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Another show (2002-2009) in the CSI Verse from the CSI-SVU school of "let's focus on a lesser-known faction of the criminal investigation world"; this one takes a look at the FBI's missing persons unit. It's hip and gritty and hyper-edited like its contemporaries, with a similar focus on the cases rather than investigators; it sets itself apart, however, by having a more emotional interest in the cases than procedural, which is greatly helped by a top-drawer performance from Anthony LaPaglia.

It should be noted that while the investigation should stop with the discovery of a body, the unit very frequently ends up investigating murders along the way as well as that of the missing person, should that scenario appear.


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This show provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: In several instances when the Victim of the Week turns up dead. An especially heartbreaking example is of a woman who fell asleep while nursing her infant daughter and consequently smothered her.
  • Adults Are Useless: Happens a lot whenever a kid disappears as the parents would prefer to deny that their kids might have been involved in something they shouldn't have.
  • Adult Fear: And how. A loved one, especially a child, disappearing and possibly turning up dead.
  • The Alcoholic: Danny is a recovering one. Martin develops an addiction to painkillers after being shot.
  • All Just a Dream: "John Michaels" turns out to be this, with the missing person and many key elements of his life representing JACK'S life.
  • And Starring: Eric Close (Martin Fitzgerald) gets this distinction in the opening credits, although it's just simply "and".
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  • Big "NO!": Martin lets out one of these (unusually, the audience doesn't hear it, but it's obvious from reading his lips and body language) when a Middle Eastern doctor suspected of being a terrorist is sniped by the police. In truth, the guy was trying to warn people about an impending attack and Martin had almost convinced him to surrender when the cops mistook something he did as a threatening gesture.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sometimes even finding the victim alive isn't enough:
    • In "Snatch Back", the child is rescued, but the Tragic Villain who took her—she was a disturbed woman desperate to replace the child she miscarried—kills herself.
    • "Maple Street". Two girls are abducted. One is found alive, but the other has been murdered.
    • "The Source". The Victim of the Week, a friend of Jack's, is dead, (and her body has yet to be found) but thanks to her work, several bad guys are going to prison, while an innocent man will be freed.
    • "Hang On To Me": Chet Collins finally finds his missing son Sean after searching for him for six years. But in the interim, his parents marriage has fallen apart and he was so young when he was abducted—2—that he doesn't even remember them.
  • Bottle Episode: A great deal of the episode "Doppelganger" was an intense mind game interrogation scene.
    • The same could be said of the episode that focuses mostly on Jack's deposition for his parental custody dispute.
    • A good chunk of episodes, despite their multiple locations, have taken place over only a day.
  • Busman's Holiday: In "Shadows", Martin and Samantha search for his missing aunt on what should be their day off.
    • In "Manhunt", he witnesses a boy's abduction while simply out for his morning run.
  • Call-Back: Some episodes will refer to past events:
    • In "Fallout", Jack removes his gun and jacket and enters a bookstore, determined to rescue the injured Samantha from a hostage situation, offering to take her place. Two years later, in "Manhunt", Martin does the exact same thing to rescue a kidnapped boy.
      Jack: That was a pretty risky move, getting in the car.
      Martin: Well it's not exactly by the book, but I've seen it before.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Paula Van Doren (the Black Boss Lady from Season 1), vanishes at some point in Season 2 with nary an explanation.
  • Cliffhanger: The end of the Season 3 finale finds Martin and Danny transporting a detainee when a van pulls in front of them. The doors suddenly fly open, two men armed with machine guns jump out and open fire . . .
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: The episode "In The Dark" opens with Martin and Samantha going at it until her phone rings, alerting her about a case. He stops, um, moving, but remains on top of—and presumably inside—her even as she talks to Vivian, sneaking in kisses in between words. They get back at it after she hangs up and not until his phone rings do they stop.
  • Cowboy Cop: Jack Malone. While he's nominally Da Chief of the unit, he's got a well-deserved reputation for various degrees of Perp Sweating (from Lying to the Perp up to Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique) which he's used both on witnesses as well as suspects, along with ignoring all kinds of protocol. His team usually follows suit, but Jack is the primary offender.
  • Crime Time Soap: Every character gets some drama at some point, but Jack Malone takes the cake. His utterly horrific personal life came to dominate the series for a time. When he's killed off temporarily, rather than being tragic it comes as more of a relief, because at least he finally has some peace.
