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Series / NUMB3RS

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We all use math every day. To predict weather, to tell time, to handle money. We also use math to analyze crime, reveal patterns, predict behavior. Using numbers, we can solve the biggest mysteries we know.

A Police Procedural revolving around an Odd Couple of crime-solving brothers. Don Eppes (Rob Morrow) heads a team of FBI investigators called on to solve the exceptionally sensitive and baffling crimes that happen in Los Angeles about once a week. To solve these highly complex crimes, he invariably turns to his brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), a college professor and mathematical prodigy, who applies pure mathematics to the task of solving crimes.

Ultimately, math conquers all...though on the way, Charlie usually faces a crisis of faith stemming from the fact that, while he's a mathematical genius, he is emotionally immature, with only a very slight understanding of human motivation. Balance is restored via the assistance of his father Alan (Judd Hirsch) and physicist colleague Larry (Peter MacNicol). Larry generally advises him to steer clear of messy human-interaction problems, while Alan nudges him toward a better understanding of human nature.


The show finished its sixth and final season in 2010.

The show's storylines were supposedly inspired by actual cases.

This series provides examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Both Charlie and Dr Larry Fleinhardt are prone to this. Charlie gets better as the series progresses, but Larry is prone to being so deep in contemplation of either physics, math, or philosophy that he forgets what's going on around him.
    Larry: Let me ask one thing. When we met just now, was I coming out or going in to the library?
    Charlie: Coming out.
    Larry: [sighs] My memory is a memory. All right. [starts back inside]
    Charlie: [yells] Larry, you were coming out!
  • Action Girl: Megan Reeves, Liz Warner, and Nikki Betancourt.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Briefly holds Amita hostage and turned out to be fake.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Season 2 episode "Rampage" starts with a man charging into the FBI office and start shooting, almost catching Charlie in the crossfire.
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  • Alternate Reality Game: Chain Factor, an addictive little Flash game which went rather deeper, including clues scattered throughout one episode, online sites, and the Los Angeles subways to unlock various power-ups.
  • Always Gets His Man
  • Ambiguously Jewish: The Eppes family were this for the first couple of seasons; the third season episode "Provenance" established them as non-observant Jews.
  • Author Filibuster: In "Money for Nothing", the plot stops dead in its tracks for five minutes so Charlie and a guest star can lecture Colby on the wonders of microcredit.
  • Asshole Victim: Frequently. Occasionally paired with Sympathetic Murderer, but in other cases, the killer is just as bad as the victim.
    • Special mention goes to the series finale, which is just a pileup of these. Don loses his gun during an arrest, and it becomes a symbol for people who feel the police aren't protecting them. The three people actually killed are two drug dealers and a chronic drunk driver; there are also near-misses on a man who's been abusing his ex-girlfriend and a bully who's been terrorizing his neighbors.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Subverted. The super-brain Charlie Eppes tries, among other things, golf and sniping, and learns that knowing the math simply isn't enough. It requires some kind of instinct or gut feeling to get it right.
  • Badass Bookworm: As of Season 5, Charlie can SO kick ass. One FBI training course and BAM!, he has a gun.
    • This is subverted. Yes, he can target shoot, but isn't much in a fight still.
    Sinclair: It's a lot different when they're shooting back, okay?
    • He also can't do much else. Before his success on the range, he failed miserably at vehicle pursuit, hand-to-hand, and dynamic entry.
  • Bait-and-Switch Tyrant: Mildred Finch in Season 3.
  • Bald, Black Leader Guy: David Sinclair. Although not technically a leader, he is Don's second-in-command.
  • Batman Gambit: Charlie proved to be pretty good at this in episodes such as "Prime Suspect" and "Primacy". His strategies for trapping criminals include working out their plan so he could predict their course of action, and setting everything up so that to the criminal it seems everything is going according to plan, up until the point the trap is sprung.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The fifth season's "Jack of All Trades" features a criminal who is basically a master of this. He can fake his way into any job simply by turning up the charm. When he's finally captured for the first time, he escapes from jail by pretending to be an attorney.
  • Beeping Computers: Most user interfaces seem to make an unusual amount of beeping, whining, and chirps as the user scrolls and clicks.
  • Berserk Button: Threatening or hurting Charlie is a surefire way to piss off Don.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Don towards Charlie. Amusingly, big brother Don also works for "Big Brother". But then in this case, Big Brother is also your friend.
    • As a frequent consultant for the NSA (National Security Agency), Charlie works for "Big Brother" as well.
    • Don also acts like a big brother to the entire team. And the other members of the team often treat Charlie like a little brother.
  • Black Best Friend: David Sinclair to Don .
    • Even moreso to Colby. They get so close that Nikki starts giving them crap about it.
