NCIS Proves That Parker Will Never Be Gibbs – And That’s a Good Thing

The following contains spoilers from NCIS Season 20, Episode 14, “Old Wounds,” which debuted Monday, Feb. 13 on CBS.

NCIS fans knew that Season 20 would be defined by Mark Harmon’s absence. When the longtime star stepped away from his role as Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Gary Cole was tabbed to replace him as Alden Parker. While some fans will always be Gibbs exclusivists, Cole has done an excellent job as Parker and NCIS has remained very popular. The transition has been helped by the show illustrating how Gibbs and Parker are very different characters.

Other than ignoring one of Parker’s most important relationshipsNCIS has fleshed him out well. Season 20 has given Parker plenty of defining stories and unique character traits. But the lack of comparison was driven home in Season 20, Episode 14, “Old Wounds,” which had Parker behaving a lot like Gibbs — and it didn’t work.


How NCIS Made Parker Different From Gibbs

Parker is very different from the rule-following approach of Gibbs, which has added a new element to NCIS. Parker uses technology, while Gibbs was lucky if his flip phone worked correctly. Gibbs was hard-nosed and down to earth; he would show up every morning with black coffee and go about this business. Parker brings in pastries every morning and is much more apt for a conversation. Gibbs was into boat building, while Parker’s hobby is birdwatching. They’re two totally different personalities — except for this episode.

In “Old Wounds,” Parker lost his cool after some familiar-looking drugs showed up. He called in Jeremy Wright, an old friend from his time with the FBI, for help. When Wright arrived, NCIS revealed that he was confined to a wheelchair — having been shot in the back during his last case with Parker. They ended up solving the case, but Parker showed a side of himself fans had never seen before. He was abrasive and antagonistic as he obsessed over the investigation. It was very Gibbs-like, and not in a good way.


Why NCIS’ Parker Should Never Imitate Gibbs Again

NCIS Alden Parker and Jethro Gibbs side by side

Parker had a reason to be obsessed: he was directly responsible for Wright’s disability. They had gotten into a nasty firefight with a drug lord’s hired muscle and Parker had accidentally shot Wright. They decided to keep that a secret so that Parker wouldn’t lose his job, but Parker had carried that weight for years and never forgiven himself. It made him rude and insulting to the rest of the team, and even after Director Vance benched him, he went off on his own to catch the drug lord.

Parker’s obsession, rudeness and do-it-alone attitude were all very reminiscent of Gibbs. Gibbs spent 18 and a half seasons often taking matters into his own hands or getting fixated on a case. However, the same approach painted Parker in a bad light. While Cole gave a great performance, “Old Wounds” showed that Parker is better being calm and personable. His not being Gibbs is what makes him memorable and has kept NCIS moving forward.

NCIS airs Mondays at 9:00 p.m. on CBS and streams on Paramount+.

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