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Series: Cold Case
The Cold Case investigators and their boxes.

Vera: An '83 job can wait, Lilly. Come on.
Lilly: No, it can't. It's waited long enough.

A cold case is a criminal investigation that has been rendered inactive and unsolved due to a lack of evidence, witnesses, or suspects to form a solid lead. When new evidence does show up, it's a long, difficult, and painful process to peel back the layers of dust covering it and try to put the new lead into context with what's already known about the case, and where that may lead, no one knows.

This is the basis of Cold Case (2003-2010), a Jerry Bruckheimer-created crime drama that forms one corner of his crime drama trifecta (along with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Without a Trace, both of which had crossovers with the show). Far less science or legalese-absorbed than the other Bruckheimer-verse installments, Cold Case instead focuses on the human aspect of a crime, and how the victims, witnesses, and criminals are affected by the crime both at the time of its commission and in the years afterwards. Expect a lot of Timeshifted Actors and Nothing But Hits, as the bulk of the story is told through flashbacks. Also expect a bit of a history lesson with each episode, as a great many of the cases have something to do with something historically significant at the time (for instance, one of the oldest cases deals with woman's suffrage). It's also brutal about "The Good Old Days," blatantly showing them to be every bit as bad (or worse) than present day. Expect at least two or three episodes a season to deal with themes of racism or homophobia.

The emotionally driven nature of the show means that it will most likely not interest those interested in the "hard science" of crime solving. However, it is, in general, well done, and more suited to those looking for something more emotionally involving.

Based on the A&E reality show Cold Case Files and many suspect also the Canadian series, Cold Squad.

This show provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: The seventh season set up a whole smattering of interesting-sounding plotlines, including new love interests for Lilly, Kat, Vera, and Stillman, Lilly receiving a job offer from the FBI, and Scotty's quest for justice for his robbed and raped mother ultimately leading to his becoming accessory to the murder of the perpetrator, none of which were resolved due to the show being canceled with that season.
  • Accidental Murder: A number of cases.
  • Acquitted Too Late: Happens in Death Penalty: Final Appeal, and somewhat in Thrill Kill. In Death Penalty: Final Appeal the murderer is caught one day after the innocent man is executed, and in Thrill Kill one of the people wrongfully convicted ultimately has to hang himself in prison to get the police to reopen the case.
  • Age Cut: The viewer is frequently treated to flashes between the younger and older versions of the characters.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Deconstructed in "Running Around." Anna thinks the leather-clad, Tall, Dark and Handsome Vince is her Jerk with a Heart of Gold Prince Charming. He's actually exactly as dangerous as he looks, being a date-rapist.
  • All Just a Dream: Into The Blue; borderline Dying Dream
  • Alpha Bitch: Stand Up and Holler, Boy Crazy, Sleepover. This show usually has the Alpha Bitch be a nicer person in the present, or at least have them recognize how bitchy she was.
  • Always Murder: Averted in at least two episodes, Fireflies and Ghost of My Child. Sort of necessary, given the format, since murder is one of the few crimes with no Statute of Limitations. Several others have had the death be a result of suicide or genuine accident. In particular, in "The Good Death", it was the result of a Mercy Kill rather than a cold-blooded murder.
    • " Fly Away" and " Best Friends" were supposed to be double suicides that went awry and only one person died.
  • Amoral Attorney: ADA Danner in "Death Penalty: Final Appeal," who knowingly sent an innocent man to the lethal injection to pretty up his numbers. In the closing montage, he gets disbarred.
  • Answer Cut: Customarily subverted; often, someone involved in a case will allude to information, just before a flashback containing it.
  • Arc Words:
    • "The woods" in the George Marks two-parter.
    • "Nobody cares" in the Paul Shepard two-parter.
    • "The Republican Hotel" in "Wings."
    • "Together we stand" in "Glory Days"
  • Armored Closet Gay: The killer in "The Brush Man" killed the victim when the latter confronted him about beating his son when the boy saw him getting his knob slobbed by another guy at the park.
  • Artistic License - Law: The headmistress of the school for the deaf is used as an interpreter in "Andy in C Minor". Leaving aside the fact that the Philadelphia Police Department probably either has on staff already or could easily find a sign language interpreter, is it really advisable to use a possible suspect as an interpreter?
  • Asshole Victim: The Plan, Blackout, Justice, Greed just to name a few
  • The Atoner: Many of the more sympathetic killers try to turn to this, living exemplary lives to make up for what they did, or living crappy lives as a means of punishing themselves.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Two episodes feature as victims singers named "Truck Sugar" and "Bingo Zohar." Judging by the fact that these names appear on their boxes, they apparently aren't stage names.
  • Bad Samaritan: The killer in "Offender", who lured the victim into his garage under the pretense of helping him patch up his knee (he'd fallen and cut it) and offering him a soda.
  • Badass Grandpa: John Stillman, especially in "The Woods".
  • The Bad Guy Wins: "Mind Games", though he's brought down in "The Woods", and "The Runaway Bunny." "Red Glare" also sort of qualifies, as the killer essentially accomplished everything he wanted and got away with his crime for fifty years, and although he's caught in the end it's strongly implied that he's too old to be given a severe punishment for his actions. "Late Returns" and "The House" also end with the detectives being unable to arrest the killer, but in those cases the deaths were an accident and self-defense respectively.
  • Bank Robbery: Dog Day Afternoon
  • Batter Up: A Time to Hate, Colors and Stealing Home.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Done in a weird way in "It's Raining Men;" the studly, Really Gets Around-type gay man who is revealed to have been giving other men AIDS For the Evulz has aged much worse that the straight-laced key witness who was the victim's totally-devoted partner... but he's also become a much better person with age.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Scotty Valens was suspended in an episode after beating the crap out of an inmate that said suicide is cowardly and a result of the loved ones failing to do their work. His childhood love had recently committed suicide. In a lesser tone, Vera used to react very badly to comments about his failed marriage.
    • Scotty also beats the crap out of a non-child-molesting-pedophile when the man refuses to stop hanging around a playground, even after Scotty has warned him off. In a later episode, we learn that when they were kids, Scotty's brother was molested by their boxing coach.
    • Jeffries beats the crap out the crooked DA whose obstruction resulted in an innocent man getting executed.
      • In addition, it's also not wise, if you're a minority suspect, to pull the "I was only arrested because all police are racist" card in front of Jeffries.
    • Vera was so obsessed with solving the case of a serial rapist who had murdered his latest victim that he relentlessly browbeat two suspects (despite the fact that one of them cooperated fully) to the point where the DA had to explicitly tell him to stay away from each man. Five years later not only does the warning still stand, both men are still afraid of him.
    • Vera really seems to hate rapists in general, possibly due to the effect this case had on him.
    • ALL of the detectives react very badly while interrogating George Marks, when rather than caving in and confessing, he instead taunts them about traumatic events in their life—Scotty's schizophrenic girlfriend, Vera mishandling the abovementioned rape case (in fact, Vera needs to be restrained from attacking him), the death of Jeffries' wife (George implies he was the one who killed her, though he wasn't, Jeffries stays calm in the interview but loses it later), Stillman's failed marriage and Lilly's childhood mugging.
    • Just about anything having to do with the armed forces—disrespect, ill-treatment—is this for Stillman, having been in the service himself. His contempt for a man who falsely claimed to have been a POW (like the victim) is greater than that for the killer himself.
    • For Lilly, it's bad mothers, to the point where she acts extremely cold to two women who were genuinely trying to improve as parents. It's Personal for her.
    • Many of the victims get killed because they trip the killer's button. For example, the victim in "Beautiful Little Fool" is killed because she called the killer "lowly".
  • Betty and Veronica: Soul had the Shaunda the church girl and Beatrice, a girl with a reputation who is secretary to a record producer. The victim ends up having a son with the latter and gets killed by the former because she's a Yandere.
  • Bigger Bad: The unseen head of the mental hospital in "Committed" turns out to have been the one behind the murder, but had died years before so unfortunately the only ones the detectives could arrest were his very sympathetic subordinates who were forced to carry out the crime.
  • Billy Elliot Plot: Shuffle, Ball Change
  • Bittersweet Ending: Every episode. The flashbacks spend a lot of time developing the victim's character, allowing the audience to get to know him or her, often making them so nice that it's easy to forget that he/she is already dead. Even their killer finally being arrested can't take away the sting of this person being gone forever—especially since the killer themselves is often depicted as being genuinely horrified by their actions. And in the case of the occasional Asshole Victim, it bites that someone's being arrested for killing someone who probably got what he or she deserved.
    • "The Runaway Bunny" has one of these. The doer is caught and the victim gets justice. Great! Unfortunately the doer was just a henchman, and they don't have enough evidence to charge the real villain.
    • "Chinatown." Literally everything could have been prevented had one specific cop just arrested the local Chinese mob leader, but he didn't because he figured someone else just as bad would replace him. Even all three villains - the cop, the mob boss, and the killer - getting theirs at the end doesn't seem to balance out the fact that two innocent lives were lost and several more ruined all due to the cynicism of one man.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Daniel Patterson from Slipping, the Lealands from Spiders, the Beaudries.....come to think of it most of the murderers qualify, albeit some are more sympathetic than others
  • Black Sheep: Christina Rush. Though in a way every Rush save Lilly is a Black Sheep which would then make her a White Sheep.
  • Black Widow: The Runaway Bunny. The killer in Gleen is a Black Widower, as is the accomplice in Start-up, which is how he knew what poison to give to the killer to commit the dirty deed.
  • The Blue Beard: Lonely Hearts and to a lesser extent Gleen.
  • Boot Camp Episode: The two part season 6 finale.
  • Bottle Episode: The flashbacks in Blood on the Tracks are all in the same house, over the same few days. Also used in Blackout, where the flashbacks were in the same house over a matter of hours, and in Shattered, depicting the victim's prom night.
  • The Boxing Episode: Yo Adrian.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Mike Delaney (Justice) actually pissed himself when his victims confronted him.
