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 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 women'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.
    • The killer in Stealing Home swung his bat in a fit of rage and accidentally hit his cousin.
  • 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 Bikers Are Hells Angels: In "Jackals", the cold case team investigates the 30 year old murder of an honor student who feel in with a notorious biker gang called the Jackals
  • 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.
    • In " Two Weddings" the victim jumped to his death the night before his wedding, after hearing that his first wife, who he was still in love with, died after being in a coma for 8 years.
  • 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.
    • One of the killers in That Woman
  • Armor-Piercing Question: How Lilly defeats George Marks in "The Woods". After forcing her to relive one of her worst memories (her mother sent her out to get alcohol which resulted in Lilly getting attacked and beaten by a mugger) she finally realizes why George is so interested (as well as the double meaning of his taunts about how she was "betrayed by those you thought you loved most").
    "Who sold you out George?"
  • Artistic License – Astronomy: Not only is the moon in the wrong phase on the date in "One Small Step", the moon in that phase could not be in the position it is in the sky during the events of that episode.
  • 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.
  • Ax-Crazy: The older brother in One Small Step
    • The master mind in That Woman while the killing itself was planed with the others it still had that crime of passion element with each of them showing genuine guilt for their actions but not only did she plan the whole thing the tranquil fury expression never left her face. Added to this that she does seem to be a cloud cocolander who can’t tell reality from fiction
  • 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 Hunters", 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
  • Baseball Episode: Cold Case has three baseball episodes: "A Time to Hate" about a gay college baseball player beaten to death in 1964, "Colors" where the team re-opens the 1945 case of an African-American baseball player who was beaten to death with his own bat, and "Stealing Home" where the team looks into the murder of a former Cuban baseball star who escaped to the U.S. to provide for his family after the Cuban government fired him for talking to a U.S. sports agent. "Stealing Home" also features the annual softball game against the fire department.
  • Batter Up: A Time to Hate, Colors and Stealing Home. All three are Baseball Episodes.
  • 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.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The killer in Pin Up Girl finally got to be in front of the camera
    • Averted the son of the victim in Bad Reputation wanted to be just like his father. To nip that in the bud his father pulled on a Jerkass Façade
    • Cromes in Colors would have given anything for one good swing and in a fit of rage he took it killing his friend in the process
  • Being Good Sucks: The victim in Bad Reputation found this out the hard way.
  • 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 (and violently forces the real killer against the wall).
      • 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.
      • For Jefferies its reckless drivers due to his wife’s death as seen in Bad Night
      • He did eventually realize he was being to hard on the victim
    • 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 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.
  • Big Brother Bully: There was two in One Small Step
  • 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 Subverted - the father accepted his younger son's dance aspirations once he saw him actually perform. The Big Brother Bully was the killer.
  • 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
    • The chastity club president in That Woman.
  • 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.
  • But Not Too Black: The victim in Libertyville was black but looked white
  • 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.
    • The Season 2 premiere, "The Badlands", has the detectives re-investigating the triple murder Lily was heading over to investigate at the beginning of the pilot episode.
  • 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.
  • Casting Gag: "Creatures of the Night" centers around a murder that took place immediately after the victim went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. His killer is played by Barry Bostwick. And the bad guys in "Metamorphosis" are played by Carel Struycken and Michael J. Anderson who were both on Twin Peaks.
  • 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.
  • Character Name Alias: In "One Small Step", a witness who hands in a piece of evidence related to a murder that took place on the day of the first moon landing uses the alias 'Michael Collins'; the name of the third astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission.
  • 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.
  • Chocolate Baby: Played with in Libertyville the victim was afraid of this because he was hiding his race
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: The victim in "The Brush Man" spent hard time for killing a man who was beating his wife, and later tracks down the wife to give her money on a regular basis as an apology for doing so. He gets killed when, having started a new life as a successful traveling salesman, he intervenes in another domestic abuse scenario involving one of his customers' kids.
  • Clear My Name: "Hubris", "It's Raining Men", "Frank's Best", "Death Penalty: Final Appeal", "Thrill Kill", "Iced", "Two Weddings", "Flashover", "Bad Night".
  • Color Motif: The flashback scenes in "Spiders" are terribly drab but the color red is quite vivid.
  • 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
  • Conspiracy Theorist: One of the suspects in "One Small Step" believes that the moon landings were faked. The murder they are investigating occurred on the day of the first moon landing, and the events of that day may have fueled his later delusion.
    • A witness in "Glued" believed the murder was the first step in an extremely elaborate real estate scam. He's right about who did it, but the motive was rather more mundane.