  • Bland-Name Product: CalSci to Caltech. Though the latter is actually an inspiration.
  • Brains and Brawn: The two main brothers.
  • Call-Back: Several.
    • At the end of "Growin' Up", Nikki and Colby remind David about one more piece of paperwork that needs catching up: his physical training. They bring out one of the counterfeit primers from the "Sneakerhead" episode the season before.
    • "End Game" and "Arrow of Time" get special mentions for this. Both episodes were call-backs to earlier episodes, but unlike the standard two-parter, it wasn't consecutive. "End Game" is a half a season after the setup episode "Thirteen", and "Arrow of Time" is a full two seasons after "Spree/Two Daughters".
  • Catch-Phrase: "Everything is numbers." Or, perhaps, "everything is numb3rs."
  • Celebrity Paradox: At the end of Season 3 Episode 7, Al tries to cheer up Don, who has just revealed to his dad and brother that his girlfriend had dumped him a week prior, by finding something fun to watch on TV. What we hear from the TV is the theme from the 70's sitcom Taxi. Al is played by Judd Hirsch, who was the main character on Taxi.
  • Character Development: A very good amount of it, and not always in predictable directions (lookin' at you, Fleinhardt). Probably more so than most other Police Procedural shows.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Mostly absent, even the NSA group that shows up is mostly on the level. However, there is the storyline involving CIA mind control experiments.
  • Content Warnings: Season 5 Episode 8 Thirty-Six hours deals with a train derailment. It was written and filmed before the tragic Metrolink crash in Chatsworth, CA but was shown after. David Krumholtz gives a content warning that establishes the episode was written and filmed before the tragedy and gives a warning so those who might find the story disturbing can make an informed decision.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Dr Larry Fleinhardt
  • Cloning Blues: The "kidnapped" girl in the Hydra episode.
  • Cold Sniper: Agent Edgerton.
  • Continuity Nod: One episode mentioned a gang called the 18th Street Mexicali, a rival of the gang one of the suspects belonged to. Two episodes later, the gang is mentioned again as a gang that a record-label executive—and the father of the kid kidnapped in the episode—is connected to.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In "Vector", the FBI is called in by the CDC to help investigate a viral outbreak (given the possibility that it may have been an act of bioterrorism). Don wants to bring Charlie, but the CDC insists on using their own mathematical consultant who has the proper clearance. Naturally, the CDC consultant turns out to be Charlie.
    • In Season 5 Episode 7, a family friend of the Epps asks Don to look into his surfer son's death, ruled an accident. Don looks over the Park Ranger investigation into said accident at his desk and thinks the investigation was pretty thorough as Colby walks by and recognizes Don's Surfer friend. It is Colby, an Idaho farmboy, who realizes the death was murder because he just happens to be a hardcore surfing fan and notices a detail the park rangers missed.
    • The case in "One Hour" is this to some extent. The team gets a case while Don's at a therapy session with his phone off, and it just happens to be one with an incredibly short deadline, so much so that the case is fully resolved and wrapped up by the time Don shows up, when many FBI cases require days if not weeks of investigation.
  • Cop and Scientist: Cop and mathematician, but otherwise fits the trope.
  • Couch Gag: Each episode opens with a grid-patterned screen, each quadrant of which displays the number of something—suspects, dollars, crimes per day, people, whatever—relevant to its plot.
  • Covert Distress Code: In one episode, a rookie agent on once went undercover to catch a group of people kidnapping ATM users and was given the distress code "Mexico" to use if the operation starts to go south. It does, but she's too stubborn to use the word, believing that she can salvage the operation on her own. Don berates her for this later and assigns her to answering telephones.
    • "Mexico" is actually David and Colby's long-time covert distress code; each of them uses it once successfully (Colby in "Chinese Box", David in "Ultimatum") when the other is in a hostage situation, to warn each other that a hard entry is imminent.
  • Criminal Mind Games: The episode "The Janus List". Supposedly, the point of the exercise was to give the FBI a list of double agents, but the character who had the list made it all but impossible for the FBI to find it. Justified Trope because this also hid the list from double-(triple) agent Colby Granger—but, yeah, routes much more direct were available.
    • Lots of episodes do this. Usually the clues require advanced mathematics to unravel, since the show's Aesop is that "Math is useful and mathematicians are like superheroes—with math."
  • Defensive Feint Trap: Used in the episode Assassin and discussed with a chess analogy.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The kindly rec center owner who set off more than a half-dozen "chain reaction" gang shootings after a stray bullet killed his son, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people, including innocent bystanders and children. Unsurprisingly, he's Driven to Suicide.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: In "Structural Corruption", the mastermind behind the defective building cover-up turns out to be Cole's secretary.