  • Breaking Speech: John Smith tries this on Lilly in The Road. Then he takes it too far and Lilly's Kensington background proves vital to the case.
    • George Marks uses it on everyone in both the episodes he's in.
  • Broken Bird: Seems to be Scotty's type. Lampshaded by ADA Thomas.
  • Broken Record: A literal version in Static, wherein a gunshot causes a record player in immediate range to be covered in blood.
  • Bromantic Foil: The killer in "Iced" is pretty much the stereotypical lovable loser best friend of the main character. He becomes resentful that his friend has distanced himself from him so he can concentrate on being a good hockey player so he gets back at him by raping and impregnating his girlfriend.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Late Returns.
  • Buried Alive: One Night.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Stillman to a T. He's the only one of the main characters who never flirts with dirtiness at any point in the show.
  • California Doubling: Averted for six seasons, which included shots of Philadelphia that sometimes bordered Scenery Porn. However, the last season was filmed entirely in Los Angeles to reduce production costs.
  • Call Back: In the episode Bad Night Jeffries tells a suspect about how he'd kill the hit and run truck driver that killed his wife if he ever got the chance. The suspect counters that he wouldn't, because he'd realize in the end that it was an accident. A season later Jeffries finds out the identity of his wife's killer, goes to confront him... but doesn't kill him, because he realized it wouldn't bring his wife back.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: The only witness in Saving Sammy is a boy with High Functioning Autism. He regresses for several years, making it hard for him to even speak, much less tell the truth.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Some episodes feature characters who are Obviously Evil (and played by big name actors) as a way mislead the viewers into believing they are the killers.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Creatures of the Night (The Rocky Horror Picture Show star Barry Bostwick as a serial killer) and One Fall ("Rowdy" Roddy Piper as a fictional wrestler).
  • Central Theme: Some episodes have their own.
  • The Charmer: Dex Collins, the victim in "Street Money" has an uncanny ability to turn enemies to allies. This gets him killed by an irate shopkeeper when he found out Dex cut a deal with a corrupt city councilman.
  • Chekhov's Gun: At some point in the many flashbacks, sometimes even from the very first one, something is said or done that proves relevant not only to the victim's murder, but to the identity of their killer. Sometimes in the present-day scenes as well— in "Sandhogs", a unique cigarette lighter owned by one of the suspects turns out to have been a gift given to the victim, thus revealing him to be the murderer.
    • "Wilkommen" deals with a murder that took place during a play, thus limiting the suspects to the cast and crew. Early on, the music director briefly mentions that the equipment in his booth lets him hear everything in the theater easily, a point that's dropped fairly quickly. At the end of the episodes, the suspects have been narrowed down to two, both of whom planned to scare the victim the night of the show, and each flips on the other, leaving the cops with no case. Stillman seems like he's about to reluctantly let the case die for lack of evidence, before Lilly remembers that if the music director had been in the booth at the time, he'd have heard the plan too. Yup, he did it.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: "Stalker," one of the few episodes where the killer turned out to be none of the episode's pool of suspects. Who was it? The male nurse who'd only been in one scene at the very beginning.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Scotty has known his ill-fated fiancee since they were kids.
  • Children Are Innocent: The victim in "Glued" is a little boy that doesn't understand the pressures of being raised by a single mother or the racist tension in his neighborhood. He is killed by someone who claimed something like "he betrayed his race", again something he didn't understand.
  • Christmas Cake: The killer in "Wings". And the innocent frenemy of the victim in "Factory Girls", at all of 22, thanks to the standards of when the episode is set.
  • Clear My Name: "Hubris", "It's Raining Men", "Frank's Best", "Death Penalty: Final Appeal", "Thrill Kill", "Iced", "Two Weddings", "Flashover", "Bad Night".
  • Color Wash: Almost every episode. It is used to distinguish the scenes in the past from those in the present. For instance, scenes taking place in the seventies will have vivid warm colors, scenes taking place in the early nineties are black, white, and grey, while the present-day scenes will have a 'normal'/slightly blue-tinged colour scheme.
    • Taken a step further in a flashback in the episode "Volunteers", set in 1969. A character mentions she was "tripping", and the resulting flashback has a rather odd and slanted look.
  • Confessional
  • Cool Old Lady: Audrey Abruzzi, the last surviving witness in "Torn," is very elderly, very quirky, and very helpful to the case.
  • The Coroner: Frannie Ching.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Such a person is an accomplice in "Breaking News." To his credit, he probably didn't intend anyone to actually die, but that still doesn't save him from the slammer.
  • Cult: Blank Generation.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: In Shore Leave. One suspect, a former Marine, lied about his age to fight in The Korean War, but became the Butt Monkey of his platoon and Drill Sergeant Nasty because of his ineptitude. He ended up saving the lives of his comrades by responding quickly to a P.L.A. ambush on the front lines and was awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Years later, even with proof of his heroism, his old Sergeant still thinks he was only one step up from a total washout.
  • Cross Over: When blood found at a scene on this show matched NYPD Detective Stella Bonasera's, one of the detectives traveled to CSI NY to solve it. Also adds to the whole The Verse thing, with the CSI shows and Without a Trace.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Saving Patrick Bubley. Tragically so.
  • Daddy Didn't Show: Subverted in Static. Apparently, Daddy took too long to show. His wife was pissed off, and shot him when he tried to apologize.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Lily's dad — he was an alcoholic like mom, but when he became sober, mom threw him out and cut him off from Lily and Christina. Also the episode Family.
  • The Danza: John Finn as John Stillman.
  • Dark Secret: Often the motive for many of the crimes.
  • Dead Pan Snarker: Most of the main cast has it's Moments but special mention goes to Detective Nick Vera
    • (From The Promise) "He's Cute. French maids do it for me too"
  • Dead Person Impersonation:
    • The dead woman from Committed was using the identity of a murder victim.
    • The killer from Blood on the Tracks took the identity of one her victims. As it turns out, this was easy to do as they bore a strong resemblance to each other.
    • The Hen House, the murderer was a Nazi guard at Auschwitz who stole the name of a young man killed at the camp, both to escape and in an attempt to redeem himself. With the rest of the family also having died at the camp, he easily passed without much question, even going so far as to join the man's living family members in the US (who didn't have a way of knowing it was a impostor, having likely never met) and lived among them for over sixty years. He was only caught thanks to a investigation into the murder he committed in the 40's, both to prevent from being exposed and being half-enraged/half-heartbroken that his victim (whom he'd fallen in love with) rejected him after finding out what he'd done.
  • Death by Falling Over: Multiple episodes feature the Victim of the Week dying after being shoved (down a flight of stairs, off a balcony, on to a curbstone, etc.) by the killer.
  • Deconstruction: Many episodes serve as deconstructions of entire time periods, or people's attitudes toward "the good old days" in general.
  • Department of Child Disservices: The episodes Fly Away, The Woods, and Ghost of My Child have the child service workers being a pedophile, a burglar, and a child kidnapper, respectively.
  • Depraved Bisexual: How many shows have one of these in the first episode? It was in the form of a jailed, somewhat effete pederast. Also seen in Greed where the manipulative stockbroker tells young men they can get ahead if they sleep with him, and sleeps with a mother and a son to get the mother to invest money.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The Victim of the Week is fleshed out in numerous flashbacks that keep him/her onscreen throughout the entire episode. As such, it is often very easy to forget that these persons are already dead despite their death having been established within the first five minutes, making the final scenes that depict their murder and the person responsible quite gut-wrenching.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Many of the murders are played this way. "Shuffle, Ball Change," "Triple Threat," "The Letter," and "Almost Paradise" were all rather cruel, but the most bloodcurdling one of all was probably "A Perfect Day."
  • Dies Wide Open: How many bodies are found.
  • Dirty Cop: Plenty, including...
    • The killer in "A Perfect Day," who used his police connections to cover up his own Domestic Abuse.
    • The killer in "Bad Reputation," who, cleaned out by his ex-wife in their divorce, began using his informants to commit crimes for him.
    • The finale reveals Deputy Commissioner Doherty was actually crooked, rather than just sleazy, albeit for idealistic reasons, fudging his druggie son's criminal record to omit manslaughter to enable him to rebuild his life.
    • And arguably, the protagonists, bar Stillman, flirt with this in "Justice" by letting a man who killed a serial rapist walk.
    • The victim from Forever Blue turns out to be this, albeit out of desperation.
      • An even better example from the same episode is Lt. McCree, who took kickbacks from Philly's heroin kingpin at the time and cold-bloodedly shot a fellow officer for being gay.
  • Dirty Coward: When you sum up everything she did, the killer in Blood On The Tracks is this - she even admits to it when confronted by Lily.
    • The victim in Justice is a serial date rapist who exploited the lax laws regarding date rape to repeatedly perpetuate the crimes, peed himself when several of his former victims confronted him at gunpoint, and then acted unapologetic and unrepentant about his actions once they left. The detectives become so repulsed by what they learned of him that they actually tell the killer what to say in court to defend himself.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Vicki in "Bad Night," who has no less than three suitors throughout the episode, including the victim and the killer.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Straight example in Hubris - the old case is reopened because a prostitute is murdered in the same way as the other victim in the modern day... yet this new victim is almost not investigated at all, and she does not appear in "ghost form" when her killer is caught at the end, while the old victim does. Other episodes' cases like The Letter and Running Around go cold in the first place because the victims were mistaken as prostitutes, so the cops didn't put any effort in searching for their killers.
    • It may not have had as much priority as the main case, but the hooker's murder is investigated in Hubris. Catching the guy responsible is what leads them to the other killer's arrest.
    • And that isn't why the case in Running Around goes cold. It does because the victim was an Amish girl on rumspringa. They had no records on her, and she had no ID.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The killers from Rampage and Sabotage respectively.
    • "Thrill Kill". The guy killed his son and his friends because of a harmless prank they pulled on him.
    • None of these hold a candle to the guy from "Disco Inferno," who murdered 23 people over an insult to his dancing skills and displays not one iota of remorse.