  • Cool Old Guy: The victim in "Officer Down"
  • 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.
  • Corrupt Politician: Councilman Boone in "Street Money." The detectives were extremely disappointed that he turned out to be innocent. Councilman Avery in "The Promise" is secretly a rapist.
  • Cult: Blank Generation.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The victim in Witness Protection video taped his deposition so that even if he was killed the crime boss would go to jail
  • 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.
    • The ADA introduced in Street Money
  • 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.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Many victims. Anyone who was drowned probably deserves a nod here, as does Carrie Swett who was stoned for being promiscuous in a scene right out of Old Testament times, and Steve Jablonski who was Buried Alive. Fans generally agree, though, that John Smith's victims, who were starved to death, were the most bloodcurdling of all.
  • Cruel Mercy: One of the suspects in Thick as Thieves planned on doing this to the Asshole Victim. Instead of killing her in a fit of rage he wanted to get her sent to jail. Given that she spent all of her life running away from her trailer park past getting exposed as a con artist would have been a fate worse then death for her.
  • 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 victim of Cargo was killed before he could buy his surrogate daughters freedom, and since his killer lied to her about his motives she spent all that time thinking he had simply abandoned her.
  • Dangerous Deserter: How the killer in "Free Love" saw the victim.
  • Dark Secret: Often the motive for many of the crimes.
    • Special mention goes to That Woman, where the victim somehow manages stumble into the secrets of of every single member of her chastity club. It's what gets her killed.
  • 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"
    • This often occurs whenever a suspect tries to direct the detectives' sympathies from the victims and onto themselves. Consider this exchange from "Hubris:"
    Roy Minard: My unfortunate role was as the prime suspect.
    Lilly Rush: Who had the unfortunate role of the victim?
    • And this one from "One Fall:"
    Sil Tavern: In our business if you make it to fifty you're doing well.
    Lilly Rush: Mick didn't make it to thirty.
  • 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.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: The victim from "Read Between The Lines" beats a guy in a freestyle rap battle and he becomes her mentor.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The whole show runs on it. Expect at least five episodes a season to rub in the audiences' face just how cruel, repressive, and dangerous the past was for anyone who was "different" or who stepped out of the incredibly rigid lines of "polite" society. Most of the time, the era is the true monster of the case, and not the murderer.
  • 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.
    • The victim in "The Runaway Bunny" was a former Philadelphia cop who was fired from the force for being on the take. He became a very disreputable private investigator but eventually performed a Heel-Face Turn that resulted in his death when he realized what his Black Widow client was up to.
  • 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.
    • The spoiled rich kid and one of the killers in 8:03 AM. While the other killer could be seen as somewhat sympathetic he was nothing more then a smug snake who felt that because his father and later he was rich that he could get away with anything. Yet started brawling the moment he found out that that wasn’t the case.
  • 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.
    • "Fireflies". A white girl defends her black friend from a racist boy. Said boy is humiliated and breaks into her house and attempts to kill her.
  • Domestic Abuse: Several but most notably in A Perfect Day, Churchgoing People and The Brush Man
  • Double Standard: Whenever a child dies in the show the husband usually gets the short end of the stick mostly involving the wife guilt tripping the husband for letting it happen
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Played with the first suspect in The Red and the Blue was a woman who shot her husband after she caught him cheating. She was sent to jail and was presented Ax-Crazy. Throughout her interrogation not only did she hint that she was cheating on him as well (in addition to admitting she was his former mistress) but she sent the cops after him. However at the end of the episode the two reconciled and embraced each other.
  • 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).
  • Epic Fail: The low point for the three guys in "Kensington" was when they tried and failed to steal a chandelier from an empty house.
  • 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.
    • Mack in Wishing may have been a major Jerkass but even he was disguised by Josh’s actions
    • The rapist in Offender considered his own son off limits
      • The racist prison guard in Prisoner 8108 admits that he left the victim alone after witnessing the full extent of his fucked up family life (his marriage is falling apart, his wife's pregnant, he's trying to remain sunny and upbeat) simply because he just didn't have it in him to pick on someone that miserable.
  • Everybody Did It: That Woman
  • Everybody is Single
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: None of the smugglers in Cargo could understand why the victim was going out of his way to save a single girl.
    • The killer in Stalker honestly seems to not understand why killing someone entire family wouldn’t send them rushing into his arms
    • No one could understand why the victim in Bad Reputation would want to go straight
  • Evil Counterpart - Some of the killers are this to the victim or someone else involved.
