'NCIS': Brian Dietzen Addresses Palmer and Knight's Romantic Future (Exclusive)
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Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Monday's episode of NCIS.
Are Jimmy Palmer and Jessica Knight going all-in with a NCIS romance? As Monday's action-packed episode revealed, the answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.
For several weeks now, the duo has been dancing around a potential budding romance in season 19. But finally, a case brought the pair out into the field where they were forced -- under dire circumstances, of course -- to acknowledge and talk about their (maybe) more-than-friendly feelings toward each other. (Being chased and shot at by several bad guys over an organ will certainly put things into clearer perspective.) While the pair tip-toed around their growing chemistry for the majority of the hour, Knight came clean about how she felt about Palmer, admitting that she does like him.
Because she and Palmer work closely together in a professional setting, their close friendship makes the thought of exploring a real romance that much more complex. If things don't work out romantically, they've also lost a friend. With a new level of understanding established that they're slowly teetering toward possibly more than friendship, both decided to keep things open for now as they agreed to go on another coffee date.
"I think he definitely threw the ball into her court at the end and by her saying, 'Hey, let's go out for coffee,'" NCIS star Brian Dietzen tells ET. "It's not saying, 'Let's get married' or anything like that. It's just saying, 'Perhaps. Yeah, let's try this out.' And hopefully, they keep talking. So long as they keep talking, I think it'll be good for both of them."
And, as Dietzen hints as next week's finale approaches, there may be "more to come" with Palmer and Knight on that front. Following Monday's penultimate episode of the season, the actor breaks down what's coming up next.
ET: Before we get into this episode, how are you feeling with how the season has been going creatively? There were a few significant cast changes at the start of the year...
Brian Dietzen: This season has been unlike any other, obviously for the reasons that you're highlighting. We had two cast members move on and two new ones move in. So it's been a very different year than what we're used to, but I got to say that it's been extremely positive. I've loved telling these new stories. I've loved having new dynamics to explore. Anytime you lose a cast member who you've spent, in one case, the last 19 years with [in Mark Harmon], and the other case, for the last eight or nine years with [in Emily Wickersham], it's a huge change. It's something that the characters mourn in the loss of. But by the same token, change is a signature of life, right? That if it's not changing, it's not alive. So these things are inevitable. It's about how well you can tell stories and continue to move after that change. I felt really proud about the stories that we got to tell this year. There's been a lot to explore and a lot of different stories regarding these two new characters, but also how our team now has developed into a new animal with the new team.
What has that dynamic been like? Has it been a different energy?
For so long, one of the strengths of the show was that it was centered around the Gibbs character, which works. It's been tried and true, and it worked for so long. But in the absence of that character, there's a vacuum that's left because that character's no longer at the center of the room. Because of that power vacuum, the dynamic must change to become much more of an ensemble drama. And everyone has their roles to play within that. Instead of everyone going to a centralized power of, "What should I do?" People are digging the bull by the horns themselves and it creates something that's different. I'll leave it to others to say whether they like it better this way or previously, but it certainly has to change. You can't have a new character named Alden Parker come in and wield the same gravitas that Gibbs had earned over the last 19 years. It's kind of incumbent upon us to all work together as a team and to have a new type of cohesion. To see how these characters grow after a big change like that, it's been super interesting for us.
You get to flex your muscles a little bit, quite literally, being out in the field for this episode. What was that like teaming up with Katrina Law for the hour?
It was great. We had a wonderful time. These two characters of Knight and Palmer have always gotten along very well, and we know that they're friends. There's been a couple of times over the course of the season where there's been a question mark of like, could they at some point be more than friends? Whether it was him as her date to a wedding, or whether it was Jimmy shutting down the wonderful Ernie Malik [from NCIS: Hawaii] on his computer screen because he was asking about Jessica. It's been a fun, playful thing that's popped up on our show. So they decided to highlight it for an episode. What ends up happening is Jimmy and Knight find themselves on the run, trying to stay alive in the wilderness while keeping a very, very important organ alive with them. It was a blast to film. We were out at Disney Ranch for several days, and our director Tawnia McKiernan was incredible in finding great ways to shoot it. We got some fantastic scenes where they got to talk about not just how are they going to stay alive, but what's going on between the two of them.
You mentioned their dynamic. Did it surprise you that it was going to be front and center for an entire episode?