    • In "Sacrifice", the killer is Scott, the victim's assistant.
  • E = MC Hammer: Averted. The network actually hired professors to teach Krumholtz the real math he needed to know.
  • Empty Cop Threat: Not every episode, but on occasion. In the episode "Toxic", a private security contractor was found going through the files of a journalist the FBI was visiting. After confirming his credentials, and after the journalist declined to press charges, Sinclair let the contractor off with a warning that if they ever caught him near their investigation again, he would charge him with obstruction of justice personally. When the contractor was caught there again, Sinclair didn't charge him—he did something more drastic.
    • Actually, it was Edgerton who did something more drastic, and it was probably justified given that the guy was about to shoot another man in cold blood.
    • Another episode uses the trope: A man hires private security to find his stolen loot. The FBI is also on the case as people were kidnapped during the theft. The private security guys barge in as the FBI is about to arrest the kidnappers, which allows them to escape. Don immediately has both men arrested as accessory to the kidnappers, and warns their employer that if he sees any more of his employees following FBI agents around, he'll have him arrested under the same charges.
  • Epic Fail: In the episode featuring the hacker on the run from various criminal groups, the Israeli hacker/arms-dealer gets cornered by an FBI agent while said Israeli hacker's muscle is elsewhere. The hacker's eyes dart over to the glass window and the viewer just knows he is going to try and make a break for it—but does not expect for the break to fail so spectacularly, as the hacker's body (appropriate for his specialty, and thus not made like a linebacker's) bounces off the window not once, not twice, but three times. He is caught, obviously, no doubt wondering why the breakaway glass didn't break away, like in the movies.
  • Eureka Moment: Charlie, all the time.
    • Amita does it while Charlie is otherwise occupied in "Checkmate", leaving a bemused Larry to wonder, "What is it about this office?"
    • Larry gets one too, in "All's Fair". It being Larry, it's a somewhat literal interpretation.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: Played with, inverted, and subverted. Several characters, including lead Charlie Eppes, love math, and those who don't love math are dependent on those who do.
    • Hell, by the sixth season, some of the FBI actually explain the math, with Charlie grinning like a proud teacher.
  • Evil Counterpart: Quite a few episodes had the criminal being a genius Charlie could relate to.
  • Expy: Bill Nye. Played by Bill Nye.
    • Another example would be the villain of the Season 5 finale: a very intelligent cult leader who has a bit of a god complex and whose followers are only women. He's played by James Callis. There are few differences.
  • External Combustion: Takes out potential witnesses in "Democracy" and "Pay to Play"; another almost gets killed in "Blowback," but the bomb goes off too soon.
  • Fake Defector: Colby Granger turns out to have been a triple agent for several years. This causes a fair bit of drama and angst, since the rest of the cast find out about the "defector" part well before they find out about the "fake".
  • FBI Agent: Half the main cast is one. For the whole series, Special Agents Don Eppes and David Sinclair. For some seasons, Special Agents Terri Lake (Season 1), Colby Granger (Seasons 2-6) Megan Reeves (Seasons 2-4), Liz Warner (3-6) and Nikki Betancourt (5-6), plus frequent guest star Ian Edgerton.
  • Feed the Mole: The strategy used in the episode "Assassin".
  • First-Person Perspective: In later seasons the show used gun barrel perspective as the FBI agents performed operations intercut with more regular footage.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Foreshadowing: Before Colby was revealed to be a Chinese spy:
    Just the two?
    Just the two. Only one we need alive is the reporter.
    • The previous episode, "Money For Nothing", also contains a conversation between Don and Colby about loyalty that's rather prophetic.
      Don: How well does anyone know who they're working with?
      Colby: The way I see it, you got a team, you got to trust 'em. That's just the way it works.
    • Larry remarks in "Sniper Zero" that if he ever got a chance to go to outer space he wouldn't hesitate at the opportunity. In season three, guess what he gets to do.
  • Friendly Enemy: Charlie Eppes and Marshall Penfield in the fifth season story "Frienemies".
  • Game of Nerds:
    • Dr. Fleinhardt is a Dodgers fan.
    • There is also another nerdy character that plays Fantasy Baseball, Oswald Kittner, who's played by Jay Baruchel, who is a real-life friend of David Krumholtz, according to the DVD commentary on that episode.
    • Charlie is also somewhat implied to be a fan, as he calls it "the most statistically driven sport in the world" with a note of pride in "Sacrifice" note  and chuckles in agreement when Alan jokes that you don't need statistics to predict that The Dodgers aren't going to win the pennant that year.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Charlie and Larry in different ways. Amita, too.
  • Good Parents: Alan.
