Jimmy Palmer, the team’s medical examiner with a heart of gold and still packed with everlasting hope, suffered a tragic tragedy when his wife, Breena, died from COVID-19. On Tuesday’s segment, which fast-forwards the timeline to the pandemic, shows his heart-wrenching loss to the viewer as he appears in the bullpen as his normal jovial self armed with extra disinfectant wipes for his colleagues.
Of course, the conversation is moved to his daughter’s home school with his mother to help her out in the house. But if the Bishop asks if the permanent entry of his mother is a question, it is Jimmy who mentioned the devastating coronavirus death of his wife. Jimmy says stoically in ET’s exclusive movie, “You guys were so great, when, you know… I lost Breena,” “But between work, single parenting, school, it just got to be too much. So, I called in a lifeline.”
The NCIS writers told him of the loss of Jimmy for actor Brian Dietzen long before he got the episode script. He chose to be the one with a catastrophic failure instead of COVID because of organic discussions about the imaginative fuel that would make his story and that of the rest of the team advance. ‘I am doing really much well,’ says Dietzen. ‘We can tell during the week’s event that Jimmy is struggling to maintain some satisfaction, trying to say, ‘Oh my glass is just about half overflowing here. “He’s doing whatever he can just keep his head above water. But there’s only so long that that can happen before there’s going to be a certain breaking point.”
Prior to the episode, Dietzen discusses the impact on Jimmy’s death, the team rally around him and whether Jimmy’s and Breena’s other stories are to be told.
Here is what Brian Dietzen had said to ET Online.
Did you talk to the writers and producers beforehand? What was your initial reaction?
Dietzen: I had been told that Jimmy was going to lose his wife before I read this script. I had an opportunity to meet the new writer Margaret Lester. I was able to speak with her before the speech. They let me know we want the emergence of CoVID in our squad. It is what we don’t want to happen. As a fun way to manage sadness, the possibility of losing a partner or parent were brought to the table to be used as the narrative game mechanic of the game. They continued with it. I was advised and primed for it, I guess, mentally.
Were you surprised that Jimmy was the one to deal with a loss of a loved one from COVID?
I think the best way to look at the COVID report is that unfortunately the treatment that’s available is not sufficient. Certainly as a medical examiner, he must have lived with the lines on his forehead from his N95 mask he’d worn 12, 14 hours a day dealing with bodies. And all of the individuals who are involved with the COVID campaign have lost family members or friends to the disease. There was no way to shield anyone from the flu, aside from masking and treating the flu with gloves. I think that was one of the interesting and obviously heartbreaking things about this disease that we’ve all seen, is these people on the front line were working as doctors who are working as EMTs who have had to go through heartbreak on their own. You’re asked to operate even though you are likely having a very tough time dealing with the disease. In this episode, it revealed how people lost their loved ones during the influenza pandemic. It’s about frontline workers, who are going through their own trials, and people who helped us deal with this pandemic, but continue to show up for the rest of us.
Can you talk a little bit about how Jimmy handles the loss of his wife and what we can expect to see with him in this grieving process?
Unfortunately, during this time span, a number of folks have thought there hasn’t been time to grieve since they have more to move back to because they have to keep stuff going because they have to press on. It concerns more than just the healthcare sector. If a person loses a partner and they have a child, they might take awhile to get through this time. This week’s episode showed us that Jimmy might be convincing himself he is happy. But we as the viewers can see he is not happy. And his peers can see it because they know him and have known him for years. He is doing everything he can to stay afloat. Once a critical stage is hit, so it can’t carry for any longer. That is the story here, how does Jimmy deal with it, and how does his staff help him deal with it.
Is there going to be a breaking point for him at some point? What are the long-term effects of this loss?
I assume it’s a processing rather than anything else. I assured the writers and producers of our show that I did not want to see Jimmy Palmer losing his everlasting hope because of anything like this. And I guess we were both on the same page. They said, “Oh gosh, yeah, we need to have Jimmy be that light that’s on the team for sure.” If there is ever a test, it is the team losing this way. So I hope we’ll see more of Jimmy Palmer on this process going forward. He has always been in the scene where he needs to get these moments of contemplation. But as we saw in this week’s show, it gave us a lot of insight into how the character is feeling and the emotions that he has.
How does the team rally around him?
You get to see the most hopeful guy of your life unexpectedly a victim of something blindsiding and disorienting to his outlook. It is painful for the team to see McGee going through this because this is the man that before McGee got married and had his twins, Jimmy was the only one with a spouse and children. It is painful to see how anyone with cancer goes through all of this. Torres grieves in a particular manner and Gibbs grieves differently than McGee or Bishop. It is really important that everyone of us see that Jimmy is uncertain about how to help him, so everybody will help him cope with it better. To see how the team helps Jimmy fix the problem and how the team really makes the call to assist him. It was a collaborative effort with each of us contributing in the successful completion of this mission.
Is there a scene from this episode that you have a fond memory doing?
Jimmy has a big revelation at the top of the show. It was revealed not long afterwards that this discovery [that his wife died] came to light. I recall shooting the scene with Wilmer, Sean, Emily, and there is a peculiar awkwardness to it. It sounds like we’re all speaking it out loud and it is a little whiplash about how we usually work. And we are going to be skipping forward to season six before we’ve even finished the first six episodes of the new season. Today, we are jumping ahead to episode 1×03, where Jimmy is doing well, he’s with his team, they’re working together. When I work with my team I have a feeling of encouragement, as well as, as an actor, a sense of satisfaction. I was able to get my family members who I’ve known for over a decade and a half and get them all to be in this movie.
With the show now in COVID times, what does that change the team’s approach?
Interesting because different shows treat COVID differently. They also said, “We’re not going to deal with this at all because we don’t want to have to deal with those storylines and whatnot.” In the history of NCIS, incidents have happened that have had big impact. I like the fact that we could take a portion of our season and not have to have those masks on all the time at the beginning of the season, but I think it was a wise move to include this big life case. We can’t pretend that it doesn’t happen. It’s going to hit them and Jimmy will be the one it hurts the hardest. Filming was extremely sad and I’ve enjoyed working with Michelle Pierce who plays Breena Palmer. I’m sorry she’s gone. We underused her. I loved her acting, and she was a fantastic character. This is a sweet love letter to her character. I hope people like it.