    • The killer in Witness Protection to the victim, they both made mistakes that they were trying to make amends for. The both had difficult family lives because of this. But where the victim was getting his life together and realized he couldn’t let his family pay for his mistakes. The killer wanted to hold on to what he had with an iron fist.
    • The gang leader in "The Badlands" is this to Jeffries. Both grew up in the titular neighborhood, the roughest part of Philly, and both aspired to be in the gangs. Jeffries, however, met the right people, who straightened him out, while the positive influences in the gangster's life, the episode's victims, were killed. Jeffries using this fact to empathize with the gangster, pointing out that he'd likely have ended up the exact same way in the same situation, scores him some critical testimony.
  • 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.
  • Extreme Doormat: Berry in One Small Step just follows around the guy with the most confidence
  • 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 like 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.
    • The victim in "Justice" just couldn't stop talking bragging about raping the killer's sister.
  • 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.
    • "The Woods", set in 1972, has flashbacks that appear to have been filmed with low-quality Super-8 home movie film, giving the scenes a desaturated quality that adds to the nightmarish atmosphere of the story.
  • 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
  • Fun-Hating Confiscating Adult: In "The Brush Man", one of the suspects is a reclusive Vietnam veteran who keeps any toy who lands on his property. When the police search his home, they find a huge stash of bikes and balls.
  • 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: Jimmy Mcshane, the victim in "Glory Days", turned out to be smarter than he himself thought and could have had a future away from football.
  • 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 off 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.
  • God Is Evil: George Marks believes this.
  • Gold Digger: Lotto Fever
    • Joana showed signs of this in Blood on the Tracks. The only reason she killed her husband was because his confessing would have ruined her life of wealth.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: The target in Sabotage couldn’t comprehend the fact that his brother was trying to kill him. It reached the point of weirdness censor forcing the police to sit him down and make him see reason
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Averted the characters usually go with the no sympathy route with suspects
  • 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: "Bite me."
  • Good Bad Girl: The victim in That Woman.
  • 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.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The killer in One Small Step. he was a rich kid who only recruited the victim because of the boys technical know how. Unfortunately, as time passed, his flunkies looked towards the victim as the leader after the kid faced down and injured the psychopathic older brother of one of them and managed to talk the curmudgeonly junk yard dealer into giving them rocket fuel. When the Killer failed to make a jump due to fear, the victim tries to save his life; this causes the killer to snap and lash out in shame. It's so strong that even 40 years later the team is able to goad him into confessing by exploiting that jealousy.
  • 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.
    • All the members of the chastity club, barring the captain, in That Woman.
  • 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.
  • Heel Realization: The father in Superstar realizing he’s been neglecting his youngest daughter all these years by obsessing over his oldest daughter’s death and her lost career
    • The guy who hired someone to steel his car for the insurance in Resolution after coming this close to going down for murder due how much of a Jerkass he is to the point that that he became The Atoner
  • 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.
    • That Woman, in which the victim is killed after she's unfortunate enough to discover the Dark Secret of everyone in her chastity club.
    • The killer in One Small Step killed his victim because he saw him scared
  • Heroic BSOD / Heroic Willpower: The father in Family went through this after his son died, made all the more obvious due to the fact that he endured all of the hardships of a world war 2 era Japanese citizens. However its main cause was the fact that his son died while they were still mad at each other. He bounced right back up the moment he found out that that wasn’t true.
  • 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.
    • In "Strange Fruit" the killer punishes his little niece for befriending a black man by making her watch the murder. Guess whose testimony is what puts him away in the end?
    • The boyfriend and killer in Saving Sammy killed his girlfriend’s parents when he found out that they were moving to Vermont because of her brother hoping that would allow her to stay. However she ended up so distraught over their death that she broke up with him.
  • 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.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Such a dealership and its almost universally sleazy sales force are central to events in "The Dealer".
  • 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 for Preacher: The chastity club president in That Woman.
  • 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.
  • Hypocrite: Elie in Revolution regularly seemed to justify her actions while condemning others for theirs.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender: Many of the victims died before they reached their full potential.
  • If I Can't Have You: The killer in November 22
  • 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 Know Mortal Kombat: The victim in Stealing Home used his skill as a baseball player to get into the country
  • 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?"
  • Impoverished Patrician: "Beautiful Little Fool" involved a formerly rich family who lost everything in the Stock Market Crash. By the present day, the only surviving member of the family is an old woman who was but a child in 1929. She still lives in her family's faded mansion.
  • 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.
    • The killer in "8:03 AM" gives himself away by correctly identifying the type of gun used in the murder without being told.