I think that they have paved the way for this a little bit in prior episodes, so it didn't come as a total surprise. Obviously, I've spoken with our producers and with people at the network on, "Hey, could there be something potentially between these two characters?" And to that end, an episode that I co-wrote earlier this year with Scott Williams, where Jimmy nearly died alongside Kasie, Diona Reasonover's character, in her lab. Jimmy got to the place where he said, "I need to move on for the sake of my daughter." By the end of the episode, Jimmy hangs up his ring as a lot of widowers do, at a time that feels right to them. For Jimmy, it was about a year after the death of his wife. He said, "It's time for me to move on and be more present to my daughter." But I think it also opened up the doors for him to say, "I can find happiness again." This isn't a one-time thing in life that you can find love or happiness, or the prospect, or the possibility of that. I think it's nice for him to have the attitude and the outlook that perhaps I can move on and find something different. Obviously there's an attraction there that he has with Jessica in this episode. I was excited for it because it means that he's still living.
Jimmy and Knight have a playfulness when they're in the room together. Was that a natural thing that you guys discovered over time?
Ever since Katrina joined the show, we've really enjoyed having scenes together, whether it's the evidence findings, coming down to autopsy. We've always found some way to enjoy the scene. And they've given us some great scenes together too. It was not hard to find connection there because Katrina's a wonderful actor and we're lucky to have her. This one is special for Jimmy and Knight because there's no potential for romance with anyone else on the team for Jimmy. So it was great to be able to play something that has only been explored off-camera for Jimmy's character over the past 19 years. To see him show interest, it was fun to play.
What was your favorite scene of the episode?
My favorite scene was definitely the scene in the cabin when she has to extract the bullet. The interesting story behind that was that, uncharacteristically here in Southern California, it never rains. But it was going to be pouring rain on one of the days we were going to be out there at Disney Ranch. So they actually ended up building that set of the interior of the cabin on one of our stages so we could film it in there and take our time. I thought the dynamic between these two characters [was great] -- how there was humor infused into it, but also a lot of heart. And there's pain. There's struggle. There's things that feel forbidden to talk about. And the entire time, they're not eye to eye. They're both looking away from one another. I thought it was so wonderfully written... and our director, Tawnia, did an amazing job directing it and figuring a way to accentuate the difficulty of these conversations by not having them looking at one another throughout the entire thing.
Knight admits to Jimmy that she likes him, but because they're close, best friends, she doesn't want to ruin their friendship. What is Jimmy feeling at that moment?
I think that's the hard part, right? If you start to find one of your friends attractive or want to pursue something like that, you realize, I might be rolling the dice on losing a friend here. The only way that I can really do this is if I take the correct steps here. Both of them are afraid of taking the wrong steps, which is why I love what Jimmy says at the end: "You're never going to catch a wave, if you don't get on the surfboard. Yes, we can play it safe and we can never talk about this thing again, we can never talk about that conversation in the cabin again, but we'll never experience something that could be great. But we don't know if it will be or not, if we don't try it." I think he definitely threw the ball into her court at the end and by her saying, "Hey, let's go out for coffee," it's not saying, "Let's get married" or anything like that. It's just saying, "Perhaps. Yeah, let's try this out." And hopefully, they keep talking. So long as they keep talking, I think it'll be good for both of them.
At the end of the episode, they make another coffee date as they get into the elevator. Are they in the friend zone or are they slightly more than friends? What's their kind of relationship status at the end?
The cool part is that in this episode, we can leave it up a bit to interpretation for people as they're watching them get into that elevator and committing to, "You know what? Let's get together at some point." In my mind, certainly I think, "Well, that's both of them leaving open the possibility of something happening." While maybe not committing to saying, "Hey, let's exclusively date." There's potential there. But as with a longtime running show like NCIS, you can't create, explore and fulfill a relationship like that in one episode.
I also loved the other team members ribbing them.
I love that. Wilmer and Sean, they're so good at that stuff. They're like brothers. And to Jimmy, certainly, they've been like brothers to him. Whether it's Torres nodding and saying, "Yes, I'll take care of your child, if you die," that sort of thing. Or Mickey being there for Jimmy over the last 20 years and them raising kids by one another, or alongside one another. It's a cool relationship. And I'm excited to see where the group dynamic is taken next season.
With NCIS coming back for season 20, what can you tease about this coming finale and where things tee up for next season?
The finale is definitely going to be putting Alden Parker, Gary Cole's character, in the crosshairs. He's going to find himself in danger and our team's going to have to come together to help him. I can't say too much about it, but I will say that Jimmy and Knight will talk a bit more in the finale. And we'll see what direction things are going to be heading in. It's not as though we're going to leave the audience sitting in that elevator with Jimmy and Knight, wondering what the hell happens next. There will be more to come.
NCIS airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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