  • Cross Through: They did one with CSI first where first CSI broadcast their part and then the story continued with Without a Trace's part.
  • Cult: Features in a pair of episodes:
    • In "Risen", a missing woman's trail leads to a cult. In the course of their investigation, the team works to rescue others unable to escape.
    • In "The Beginning", the victim disappeared just after joining a cult.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Samantha, as revealed in Season 5.
    • Danny also.
    • A lot of the supposedly squeaky-clean victims turn out to have this too.
  • Death Seeker: Jack eventually becomes one for reasons that are obvious to any longtime viewer.
  • Descent into Addiction: Martin develops an addiction to painkillers after being shot at the beginning of Season 4.
  • The Determinator: One could say that all the agents are this, but Chet Collins takes the cake. In his first episode, it's revealed that he's been searching for his missing son for six years and he refuses to give up until he either knows for certain that he's dead, or finds him alive. And indeed, in his next episode, he finally does.
  • Downer Ending: And how. Half of the time the missing end up dead.
  • Driven to Suicide: Occasionally, it turns out that the Victim of the Week has employed this.
  • Eagle-Eye Detection: Cases are solved mostly through interrogation and clues such as things left behind at a scene.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The headquarters set in the premiere is completely different from what it is in subsequent episodes.
  • Fanservice: Elena, played by the beautiful Roselyn Sanchez, went undercover as a stripper in one episode.
  • Flash Back: Every episode and sometimes a Flash Back within a Flash Back.
  • Flashback Effects: The ubiquitous fade-to-white.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Samantha never considers one despite previously having been ambivalent about having kids, conceiving from a one-night stand, and not even remembering the guy's name.
    • Jack's girlfriend Anne also refuses to have one, citing that unlike him, she doesn't already have kids, and given her age, it's her last chance to do so. She eventually miscarries, making the debate moot.
    • In another episode, we learn that the Victim of the Week told his girlfriend to "take care of it" when she told him she was pregnant. He's stunned when she resurfaces 18 years later with his teenage son, telling him "This is how I "took care of it"!"
  • Heroic BSoD: Everyone at one point or another, for a variety of reasons.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: An in-universe example in the episode "4.0" when the agents learn that the Victim of the Week, a teenage girl, is pregnant. Suddenly, every one of the flashbacks gets a Rewatch Bonus as they (and the audience) realize that she was employing this trope—baggy clothes, quitting the swim team, etc.
  • Hope Spot: In one episode, they find the victim alive. He's then immediately shot and killed by his abductor.
  • Hypocrite: Cowboy Cop Jack is usually the first to criticize any member of his team who bends or breaks the rules to get the job done. Case in point, he blasts Martin and Vivian for lying to him about the former's shooting of a suspect, to which the latter coolly asks him, "And how many times have I covered for YOU?"
  • I Am the Noun: In one of the later episodes, Jack's girlfriend Anne must have surgery following a miscarriage. Jack is in the waiting room and starts to get annoyed, rather loudly, that nobody has the courtesy (his words) to tell him what's going on. The nurse tells him that she'll call the police if he doesn't quiet down and he replies "I am the damn police!" She tells him that she'll see if she can get a doctor.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Several episodes have featured pregnant women disappearing, with an extra sense of urgency to find them because of additional medical conditions.
  • In Medias Res: One of the basic foundations of the show. The story typically begins just before the disappearance and the remainder of the show is spent fleshing out the back-story through the use of flashbacks during interviews.
    • "Crossroads" does this even more, beginning with a suspect grabbing Jack's gun, shooting up the office, and taking Agent Cassidy hostage. After the opening credits, that's when we get the story of the victim's disappearance.
  • Infant Immortality: Both averted and played straight. Children and teens turn up missing in quite a few episodes, and their turning up alive is never guaranteed.
  • Internal Affairs: Known as OPR (Office Of Professional Review), they show up occasionally to cause trouble for the team—in particular in the episode "Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been. . ."
    • Another storyline has them coming very close to polygraphing Martin and Vivian (which would have gotten them fired had they failed) because they're suspicious—correctly—of their account of Martin's shooting of a suspect.
  • It's Personal
  • Life/Death Juxtaposition: Martin and Danny get word that Vivian has made it through her heart surgery just seconds before they're ambushed by gunmen, with the witness they're transporting being killed and Martin being badly injured and nearly dying himself.
    • Paired with Mood Whiplash—Danny outright says "At least we're ending the day on an "up" note" not two seconds before the gunfire erupts.