  • Domestic Abuse: Several but most notably in A Perfect Day, Churchgoing People and The Brush Man
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: The murderer in "Shore Leave".
  • Drugs Are Bad: "The Red and The Blue".
  • Drop the Hammer: Spiders.
  • The Dutiful Daughter: Lilly
  • Eagleland: "Devil Music" is a deconstruction of Type 1, in a similar vein to Pleasantville. It's set in a seemingly-idyllic Leave It to Beaver-style community, but over the course of the episode, the victim, an Elvis Presley Expy, starts discovering and bringing to light dirty little secrets about the town, such as its incredibly-restrictive racism and sexism. He's ultimately killed by his cousin, who had bought into the Leave it to Beaver thing completely and blamed the victim for taking his utopian life away from him (but, of course, it was never utopian to begin with and the cousin was Completely Missing the Point).
  • Education Papa: Knuckle Up has one.
  • Enhance Button: Played with - the detectives move up close to the screen. Though Vera laments that their station is too poor to have one of those zoomer things.
  • Enfant Terrible: Averted; most young killers are very sympathetic. The one exception was apparently John Smith, and even he would only start committing his murders as an adult (though he did let someone die as a kid).
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The killer's brother in "Strange Fruit" may be a rapist and a Morally Bankrupt Banker, but lynching a man and making a child watch brings even him to tears.
  • Everybody Did It: That Woman
  • Everybody is Single
  • Evil Counterpart - Some of the killers are this to the victim.
  • Evil Matriarch: Probably many, but one in particular stands out: She's an ex-beauty queen who needs to feel sexually attractive to men — all men, including her own son and grandson (which is what gets her killed after her neglected "plain Jane" daughter catches on). The killer's mother in "Spiders" is probably even worse; she's a sweet, '50s-style mom who runs a neo-Nazi coven in her basement and emotionally railroads the other killer into committing his crime.
  • Evil Old Folks: Several perps are quite elderly in the present, though with the mitigating factor that they were young when they actually committed their crimes. Special mention goes to the nonagenarian, Alzheimers-afflicted guy from "World's End," who'd gotten away with his crime for almost seventy years. They still lock up the poor old guy, too, arguably a Kick the Dog for the main characters.
  • Evil Teacher: Several.
    • The guy in "True Calling" who forced his students to run drugs.
    • The coach in "Family," who molested one of his students in the locker room and apparently planned to do the same to the girl's now-grown daughter, who he may or may not have believed was also his daughter from said rape (she's not, the girl's boyfriend was the father). The actual killer was also a teacher, but played more sympathetically than the coach.
    • The Asshole Victim in "The Plan," a swimming coach who was shown to relentlessly bully and browbeat his students. As if this wasn't bad enough, the investigation reveals that he was a pedophile.
    • The Green-Eyed Monster of a music teacher (and murderer) in "Triple Threat."
    • The coach and booster of the football team in "Glory Days," who dosed their players with steroids without their consent, ruining the academic and athletic careers of at least one.
  • Expy: Possibly unintentional, but the victim Julian Bellowes in "Libertyville" has a lot in common with George Bailey, right down to a similar name.
  • Face-Heel Turn - More than once, a victim in this show has been killed by a loved one—friend/relative/spouse—who turns bad.
  • Fair Cop
  • Famous Last Words: Several victims have had pretty awesome things to say to their killers at the end:
    • "You mean your boss? I'll tell him. I'll tell everyone!" in "Strange Fruit."
    • "You don't exist." in "Who's Your Daddy?"
    • "My son was more of an American than you will ever be!" in "Family 8108."
    • "You're as bad as Bartleby!" in "Beautiful Little Fool."
  • Fashion Hurts: Quincy Bubley's cornrows.
  • Fat Bastard: Jim Larkin, the doer in "Lovers' Lane," is both the heftiest perp seen on the show and one of the evilest.
    • Brad Atwater, the doer in "Who's Your Daddy", could also count: he's a pretty hefty guy himself, and he had a history of abusing and degrading his illegal workers, from taking a cut of their paychecks for himself, to degrading women and having them lick his boots and service him sexually.
  • Fatal Flaw: The victims are usually killed because of their own best qualities.
    • "Bombers" - The victim's obsession with honoring, later avenging, his friend.
    • "The Runaway Bunny" - The victim can't help being a Deadpan Snarker even when his life is in danger.
    • "The Brush Man" - The victim's hate towards abusive husbands and fathers.
    • "Jackals" - The victim is a thief, a quality she inherited from her white collar criminal father.
    • "Street Money" - The victim's devotion to being a completely honest politician, despite everyone from his campaign manager to his opponent telling him this is unrealistic.
  • A Father to His Men: John Stillman, the Benevolent Boss.
    • Lt. Brown from "The Red and The Blue" is even more of an example. His detectives all call him "Big Daddy" and Rush and Valens are encouraged to as well. They are initially hesitant to do so, but later he address Rush as "Little Sister" and she calls him Big Daddy without missing a beat.
  • Finally Found the Body: The break needed when it was a missing persons case that went cold, rather than a murder. Even though the audience has seen the victim's body at the beginning of the episode and knows that he/she is dead.
  • Finger in the Mail: A coyote (smuggler of humans along the US-Mexico boarder) would kidnap the children of families that missed payments, cut off their ear and mail it to the family, then kill the child if there was still no payment received.
  • Fingore: The signature of the serial killer from It Takes a Village was to cut one of his victims' fingers off. The House also had a scene where the corrupt warden broke two of an inmate's fingers with something that looked like a pair of pliers.
  • 555: 215-555-0196, on Saving Sammy. The number flashes on the doer's cell phone, putting him at the crime scene.
  • Fish Eye Lens: The flashbacks in The Hitchhiker are mostly shot like this.
  • Flashback
  • Flashback Effects: Flashback scenes imitate the style and appearance of actual footage from that time period, including Deliberately Monochrome for really old cases.
    • It's not just Deliberately Monochrome. They go the whole hog, spots on the film and what have you.
    • An episode where the crime happened at a party in 2004 had flashback footage looking like it was filmed with a camera phone. Similarly, an episode set in 1990 looked as though it were filmed on home video.
    • Episode 3x01, "Family," is set in 1988. They use a pop art style with four windows in one screen, and colors exaggerated.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Lotto Fever
  • Forced to Watch: The killer's nine-year-old niece in "Strange Fruit." The killer was a real piece of work, as you can probably tell.
    • In "Perfect Day" Cindy's abusive husband at one point threatens "to take away what she loves the most". One of the women who runs the battered women shelter translates this as: he'd murder their children and make her watch him do it. Nice guy. He does in fact murder one of their children in front of her, but she is able to save the other.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We already know someone's going to die—the very first minutes of each episode depicts this. The flashbacks and investigations serve to reveal the identity and motive of whoever is responsible.
  • Foreshadowing: The opening scenes often drop hints as to what lead to the victim's murder.
  • Forensic Drama
  • Future Loser
    • A special yet recurrent variant is to show people that were beautiful or hot in the past (and exploiting it for their benefit) to be "fugly" or having aged way worse than others in the present, even if they weren't really bad people back then. Examples include the rival male dancer in Disco Inferno, the football player in Stand Up and Holler, the Gold Digger in The Runaway Bunny, the gorgeous blonde in Justice and the former prom king in Almost Paradise... Yet none of these are as hard as the dumb babysitter in Baby Blues, which in the modern day is still dumb, really ugly and now... "works" in the street.
    • Notably averted in Debut - all of the young, beautiful high-society debutantes (male and female) are still fairly attractive (for their age) 40 years later. Wealth and privilege can have that effect though.
    • "Almost Paradise" also had an inversion; the victim's mousy, bespectacled Hopeless Suitor grew up to be a tough martial arts instructor, albeit still one who uses an inhaler.
  • The Gambling Addict: Explored in The River.
  • Gang Bangers: All of the suspects in Saving Patrick Bubley.
  • Gas Lighting: in "Slipping"
  • Gay Aesop: The whole show is this, even during episodes where a gay person is not the Victim of the Week. However, it also crosses into being a Broken Aesop due to both the tremendous amount of crap that the gay victim/relative/non-victim/etc. goes through during the episode and the fact that the show considered discrimination against gays wrong but had no problem going after certain groups of Acceptable Targets.
  • Gayngst: The surviving partners in Forever Blue and Best Friends, who are still closeted and mourning their one true love when the team comes to investigate decades later.
  • Genius Bruiser: Metamorphosis
  • Gentle Giant: Metamorphosis Actually a subversion, as it is discovered that Lester is in reality a very mean Smug Snake that plays dumb to draw suspicions off him. He is Out-Gambitted and tricked to confess the crime.
    • Detective Vera is a straight version.
  • Gilligan Cut: In "Saving Sammy", Valens and Vera go to interview a witness who is autistic. Valens tells Vera to take his yellow tie as the witness does not like the colour yellow. Vera refuses. The next shot has them walking into the autistic boy's room. Vera is not wearing his tie.
  • A God Am I: Played with in The Woods.
    Big Bad: I AM GOD IN THESE WOODS!!
    Lilly: No, you're not... you're a scared little boy... whose mother didn't love him.
  • Gold Digger: Lotto Fever
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: The agenda of a suspect in season 3 opener "Family." She's a school nurse who talks kids out of getting their pregnancies "taken care of" because "murder is never easy." The show doesn't push the issue, as the character is a radical who has been arrested on multiple occasions in the process of pushing her cause, usually violently.
    Suspect: "I wanted him to see what goes on at the killing mills!"
    Vera: "Give me a break."
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Most victims are genuinely heroic people, which is usually why they get murdered, but the details of all the good things they'd done are only revealed as the investigation proceeds.
  • Guilt Ridden Accomplice: Several. The victim in "Blood on the Tracks" was killed because he himself was one and wanted to go to the police. In "Forever Blue" the victim's father, a police sergeant, hired another cop to beat the homosexuality out of his son; unfortunately the guy was completely Axe Crazy and shot him instead. He kept this a secret well into his twilight years, until the detectives persuaded him to tearfully give up himself and the killer.
