Seven seasons, one hundred and sixty episodes, and now it’s finished; I feel like there should be so much to say, but there really isn’t.
At its best, Without a Trace was solid, sometimes very good, entertainment, and at its worst, it really wasn’t. These two episodes fell somewhere in the middle. Neither story was hugely involving, and the decision to focus the first one on Jack’s daughter’s love life (as if the show wasn’t Malone-heavy enough) was a bizarre (and somewhat annoying) one, but both were ok as far as missing-person-of-the-week stories go.
The agents’ relationships were clearly more important to the writers though. The Jack/Sam/Brian love triangle came to a head or a point or whatever it is love triangles come to, and suddenly, it all resolved in a tidy, if rushed and unconvincing, “happy” ending for all three of them. Sort of. I didn’t really buy Sam or Jack’s decisions, given the way their relationship has been built up this season, but I’d rather it worked out the way it did than not, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
What I can complain about is poor old Martin, left twisting in the wind, yet again. Danny and Elena got forever after, Vivian has her family, but Martin? Alone again. A couple of funny lines for him isn’t really much of a parting gift, so the camera panning over the office at the end for one last look got me thinking – what about a spin-off? “Fitzgerald: Special Agent”?
Nah, maybe not. I think we’re done here.
And so, WAT limped on towards next week’s finish line with another couple of mediocre episodes.
Again, the first one was the worst one, with a completely unengaging story about an internet journalist going missing during a stay in a psychiatric facility. It should have been better than it was, given the story of sex and corruption that led her there in the first place, but the focus on her “woe is me” whining left me entirely cold. Rather than showing us, we kept hearing her tell us why her life sucked. Having never seen the character before and no doubt never seeing her again, I found it impossible to care.
The episode was only made bearable by two things, both involving Martin talking to people who have lost their grip on reality.
His interview with scary patient Bill in an actual padded cell was nicely tense – especially when Bill mentioned his alter ego “Bill Two” – and pretty believable. By contrast, Martin’s meeting with boss Jack was more comical than believable, as Special Agent Malone gave him an enthusiastically shouty row for the whole Kim Marcus debacle, but it was highly entertaining in an unintentionally-funny way till it became a little too enthusiastically shouty. The sheer hypocrisy of pathological rule-breaker, subordinate-seducer and lying liar Jack telling anybody off for anything, never mind the fairly strait-laced (till now) Martin stopped being amusing and started to get annoying long before it ended.
The second episode was another wasted opportunity, starting off with terrifically disturbing scenes involving a video of a young girl held captive by some sadist. This horrible but compelling beginning then petered out, however, into a disappointingly unoriginal “wacky customs”/”doomed love”- type storyline full of standard tv tropes and stereotypes which I found slightly offensive. “Ghost brides” and human organ trafficking in the Chinese community? What, again? I’ve seen these stories far too many times already.
What a rubbishy pair of episodes.
Episode 19 was the worst of the two for sheer implausibility. A dating agency owner goes missing after breaking the poor wee sensitive heart of a Russian mobster who is deeply in touch with his feelings. Everybody bangs on about love and soul-mates and all that mushy stuff, and most of it is completely unconvincing or borderline stupid. Even Danny’s sincerity is undermined by the fact he’s squandering his feelings on the loathesome Elena – she’s so worried about Sam being unconscious in hospital that she had to go get a new hairdo and fringe?
Episode 20 was a bit better, with its tale of a billionaire’s estranged son who disappears after a plane crash, but the story was very WAT-by-numbers and a bit stupid, and again, the plausibility factor was conspicuously absent. Two hundred people searching in the same area for hours, and yet Viv is always the one next to what they’re all looking for?
Biggest disappointment however was the treatment of the Martin-Kim storyline across the two episodes. Dude finally gets a story, and it’s a good one, but it’s squashed in between these two sub-standard mysteries and some Sam-Jack relationship rubbish. A few scenes and it’s all done. What a waste.
Theoretically, this was “A Tale of Two Brothers” – one in prison for multiple rapes, the other trying to prove his innocence and going missing in the process – which meant I was distracted all the way through it thinking “Haven’t they done something like this before? With twins?”
It turned out that it wasn’t quite the same story after all, but it also turned out that I wasn’t the only one distracted. The programme-makers didn’t seem too interested in the mystery either. It was just there to fill in the spaces between the “how long will it take Martin to find out his girlfriend’s up to no good?” story and the shock! cliffhanger! ending, which yes, initially gave me a shock! and yes, left the episode on a cliffhanger! but might have been a bit more powerful if I hadn’t seen this particular shock! cliffhanger! plenty of times before. When even One Tree Hill has done it years before you, it’s not all that impressive.
Have you ever seen “Narrow Margin”?
Gene Hackman plays a deputy DA on a train with Anne Archer, trying to keep her from being killed by mob hitmen, and building up a beautifully understated bond with her in the process. It’s worth watching if you come across it on tv one night – I really liked it.
Anyway, the reason why I mention it is that, although this episode started off being about a missing jury consultant, it ended up being about Martin doing his Gene thing and trying to protect a beautiful woman from the mob as well, while at the same time building up a not-so-understated but still lovely bond with her in the process. Red and I were discussing some time ago Martin’s lack of a personal life, and while this episode and the bonding seemed a bit rushed – Narrow Margin is pretty short but not that short – the great chemistry between Eric Close and Vanessa Marcil meant I was rooting for him not just to save the girl but to get her as well, if you know what I mean. Till I saw the end of the episode which spoiled things. Poor Martin. But I guess a storyline’s a storyline.
Another good, solid episode this week with a missing mother-and-baby (and therefore double emotional whammy) story infused with the obligatory “your past always comes back to haunt you and the people you love” lesson to learn.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by the basic premise, and I did wonder why this week the team was suddenly insistent on applying the rule of law, when several times this series they’ve decided “ah never mind, dude’s had a tough break, let him go” but it was still decent viewing, and there was no soapy personal stuff about the agents themselves, so I’m not complaining.
Another really good episode? You spoil me, WAT.
This week’s mystery about a guy in his 30’s pretending to be a 22 year old college student (and various other people) was interesting, well-written and a wee bit poignant. Apart from one or two very clumsy expositional scenes having Sam explain to Martin things that would be blindingly obvious to him to clue the audience in, I liked it a lot.
Again, the wretched Elena was kept largely on the peripheries, as was the Jack/Sam romance, but, to pile wonder upon wonder, even the arrival of Jack’s teenage daughter was reasonably well-handled. Well, not by Jack at first, obviously. Till, in an almost miraculous burst of self-awareness and humility, he seemed to suddenly realise he’s a jerk, and decide to stop being one. What, really? It’s a nice thought, but I’ll not hold my breath.