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.
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.
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.
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.
George Marks's mother was revealed to be an abusive bitch who kept her son locked in the attic and blamed him for everything wrong with her life, calling him "the darkness"; he killed her when he was still a little boy, after she told a burglar to rape him instead of her.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bittersweet Ending: Nearly 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 WAT.
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, he took the name and with the rest of the family also having died at the camp 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 half-enraged/half-heartbroken that his victim (whom he'd fallen in love with) rejected him after finding out what he'd done.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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 PresleyExpy, 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).
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).
The federal witness murdered by another witness who thought he was protecting their kids who eloped, only to find out too late that they chickened out.
The Amish girl murdered by the Amish boy she was with. The boy decided to stay in the city but realized he couldn't handle life outside. He tried to get her to help him return to their community but she couldn't because she decided to leave too.
The dock worker who found out his docks was being used for white slavery. He tried to save one girl but he is killed by her friend who tried to get him to help her too. She killed him and used his money to start a new life while making her friend believe he had used and abandoned her.
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.
Face Heel Turn - More than once, a victim in this show has been killed by a loved one—friend/relative/spouse—who turns bad.
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.
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.
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.
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, bespectacledHopeless Suitor grew up to be a tough martial arts instructor, albeit still one who uses an inhaler.
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.
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: Coop, the victim in "Forever Blue" who is initially shown, both from flashbacks and statements from witnesses, to have been a handsome and charming Cowboy Cop who had a reputation as a womanizer (even implied to have been having an affair with his partner's wife). It turns out that he was gay, involved with the partner himself and so in love with him that he was willing to risk everything for their relationship (which ended up getting him killed).
The baseball player Tyler Cage in "Colors". At first it seems like he's a racist jerk, but than when his son complains about Clyde disciplining him, Tyler, instead of taking his son's side, apologizes for his son's rudeness, shakes Clyde's hand, and not only compliments his skill, but forces his son to apologize for the racist prank he pulled. He also kept Esther's secret (that she was really black) despite having a chance to out her.
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.
Hot Mom: Kat Miller is a good example. Simone Marks, Lauren Williams, and Caroline Hargreave (in the past at least) are terrifying examples.
How We Got Here: The flashbacks that fill in the gap between when we first meet the victim and when they were murdered.
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.
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." Inverted 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's not the killer after all.
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.
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.
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.
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 Royalties are cheaper for broadcasting than they are for distribution. It's still heavily shown in syndication in the US at least.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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 Professional Wrestling's Nathan Jones). There are also two characters named Rudy Tanner, though one never actually appears on-screen.
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.
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.
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.
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: "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.
Plot Hole: The entire plot of "Torn" essentially hinges on one of these, which hampers the enjoyability of the episode.
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....
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.
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 Randy Savage had piledriven Ricky Morton through one in Memphis in 1984. Yes, Terry Funk did the same to Ric Flair in 1989, but it would take Sabu and ECW to really popularize the use of tables.
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.
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.
Red Herring: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Serious Business - That case about the murdered high school debater killed by his coach because he wanted to quit to take care of his father.
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.
Shrouded in Myth - The fate of the victim in "World's End" had become a local urban legend.
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 her 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, ColorsFly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
The Unreveal: In "Wilkommen," we never learn why Lilly hates musical theatre so much.
Vehicular Sabotage: In "WASP", the murderer switches the fuel and coolant lines in the victim's plane.
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.
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.
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':
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.
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.