  • Hanging Judge: Jurisprudence
  • Hate Sink: The episodes with a Sympathetic Murderer typically also include a genuinely-vile secondary character so the audience has someone to root against - the pedophile in "Fly Away," the date-rapist club owner in "Roller Girl," the slimeball who sold a machine pistol to a kid in "Time to Crime," and so on. Sometimes this character is even the victim themselves.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?
    • A variation is occasionally used where the key piece of evidence is a prize possession of the victim's that had mysteriously gone missing; usually, this item turning up in the hands of one of the suspects is all the detectives need to close the case.
  • Heel Face Door Slam
    • The victim (and Serial Killer partner) in "Lonely Hearts," realizing she's outlived her usefulness, attempts to warn the killer's next intended victim. Unfortunately, the woman doesn't believe her, and, what's more, is in love with the killer, and ends up shooting the other woman In the Back.
    • The murdered suffragette betrayed her friends and decided to try to rejoin them. She is instead accidentally killed by her mother.
    • The killer from "Boy Crazy" abandoned the victim, a girl who looks like a boy, after she kissed him because he didn't want anyone to think he was gay. He tried to break her out of a mental institution but too late, they had already tampered with her brain, leaving her half-dead. All he can do is finish her off.
  • He Knows Too Much: Part of the reason why the teacher in True Calling was murdered was because she knew a fellow teacher was using drugs and forcing her student to bring them to him.
    • A lot of other episodes, as well, such as Blood On The Tracks, where one of the victims wanted to confess to the police about a crime that he and the other suspects had all been involved in—only to be killed before he could.
  • Hidden Depths: Every suspect, victim and people involved in the crimes have one.
  • His Name Is...: Yo, Adrian
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: "Hubris." The killer frames someone else for the crime and then asks the police to reopen the case, hoping to get that person convicted so the victim's family would get off his back. Unfortunately, the detectives were smarter than he thought and his intended patsy cooperated fully with them, allowing the case to lead right back to him. Oops.
  • Hollywood Law: The detectives will occasionally badger a suspect into not calling their lawyer, something very much not allowed in real life.
  • Hollywood Old: Actors who are only in their 60's are frequently hired to play characters in their 70's, 80's, or even 90's.
    • Particularly noticeable in "Family 8108," where two characters old enough to have teenage children in the 1940s don't look a day past a very well-aged 70 in the present, and in fact a friend and peer of one of said children actually looks older than them. One of the two (ostensibly) older characters also picked up an accent with age somehow.
  • Homeless Pigeon Person: There was a one-shot character who had known and mentored the victim of the week and was your typical pigeon keeper. He's like this due to depression caused by a mistake in his airplane design leading to several accidental deaths.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Explored as a possible motive in "Chinatown," as the boyfriend and girlfriend victims were Chinese and Vietnamese respectively and their relationship was thus looked down upon by the community. This turned out not to be the case; they were killed because they got caught up in a feud involving the local Tong boss.
  • Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: The handsome lothario in "Lonely Hearts" liked to court unattractive women, mostly because he knew they were so desperate they'd put up with his crap and therefore be easy to scam. But when his latest victim calls him out and instead of turning him in, suggests working with him and ratcheting up their schemes to include murder,he seems downright turned on. When she herself is killed (not by him, ironically), he's so despondent that he never takes up with another partner and years later finally kills himself while watching a videotape that she made, implying that in his own bizarre way, he genuinely fell for her.
  • How We Got Here: The flashbacks that fill in the gap between when we first meet the victim and when they were murdered. Occasionally, they even fill in the blanks from before the introduction.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The character of George Marks, played by John Billingsley, is shown hunting his victims in forests, much like the real-life serial killer Robert Hansen.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: All over the place in "Time To Crime", with the same MAC-10. Two kids are playing with guns in a hallway, and an adult is horrified to learn that one of the guns is real and fully loaded. Two college kids get their hands on the gun, and decide to randomly shoot some geese. They also end up hitting a nearby horse. Most heartrendingly, the killer of the episode shot at a crowded park and not only missed his target, but also killed his little sister.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Lampshaded, during the episode Thick As Thieves, by the victim's son, who turned out to be the one who shot her. Considering he had been on the road with his mother since he was 6, it's not surprising he'd feel that way.
  • I Lied: Rare heroic example, believe it or not. In "Jurisprudence" Scotty makes a deal with a corrupt judge who knows the killer's identity: the judge gives up the murderer, and in return Scotty doesn't expose his bribery scheme to the feds. The judge does so... and during the ending montage, we see Scotty called the feds anyway.
  • I Was Quite a Looker
  • The Illegal: The Eastern European women in Cargo, the victims in "Who's Your Daddy?"
  • Improvised Weapon: Since a lot of the murders are spur-of-the-moment, lots of different objects have been used. Some examples include a clock, a metronome, a phone, a crutch, and a skateboard.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: The killer in "The Hitchhiker" doesn't really have any noteworthy redeeming qualities, but he can be considered rather pitiable due to what an utter failure he is.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: How they trip up the doer in "Red Glare." Played with in "The Hitchhiker". The prime first suspect, a violent-tempered truck driver, seems to slip up this way when he denies killing "that hitchhiker". The detectives never told him the victim was hitching at the time of his death. As it turns out, he didn't kill the episode's victim. He did however kill two other hitchhikers the cops were trying to nail him for.
    • When Gibby Hanes is arrested and the detectives question him about a gun, he rants that they're worried about "some stupid Glock." Lily states that she never said it was a Glock.
  • In with the In Crowd: Stand Up And Holler. the Alpha Bitch murdered the victim because the latter had found out her friend was gang-raped as the final part of her initiation into the cheerleading squad. The friend could have saved her but didn't because she wanted to be popular. One of the teachers who used to be unpopular in his day covered up the rapes because he's still desperately trying to be in with the cool kids.
  • I See Dead People: At the end of most episodes the ghost of victim is seen by the officers and/or by someone who is they were close to (family, friend etc.) Occasionally the killer will also see the victim.
    • Subverted in two episodes in which the victim is not seen; the first because the case wasn't closed, and the second, because the victim was only a infant at the time of death. And then, there was the one where it turned out the victim wasn't dead.
  • It's Personal / One of Our Own: Officer Down
    • A variation of it in Honor. When he learns that their victim was a Vietnam POW, Stillman (a veteran himself) orders the detectives to treat it like it was one of their own.
    • Also in "Bad Night". Jefferies' flashback to arriving at the scene of his wife's accident. Watch the state trooper's visible change in demeanor when he realizes that he's not speaking to just any bereaved husband, but to a fellow officer.
  • Jackie Robinson Story: "Colors". In fact, a good portion of the victims fall into this category, given that their murder is related to the social issues of the time.
  • Jerkass: Lilly's racist first partner Detective Fulcrum, seen in flashback in "Saving Patrick Bubley;" it's implied rather strongly he wrote off pretty much all of his cases where the victim was poor and black as "public service murders" and made no effort to solve them.
    • Also, Jay Dratton, the victim in "The Good Death." He's not quite an Asshole Victim because he does have well-hidden good qualities (unlike, for instance, the serial rapist victim in "Justice") but he's still by-and-large a heartless corporate shyster.
      • The boyfriend of a rape victim who refused to give a DNA sample because it would have proven that he had never slept with the victim.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Vince Patrielli in Running Around. There are implications that he may have had some affection for the victim, but it's also clear he has no regrets about raping and impregnating her best friend.
  • Karma Houdini: Although George dies in The Woods, it's kinda how he wanted to die. And in Death Penalty: Final Appeal the crooked DA who got an innocent man executed simply loses his job (although it was also in the paper so to be fair his reputation was also irreversibly damaged).
    • In Real Life, what he did would get him disbarred and possibly even sent to prison. It's not unreasonable to think the same happened here, just simply off-screen.
    • Scotty never suffers any consequences for engineering the death of his mother's rapist, nor for beating up the would-be pedophile (though Scotty's assessment of him was correct, the man had technically not done anything illegal and as such, there was no reason for Scotty's assault on him). Ironic, since throughout the series he is reprimanded for other mistakes that he's made. In all fairness, the first one may have been because the show ended with the next episode.
    • In "Stand Up and Holler," while the Alpha Bitch who organized the rape of the Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds killer is arrested, neither the Jerk Jock who actually committed the crime nor the slimy loser gym teacher who covered it up in a desperate attempt to get all the Jerk Jocks and Alpha Bitches to like him are ever seen facing charges, though as statute of limitations hadn't expired it is feasible that the killer flipped on them to get a deal off-screen or something.
    • That case of the murdered Amish girl. Her friend had been raped and impregnated but she refused to press charges because it would wreck her family.
    • Subverted with the killers, who've been able to live a normal life for any number of years, even if they're finally arrested in the end.
    • The guy in "Red Glare" qualifies to an extent. The cops arrest him, but he smugly notes that given his age (the crime took place fifty years ago and he was at least thirty then) he's likely to be let off with a slap on the wrist. By extension, this may also be true of similarly aged villains such as in "Sandhogs," "WASP," "Family 8108," "Factory Girls," and maybe "Shore Leave."
  • Kavorka Man: Det. Vera. Even though he NEVER stays with any of the women he hooks up with, it boggles the mind how someone as uncouth as he is always tends to get them.
  • Keep Circulating the Tapes: Extensive use of hit music from different eras has made it prohibitively expensive to release on DVD.note  It's still heavily shown in syndication in the US at least.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Sleepover.
  • Kill and Replace: One case was about a couple killed in a gas explosion in their home. The husband had revealed to their friends that he was going to turn themselves in for the accidental death of another friend. So the wife convinced her ex-lover to make a homemade bomb which she used to kill her husband and a friend of theirs who no one knew was staying on longer. She then stole said friend's identity because they bore a strong resemblance to each other and she had no family or friends who would have noticed the difference.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: Metamorphosis
  • Kick the Dog: It's not hard to see the heroes as doing this at the end of "World's End" when they arrest the ancient, Alzheimer's-afflicted Felton Metz all the while the man's son (who, it's implied, has independently figured out his father was the killer) is begging them to let him live out his final days in peace.