    • Margaret Eppes, too, judging by the way the entire surviving Eppes clan talks about her.
  • Good with Numbers: Charlie, of course.
  • Heroic BSoD: Charlie goes through one in the very second episode when Don is placed in a life-threatening situation because he followed Charlie's advice:
    Charlie: [frantically] The fact that you survived is an anomaly and is unlikely to be the result of another such encounter.
    • He goes into worse ones in Season Five when Don is stabbed and three episodes later Amita is kidnapped.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: David and Colby. At least until they decided to play their Ho Yay for laughs.
  • Hollywood Nerd: All over the place, but Charlie is the most prominent.
  • Hot Teacher/Hot for Teacher: Amita is young, brilliant, and attractive, and typically wears flattering casual clothes while teaching. She's also dating and eventually marries her thesis professor Charlie.
  • How We Got Here: "Blowback" begins with a montage of scenes from late in the episode, then skips back to the beginning of the case.
  • Idiot Ball: The FBI has an unlimited supply of those.
    • YMMV on this. Charlie is more of a face for the real life technicians and consultants that would really be used by the FBI. The techniques tend to be rather standard, Charlie is just Mr. Exposition about how the techniques work. And having him as a university professor is fancier than an official FBI analyst.
    • One wonders, how often did the FBI catch criminals before Charlie started helping them? An episode illustrates the FBI's helplessness brilliantly. A man is accused of shooting an FBI negotiator during a face-off with the FBI. He flees after saying he's innocent He really is, and the FBI has been hunting him for months. It's repeatedly mentioned that every cop in the county wants to catch the guy, because he's a suspected cop killer. The bullet that killed the officer flew out of his body, and yet, despite the zeal with which the FBI wants to catch the guy and have him condemned, no one tried to find the bullet that killed their officer, if only to reinforce their case against the guy once they catch him. The bullet is lodged in a tree, with a prominent bullet hole, so it's not like finding it is hard (in fact, once the protagonists decide to look for it, they find it in a few hours) The bullet does prove the guy's innocence, but since no cop knew that, it still wouldn't explain why they never tried to look for it.
      • The idiot ball on that one is played with. The thing is, the house was surrounded by police who were intent on watching the house. They knew there was an armed man inside and they were prepared for that man to fire on them. No one expects a drug company to sell him a tainted vaccine, then when the government catches on to the tainted beef to then hire a sniper to frame the man for murdering a hostage negotiator. Every one at the site, faulty witnesses as they may be, would testify to the fact that they were watching the house at the time of the shot and that the armed man was inside. When they are cops at the scene of the crime negotiating with a man who has threatened to shoot them and then someone gets shot, it's kind of justified to think the same man is shooting. Plus, they had the bullet that was inside the negotiator. They just neglected to make sure that the trajectories were right. Probably because they were storming the building and taking him to cover. Later, they do actually just haul the Idiot Ball around. See the next reference for this episode.
      • In the same episode, it's mentioned how surprising it is to the FBI's expert manhunter that the fugitive never tried to leave his home county, despite it being in his best interest to do so and avoid the intense police presence searching for him. The cops repeatedly found the campsite where he stayed, but just after he's just vacated it. Yet it takes Charlie and his math to reveal the obvious: The man's sticking around his home county because he goes to visit his wife once in a while. Said wife still resides in their home, where the shooting took place. That's right. The FBI, and their expert tracker, NEVER considered that a fugitive who remains near his home might be visiting his family on a regular basis.
      • In another episode, they ask an interviewee if she knows anything about pot. After denying it, she mentions that she doesn't know anything about pot farms. They treat it like a Suspiciously Specific Denial.
      • Of course, they do turn out to be right.
    • Garden variety Idiot Ball that seems to occur just about every episode: agents, usually David & Colby, approach a guy to ask him a few questions, identify themselves from about fifty feet away, guy then looks around nervously and bolts in the opposite direction, leading to a foot chase. These are experienced FBI agents? You'd think they'd have learned by now.
    • A more proper Idiot Ball is with Millie's reaction to the consulting that her professors do. Given the government contracts that could bring in, that seems like something that they should encourage.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: Played straight by Charlie in "Assassin" (S02, E05).
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: This trope seems to crop up with distressing regularity. Every few episodes, Charlie is challenged to move beyond the empirical world to a matter of faith, only the matter of faith in question is something completely outside the normal debate of science vs. religion, and yet Larry's right there urging Charlie to consider that it might possibly be true. After all, even scientists don't pretend that they can know everything, right?
    • More like Larry's just weird that way. If anything, his entire character exists to pointedly avert the Straw Atheist scientist stereotype while other scientists (like Charlie) take a more traditional view.