    • One of the Neo-Nazis in "Spiders," when told a witness put her at the scene of a murder, replies "That's impossible; it was pitch-dark!"
    • The killer in Breaking News
    • The killer in "Fireflies" said the name of the witness who saw him before the cops even mentioned it
  • 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.
  • Irony: Two in Witness Protection
    • The ex-con trying to get his life together was the one who killed a federal witness.
      • He killed the witness because he wouldn’t tell him where his son was who he thought was with his daughter. The moment he killed him his daughter called
  • 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 All About Me: Sharon in November 22
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Ball: Vera tends to catch this whenever the writers need to make a point. He's made misogynistic statements, expressed belief in the "no humans involved" principle (that criminals killed by criminals aren't worth the police's time), and even made a pro-rape comment at one point, which is especially weird since in other episodes he's the one most disgusted by rapists.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The junkyard owner in One Small Step
    • Vera offered to pay the hospital bills of a mother who he had mouthed off to earlier.
    • The victims tutor in Glory Days after years of working his ass off while watching Dumb Jock get a free ride had become very jaded and merely sees them as a means to an end. But once he saw that the victim not only took school very seriously but was also very intelligent they became fast friends. It also helps that the victim was a Lovable Jock
    • The dance instructor in "Shuffle, Ball Change" combines this with Drill Sergeant Nasty. At first he comes off as a complete asshole towards the victim, but recognizes talent when he sees it. Knowing the victim is unable to leave his job at the family supermarket to take lessons, he makes it a point to visit the market daily and teach the victim on the sly.
  • Jerkass Façade: The father in Bad Reputation did this to his son so that he wouldn’t end up like him.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Vince Patrielli in Running Around. There are implications that he may have had some affection for the victim (he actually speaks respectfully of her when asked about her, and goes from smug to somewhat hurt when accused of murdering her), but it's also clear he has no regrets about raping and impregnating her best friend (he even seems to consider the kid "lucky" for having parents that will raise him).
    • All of the rapists on this show are considered this.
  • Just One Little Mistake:
    • "The Road" has probably the best example in the series. Guy gets pulled over for speeding. Traffic cop notices blood in his car. Detectives are called in to investigate. Investigation reveals guy is actually a brutal Serial Killer.
    • Several other episodes (including "Debut" and "Sandhogs") have the villains' greed get the better of them and steal a prize possession of the victim off the body.
    • One suspect in "Devil Music," in his first interview, sings a few lines of a song written by the victim. Later on, however, another witness claims that she was the only one the victim had told about the song. Adding to the fact that the first guy turned out to have lied about his alibi, this makes the case a slam-dunk.
    • Speaking of alibis, the villain in "Iced" contracting out his snowplow job to his underage cousin turns out to be what does him in, as the plow company's records are able to confirm it was the cousin behind the wheel that night.
    • In "The Dealer," the killer is caught because he stripped the victim's car for parts and added them to his own. The detectives actually point out that if he had just refrained from doing this, he almost certainly would've gotten away with it.
  • Karma Houdini: Although George dies in The Woods, it's Suicide by Cop that happens on his own terms (at the hand of the one person he felt was worthy of ending his life). 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. Subverted with Chuck Pierce. It's revealed that all of his attempts to achieve success ultimately fell short, and that he spent 40 years very much aware that his victim was better.
    • 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."
    • Downplayed in both "The House" and "Late Returns," where a legal loophole leaves the detectives unable to arrest the killer, but a.) the death was accidental (though the "killer" still didn't report it, which was definitely wrong), and b.) both episodes include a genuinely evil character who is sent to jail (the one in "Late Returns" was arguably responsible for the death anyway, and was also a murderer on her own time).
    • A lot of people in the series while not committing the actual murder did play a big part in it and would have gone down for at least manslaughter in real life.
      • Geraldine the secretary in "Start Up" is a good example. She knew her boss had poisoned the victim with his own medication, and she even covered it up by refilling the boss's prescription. That'd be at least an accessory to first-degree murder charge in real life, but the detectives let her off, implicitly due to the fact that she's absolutely terrified of her boss.
    • The ex-partner from Disco Inferno said she would sleep with the killer if he broke the victims leg to ruin her rivals chances not only did she get off scott free (she hired someone to commit a crime and someone was killed in the process of said crime) she was able to get out of the fire without a mark yet her rival had the entire rightside of her body burned.
    • Leah in Wishing lying and filing sexual charges heightened the stress of the victim‘s mother made it so that he could never be put in a proper facility making the killer desperate enough to do what he did.
