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Question: Any scoop on NCIS‘ Tony-centric episode? — Mary Kate

Ausiello: The season’s penultimate hour is no less than Michael Weatherly’s “favorite episode in a long time, one where I got to do some other things,” the actor told Matt Mitovich during a extended Q&A that will post next week. As DiNozzo escorts an admiral’s daughter (played by Boardwalk Empire alum Meg Chambers Steedle) from Marseilles, France, to the States, Weatherly promises, “Charade-style fun — sort of like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn on the run.”

"It goes out on an emotional note," instead of a suspenseful one, showrunner Gary Glasberg confirms, sitting in his Los Angeles office with his co­writer on the finale, Gina Lucita Monreal, and leading man Mark Harmon. "Season 11 has been anything but traditional, and what appealed to me was the idea of closing it properly, on solid ground, and not feeling like we were dangling carrots and playing games in any way.

"I got a call from Liam, Ralph's son," Harmon says, remembering the suddenness of February's news. "I ran into a group of writers and Gary up here and then made an announcement to the crew" — which had still-fresh memories of working with Waite on his final episode, "Better Angels," broadcast in November. "And then, right away, you say, 'How do we honor this?' Do you put an 'In memoriam' at the end of the next episode? Do you go back and put it on the crawl of 'Better Angels,' if that had to be the farewell?"

Quickly, they decided Waite deserved more than a featured rerun or nominal dedication, even if that meant putting off an homage for three months. The storyline that was tentatively planned for the finale — Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) goes to Marseille — was bumped up a week to the penultimate slot (May 6) to accommodate a tribute to Waite. Now the concluding episode hinges on Gibbs learning of his father's death and feeling torn between staying on a case and going home for funeral preparations. NCIS Director Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll), who lost his wife a year ago, urges him away from D.C. and toward Stillwater. The episode will contain brief footage of Waite from previous episodes, along with newly shot flashbacks showing the two as young father and son.