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Friday, May 24, 2013

'Without A Trace' S6: Recovering Missing Persons With Destinations Unknown


Without a Trace: The Complete Sixth Season
The recently released 22-episode 5-disc DVD set of the 2007-08 sixth season of the primetime Jerry Bruckheimer procedural drama "Without A Trace" is notable for being one of the few current shows to earn the honor of being added to the awesome Warner Archive catalog.

Before discussing this series, it is worth mentioning that anyone who would like to track "Unreal TV" is welcome to go to @tvdvdguy on Twitter. 

The twist in this series about the investigations of the Missing Persons Unit (MPU) in the New York City FBI office is that flashbacks depict many events relevant to investigating the disappearance of the subject of the week.


A typical "Trace" episode begins with an incident that seemingly relates to the disappearance on which the MPU focuses. Examples include a workplace shooting and a local news producer arguing with the subject of a probe.

A character vanishing from the screen indicates that said person is the one who has gone missing. Captions that appear periodically throughout the episode help the audience follow the investigation's timeline.

The flashbacks come in the context of interviews or interrogations of witnesses or suspects related to the disappearance. For example, a witness reporting that he or she had lunch with the missing person the day before the disappearance leads to a scene that depicts that lunch. Of course, the action in every flashback provides clues regarding the disappearance.

Anthony LaPaglia plays team leader Jack Malone whose pursuit of justice occasionally prompts him to go slightly Jack Bauer. The fact that he chokes and otherwise is rough on one uncooperative witness and openly harasses the owner of a gambling club but stops an even rougher interrogation that is getting out of hand shows his limits.

Poppy Montgomery does just as well as tough but caring team member Samantha Spade. Her unplanned and unwanted pregnancy from a one-night stand with a bartender makes a good season-long story arc.

A more compelling multi-episode story arc involves investigating a human trafficking, a.k.a. white slavery, ring that abducts and savagely brutalizes 20-something women and forces them to work in brothels. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" James Marsters does a great job as a detective who joins that hunt, and "E.T.'s" Henry Thomas appearing in a segment in that arc shows that Elliott is all grown up.
 
A statement from a character in another series, and that Malone expresses in a conversation with "CSI's" Gil Grissom in an awesome cross-over episode, shows how "Trace" is set apart from other procedurals. Those remarks noted that working missing persons offers a hope for a happy ending that does not exist regarding most law-enforcement work.

The ratio of happy endings not-so-positive outcomes is roughly 1-to-5 in the sixth season's first10 episodes. A few missing persons are found relatively unscathed, but the team always gets their man or woman.

Related twists are that the missing people and the people who cause the ultimate disappearance fall along a range from total innocence to complete villain that depicts the human race.

The wide range of missing persons also adds to the series' appeal. The season premiere focuses on an apparent kidnapping of a young boy. Other episodes involve searches for a college student, a 20-something office worker, a crime-scene cleaner and his daughter, and a middle-aged ex-con who had committed a white collar crime.

It really is interesting to see the relationship between what seems to motivate the disappearance and the actual cause of that event, how truly unexpected twists after an initial fleeing plays a role, and how those significant events sometimes never play a role. Two of the deaths turn out to be entirely accidental and truly tragic for the characters who cause them.

The Christmas episode that involves a mall Santa is one of the season's best and deserves a place on a list of top 25 Christmas episodes ever.

One element of this story involving the most adorkable Santa ever is very predictable, but the highly likable nature of this earnest emo and the rare amount of humor in the episode make it exceptionally entertaining. (It is no surprise that this Saint Nick has a highly coveted lap.) It is also an episode in which justice prevails in nice ways.

Another episode has a great TV Land element by having "The Facts of Life" Nancy McKeon and "Star Trek: The Next Generation's" Michael Dorn play the parents of a missing college student whose racial remarks end up in a viral video. This offering is hardly a "The Love Boat" plot but seeing two beloved '80s actors roughly 20 years after their shows ended is a treat. 

The bottom line is that Bruckheimer dos his usual good job making a procedural interesting and watching the DVD episodes easily passes the "one more" test.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Trace" is encouraged to email me.