  • Knight of Cerebus: The FBI agents from Red Glare. Everything turns black & white when they come around.
  • The Korean War: "Shore Leave"
  • Lady Drunk: Ellen Rush.
  • Left the Background Music On: The music playing during flashbacks or the end are occasionally shown to be playing in-universe. In 8 Years "Glory Days" is playing on a jukebox in a bar, in Wednesday's Women "This Little Light of Mine" is a lullaby Kat Miller is singing to her daughter, and in Shore Leave "Taps" is being played on the bugle at the Marine's funeral.
  • Lighter and Softer: As far as cop shows go, anyway. Karma Houdinis are rare, the victims are usually genuinely good people, and the detectives often manage to solve several other people's problems by solving the case. Granted, there's still plenty of rape, murder, and misery to go around, but compared to, say, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (where the victims and killers are frequently equally scummy and the perp gets away with it much more often), there is a much greater sense of hope in Cold Case.
  • Lonely at the Top: The prom queen victim in "Almost Paradise." As the episode progresses she makes peace with everyone she's alienated and pissed off with her popularity, only to be murdered over something completely unrelated that same night.
  • Lovable Jock: The victim and his best friend in "Glory Days." The coach and sponsor of the team had been slipping them steroids against their will, the side effects of which cause the friend to lose his scholarship. When the victim confronts the sponsor, the sponsor murders him.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Lonely Hearts, Resolutions, Saving Sammy, Soul.
  • Lying to the Perp: Done by almost every detective at least once, and especially recurrent in the case of Vera.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The "apparitions" that appear at the end of every episode.
  • Mad Bomber: Sabotage
  • Mad Love: Love Conquers All.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: "Blood On The Tracks". The explosion that killed the two victims was thought to be due to an accidental gas leak. 20-something years later, evidenced surfaced revealing that it was the result of a bomb. A handful of other deaths as well, that were initially thought to be accidental, suicide, or even natural causes.
  • Mama Bear: Several of the Sympathetic Murderer characters.
  • Manly Gay: The closeted cops in Forever Blue.
  • Married to the Job: Led to the divorces of Nick Vera and John Stillman, and is the reason for some of Lilly's failed relationships.
  • Medley Exit: Done in each episode when the full story comes out and the perp is identified, showing where are they now after the case is solved.
  • Mercy Kill / I Cannot Self-Terminate: Wishing and Boy Crazy; The Good Death also featured an Angel of Death-type serial killer as a character. Ironically, he wasn't the "killer", the man's wife was.
    • Also in The Letter, where a man suffocated his lover while she was being gang-raped by his drunken friends.
  • Mind Screw: "Into the Blue." The entire episode, apart from the very beginning and very end, and including all Lilly's efforts to solve the case therein, is a Dying Dream. Granted, the final montage shows that she turned out to be right in her dream-deductions.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A frequent device used to get evidence to reopen a case or even close it at last. Situations have included the following:
    • The victim's prize possession turning up in the hands of someone who would be very unlikely to have it unless they were involved.
    • Something "not quite right" being noticed in a suspect's finances.
    • The murder weapon, by sheer coincidence, being turned in or seized in an unrelated incident.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Some of the cases are reopened because of these. Also central plot of Death Penalty: Final Appeal
    • You could consider just about every episode as an example of this, considering how long someone has been able to get away with murder, even if they are finally caught at the end.
  • Misplaced Retribution:: The killer in "It Takes A Village". Horrifically abused while in a group home, he is now killing innocent boys who have the misfortune of reminding him of his tormentors, instead of, you know, those who actually bullied him, or those who let it happen.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Invoked in 8:03 AM, when the grandfather of a murdered black teen thinks the police are only reopening the case because a white girl was killed at the same time. He is actually wrong.
    • Several other (innocent) suspects admit that they fled from or refused to cooperate with the police because they knew they would be the prime suspect, simply for having been a black man in the mere vicinity of the dead white victim. One in particular, in "True Calling" was completely aware of who the murderer was—he saw the whole thing happen—but never said anything because he knew no one would believe him due to his race, class, and background.
    • Also in "It Takes A Village". Race is never mentioned, but it's obvious that the grieving relatives of the victims suspect that the cops would have paid more attention to the cases had they not been black boys from a poor section of Philadelphia.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: The flashbacks will often feature a nearly perfect representation of the era in question—hair, clothes, fads, music, social issues—the whole works.
  • Mistaken for Gay: The girl murdered in 1921 was thought to be this after a letter from her maid talking about their "shared passion", which is being suffragettes.
  • Moment Killer: The events mentioned under Broken Record are broadcast on the radio and spoil a makeout session.
  • Mommy Issues
  • Motive Rant: This is the main way to get convictions, since, in many of the cases, any physical evidence has degraded beyond use.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Jack Galton from Mind Games; in addition to being mentally ill himself, knowingly kept a mentally ill man insane by denying him medication, and he played on the guy's own schizophrenia to cover his tracks.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Anton the hunky orderly in "Committed." It doesn't end well for him; he's blackmailed into murdering someone with a threat of being framed for attempted rape, when in reality the women were very, very happy to partake in his hotness.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rita, the title character in "Pin-Up Girl," fittingly for her profession essentially looks like a live-action Jessica Rabbit. She's not entirely content to keep modeling forever, though.
    • Carrie, the victim from That Woman.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Resolutions.
  • Musical Nod: Get Together by the Youngbloods is the ending song for first season episode Volunteers the song shows up again in the final season episode Free Love. Both cases occur in the year 1969.
  • Music Video Syndrome
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The look on many of the perpetrators' faces, right after they've committed the murder.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: "Forensics" uses this trope in an appropriately twisted fashion fit for a murder mystery. The victim was a high school debate prodigy who was seen as this by his teacher, who had himself been an apt debater in high school before, so he tells it, his partner made an embarrassing mistake that cost him the national title. it's eventually discovered that he got the team disqualified by going apeshit on his opponent and was in denial about it, and what's more murdered his student when he decided to quit the team.
  • Nazi Grandpa: The Hen House.
  • Never Found the Body: Fireflies. Subverted in "Blood On The Tracks" and "Joseph", where bodies where found, but their mangled state thanks to the method of killing (explosion in the first case, shotgun blast to the face in the second) lead to them being misidentified.
  • Never Suicide: Averted in a handful of episodes, such as Two Weddings and Daniela
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    Will Jeffries: A white boy that played black music in the '50s? Reminds me of Elvis.
  • No Name Given: The serial rapist from season seven, despite having what was essentially a multi-episode side arc in which he raped Scotty's mother.
    • Later averted, his name was given in a later episode as Jimmy Mota.
    • John Smith's real name is never uncovered, since the guy was pretty much a ghost (always paid in cash, drove stolen cars and fake licenses, had no fingerprints or DNA on file). As one of the team put - "John Smith? More like John Doe."
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used To Be - This show exposed the unseemly sides of every time period, showing there's no such thing as "the good old days".
  • Nothing But Hits: Each episode almost exclusively used chart-toppers from the year of the episode's case during the Flashbacks. The most Crowning Music Of Awesome episodes are the ones where they feature a single artist. The episode featuring Bruce Springsteen's songs from each decade is the most awesome one.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The Central Theme of the show is how the death of the victim changes the lives of everyone involved and how its consequences still reverberate through the years.
  • Not Proven: One episode ends with a prominent politician admitting to Valens, off the record, that he committed the murder years ago. Unfortunately, his sister, in a misguided show of loyalty, has already confessed to everything, and there's no evidence to contradict her claims.
    • One episode has Cullen Masters, a disgraced hockey player who got banned from playing after being arrested for the murder of a rival. The cops had nothing against Masters other than the fact he hated the victim but that was enough for them to try (and fail) to force a confession out of him. While he was released, the league was so sure of his guilt they wouldn't allow him to play hockey again and, years later, this was held as a reason to ban his son from joining the league. The last part motivated Masters to investigate on his own and ask the police to reopen the case.
  • Not So Different: Serial killer George Marks used this straight on Lilly in The Woods.
    • The victims in the episodes of "Hoodrats" and "Read between the lines" play this straight as both were trying using their respective talents for monetary gain to create better lives for their brother and sister respectively.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The killer in "Metamorphosis" suffers from cereberal gigantism and uses the fact that people expect him to be mentally retarded to conceal his true intelligence.
  • Off With Her Head!: Mind Games.
  • Oh Crap: This is how several suspects react to the detectives.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. For example, the doer in "The Letter" is Nathan Jones, and the accomplice in "Metamorphosis" is Nathaniel Jones (incidentally, neither of them are pro wrestler Nathan Jones). There are also two characters named Rudy Tanner, though one never actually appears on-screen.
  • One-Woman Wail: The cold opening cuts to a single female voice sliding into a high note which starts off the lyric-less theme song.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Played all over the place in the episode "Stalker". The criminal is shot, with a sniper-rifle, through the shoulder, but seems relatively unaffected and is able to carry on until he finally fatally wounded in the episode's climax. Meanwhile, he shoots Stillman in the shoulder and despite concern that he's going into shock, he's merely patched up by EMS and is apparently well enough to sit in the hospital waiting room with the others as they wait for word on Lily, who has also been shot in the shoulder, but is rushed to the hospital for treatment and nearly dies from her wounds, the only one of the three to have her injury taken seriously. Even then, her lingering trauma is emotional rather than physical.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: Related to the Hollywood Law entry above—in several instances, a suspect's explicit request for a lawyer is blatantly ignored while the interrogation continues (although one puts his foot down and staunchly refuses to answer anymore questions until his attorney arrives). Another has Vera convinced that a suspect is guilty because the man refused to talk with them or offer a DNA sample. Both of these are perfectly within his rights, yet Vera sees them as proof of guilt and justification for continuing to hound the man. The occasional snarky "Why, got something to hide?" can probably be written off as simple Perp Sweating, but there are times it goes much further than that.