    • Actually, it's more that Larry is a physicist whose focus is on Quantum Mechanics in subatomic theory where the observation of a particle changes its nature and the reality of a subject of inquiry can be both existent and non-existent concurrently depending on the parameters of study. Hence, he spends most of his time theorizing on things that change when he observes them. Spending a career on that requires an existential trust in both stable and unstable influences that are constantly interchangeable. I.e., he has to have faith in stuff that isn't there because half the time when he finds it is there, it actually isn't.
      • Nonsense, particle physics and quantum theory aren't faith based, nor are they more predisposed to that sort of thinking. That's like saying statisticians are prone to the same thinking because they study systems with probabilistic behaviour. Or, people studying GR are moral relativists because "everything is relative" to them. Or students of nonlinear dynamics have messy houses and don't keep appointments because chaos theory and their subject being about not being able to control outcomes. Etc. Larry seems like a new age 60's hippee that got into physics - kind of reminds me of some (not all) is the early drug chemists that made psychedelics.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: In one episode, a movie star's friends are being blackmailed, and the secret is this trope.
  • Illegal Gambling Den: In one episode, the team uncovered a gambling website where patrons can bet on a Deadly Game. The premise is that a revolver will be loaded with a single bullet and players take turns pulling the gun's trigger while it's pointed at them. The loser is the one who pulls the trigger while the bullet is in the position where the revolver can actually fire it.
  • Instant Marksman: Just Squeeze Trigger!: Both downplayed and somewhat justified in "Sniper Zero". Charlie's bullet ballistics number-crunching keeps failing to give him the whole picture of how the suspect sniper operates, so he resolves to learn what shooting a gun feels like. After struggling with a rifle at the shooting range for a while, Don gives him a few of the usual pointers: relax his hands, shoot in-between breaths, etc. Charlie's next shot, while not sharpshooter material, is a lot better, and his final prediction on the sniper's nest location is off by only a few feet.
    • Don also points out to Charlie that there's a difference between shooting paper targets and real people. He may primarily be referencing the emotional impact, but the same is true of aiming. (Charlie and David have a similar conversation four seasons later, in which David clearly is referring to marksmanship.)
  • Insufferable Genius: Charlie can on occasion be this. Just enough times to give him human faults.
  • Interdisciplinary Sleuth: Charlie solves crimes with mathematics!
  • Ivy League for Everyone
  • I Want Grandkids: Alan takes the proactive approach, giving solid relationship advice to Don and Charlie.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Almost completely absent. Don's FBI crew has a tendency to work and play well with others. They especially have a good relationship with the local cops.
  • Just Smile and Nod: The FBI gang do this when Charlie explains some very complicated math theories.
    Charlie: Right, no, we have to consider variegated terrain and a considerable time gap. Compensate for the time lag. Add overlapping search spirals to maximize the area covered...
    Edgerton: ...Anyone else following this?
    Granger: Just nod your head and wait for the punchline.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: "Rampage" starts with the team working on a pedophile case with the suspect in interrogation, Said pedophile becomes a victim of collateral damage when someone else bursts into the office and starts shooting up the place.
  • Knight Templar: Several.
    • The man who lost his son to gang violence, and starts setting off "shooting chains" to cause as many gang member casualties as possible.
    • The woman who had her husband molest their daughter, and starts tracking down other pedophiles to torture them, get their confessions, and then murder them.
    • The man who was a victim of a hit-and-run that went cold, who started assaulting every person he sees responsible for road danger.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Don...he has gotten better about it over the years, though.
  • Lady of War : Megan. Amita in the episode Primacy, and other episodes. Also Liz.
  • Layman's Terms: Once an episode Charlie or one of his colleagues references an obscure mathematical concept that can be used to help solve a case, then creates an analogy to make it understandable. The team has come to expect them and basically ignore the math and wait for the analogy. See Just Smile and Nod.
    • This predictable behavior is lampshaded at one point when the agent prompts him for the analogy: "Imagine..."
    • Occasionally inverted by Larry for laughs, who takes everyday situations and complicate it by adding cosmological terms.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: Or, if you prefer, L3tt3rs To Numb3rs. The show also did this in its opening sequence. The names of the actors would slide across the screen to the right as numbers, resolving then into the letters of the actors' names, except for a couple of them, which would remain briefly before then switching over to the letters.
  • Mama Bear: A dark example in "Killer Chat"; Elaine Tillman found out that her husband, who turned out to be a pedophile, molested their daughter, so she murdered him in revenge. Then she started luring other child molesters to vacant houses under the disguise of a teenaged girl online, torturing them to get their recorded confessions, and then murdering them so no other innocent kid would go through what her daughter went through ever again.
  • Measuring the Marigolds: Subverted by Charlie in that he appreciates the beauty of the world, he just sees it in the way math can help describe it.
