature from the legend — Christopher Lloyd as a Pearl Harbour survivor.
The episode titled 'The Arizona', aka Season 17's Episode 20, wasn't destined to be the finale initially, but while fans are marveling at how touching the episode still happens to be, the show signs off with a powerful nod to war veterans, many of whom are still waiting for that smidge of acknowledgment that was buried in the sands of time. Lloyd starred as the veteran on this episode, and while this one particular veteran's dying wishes come true, we have to thank Mark Hammon for that exceptional portrayal of Gibbs — the very person who made sure the veteran's wishes are completed.
The official synopsis of the episode states: "The team attempts to verify the identity of Joe Smith, who claims that he has served in the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor." Lloyd plays the role of Joe Smith and he is impeccable in all the right ways. From asserting his truth to doing the utmost to make sure people around him believe him — Smith is your regular 95-year-old grandpa just aching to be heard.
The man had served in WWII under his brother's name because he himself was too young to join the navy. So he steals a Purple Heart with much sentimental value from an Admiral who had refused to acknowledge Smith's dying request of having his ashes spread across the USS Arizona. Things got even more emotional with the Purple Heart actually belonging to the Admiral's late daughter, and even though Smith wasn't harmless, he refused to return it unless his wishes were granted.
Add to that the sentimental bond that Gibbs develops with Smith while everybody else is out there to discredit Smith's version of the story and voila — tears. The reasons Gibbs takes so kindly to this man, despite no photographic evidence of him serving in the war, is that Smith reminds Gibbs of his own father. So Gibbs employs all the ways he would try and tame his dad's stubbornness in Smith's case, and through that budding friendship we learn of Smith's harrowing experience in the war and how the lack of acknowledgment by the only family he has ever known lead to a future as a con artist. It was only after Gibbs was able to help Smith open up that they learned of the most crucial aspects of the tale: the Purple Heart was hidden in a vent, and Smith had dementia.
The moment Smith had a heart attack, the team knew there's little to be done. So they searched the motel upon his directions for the stolen object, but before they could find it, Smith dies in his sleep. A little search in the Admiral's home reveals the Purple Heart hidden in a vent there. It was only after Smith died that all the puzzle pieces came to fit together; an autopsy revealed shrapnel in his body, thus confirming that none of his actions were driven from pursuits of false recognition for valor or something similar.
The man just wanted to be acknowledged for his service and the NCIS were able to help him — posthumously — achieve that accolade, as his ashes were spread across the USS Arizona, interred with the shift he served on. The best part? Gibbs personally saw to it that Smith's dying wish gets fulfilled.
'NCIS' Season 17 Episode 20 'The Arizona' aired on April 14 at 8 pm only on CBS.