  • Outlaw Couple: Lonely Hearts
  • Pac Man Fever: In the episode It Takes A Village, the central clue to catching the killer is an arcade game called Defector 3. They describe it as a 'Role Playing Game' despite the fact that the on-screen action is akin to the fighting game Mortal Kombat. Great job guys.
  • Parental Abandonment: Lilly was raised (sorta) by her alcoholic mother alone.
  • Parting Words Regret: The father of the murder victim the detectives investigate in the Disco Inferno episode confesses to this: When the victim decides to defy him on his choice for future life career path, the father said "I... renounce... you." before leaving, barely hours before the son dies.
    • In the episode "Shuffle, Ball Change", the victim and his brother got into a shoving match that resulted in the brother injuring his knee, possibly derailing his wrestling career. Their infuriated father told the victim, "God help you, Maurice". The boy disappeared soon afterwards, leaving the father thoroughly haunted by the thought that his son had run away from home thinking that his father hated him, and even more torn up when he learned that his son had in fact been murdered, and that either way, those were the last words that he said to him.
  • Pass Fail: Libertyville
  • The Perfect Crime: Mind Hunters Probably the only one episode that has a Downer Ending.
    • Also The Runaway Bunny, though it isn't the episode's main case.
  • Perp Walk: Once per Episode.
    • Not always. For example, in A Perfect Day the killer is already dead. Stillman has his picture taken down from the bar he frequented though.
    • And in the episode with the case from 1919, the perp, and everyone involved except the eight year old daughter of the maid, was long dead, so all they could do was write "CLOSED" on the case box.
      • There are still parallels of the Perp Walk: In the 1919 case they handed the recorded confession to the great-grandniece of the victim who was also the great-great-granddaughter of the killer and in the 1929 case they confiscated the murder weapon as the ghost of the killer looked ashamed to his grandson.
      • Even the only episode where they couldn't break the killer (Mind Hunters) has a perp walk... but with the perp walking as a free man. This is a show that loves its format.
  • Pet the Dog: Often occurs in the closing montage with characters who were Jerkasses or criminals but not pure evil.
    • "It's Raining Men" had a character who was a Depraved Homosexual who deliberately gave other men HIV in 1983 become a kindly pet shop owner by 2004, who is literally seen playing with puppies in the ending montage.
    • In "Ravaged," the victim's sexually harassing Fat Bastard boss is revealed to have kept her dog after she died.
    • In "Daniela," the promiscuous and morally-bankrupt first suspect is seen finally turning down the advances of a prostitute.
    • The drug dealer in "Discretion" participates in a sting operation to help the cops bust the initial murderers; the main victim had been killed after discovering the man arrested for that crime had been framed.
  • Plot Hole: The entire plot of "Torn" essentially hinges on one of these, which hampers the enjoyability of the episode.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted. The episodes that flashback far enough don't shy away from the racism or sexism that was prominent at the time. Deliberate Values Dissonance is in full effect. Even the more recent cases don't ignore how prevalent discrimination still is—in 2001/2004, a landlord blithely admits that she would never rent to a black tenant nor even allow black people in her building, while a (innocent) black murder suspect admits that he ran from the police because he knew he'd be the prime suspect simply for being a black man in the vicinity of a dead white woman and her child.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Sean Murphy in Glued, Truitt in Spiders, Skip in Family 8108 (though it's implied to be done purely to deal with his guilt for betraying his friend....
    • Subverted with Jim Horn in "Wednesday's Women." He joined the Ku Klux Klan, but mostly just because everyone else was doing it and killed the victim, a white civil-rights activist, not out of racism but because she embarrassed him in front of his much-more-racist friends.
  • Posthumous Character: With only a few exceptions, the victim of the week, whose death is established in the opening sequence, yet remain onscreen throughout the episode, fleshed out via flashbacks with the information provided by friends, family members, etc. Occasionally, some of those tertiary characters themselves fit this trope, depending on how long ago the murder took place (1919, 1929, etc.)
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner
  • Professional Killer: Hector in "Sanctuary." He killed the victim too, but not because she was one of his targets; he just wanted the drugs she was muling.
  • Prom Baby: Family.
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: One Fall
    • Dan Browned: The victim, a dock worker who moonlighted as a wrestler until he was shot in 1986, complained to the promoter about going through a table. This was NOT common in pro wrestling in 1986.note 
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The killer from "Forensics" who turned out to be the victim's debate coach who had once been a debating prodigy until he lost his temper in the finals. He had turned his back on a promising legal career to teach debate and find someone to avenge his loss. He killed the victim when the latter decided to quit to take care of his suicidal father.
  • Punny Name: One of the suspects in "Daniela" is a man named John who frequently hires prostitutes.
  • Put on a Bus: The mostly forgotten detectives Chris Lassing (Lilly's first partner) and Josie Sutton. Saccardo goes through this twice. And then there is Scotty's girlfriend Elisa, who was...
    • Put on a Bus to Hell: To an asylum after suffering a mental breakdown, despite Scotty had promised her she wouldn't be interned. And then suffered a...
    • Bus Crash: By jumping off a bridge some time after she had been discharged. All this happened off-screen.
  • Quip to Black: Frequently, and usually Lily.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Wishing.
  • Reality Ensues: The ending of "Roller Girl" involves the victim and her best guy-friend, who has a crush on her, in a scene straight out of a romantic movie, so of course he kisses her on an impulse... and she's completely confused and revolted, and in the ensuing tussle falls to her death.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: One of the story arcs in season seven is the department suffering severe budget cuts, which coincides with CBS also doing budget cuts on the series. Possible Take That involved in the fact that the guy forcing those cuts is a new Deputy Commissioner that Stillman despises.
  • Really Seventeen Years Old: One episode has a subplot involving a witness who' an army recruit who lied about his age.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Happens in during perpetrator's confession during the interrogation and just before The Reveal of the actual murder scene.
    • Stillman gives a particularly vicious one in "Chinatown" to another cop who had been discovered to be in bed with the Tongs, the Chinese mob. The guy was completely aware of who the local Tong boss was and could have arrested him at any time, which would have prevented the murders, but didn't because he felt there was no point, as someone else would just take over. Stillman... was not amused.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Disco Inferno is The Jazz Singer, in The Seventies.
  • Recycled Premise: Though the majority of the premises are different, many viewers online noted that the episodes Family and Almost Paradise have strikingly similar endings because both involve a faculty member or teacher asking a favor from a student during a late 1980's high school senior party, both have the student refusing to comply, and both have student killed by faculty member running him or her over with a automobile.
    • Glory Days and Forensics also end rather similarly, with a student being murdered by a teacher after confronting them with both their own wrongdoing and the fact that their glory days at school were in reality anything but.
    • The victims in both the The Plan and Blackout are both killed in the same manner and for mostly the same reason, both get drowned in a swimming pool for being a pedophile.
    • Static and November 22nd are about money-broke men getting shot by a sentimentally-involved woman because they wanted to spend more time with their estranged daughters.
    • "Daniela" and "Boy Crazy" both end with a boy coming too late to save the girl they love.
    • The victims of "Shuffle, Ball Change" and "Wunderkind" are both killed by their brothers who they tried to help chase their dream.
    • "Fly Away" and "Baby Blues" are both about mothers who try to kill themselves and their child, and were only half successful.
    • The victims of "Red Glare", "A Dollar, A Dream" and "The Dealer" were all thought to have abandoned their children.
    • The victims of "A Time to Hate", "Colors", and "Stealing Home" were all baseball players who got killed with their own bats.
    • The victims of "That Woman" and "Wings" were killed because they got the men their killers loved fired. The killers were also both redheads.
    • The victims of "Beautiful Little Fool" and "Street Money" were killed because they refused to blackmail a public figure.
  • Red Herring: In "Offender", one of the prime suspects is the Goth-like teenage boy who often bullied the victim and his friend. When the victim's bicycle, which he was riding when he went missing, is found buried in his backyard, his status as the killer seems certain. Only for his lame excuses—having stolen the bike from the boy in yet another bullying incident and buried it when he heard the boy was dead, knowing that police would naturally assume he was responsible—to be true and for him to be innocent. Ironically, he was still indirectly responsible—the boy was injured during the melee and hobbled off to his friend's house to get patched up—where he encountered his murderer.
    • The man who outright threatens to harm the victim's girlfriend in "Sandhogs" ultimately had nothing to do with the murder.
    • Remarkably averted in at least two episodes where the person presented as the prime suspect was in fact the killer.
    • And subverted in most other cases—all suspects are presented with motives and opportunities before the guilty one is determined. Rarely has it turned out that the most innocent seeming person is in fact the murderer they've been looking for.
    • Everything up to and including the title of the episode in "Colors" wants you to think race was the motive. The killer is the only non-racist white character in the episode.
  • Red Scare: Red Glare
  • Reformed, but Rejected: The victim in Bad Reputation, who was just trying to clean up his act and be a good father to his estranged son after getting out of jail.
  • Refuge in Audacity: It's implied that this is how the serial rapist from "Lovers' Lane" was able to stay under the radar for so long, as his methods were so outlandish that any victim who reported him ran the risk of having their accusation dismissed as a wild story or else blamed themselves for getting into such a strange situation in the first place.
  • Rescue Romance: "Bad Night".
  • Ripped from the Headlines: A number of episodes—"Look Again" (Martha Moxley), "Strange Fruit" (Emmitt Till), etc—are based on real life cases. Most notably The Boy in the Box is so close to a still unsolved Philadelphia Cold Case that there isn't the usual "The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event" disclaimer at the beginning of the episode.
    • "Jurisprudence" was based on Pennsylvania's real-life "Kids for Cash" scandal, in which corrupt judges handed out harsh sentences to youth offenders for even the most minor infractions in exchange for kickbacks from a private company that ran the juvenile detention centers the kids were sent to.