  • Monty Hall Problem
  • Mr. Fanservice: Charlie and Colby. The former appeals to fans of cuter Pretty Boys and the latter to fans of Hunks. The producers are clearly aware of Charlie's attractiveness, exploit it and often makes him emote and Colby has his own fair share of angst, particularly when it comes to the army. Colby also has a thing for getting into the water, and let's not forget the Ho Yay.
  • "Killer Chat"; the case is about a Knight Templar serial killer who targets child molesters and finds victims by posing as a teenage girl online, leads them to an empty house, then tortures them to get their recorded confessions. They then murder the molesters.
  • Never Suicide: One case is set off by an apparent suicide, which Charlie is convinced was a murder because the kid discovered a big, expensive secret. He did discover a huge secret, but he actually did commit suicide because he was already suffering from depression and thought nobody would listen to him any other way.
    • This episode was Very Loosely Based on a True Story. In 1978, an engineering student discovered a very serious flaw in the Citigroup Centre building in New York, that could cause it to collapse in winds over 70 mph. In the real world, he told the architect, who very quickly realized that he was right, and the architect, builder, and owners of the building undertook immediate action to correct the problem. They also informed the city of the problem, and made evacuation plans for the area surrounding the building (though they still kept it a secret from the public) and started watching the weather very carefully until the problem was fixed.
    • Played straight in "Guns and Roses" and "Democracy".
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Charlie, though non-observant.
  • Non-Action Guy: Charlie.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Subverted by Floyd Thompson of Department 44.
  • Ominously Open Door: Trope Namer. It happens enough to get a a lampshade hung.
  • Omnidisciplinary Mathematician: While far less egregious than other cases, Charlie is an expert at far more fields of math than is realistic, even for a genius like him.
    • Amita too, occasionally.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: Played With. While some of the bad guys do have lawyers, several innocent people do occasionally lawyer up when they're being interviewed by the agents. For example, in "Harvest", a patient was discovered with an illegal kidney that he got from a Back-Alley Doctor. The patient's actual doctor immediately hired a lawyer (especially since a girl was accidentally killed in order to get the kidney), and he is never suspected of being involved because he sought legal counsel.
  • Papa Wolf: Do not try to hurt any of Don's team. And DO NOT try to hurt Charlie.
  • Paranormal Episode: The series had an episode with a psychic helping the FBI, much to Charlie's annoyance, who got rather jealous of the psychic's performance.
  • Parental Abandonment: Not quite, but Amita's parents are always too busy to see her.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Subverted. Amita and Charlie are both very worried that Amita's parents won't approve of Charlie because he's not Indian, but when they finally actually meet Charlie, they are immediately won over.
  • Perp Sweating
  • The Philosopher: Larry, who stayed at a Buddhist monastery for quite a long time and often nudges Charlie in matters of philosophy. Somewhat of a Justified Trope—he studies quantum physics.
  • Phlebotinum Analogy
  • Pregnant Hostage: "Backscatter".
  • The Professor: Larry and Charlie. Especially Charlie, who is incredibly smart and was once a Teen Genius.
  • The Profiler: Megan's specialty.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: In one episode they end up facing a hedge fund investor who rigged an election and then arranged for all but one of the witnesses to be murdered and has someone else take the fall so he walks free, but because Charlie published the math used in the case, election officials would know what to look for and stop any other rigged elections.
  • Quirky Curls: Charlie is a male example.
  • Real Time: The third season episode "One Hour", in which, while Don talks with his therapist (who has made him turn off his cell phone), the rest of the team has just one hour to crack a case.
  • Reality Ensues: In the pilot episode, no less: Charlie uses his mathematical skills to determine the general area where a serial killer lives based on the locations of his murders, but the FBI fails to find a single viable suspect in the target area. When the FBI finally catches the guy, it turns out that he used to live in the target area, but had moved away prior to the beginning of the episode. No matter how good your math is, there will always be some variables that you can't account for.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Dwayne Carter, or at least as close as he ever gets to redemption.
  • Red Shirt: Averted. In one episode, a squad infiltrates a hidden marijuana farm, with several no-named agents. After having specifically stated that those kinds of farms are booby-trapped, it results in an anticlimax where several are disarmed, and nobody gets hurt.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Colby and Megan are introduced in Season 2 with little fanfare or even proper character introductions. They're simply dropped into the team like it's no big deal. Justified, as the FBI is a large bureaucratic organization and these sorts of personnel changes are probably so commonplace as to really not be that big a deal.
  • Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Colby Granger from Season 4-6 gets several comments referring to the fact that he was a triple agent.
  • Ripped from the Headlines
    • In "Calculated Risk" (S02, E04), it sounded like they were reading directly from Enron's wikipedia page.