      • Who’s to say that the day in a half his mother lied unconscious in the bathroom wasn’t a big factor in her eventual death something that wouldn’t have happened if Colleen was in school.
    • The wife in Witness Protection cheated on her husband with the agent who assigned them. He ended up madder at the agent then his wife.
    • The Cold Case team actively aided the killer in Justice evade prosecution because he is the brother of one of the rape victims and was a child at the time.
    • This started to happen less and less as the series went on with second and even third parties being shown to get their comeuppance
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The Jerkass tow truck driver who gleefully bragged about forcing a mother to demean herself while her kids were in the next room.
    • The abusive father’s beat down by his fellow cops in A Perfect Day
  • 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.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Because of his claustrophobia and the nature of his crimes merely being caught is this for the killer in The Road. As it means he’ll spend the rest of his life locked in a cell.
  • 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 (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.
  • Man Child: 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.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Many of the female killers, but the killer from "Blood On The Tracks" stands out—her ex even calls her this during one of the earlier flashbacks, never realizing how right he is—within 24 hours after this confrontation, she's able to entice him into killing her husband with the promise of them rekindling their relationship and going on the run together. She has no intention of doing this, of course. Instead, she leaves her husband and her friend to die, assumes her friend's identity (they looked very much alike) and spends the next 20-something years living the life of Riley while her ex suffers for years thinking that he killed her and knowing that he can't turn her in if he ever figures out what really happened, as he'll be turning himself in as well.
  • 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.
  • Men Act, Women Are: The wife in Joseph was a drug rehab counselor who molested one of her students and when he killed a witness she threatened the person who was going to testify against him. Yet it turns out it was the husband who was the killer. To make matters worse the wife is shown not to be the least bit grateful as she still kept the affair behind her husbands back after words.
  • 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.
      • Most prominent in Spiders: The arrest of 4 neo nazis and the solving of a latino woman is originally kicked off by investigating another victim's abusive father as a suspect after he was arrested for beating his step daughter into a coma.
  • 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.
    • Taner in Knuckle Up killed a random stranger who happened to remind him of his father
    • Cops is considered a blanket term with the homicide detectives always blamed for missing persons or earlier detectives not doing their jobs.
    • The killer’s brother was one of the people he blamed for his daughters death.
    • A lot of the people he targeted were people just doing their job. His first victim even mentioned that it would cause less to throwaway a radio he was trying to return and buy a new one then to try and replace it.
    • In order to stop his daughter from running off the killer in Witness Protection killed the boyfriend’s father.
    • This was the reason the victim in Libertyville was killed.
  • 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.
    • It's also a plot point in "Discretion" where the prime suspect in the murder of a pretty white college student is a dimwitted Barrio kid; not only did many people believe he was framed, but the prosecutor and arresting officer, both Latino themselves, were seen as traitors by the community. The kid actually was framed, but not for that reason.
    • Averted in "One Dollar, One Dream". The victim, an attractive white woman, went missing for over seven years until her body was found. Judging by the comments of the main cast, the case appears not to have been particularly noteworthy at the time. Played straight in that the victim was homeless, and the trope most frequently applies to the upper-middle class (or higher).
  • "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.
  • Motive Rant: This is the main way to get convictions, since, in many of the cases, any physical evidence has degraded beyond use.
  • Morality Pet: The abandoned baby Vera found and took care of until services came to get him.
    • He later applied to adopt the child
  • 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.
  • Moral Myopia: The victim in Lonely Hearts in an effort to keep her con artist boyfriend gave him the idea of becoming a bluebeard while she was freaked out by the murder she only seemed to realize he was a bad guy when she though she had out lived her usefulness
    • The first suspect The Red and the Blue didn’t mind the fact that she was her husbands mistress when they were dating but shot him when she found out he was cheating on her after she they got married. Made worse by the fact that she hinted that she was cheating on him as well.
    • The victim in Blackout had the gal to call her ex-husband a pedophile for cheating on her with a younger woman when she has been molesting her son for years and was killed for attempting to molest her grandson
    • The serial killer in Sabatoge would rather kill his young niece then destroy the place his father built.
    • The wife in Witness Protection yelling at her husband about relocating then having an affair with the agent assigned to them.
  • 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 Episode: "Creatures Of The Night", "Triple Threat" and "Wilkommen" showed off the guest actor's singing.
  • 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 My Fault: The mother in Revenge blamed her husband for years about their sons kidnapping yet he was only kidnapped because she told her brother in law about their money when she wasn’t suppose to. Later after she guilt tripped him into killing the man who molested him she still blames him for what happened.
    • Josh’s in Wishing had just been brought in after the police found out he viciously beat his only friend taunted him about his mothers death and threatened his life. The first words out of his mouth are they’re trying to blame the weird guy again.
    • The teacher in 8:03 AM said Skill couldn’t cut the academic life but her flashback showed that she insulted and belittled him in front of the other students forced him to read far above his level out loud while openly stating that he would never become anything but a dealer
    • The eldest daughter in A Dollar, A Dream left her younger sister in the car alone only for it to get towed while she was a way. When they finally found her the first words out of her mouth involved yelling at her mom about how her irresponsibility nearly got her daughter killed.
    • The killer in It Takes A Village was horrifically abused while in a group home, he is now killing innocent boys who have the misfortune of reminding him of his tormentors. However he was only horrifically abused because he purposefully goaded his Sadist Teacher every chance he got. And since the teacher had I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure mentality everyone had to be punished along with him. The other kids tired of being punished for something they didn’t do eventually attacked him cutting off finger.
  • 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.
    • In One Fall, the two chief suspects are totally not Vince McMahon and Ric Flair. Possibly a Take That since WWE exists in the Cold Case universe.
    • Soul is clearly based off of Marvin Gaye; a young and gifted Black musician with substance abuse issues clashing with both a powerful and egotistical record producer and his strict reverend father who disapproves of his genre of music/lifestyle and with a brother in the Vietnam War.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A lot of the victims ended up being killed just because they tried to do the right thing and it ended up biting them in the butt.
    • Not only does it get them killed but it also has a detrimental affect on their personal lives beforehand.
    • The victim Mike Chelasky in Cargo was killed for trying to save a girl from a smuggling/prostitution ring. Going so far as attempting to raise her as his own daughter.
    • The security guard in Rampage who repaid the two disturbed shooters for treating him with respect by hanging out with them in the camera room. They repaid him by shooting him in the gut.
    • If Rita from Sleepover had just gone home she would be alive today
    • The victim in "Blood On The Tracks" who wanted to confess to his role in the death of a friend. If only he hadn't been so vocal and insistent about this to several people who were just as adamant that he keep his mouth shut.
  • 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.
  • No True Scotsman: Jeffries grew up in the poorest part of Philadelphia and wanted to be a Gang Banger as a kid, until he was straightened out by his football coach and his first boss and became a cop instead. As such, a good way to piss him off is to suggest he "sold out" by doing to. In "Wunderkind," a slimy witness insinuating he's forgotten "his people" leads to Jeffries almost strangling the guy.
    • In "Fireflies," as suspect tries to curry Jeffries' favor by reminding him how bad black people had it in the '70s. Jeffries simply responds that he lived through the '50s and '60s.
  • 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.
    • The reason the victim tried to help the killer in "Cargo"
  • Obfuscating Disability: The killer in "Metamorphosis" pretended to suffer from cereberal gigantism and uses the fact that people expect him to be mentally retarded to conceal his true intelligence.
    • The killer in "Shuffle, Ball Change" faked a career-ending knee injury in order to drop out of wrestling without disappointing his father. One of his crutches turned out to be the murder weapon.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: A marine in the episode "Shore Leave" did this. It made the killer go through a villain breakdown when he found out.
  • Off With Her Head!: Mind Hunters.
  • Old Maid:
    • The killer in "Wings".
    • The innocent frenemy of the victim in "Factory Girls", at all of 22, thanks to the standards of when the episode is set.
  • 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.
  • Only Sane Man: The victim in Family while at first it just appears to be Angst? What Angst? but he was in actuality a Reasonable Authority Figure. He knew that letting himself be goaded, consumed by rage and letting Honor Before Reason dictate his actions would only make a bad situation worse, and was just trying to make the best out of a bad situation in order to get out as soon as he could.
  • 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.
  • Parental Incest: The reason the victim was killed in Blackout
  • Parents as People: Due to the nature of the show parents are given just as much focus as their children.
    • However it is played with due to the fact that it is subverted just much as it is played straight. Any episode that has a teenage suspect who turns out not to be the killer depicts them as believing that this doesn’t exist. For example the daughter in Stalker attempted a double suicide because both her parents were going through depression. The father because he had become recently unemployed and the mother for having to take on the load of being the primary bread winner.
  • 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.
    • The same thing happened in Superstar the father chastised the victim for wanting a life of her own outside of tennis.
    • 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.
    • The last time the father saw his daughter in Into the Blue he had left an award ceremony without honoring her
    • Averted in A Dollar, A Dream where the daughter who ran off after telling her mother she was disgusted by her still blamed her when she turned up missing to the point of not caring when she found out she was killed.
  • Pass Fail: Libertyville
  • Papa Wolf: Played with in Cargo as even though she wasn’t his child the victim saw her as a one and did everything he could to save her even selling his own home to by her freedom.
    • The younger brother of the killer in Sabatoge. The police had to physically hold him back when he thought his brother killed his wife and daughter
    • Both the killer and the victim in Witness Protection. The victim was killed because he would let the Papa Wolf killer anywhere near his son while he was like that.
  • 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 that at this point he's only clinging to it in order to live with the 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.)
  • Prison Episode: "The House".
  • 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.
    • Since she was 12 Areal has spent her life trying to please the popular Alpha Bitch
  • 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.
    • In Cargo a decent man tries his best to save a smuggled Ethiopian girl who he saw as a kindred spirit. Sadly he was killed in a fit of rage because he couldn’t save everyone.
    • Yo Adrian” an in universe parody of the movie Rocky shows just what would happen if a man is mercilessly beat of for 15 rounds (well 14).
  • 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.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The magazine manager in "Pin Up Girl"
  • "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.
    • The victim in Officer Down gave an epic one to the punk who was trying to shake him down
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Disco Inferno is The Jazz Singer, in The '70s.
  • 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.
    • Both "Hubris' and "Triple Threat" deal with teacher student romances
    • Both "Family" and "Bad Reputation" dealt with fathers in a horrible situation who had sons that felt they were cowards for not making the situation worse then it had to be
  • Redemption Equals Death: The reason the victim was killed in Blood On The Tracks
  • 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.
    • Played with due to the fact that he was specifically rejected because he had reformed
    • The victim in "Lonely Hearts" was the former partner of a Serial Killer who tried to make things right after realizing she'd outlived her usefulness and was next on his list.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Serious Business: The killer in "That Woman" took her high school chastity club so seriously that she never even slept with her husband, costing her her marriage.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Messenger: The two successful kills in "Sabotage." The intended victims who had genuinely wronged the killer (at least in his opinion) both survive. And in "The Lat Drive-In/Bullet" only the second victim had actually done something wrong; everyone else was either this or collateral damage.
  • 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 accountant in Lotto Fever who makes his living off of ripping off lotto winners
    Kat Miller: Do you even... feel anything? Hosing a guy like that?
    • Leah’s father in Wishing while it is understandable why he would be angry but threatening to sue a cancer ridden single mother is a Jerkass move
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: The Lost Soul of Herman Lester, Soul, Sandhogs and Shore Leave.
  • Something Completely Different: "Officer Down" deals with a current homicide not a cold case
  • Spoiled Brat: The dumb babysitter in Baby Blues believes that her daddy can get her out of any problems
  • Stacy's Mom: Used in an extremely twisted fashion in "Blackout." The victim, a middle-aged former supermodel, actively tries to get this reaction out of others, including her own relatives.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The season 4 finale.
    • The killer in Superstar was a sports journalist who fell for everyone he wrote about. The victim who was his latest interest tired of having people take credit for her accomplishment told him off when he used this as justification for why they should be together.
  • 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.
  • Straw Misogynist: Played with in The Thin Blue Line and Into the Blue while at first it seemed played completely straight with none of the cadets liking the victim because she was a girl. It turned out that that was most a mentality only held by the teachers. In an effort to prove that she was just as good she unintentionally shut herself off, accidentally coming off as a Smug Snake. Something she was rectifying when she got killed. Even then she was killed due to the fact that the other cadets were going to embrace her and not her killer.
  • 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.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Oscar Anderson in "The Dealer" denies both killing the victim and stealing her bonus. Thing is, the detectives had only mentioned her money being stolen, not the source of that money.
  • 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.
    • The husband in World’s End given the fact that his wife abandoned him and her child to certain death to be with her lover after treating him like crap for getting laid off. Add that to the fact that he had alzimers and arresting him does seem like a Kick the Dog moment for the cops.
  • 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.
  • Together in Death: "The Boy in the Box" and his biological mother Sister Grace.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The daughter in “Stalker” after literally being sent a stalkers shrine she responded by saying how romantic it was. When you add to that the repeated treats the guy made on her and her family.
    • Her mother was this as well for using her daughter’s picture in her profile and was the one who was actually writing the stalker.
    • The two teenage boys in Thrill Kill who didn’t realize that playing for the camera in a murder trial against three children was a bad idea. To make matters worse after they reopened the case he tried to invoke Never My Fault.
    • The pedophile in Revenge has a gun pointed at him and feels that that was the right time to taunt the father
    • The victim in Jackals joined a dangerous bicker gang because she was mad at her dad despite everyone including them telling her it was a stupid idea.
    • The killer in Officer Down.
    • One perp was arrested simply for being this for example selling the gun to the person who tried to kill him who just happened to be a 12 year old boy
  • 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.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Lily and Kat.
  • 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.
      • Given that she was killed because she abandoned her husband and child during an Apycholypse scare to run off with her lover.
      • Her abandoning her husband and child during an apocalypse scare to be with her lover is more this trope given that it had that she cheats it’s his fault aspect you usually see in Lifetime Movie of the Week
      • Its more to the fact that that guy was a sleaze while her husband was just going through hard times
    • 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.
    • The younger daughter, particularly in the present-day, from Superstar. Even though the pushy, stage father was a Jerk Ass to his tennis-playing elder daughter during her lifetime, years later, he mourns her death and acts as if she were his only child. It wasn't even until Lilly calls him out on this that he finally gets his act together.
  • 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.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The Victim's family in Lotto Fever.
    • The warrior program in Glory Days.
      • Averted with the killer who tried to invoke this.
  • 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. Even stranger is the fact the the n-word seems to be the only slur the show won't use; "sp*c," "f*ggot," and "mud-people" have all been said on the show.
  • 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.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Not once during the episode Knuckle Up does anyone mention all of the bruises and cuts a number of students had.
    • This was a Berserk Button for the students who fought like that specifically to get attention.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: A particularly heartbreaking one in "Wishing" gave us a girl who had a crush on the Victim of the Week, who was a mentally-challenged teenager. One day alone in class, she tried to kiss him when her meathead boyfriend walked in and she lied and said he tried to sexually assault her so that she wouldn't get a "bad reputation", which essentially caused him to be beaten up by the said boyfriend and his gang of thugs (as well as his only friend, who was embarrassed by him), her parents deciding to file charges against him, he ending up in an institute instead where, due to his alleged sexual deviance, is in the worst tier of the facility where the care for the patients is horrifyingly neglectful, quite frankly. In addition to this, the boy's loving mother (and one of only two people at this point who gave a damn about him) is dying of cancer as all of this is occurring, the boy's father won't take care of him because of his mental status and the boy's caregiver, who was also dating the mother, takes him from the institute and rather than have him live a life of loneliness and neglect, has him ran over by a train. In present day, the the now adult girl tears up in remorse upon realizing that she inadvertently caused the death of an innocent and harmless boy because of a little white lie.
    • The teacher/priest in That Woman. He had an affair with the killer, and when the victim pointed out the hypocrisy the killer (who was already unstable) blamed the victim for what happened and killed her. When interviewed he admits that he transferred largely out of guilt for causing the victim's death.
    • The Jerk Ass in Pin Up Girl who asked the killer out to get close to the victim only to laugh in her face for not realizing that was what he was doing.
    • If the wife in Revenge didn’t tell her brother in law about her husbands bearer bonds like she was told to her son would be alive today he also could have been saved if she had just went to the police instead of guilt tripping her husband into finding and killing the victim.
    • Roy Brigham Anthony’s aunt in Creatures of the Night was the one who gave him the idea that the voice in his head was god telling him what to do. Before that he believed he was crazy and could have gotten help. This is one of the few instances when the UWID are perfectly aware of it.
    • By telling Johnny in Yo, Adrian that his fight was fixed his girlfriend started the process that led to his death.
  • 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) starts out as a Smug Snake... until the team reveals they have DNA evidence, at which point he has a Freak Out and rants about how both the victim and his girlfriend should have died that night.
    • 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?
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Many of the victims get killed for reasons thought important at the time.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: The killer in One Small Step
    • The victim in "Shuffle, Ball Shift" was one. Subverted in that he actually did get his father's approval, but was killed before he could learn this.
  • 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.
    • Paul Shepard from "The Last Drive-in"/"Bullet" had a pretty rough life, too. His father lost his business due to a minor clerical error by his accountant's secretary, then lost most of his property due to being unable to keep up payments and ultimately Ate His Gun. Paul himself settled down with a fellow film geek and opened a video store, but then the home video market crashed and, at the same time, he discovered he couldn't have children, and finally snapped.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The victims partner Blondie in November 22
  • 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
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Scotty gets one that lasts for the rest of season 4 and the 1st half of season 5, after he accidentally gives a vigilante murderer evidence needed to work out the identity of his son's murderer (said vigilante nearly throws the murderer off a building as a result.)
  • 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...
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Because of copyright restrictions, Closed Captions refer to songs used by genre, rather than by name.