    • And many others, while not referencing a specific case, do reference the hot-button social issues of the time—"It's Raining Men (Set in the early 80's, just as the AIDS crisis was beginning) Others happen against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Women's liberation, the dot-com bubble, the Space Race and so on.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Offender
  • Sanity Slippage: The victims in "Bombers" and "Slipping".
  • Save Our Students: "True Calling". the victim is killed by another teacher who's basically a jaded, older version of her, when she tries to get him to confess to drug use to save the future of the student he forced to carry for him. The student in question feels so responsible for her death that he descends into the life of crime he would've had without her intervention, despite his obvious talent as a writer.
  • Scooby-Doo Hoax: "Slipping" features an extremely cruel one performed on the victim by the killer, in an attempt to drive her to suicide. When this gambit fails, he does the deed himself.
  • Screwed by the Network: A good 70% of episodes start late due to football in the US. They refuse to do anything about it.
    • Which is amusing because football fans complain about CBS's obsessive Repeating Ad promos during the games themselves.
    • And if it isn't football, its usually something else...
    • Cases that took place during the 2000s became more frequent during the final seasons thanks to budget cuts.
    • The last screw driven into this show was cancellation. It's gone for good now.
  • Screw the Political Power, I Have Rules!: This gets the victim in "Street Money" killed. He was an up-and-coming city council candidate who refused to use blackmail against the powerful incumbent and thus probably sacrificed any chance of beating him. When one of his campaign staff, who viewed the victim as the last hope for the neighborhood, finds out, he shoots him.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: MO of the serial killer from The Road.
  • Serial Killer: Creatures of the Night, It Takes A Village, The Road, Mind Hunters/The Woods and Last Drive-In/Bullet.
  • Series Continuity Error: What Vera was in high school. "Lovers' Lane," one of the earliest episodes, says he was fat and unpopular. "Almost Paradise," one of the last episodes, says he was a football star and prom king (he even has a picture to prove it). Jeffries' age seems to change Depending on the Writer, as well.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: "Yo Adrian," essentially. An elderly boxing referee on his deathbed confesses that he was paid to rig a match, which resulted in the death of a boxer, but dies before he can tell the detectives who paid him. It's ultimately revealed that the match was fixed in the victim's favor... and the victim himself fixed it back in the other direction in order to prove he could win without his opponent taking a dive. As it turned out, he couldn't, and he died, so ultimately the investigation was entirely unnecessary.
    • Several other episodes had the murder take place so long ago—1919, 1929, etc.—that an investigation seemed utterly pointless, as the killer was now dead.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Honor, War at Home, Family 8108, The Brush Man, The Good Soldier.
  • She's All Grown Up: Roller Girl.
  • Shrouded in Myth - The fate of the victim in "World's End" had become a local urban legend.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Occasionally occurs during interrogation scenes with the eventual perpetrator. Most notably via Stillman in both Fireflies and Forever Blue and with Valens in 8:03 A.M. and Slipping (though he also does one on a child abductor who was not the main doer in Revenge).
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Numerous killers and accomplices express views similar to this, but special mention goes to Detective Bianchi in "Chinatown." Assigned to investigate Philly's chapter of the Chinese mob, he quickly discovers who the local boss is and could've arrested him at any time, but instead opts to help him, feeling that someone even worse would just take his place, and better the devil you know... Both victims would still be alive if Bianchi had just done his job, and the closing montage strongly implies he will finally testify, then still get the book thrown at him.
  • Skewed Priorities: Quite a few killers demonstrate these, particularly in the episodes about sports. Victims have been killed for the terrible crime of wanting to leave a sports team to provide for their pregnant girlfriend ("The Lost Soul of Herman Lester"), save their family ("Stealing Home"), marry the love of their life ("Colors"), or expose wrongdoing done by the coach ("Glory Days," "Forensics"). The victims will usually give a "sports isn't everything" speech to the killers, swiftly answered by a bullet between the eyes/bat upside the head/whatever.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: How we find out the cops from Forever Blue are gay.
  • Slut Shaming: "That Woman." The members of the school's "Abstinence-only" club can't comprehend the fact that the "slut" was actually a much better person than they are, and so murder her.
  • Smug Snake: Moe Kitchener, and most serial killers and rapists.
    • A particularly notable example is Linda Boyka, the Big Bad in "Cargo." At first, she seems to be quite the Magnificent Bitch, never losing her cool during her interrogation while freely admitting to her crimes because, according to her, it doesn't matter, as she calmly states that by the time the case is over, the team will have no evidence against her, she will go free, and The Dragon, who flipped on her, will be dead before he ever gets the chance to testify (even though he's already in prison). By the end of the episode exactly none of this has happened, showing she really was just full of hot air.
  • The Smurfette Principle: In the early seasons Lilly was not just the only female member of the Cold Case squad, but it was stated several times that she was the only female detective in Philadelphia. Or at least, the only female homicide detective in Philadelphia. In later seasons Kat joined the squad.
    • Actually, female detectives from other parts of Philadelphia were introduced after the second season.
  • Snow Means Death, Glued, Ravaged, Baby Blues, Committed.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: "The Lost Soul of Herman Lester", "Soul" and "Taps".
  • Sociopathic Soldier: The killer in "Revolution" murdered his sister when she found out he had committed war crimes in Vietnam.
  • Soft Water: Subverted in A Perfect Day. The victim's skeleton is shown to have multiple fractures as a result of her being thrown off a bridge by her father. Well, besides the broken arm he already gave her.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The season 4 finale.
  • Standard Cop Backstory: Lilly's father abandoned the family when she was young. She grew up on welfare with an alcoholic mother and an irresponsible younger sister. She has a history of failed romances and, outside of these failed romances, no personal life.
  • Stepford Smiler
    • Jacob in Running Around. He talks about how he hates the Amish world and is happy in the English world, he's actually deeply screwed up, and wants to go back. Unfortunately, because he's addicted to drugs they refuse to let him back. He ultimately murders the victim because she refused to help him go back (having decided to tough Rumspringa out in order to make a more informed choice), and because he resented her having a supporting family waiting at home.
    • The murdered suffragette who was accidentally killed by her mother after she asks "Are you happy?"
  • Stylistic Suck: Creatures of the Night, where the lighting in the flashbacks is more intrusive than usual, and everyone in the flashbacks is acting fairly hammy.
  • Stealth Pun: Beautiful Little Fool opens with the 1929 New Year party in a mansion. In the next scene, one of the attendants is dead. The Butler Did It.
  • Strictly Formula: (Like most CBS Procedurals...) Mundane scene in the past that introduces us to the victim, his or her loved ones and sometimes even a few hints as to why they'll be murdered. Then, said murder. Case reopened in the modern day due to discovery of new evidence. Interviews. Flashbacks. Case solved. Medley Exit. Where Are They Now. Somebody sees the victim's ghost.
  • Suicide by Cop: The River, though no cop was involved. Played straight with George Marks, by Lilly.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Basically any episode in which there was an example of:
    • Asshole Victim: Blackout, Justice, Greed, The Plan, Thick As Thieves, etc.
      • Alternatively, an Asshole Victim that's not the main victim: Revenge, Offender, A Perfect Day, etc.
      • Averted in Maternal Instincts, which has an Asshole Victim... and an Even Bigger Asshole Killer.
    • Accidental Murder: Baby Blues, Kensington, Late Returns, Detention, etc.
    • A mercy killing, like in The Good Death, Boy Crazy, Wishing, and The Letter
    • A crime of passion, committed in the heat of the moment and almost instantly regretted—Sleepover, Colors Fly Away, and Shuffle, Ball-Change
    • The killer in "It Takes A Village" is clearly the result of the horrific abuse he suffered as a child. Likewise, one of the killers in "Offender" had been wrongfully convicted for raping and murdering his own child for 20 years, and had only been freed because the prime evidence was contaminated and as such no real grounds for a new prosecution.
    • The Killer in "Running Around" is basically exiled from the community and is trapped in a lifestyle of drugs.
    • In "Cargo," while the killer's victim was far from an asshole and she didn't really have a reason for killing him, the stuff the episode's other villains put her through was positively heartbreaking. A similar though less extreme case is found in "Stand Up And Holler."
    • The main victim in "Lonely Hearts" turns out to have been one herself.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Subverted in the Grand Finale, "Shattered." The killer attempts to court this reaction from Jeffries; he'd committed the murder, which was more or less an accident, as a drug-addicted teenager and had legitimately become a much better person as he got older. Jeffries's response is to look him right in the eyes and coldly tell him the victim's mother suffered worse than he did.
  • Take That: "The Last Drive-in" contains an arguable dig at Criminal Minds in a scene where an FBI agent complains that the profilers always give her useless information like the killer's favorite underwear color.
  • Taking the Knife: How the victim in "Kensington" dies. One wonders why he bothered, since the guy he saved was a Too Dumb to Live Ungrateful Bastard.
  • Taking You with Me: This exchange from Knuckle Up: "If you do this... you're going down." "Then you're coming with me." This is followed by the confession that implicated the one making the threat.
    • Mitch Hathaway tried to do this with Cliff Burrell before his wife told him to stand down.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Scotty
    • Also Saccardo.
  • Taps: The episode Shore Leave is about a Marine in the 1950s who is murdered. Taps is played at the end.
  • Thanksgiving Episode: Saving Patrick Bubley shows the Bubleys having Thanksgiving dinner in 1999 and 2003, as well as murders that follow each time.
  • Twofer Token Minority: The victim in Best Friends is an African-American lesbian. It's not the easiest reality in the present, but living in the 1930's takes this Up to Eleven.
  • That One Case:
    • Nick Vera: Our Boy is Back, Triple Threat, Flashover he is suspended during the Medley Exit.
    • John Stillman: Glued, Chinatown
    • Will Jeffries: Strange Fruit, The Key, Shattered
    • Lilly Rush: Saving Patrick Bubley
    • Kat Miller: 8:03 AM
    • Scotty Valens: Sanctuary, Jurisprudence
    • Other, non-main cast detectives: Churchgoing People, One Small Step, The Last Drive-In/Bullet
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Runner three fatal gunshots to the heart, Offender rape followed by murder, A Perfect Day the victim falls several stories and drowns, Disco Inferno Main victim killed and burned along with everyone else in the disco .