    • "Sniper Zero" (S01, E09) seemed to be all about the Beltway Sniper Attacks.
  • Running Gag
    • A popular one in the later seasons is that whenever the FBI field agents go to a potential suspect, and the suspects run, the agents tend to treat it more as an annoyance than an actual worry that the suspect might get away.
    • There's also one that surfaces occasionally in Charlie's tendency to mistreat whatever random food happens to be lying around to demonstrate a math concept.
  • Russian Roulette: Used as a way to make money from very desperate gamblers and really sick viewers. The organizers even gave the players nicknames and everything; unfortunately for them, it was rigged.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: In one episode, a psychic predicts the killers' next move and goes there with his camera. The killers are there, along with their big truck. He doesn't get better, either.
  • Shipper on Deck: Nikki seems to be this with David and Colby. She's made several comments about the two of them in a relationship.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Charlie.
  • Shout-Out: In "Hardball", Colby references Blade Runner, saying that he thinks Ridley Scott knew what the future was going to look like; Ridley Scott is one of the show's producers.
  • Shout-Out: Amita Ramanujan. Srinivasa Ramanujan was a very famous mathematician.
  • Sibling Team: Don and Charlie.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Don is more "jock-like" and Charlie is more "geek-like".
  • Smart People Play Chess: It isn't enough that Charlie Eppes could multiply four-digit numbers in his head when he was three, graduated from high school and entered Princeton at 13, completed his bachelors degree in three years and is a multiple PhD. No, just so we'll know he's really smart, he regularly beats his father and his former academic adviser (both portrayed as above-average intelligence) at chess, too.
    • Justified. Chess is a proponent of game theory with a zero-sum outcome in which all information is available and possible moves are restricted based on previous moves. Hence it really comes down to a calculation of possible outcomes weighed against a target outcome. The reason why mathematicians tend to be good at chess is because chess is based in a very specific form of game theory. Why does Charlie always play and always win? Because he's Good with Numbers, chess is about as close as game theory gets to pure mathematics, and he's a mathematician. Although, considering that most of his math deals with statistical models and application it would probably be more appropriate for him to be playing black jack.
      • Which Dr Fleinhart did to the point of being banned from casinos, making him doubly smart!
    • It's been shown that the only way to have a reasonable chance at beating Charlie at chess is for two people to play against him at once while also have a distraction.
    • Mostly averted with Millie, who, after challenging Alan to a game, admits to Charlie that she's never actually learned how to play and has to try and learn the game in the day and a half before she's set to play him. She does beat him, but her approach to the game is less pure strategy and more people-reading skills. (She's very good at poker.)
  • Smurfette Principle: At least early on in the series. The cast is mostly male with one female FBI agent at a time (Terri first, then Megan takes her place) and Amita. This is then subverted in Season 3 when they add Liz, but Amita is still the only female character who lasted the whole series.
    • That's more a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, as the actresses who played Terri and Megan both left the show for personal reasons.
  • Spanner in the Works: The killer acts as a villainous version of this for Charlie in the pilot episode: He develops an equation that is meant to identify the killer's home based on the locations of his previous offenses and it would have done exactly that if not for the fact that the killer happened to move out of the identified area a few weeks earlier.
  • The Spock: Dr Fleinhart. Charlie doesn't qualify, as he emotes just fine.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: The specialty of mysterious government Agent Floyd (minus the "Bye" part), to the annoyance of Amita: "Stop materializing out of thin air!"
    • Cold Sniper Edgerton also has a habit of doing this, but, then again, he is a sniper. He made a surprise appearance at the end of Season 6, then asked why he wasn't invited to Charlie and Amita's wedding that was planned in one day.
  • Stealth Pun: Possibly the name Eppes constitutes one. Amita: "Charlie, wonderful news! You are now father of an...Eppesilon!" (Don't Explain the Joke mode: Famous mathematician Paul Erdős was known for calling children "Epsilons". It's derived from the Greek letter epsilon being standard use for the arbitrarily small quantity in the definition for the continuity of a function).
  • The Stoic: Don.
  • The Storyteller: Charlie Eppes teaches math with stories. He would be great to have as one's professor.
    • Larry indicates that he gets amazing class evaluations.
  • The Strategist: Charlie would probably qualify with his ability to mathematically predict the moves of evildoers.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Alan sometimes offers his insight on a few of Don's cases, usually relating to his old profession as a city planner.
  • Straw Vulcan: Usually averted.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Twice, and both times it has been the female FBI team member.
    • Not sure about Terri, but Diane Farr (who played Megan) was pregnant with twins at the time she left.