    • And Black Dude Dies First—the witness is an African immigrant.
  • Love Triangle: Repeatedly, between the different members of the squad.
  • Mama Bear: Elena is willing to go as far as to disobey direct orders and hold a corrupt cop at gunpoint in his car to rescue her daughter Sophie.
  • Manly Tears: After a day spent searching for his cancer-stricken aunt, along the way learning that she's been committing mercy kills of people in her support group and finally finding her near death (she'd decided to kill herself upon learning that she herself didn't have much time left), an exhausted and grieving Martin breaks down in Samantha's arms.
    • Danny's on the verge of these when Martin gets shot.
    • Jack sheds some of them occasionally too.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: While someone disappearing is hardly minor, the investigation reveals that the reasons behind it are far more complicated than hinted at in the opening sequence.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Noted in a number of episodes, but heavily discussed (and ultimately deconstructed) in "White Balance", which focuses on two missing teens: a black male and a white female. The disparity in media coverage is heavily featured, as well as the Unfortunate Implications of the boy suddenly getting more media attention, but only when it looks like he might be behind the girl's disappearance. Famous for its ending - a No Ending in which it's revealed only one of the teens was found alive, but not which teen.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: "Midnight Sun" features as the victim Greg Pritchard, supposedly a loving family man but whom witnesses soon report having seen at a diner in the company of an attractive young woman. However, a trace on the woman's credit card reveals the truth: she is a deputy U.S. Marshal, and Pritchard's handler in the Witness Protection Program.
  • Multitasked Conversation: During the episode "Fallout", when Samantha is held hostage in a bookstore. When Jack calls, without alerting the gunman, who thinks she's merely assuring him that no one is hurt, she manages to tell him how many hostages there are, how many weapons the guy has, etc.
    • In "In The Dark", she also manages to have a normal phone conversation with Vivian even though she and Martin are having sex, with them even sneaking in kisses between words.
    Samantha:(to Vivian on the phone while looking at Martin, who's on top—and likely inside—of her) "No, I'm fine."
    (Martin grins and tries not to laugh)
  • Murder.com: "Party Girl"
  • Naïve Newcomer: Martin's had only two years of experience investigating white collar crimes (which seems to be viewed by many as a easy assignment) before being transferred to the Missing Persons Unit and in the first episode, makes a critical error due to underestimating a dangerous situation—going to a suspect's apartment alone and nearly getting himself and the Victim of the Week killed.
    • Elena too when she joins the squad. Despite several years of experience as a cop, she isn't used to how the FBI does things and chafes under being treated like a rookie.
  • Nepotism: Despite his father being the deputy director of the FBI, Martin Fitzgerald makes it clear from the first episode that he neither wants nor expects any special treatment, to which Jack bluntly replies, "Good, because you're not getting any." However, for the duration of the show, he had to fight accusations of it—it's assumed that he got such a plum position because of this and he occasionally overcompensates to prove his worth—his father's attempts at displaying it—protecting him from an Internal Affairs investigation—and people determined to bring him down to prove that it wasn't happening.
  • No Ending: "White Balance" might be the most famous example, but it happens in "Two Families" also—the agents are sitting in the office, waiting to hear if a scheduled execution has been halted (the Victim of the Week, the inmate's father, disappeared while searching for the real killer) They find him—and the real criminal—but we never learn if it was in time to stop the execution of the innocent man.
  • Office Romance: Twice:
    • Samantha slept with both Jack Malone (see Sleeping with the Boss below) and Martin Fitzgerald (third season).
    • Danny Taylor and Elena Delgado. They get involved in season 4 and they get married in the series finale
  • One of Our Own: "Showdown". Although Martin has been shot, rather than disappearing like a typical victim.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Poppy Montgomery's accent has racked up enough frequent flyer miles over the Pacific that it will never need to buy a plane ticket again.
  • Pædo Hunt: A more literal application of the trope happens in one episode. A young looking woman poses as underage bait, a fledging, wheelchair bound unofficial cop (an accident prevented him from getting a badge), and a cameraman (who was later revealed to have been raped during a home invasion when he was 12) set up a sting operation to catch pedophiles, a la To Catch a Predator. Unlike the Chris Hanson manned operation, this version is more vigilante based and not exactly fool-proof to prevent people from escaping, which one guy managed to do. The cop goes after him and gives him a "Reason You Suck" Speech, which drove the pedophile to shoot himself with the cop's gun. To make things even better, when the cameraman realized the cop was about to tell the police about what happened, he tried to kill him to shut him up, though was unsuccessful. By episode's end, the cop survived the assault but by killing the cameraman.
  • Perp Walk: Pretty much whenever the Missing Persons case leads to an arrest.
  • Posthumous Character: Whenever the missing turns up dead, their flashback appearances make them this.
  • Proscenium Reveal: Security guard sees suspicious car. He looks inside and sees a bomb, which explodes, setting him on fire. Turns out this security guard is actually a stuntman, participating and shooting of B-Movie. Then he walks away from the set and never comes back.
  • Public Service Announcement: Every episode concluded with a blurb on a real missing persons case, narrated by a cast member, resulting in at least five people being found. (Episodes that aired in foreign countries—Australia, Hong Kong, etc.—featured their own cases).
    • In one episode, where it turned out that the Victim of the Week had committed suicide, viewers were directed to a suicide hotline.
  • Punny Name: Samantha "Sam" Spade, named for the hero of The Maltese Falcon.
  • Race Against the Clock: As Jack tells Martin in the first episode, "Usually, after 48 hours, they're (the victim's) gone." From the moment the victim disappears and the agents get involved, the viewer is given a time stamp of how long they've been missing—ranging from as little as 27 minutes to as much as 4 days—continually updated throughout the episode to heighten the sense of urgency and the need to find them. This is explicitly cited in an episode where the Victim of the Week is found dead and Martin blasts his supervisor for pulling him off the case to focus on another one—"Twenty minutes. I missed her by twenty minutes. I wanted you to know that."
    • Other episodes make it even more urgent, with a person needing to be found because of medical issues.
    • In "Two Families", the urgency comes from the fact that the missing person is the father of a death row inmate due to be executed in 2 days, given that the man may have discovered information that will exonerate his son.
  • Rape as Backstory: Samantha's sister was raped by a local man. Sam beat him to death with a shovel, and the sisters buried him in the woods.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: Seen in two episodes, both during flashback sequences. In one episode, a blind girl recounts how she and her female tutor were kidnapped by two teens, one of whom proceeded to rape the tutor while the blind girl listened with terror on her face. The other episode uses this during the revelation of Samantha's Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Red Herring: The agents will often find something or someone who seems to be relevant to the victim's disappearance, only for it/them to turn out to have nothing to do with it.
  • Revisiting the Cold Case: A few episodes have been this instead of the usual "hot" ones.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: "Maple Street" is based on the 2002 disappearance and murder of Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis. With a slightly happier ending—in Real Life, both girls were found dead months later, whereas on the show, one was found alive.
    • The show premiered in the fall of 2002, after a summer full of infamous kidnapping casesnote , including that of Elizabeth Smart, whose story was profiled at the end of the ninth episode "In Extremis", which itself could be considered an example—with 9/11 having happened only a year earlier, the possibility of the Victim of the Week (a Saudi immigrant) being involved in terrorism is seriously contemplated.
    • Another episode was based off the infamously horrible reality show The Swan, with the missing person being a contestant on a Swan-like show, "American Goddess" and later realizing she shouldn't have changed.
  • Secret Relationship: Martin and Samantha in Season 3 (because of her prior relationship with Jack, she doesn't want to be known as the office pump), though everyone figures it out eventually.
  • Ship Sinking: Both of Samantha's relationships get this—Martin because he gets fed up with her not wanting to tell anyone about them and her keeping him at arm's length note , and Jack because she's decided to make things work with her son's father.
  • Ship Tease: The first two seasons spend a lot of time establishing the attraction between Samantha and Martin before they consummate it at the end of Season 2.
    • All seasons make it clear that Jack and Samantha have never stopped caring about each other despite their affair having ended a year before the show began, paving the way for their reconciliation in Season 7.
  • Shipper on Deck: Danny picks up on Martin's attraction to Samantha fairly quickly and is genuinely happy to realize that they've embarked on a relationship in Season 3.
    Danny: (to Martin, as they inspect a victim's house) I can just see you and Samantha in a place like this, "Uncle Danny" coming by to teach the kids to play hoops. . ."
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Samantha Spade had a brief sexual affair with her supervisor, Jack Malone. It resulted in his marriage dissolving. They rekindled their relationship in the last season.
  • Something Completely Different: "Malone vs. Malone" doesn't feature a missing persons case, but Jack's deposition regarding his divorce and custody hearing. Though we get flashbacks in the same manner as typical episodes.
    • No one disappears in "Showdown" either. Instead, it's about the team's hunt for the gunmen who killed a detainee and injured Martin in the process.
    • Several other episodes have featured the re-opening of a cold case rather than the typical "hot" ones.
    • In "Deep Water", we know from the very beginning that the Victim of the Week is dead, as we see her being murdered, though there is still the customary suspense as to who her killer is.
    • The show itself. Eric Close stated during a talk show appearance that unlike most cop shows where the Victim of the Week is already dead, there's a chance that the victim is still alive, leading to a sense of urgency to find him/her before it's too late—many episodes take place over a very short time period, sometimes as little as a day.
  • Status Quo Is God: As long it was known that an actor wasn't leaving the show, there was no need to fear that their character was going to quit/be fired/transfer/be killed, no matter what the storyline or episode indicated.
  • Suicide by Cop: The Victim of the Week in "Gung Ho" commits this at the end—an Iraqi war veteran who accidentally kills a woman in a bank heist he pulled to get enough money to keep his house from being repossessed and his girlfriend from leaving him. After taking the girlfriend and Danny hostage in his home, he agrees to come out. He unloads the gun he's holding (out of view of the SWAT officers that surrounded his house) and walks right out the front door, pointing the gun at the officers, who open fire. The final scene is a Downer Ending: Danny holding the hysterical, sobbing girlfriend back from running after him and into the line of fire as he sheds a few tears himself.
  • That One Case: The Sean Collins case is this for Jack, with his father Chet having hounded Jack and investigated on his own for six years. Vivian—who herself has an example of this, as seen in the episode "Risen"—explains the circumstances to newcomer Martin, "We all have our Chet Collinses. You will too."
  • Town with a Dark Secret: A favorite trope of the show, especially in "Our Sons and Daughters".
  • Vomiting Cop:
    • Jack, paired with a Vomit Indiscretion Shot after forcing himself to sink to the level of a pedophile so that the guy will tell him where he's stashed a missing teenage boy—"I understand you. I envy you. I'll give you fifteen minutes to do whatever you want with him, as long as you tell me where he is".
    • Martin upon finding a missing child alive, but horribly mutilated. He's so enraged that he actually provokes the culprit into attacking him so as to have a reason to shoot him.
    • He gets ill in another episode, due to being in withdrawal from painkillers, though he tries to play it off as not feeling well. Due to being a recovering alcoholic himself note , Danny doesn't buy his excuse—"I know what an addict looks like."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the Season 4 episode "White Balance," Jack gets this from both Vivian and the mother of a teenage black boy who's gone missing at the same time as a teenage white girl—the reason being that, under pressure from his superiors, Jack has placed more emphasis on finding the girl. When the mother confronts him in his office, Jack tries to explain that the directives for the case are out of his hands, but she fires back:
    Mother: Let me tell you what the real issue is here, Mr. Malone. My black son's life isn't half as important as that white girl's!

    • Vivian also gives this to Jack regarding his treatment of Samantha, his wife, and herself—returning to his job and consequently costing her her much-desired promotion not two seconds after she got it.
    • In a later episode, Samantha brings Jack to task for doing an unauthorized background check into the past life and criminal history of her child's father, which results in the guy waiving his parental rights to the unborn child.
    Jack: I was just trying to do what I thought was right.
    Samantha: How long are you going to keep using that as an excuse to screw people over?
    • Vivian gives this to Martin after he loses control with a suspect and provokes the guy into attacking him so that he'll have a reason to shoot him. Aside from having lost his temper, she blasts him for killing the guy before he could tell them where the victim is, as well as doing something that will bring the wrath of Internal Affairs on the team and jeopardize their careers.
    • Martin also gets this from Danny after his erratic behavior nearly gets the two of them and the Victim of the Week killed, telling him that he needs to get help for his drug addiction.
  • White Sheep: Danny appears to be the only member of his family who has his act together—his father was an abusive addict and criminal and his brother followed suit. He's so determined to avoid any association with them that he even changed his last name.
  • Will They or Won't They?:
    • Martin and Samantha for the first two seasons. They do, although sadly, it doesn't last.
    • Jack and Samantha for seven years, although it's more "Will They Or Won't They Again", given that they already had a relationship before the show started. They do, but it doesn't last either.
  • Working with the Ex: Samantha, after her relationships with Jack and Martin end. For the most part, despite the lingering feelings, they're able to keep things professional.
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