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Both the originals ( The Hen House) and the imitators (Spiders)
  • Throwing Off the Disability - The victim's brother in "Shuffle, Ball Change". Aided by the fact that he wasn't really hurt in the first place, just looking for a convenient way to get out of a wrestling career he no longer thought he could handle.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Used heavily due to the reliance on flashbacks to tell the case's story, with nifty juxtapositions and actor-switching in between, to demonstrate just how much (or little) each person questioned in the case has changed over the years.
  • Title Confusion: Contrary to what many fans believe, the main characters are not a specialized team that works in cold cases only. They are average Homicide detectives that from time to time reopen old cases, and they often talk about recent cases they closed before they went cold (and are rarely shown through the series). If the cold case is recent enough, there is a chance you'll see one of the main characters themselves putting the box on the shelf in the prologue. Lilly, though, seems to have built an informal fame as "cold case investigator" over the years.
    • A lot of that confusion comes from the episode Love Conquers Al in which Det. Valens is introduced. He complains to Lilly about working in cold cases when he would rather be out solving live ones. Lilly then tells him that she chose it because everyone deserves justice, no matter how long it takes.
  • Trans Atlantic Equivalent (Waking the Dead and Cold Squad)
  • Transsexual: The titular "Daniela" turns out to be MTF. In Boy Crazy the victim would be considered a FTM by today's standards, though he never mentions transitioning.
  • Triumphant Reprise: A weird version: In Season 3's "Detention", the Ending Montage song is the Smashing Pumpkins' cover of "Landslide". In next season's "Fireflies", where the victim turns out to have survived, the Ending Montage song is the original version by Fleetwood Mac.
  • The Unfair Sex: In World's End where a cheating wife gets offended by her lover's cheating on his wife. Despite that, you know, she is cheating on her husband from the get go. And we are supposed to feel sorry for her.
    • Their relationship never really went beyond companionship even though both were falling in love with each other. All they did was talk, which gave them hope, despite the crap they were going through, and the wife only got mad at him because she thought he lied about his wife still being alive.
    • Similarly, in The Key, the victim's husband is incensed that his wife is cheating on him, despite the fact that he's been cheating on her left and right for years. Interestingly enough, he is NOT the murderer.
  • The Unfavorite: The victim in "Read Between The Lines" was murdered because she was this. She and her sister were foster kids and she discovered her foster father was a pedophile. When she applied for emancipation and for custody of her sister, her foster mother, who blatantly favored the younger sister and who was in denial about her husband's true nature, murdered her.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The victim's parents in "Revenge," played by Brent Sexton and Brigid Brannagh respectively.
    • Also the victim and her cuckolded (but innocent) husband in "Maternal Instincts". She's so far out of his league that their pairing seems utterly incomprehensible. It doesn't help that he's an Extreme Doormat when it comes to her—instantly forgiving her for cheating on him, and helping her kidnap a baby to fulfill her dream of having a child. Not even her immediately abandoning him and running off with said child can make him muster up any real anger to her even years later. (Though one could argue she married him because she knew how much she could manipulate him.)
    • Paul and Claire Shepard in "The Last Drive-in"/"Bullet." He's an overweight, nerdy, infertile Serial Killer. She's a cute-as-a-button Luna Lovegood lookalike who seems about half his age and has no knowledge of his... extracurricular activities.
  • The Unreveal: In "Wilkommen," we never learn why Lilly hates musical theatre so much.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Using the word "critter" — a neutral word in the real world — for black people in place of, uh... more well-known slurs. This is particularly noticeable in the season four episode "Fireflies", where the word is thrown around with HBO-levels of frequency.
  • Upper-Class Twit: All of the suspects in "Blackout." One of them responds to learning of the Rwandan Genocide with "Isn't that where the gorillas are?"
  • Vehicular Sabotage: In "WASP", the murderer switches the fuel and coolant lines in the victim's plane.
  • Very Special Episode - Every other episode dealt with some hot button issue.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Hank Butler when he shoots Moe Kitchener and Scotty after engineering the prison shanking of Jimmy Mota.
  • Victim of the Week: Often with the personality and situation of the victim explored in great detail.
  • Vietnam War: Volunteers, Revolution, Honor, Free Love
  • Vigilante Execution: "Revenge," "Offender," "8 Years," "A Perfect Day," and "Justice." In the case of the latter two the victim was so utterly horrible that the detectives actually let the killer walk.
  • Villainous Breakdown: George Marks suffers this after Lilly resists being completely broken, confronts him about his past, and rips his god complex apart saying that all he is is a frightened little boy whose mommy never loved him. In the span of two minutes, George goes from Smug Snake / Manipulative Bastard to Screaming Lunatic who can only scream "You shut up!" over and over again. After watching him walk away like a smug bastard in Mind Hunters, watching George lose it felt strangely satisfying.
    • John Smith (The Road) kind of has this too. He's rattled by the fact that his latest victim refuses to give up hope of rescue, leading him to make the mistake that gets him arrested, and he's infuriated that Lily doesn't give up either and instead figures out where the victim is being held in time to save her from starving to death.
    • Jim Larkin (Lover's Lane) also pulls off Smug Snake... until the team reveals they have DNA evidence, at which point he has a Freak Out.
    • The killer in "Shore Leave" has a pretty epic one when the detectives inform him that the man he tried to wash out of the military by framing for the theft of an officer's gun went on to become a Navy Cross-winning Marine.
    Hal Chaney: NEGATIVE!!!
  • Wardens Are Evil: Well, probably not all wardens, but the one in "The House" certainly is. Though as an expy of Samuel Norton, could he be anything else?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The killer in "WASP." She was a commanding officer in the first-ever brigade of female military pilots in the US. When the victim discovered another female pilot had been killed in a prank Gone Horribly Wrong by a male pilot, she threatened to report it to the brass which the CO knew, the '40s being what they were, would likely result in the women's pilot program being shut down, and so killed her to ensure her silence. Even as an old woman in the present she's totally unrepentant, feeling that her actions were all in the name of giving women a chance in the military.
  • Wedding Day
  • Wham Episode: The end of Stalker, which has the killer go batshit and take several members of the team hostage, shooting and nearly killing both Lilly and John.
  • Wham Line: This, from "Rampage:"
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The present-day situations of each person involved in the case is interposed with shots of what they were like when the case first happened.
  • Whole Plot Reference: Many episodes are based on the plot of certain movies—, "Stand Up And Holler" (Mean Girls), "Blood On The Tracks" (The Big Chill), "Yo Adrian" (Rocky), "Joseph" (Laura), "The Dealer" (Glengarry Glen Ross), and subverted with the "Dangerous Minds" episode; the WPR for that film was actually True Calling, though it's arguably a reference to the "Nice White Lady" type of dramas the film spawned. It's arguably a Deconstruction; see the Save Our Students spoiler above. Ouch.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: George Polk, a key witness in "A Time to Hate" and major Cool Old Guy.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Many victims, sometimes going into Honor Before Reason territory. The clash of their optimism with cruel reality is often what ultimately gets them killed.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The serial killer from It Takes a Village and the one from Sabotage. The second one from Offender also qualifies, given that he had been wrongfully incarcerated for killing his own child for 20 years, was freed largely on a technicality (prime evidence was contaminated) and his own wife abandoned him. By the time he finally confronts the bastard who killed his child and framed him for the deed he's completely lost it.
    • Phil, one of the robbers from Dog Day Afternoons, also qualified as such. Despite his cold, almost murderous exterior, he actually had somewhat of a heart, and actually wanted to get out of the robbery business for good, unlike his boss Julius Carver, and tried to warn Roween Ryan about Julius's lying nature as well as his having another accomplice that he seduced to helping him rob the bank. When she decided to have Julius be turned in, Phil also tried to stand up to Julius when he ordered for her to be executed, but unfortunately, he was verbally and emotionally broken by Julius's words, and thus ended up having to kill her anyways. At the end, despite his being the murderer, you actually have to pity him.
    • Another is the Congressman in "Late Returns," if you can even call him a "destroyer" at all. As a teenager, he was taken advantage of by his controlling older sister, and ultimately kills his girlfriend essentially on a reflex when her touch caused him to have flashbacks to his sister abusing him.
    • And Tina from "Rampage." She had been gang-raped in the back room of a mall by some Jerk Jocks, and lost her best friend immediately afterward due to a misunderstanding. She ends up walking up to two disturbed teenagers who work at the mall and telling them point-blank "Kill. Everyone." Which they do. Quite messily. And not just the jocks but literally everyone, including children. When she gets arrested at the end, it almost feels like the detectives are kicking the dog.
  • Who's on First?: A short version happens in "The Long Blue Line" when Bell asks Miller out to see a band called 'The Ungrateful Bastards':
    Miller: Who?
    Bell: I wish it was The Who, but the venue's a little small.
  • World War II: Factory Girls, Family 8108, WASP, The Hen House
  • Worthy Opponent: George Marks sees Lilly as this, and such as ensures that she is the one who kills him.
  • Would Hurt a Child: "Glued", "Thrill Kill", "Sleepover".
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Jeffries is twelve in 1963, a grown adult in 1966, and turns sixty in 2005. Stillman's daughter is said to be born in 1980, and then to be eighteen about twenty years ago. And don't even try to guess the age of the killer arrested in World's End for a crime he committed in 1938.
  • You Killed My Brother: Cedric Bubley does this, but changes his mind about killing.
    "You ruined our family."
    • His other brothers...


CSI: NYFranchise/CSI VerseWithout a Trace
The CloserCrime and Punishment SeriesCold Squad
Chicago HopeCreator/CBSCrazy Like a Fox
ChuckCreator/Warner Bros.Dallas
CSI: MiamiTurnOfTheMillennium/Live-Action TVWithout a Trace
The Colbert ReportAmerican SeriesColgate Comedy Hour

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