    • Kind of an interesting example, because while Megan shares characteristics with both the character she replaced (Terri) and the character who replaces her (Nikki), Terri and Nikki don't have much in common at all, it's just that Megan has very strong attributes that correspond with both. With Terri and Megan the trope comes into play as they're both The Profiler; with Megan and Nikki it's more about the Action Girl aspect.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: While it doesn't excuse their crimes, a lot of the killers do have sympathetic motives.
    • The one who caused domino-effect killings (he shoots at Gang A, who retaliates against Gang B, who retaliates back, people get caught in the crossfire...repeat until about 150 people are dead) to avenge his young son who was murdered by gangsters. By the time the crew catches up with him, he is very clearly insane.
    • The Knight Templar murderer in "Killer Chat" turns out to be the wife of a pedophile who had sexually abused the couple's daughter. Despite the brutality of the crimes, it's hard not to sympathize with the killer once the motive is revealed.
    • The killer in "Sacrifice" becomes a lot more sympathetic when we learn his motive: the victim was developing a program that would have allocated educational resources based on a mathematical assessment of "potential" (as Don puts it, the government would use it to justifying taking money away from poor communities and making sure only the wealthy got opportunities), and the assistant, who came from a poor neighborhood, knew that such a program would have denied him the opportunities that allowed him to escape for a better life, and that other people like him would be denied pretty much any opportunity if the program were ever implemented. Once he's caught and explains his motives to Charlie, Scott compares what the victim was doing to the Nazis using the Theory of Eugenics to justify murdering those that they had deemed "undesirable", as both programs would take somebody's chance of life away.
    • The plot of the series finale involves two near-misses on this: a battered woman whose boyfriend keeps violating his restraining order, and a teenage boy whose neighbor has been bullying his family. However, the woman is unable to bring herself to do it, and the other attempt is interrupted by the FBI.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Charlie and Amita. He's only her thesis advisor! Really!
    • Less weird in that since Charlie was a child prodigy, they're about the same age.
  • Team Dad: Don.
    • Alan, too. And not just in the sense of actually being Charlie and Don's father—he will at times give everybody useful advice or be a sounding board for problems.
  • Tempting Fate: When David and Colby corner a gun-wielding suspect in a garage that was recently used to make bombs:
    David: Sir, you're in a bomb lab! Now you know better than-
    Colby: ...apparently not.
  • Theme Serial Killer: A serial killer whose victims had the same names as the 12 apostles and killed them in the way each apostle died.
    • Not only that but the locations of their deaths were consistent with a map of the last significant events of Jesus's life.
  • Treacherous Advisor: The one encouraging the team is usually the Big Bad, and, if so, usually gets caught.
  • Virtual Danger Denial: A Playful Hacker cheerfully pisses off a number of powerful agencies online, legal and illegal, and is in total denial that they could come after him in real life. At least until it gets one of his loved ones killed.
  • Walking the Earth: Larry is always doing this or wanting to.
    • Except when he went into space.
  • The Watson: AKA the FBI.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Neighborhood Watch types who got ahold of Don's gun used it to kill a pair of drug dealers who sold to schoolchildren and a serial drunk driver who ran down two people, and to intimidate a vicious neighbor who turned out to be an escaped murderer.
    • The scientist who intentionally infected people with Spanish Flu to prove that the pharmaceutical companies chose the wrong (less virulent) strain to use in the development of vaccines and treatments, because he was convinced that a real epidemic was only a matter of time and so getting it right was literally a matter of life and death.
    • The Knight Templar Serial Killer in "Killer Chat" who targets child molesters so no kid would ever be hurt by one again after her husband molested their daughter.
    • The man who started killing gang members in such a way as to maximize retaliations, with the intent of getting as many gang members as possible killed off, after his son was killed in a gang war.
    • The narcotics cop who was feeding a gang member the locations of rival gangs' stash houses so he could raid them, figuring that fewer drug dealers was better for the community. He crosses the Moral Event Horizon when the gang member decides he's had enough and wants to come forward; he arranges for the gang member to go down in a raid, and then kills the cop who pulled the trigger when he starts to piece together that something wasn't right.
  • Wham Line: From the Season 3 finale, "The Janus List". The entire episode has been about getting a list of double agents, not because they were seeking the list itself, but because its author is setting off bombs in a roundabout way, to make Charlie and Don prove they were worthy to receive the list. They figure out the clues, stop the bombs, and listen to the list...
    Janus List: Colby Granger, FBI, also working for the Chinese.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Charlie and Amita.
    • They Do: they got married.
    • And Don and Robin. In the final episode, they get engaged.
  • Writer on Board: The eco sub-arc, the season finale about treatment of minorities from "risky" areas of the world.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Zigzagged like crazy.


Example of: