Judge Adam Arseneau is not on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. Clearly, he has more work to do.
Our review of Without A Trace: The Complete First Season, published October 20th, 2004, is also available.
Their recovery window is small and every case is a race against time.
Sunday. Business as usual at DVD Verdict. The staff was preparing for next week's run of articles, podcasts, and DVD reviews, making last-minute edits and changes. Nothing out of the ordinary…
"Wait a minute," the editor said, looking up from his terminal. "We're missing one review."
The staff looked up in alarm. Missing a review?
Fingers clacking against the keys, the editor typed into the computer and brought up a screen. "See, right here. Without A Trace: The Complete Second Season. Judge Adam Arseneau was working on it, and it was due today. It should have been in by now."
The staff exchanged ominous looks. Outside the wind blew gently throughout the trees. The DVD review had gone missing…without a trace.
Facts of the Case
4 HOURS MISSING
"Okay people, let's review," said Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia, The Salton Sea, Empire Records, Happy Feet), head of the FBI's Missing Persons Unit. He uncrossed his arms and sat down at the round table with the rest of his team. He had expectation in his eyes. "Here's our subject: Without A Trace: The Complete Second Season. DVD Verdict called us in a few hours ago to report that their DVD review had gone missing. The writer was supposed to have it in by Sunday night, but it never arrived."
"Witnesses?" asked Special Agent Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover).
Agent Vivian Johnson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Spy Game, The Cell) checked her notes. "Not from our preliminary, but we'll canvass around, see if anyone saw the review before it went missing."
Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano, Miss Congeniality 2, Black Hawk Down) looked up and frowned. "Motive? Any reason to suspect the DVD site?"
"Not from what we can tell," Malone said. "DVD Verdict reviewed Without a Trace: The Complete First Season a few years ago, and gave it great marks. No reason I can see for them to hold a grudge. Except…"
"What's wrong?" asked Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close, The Magnificent Seven).
Malone frowned, consulted his notes. "The dates. Look at this. By conventional logic, we should have expected The Complete Second Season in six months of that—a year at the outmost."
The team nodded. This sounded about right to them. DVDs usually showed up fairly fast for hit television shows.
"Problem is," Malone continued, "Season One came out on DVD in 2004." He stared at the group. "We can't account for almost three years of activity between the first and second season being released to DVD."
Dead silence. The team exchanged worried glances. Three years was an eternity in their business.
Malone looked at them, dead serious. "Let's go, people. The clock is ticking."
12 HOURS MISSING
"So, let's review," said Malone. "We've done interviews and investigated the scene, and still have no idea what happened. Here's what we know: DVD Verdict gets the DVDs, they mail them out to the writer. The writer reviews the material and submits the review to the editor." Malone pursed his lips. "Not only does the writer say he has no idea what happened to the DVDs, but the review never got submitted."
"Who was the last person to see the DVDs before they vanished?" asked Agent Johnson.
Taylor checked his notes. "That would be Judge Adam Arseneau, the DVD writer assigned to review the product. He's sticking to his story, says he has no idea what happened to the DVDs or the review," he said. "We're checking into his background now, seeing if he had any motive here."
"You suspect the writer?" asked Spade incredulously.
Taylor fixed Spade with a steely gaze. "Absolutely. In my experience, the writer is the first place you look. These guys, they're like vultures. Throw together a few words here and there and, hey, free DVDs," he growled.
Spade looked unconvinced. "Statement?" she asked.
Fitzgerald nodded. "We took his statement." He shuffled through her papers. "At least, what little information he could provide. The guy was a bit of a flake. Looks like he had planned on talking about the main draw of the show being the cast interactions, on how the show truly takes time to cultivate and grow complex relationships between its protagonists. Unlike its contemporaries, Without a Trace cares less about violence and action and more about the subtle turns and twists involved in digging into a person's life—sometimes, you find out more about yourself than the person involved."
Spade nodded. So far, so good.
He continued. "Looks like he made some comparison to something called Rashomon," Fitzgerald said, pausing momentarily. "Not sure what that is, but—"
"Rashomon," Malone said. He looked thoughtful. "He said Rashomon? Interesting."
Fitzgerald looked confused. "Care to enlighten us, boss?"
"It's a Japanese movie from the 1950s. It focuses on memories, and how different accounts of the same events often have wildly varying interpretations." Malone looked thoughtful. "I guess he was trying to say how each episode of Without a Trace focused on stories of missing persons but, by the end of each episode, the account of each crime varies radically from each person's recollection."
Spade said, "Okay, I see where you're going. So the storyline is driven by the flashbacks of each event—not so much by the crime itself, but by the retelling. The different interpretations, the lies, the falsifications by the witnesses in order to serve their own interests."
Malone nodded. "Exactly. The crimes themselves are less important than the actual individuals involved. When you dig into the past of a missing person, you end up learning all of their secrets, both good and bad."
Taylor snorted. "Typical writer garbage. So why not just come out and say all that, instead of comparing it to some obscure Japanese art house film? Who's this guy trying to impress, anyway?"
"We don't have time for this," Malone said. He shot Taylor a look. Taylor got the message. "Continue," Malone said.
Fitzgerald took over. He consulted his notes. "Okay. The writer remembers how each episode balances nicely between being a serialized tale and a self-contained adventure. All the long-term plot development is channeled through its characters and their personal lives, but each episode is essentially a single self-contained story from start to finish. Often, an element of a missing person's lives will resonate with one of the investigators, causing them to behave erratically or emotionally. The show develops its characters indirectly, through the cases themselves."
"Clever," Spade said. "Do they find the missing people?"
"It depends," Fitzgerald said. "Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But," he said, pausing for emphasis, "the writer was very clear on this point: the end result is far less important than the nuances and storytelling along the way."
"Good, good," Malone said, making notes. "Okay, this is a good start. Let's talk to the editor next."
16 HOURS MISSING
"According to the editor," Johnson said, "all he could give us were the specs on the DVDs. Our subject is a six-DVD set, which includes all twenty-four episodes from the second season. I've got a list of the individual episodes." She handed the list to Malone.
Malone glanced at the list.
• "The Bus"—Missing: a school bus full of wealthy kids.
• "Revelations"—Missing: a beloved, ailing priest.
• "Confidence"—Missing: a newly engaged socialite.
• "Prodigy"—Missing: a famous teenage violinist abducted from her dressing room.
• "Copy Cat"—Missing: a mother from a small town with a violent past.
• "Sons and Daughters"—Missing: a modest high school student-athlete.
• "A Tree Falls"—Missing: a young Guatemalan boy, kidnapped in plain sight in Spanish Harlem.
• "Trip Box"—Missing: a heroic fireman who just rescued his two best friends.
• "Moving On"—Missing: a driven neurosurgeon.
• "Coming Home"—Missing: a successful young man attending his high school reunion.
• "Exposure"—Missing: a paparazzo known for his ability to get any shot.
• "Hawks and Handsaws"—Missing: a young public defender.
• "Life Rules"—Missing: an emerging new self-help guru.
• "The Line"—Missing: a bounty hunter shot during a raid.
• "Wannabe"—Missing: a middle-school misfit.
• "Risen"—Missing: a struggling sex addict, gone for four years.
• "Gung Ho"—Missing: a soldier recently returned after being injured in Iraq.
• "Legacy"—Missing: a henpecked husband.
• "Doppelgänger"—Missing: a marine biology student.
• "Shadows"—Missing: Martin's aunt, a nurse struggling with cancer.
• "Two Families"—Missing: the father of a Death Row inmate whose execution is two days away.
• "The Season"—Missing: a football coach at a college with a tradition of winning.
• "Lost and Found"—Missing: a young girl's past.
• "Bait"—Missing: a billionaire's family.
Malone looked up. "Any standout episodes?"
"A few," Johnson said. "'Lost and Found' is probably the most interesting of the bunch, because it breaks up the formula a bit. Word on the street says 'Risen' was a strong episode. 'A Tree Falls' deals with human trafficking and drug mules, very gripping. 'Copycat' reintroduces a character from Season One in a surprisingly good example of continuity. I also had reports of 'Moving On' and 'Shadows'."
"Okay," Malone said. "Good work. We've got Spade out right now canvassing retail locations looking for the DVD, and Fitzgerald trying to contact the parents. No luck so far."
20 HOURS MISSING
Taylor burst into the office. "I've got an eyewitness." He flipped open his notebook. "This is a first-hand account of the DVDs. Looks like they have an extremely detailed transfer, with vivid colors and solid black levels. Even at high zoom, the image stays sharp and highly detailed. Great contrast. His record is clean. A near-perfect transfer, from all accounts." He closed the notebook with a flip of his wrist.
"What about the audio?" asked Johnson.
Taylor said "Audio is a Dolby 2.0 Surround transfer, good bass, clear dialogue, great ambient music cues, sharp environmental details…"
"Wait, wait. No surround transfer? What about subtitles?" interrupted Malone.
Taylor shook his head. "Nothing."
"That's surprising. If the video is that top-notch, why not a surround presentation?" Johnson asked.
"That's what I thought too. But it gets stranger," said Taylor. "As for extras, we only get a handful of deleted scenes, nothing else," he said. "Seems pretty slim."
"It is…" said Malone, his face deep in concentration. "I want to talk to the writer again. Bring him in here, put him in a room." He grimaced. "I have a feeling he's not telling us something…"
The Rebuttal Witnesses
24 HOURS MISSING
"You look nervous," Malone remarked to the writer in the small interrogation room. "Your hands in your pockets like that, it makes you look nervous." He locked eyes. "And when people are nervous, they usually lie to me. Are you lying to me?"
"Look, I already told you people everything I know!" Judge Adam Arseneau said to the agents, sweating slightly. "I mean, this is totally ridiculous. Are you people even allowed to be holding me like this? I'm not even an American citizen—"
"Look, pal," Taylor said, slamming his palms down on the table. Arseneau jumped. Malone shot Taylor a look that clearly said "back off." Taylor frowned, but complied. Malone towered over the writer, staring him down.
"Listen. We know you're not telling us something. We know you were the last person to see the DVDs and, now, they're missing. And the editor knew an awful lot about the discs for somebody who never received a hard copy," Malone said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
Adam blinked. What were they saying?
"Here's what we see happening," Malone continued. "I think you slacked on your deadlines. DVD Verdict sends you the discs, and you put them on a shelf somewhere and go about your fancy life, totally oblivious to others." He locked eyes with his prey. "Did you think about the deadline? Did you think about your poor editor, waiting with bated breath for your crummy review? Did you think about Warner Bros.? They sent you a free copy of the DVD, and you can't even be bothered to write the review?"
"I…" Adam said, his face white. "I wrote the review. I mean, I…"
"Just tell us what you know," Johnson said, her voice firm. "Otherwise, we'll have to call your parents, and—"
"Okay, okay!" he howled. "I admit it…I don't like the show!"
Malone's eyes widened. His face seemed to shout triumph.
Adam began to sweat. "What I mean…Look, I don't really like Without a Trace, okay? I think it's boring and melodramatic, and completely redundant compared to the massive onslaught of investigative-related police shows. Each episode is predictable, tries too hard to be complicated and twisting, and ends up having a Scooby-Doo ending. Someone goes missing—the interviewee lies, then lies again, then lies again, each time revising the story. Again and again. In the end, it's always the least likely person who ends up being guilty, whether it makes sense or not. So formulaic!"
"So you hated the show," Johnson said. "Why didn't you tell us this before?"
"Because that's not the format we work in," Adam admitted. "I save the snarking for the Rebuttal Witness section—"
"Don't get smart with us!" Taylor shouted angrily, unable to contain his outrage.
The writer gulped. "Listen. At the end of the day, Without a Trace is just another run-of-the-mill cop show, isn't it? Television is flooded with these overly melodramatic shows. How many more of these do we really need on the air?" asked Adam. "And the characters, oh my god. A more boring and stiff bunch of people I have never met."
They frowned at him. Their expression clearly stated they were unhappy with his tone. Adam seemed oblivious, and continued on his rant.
"There isn't a single element, character or plot driven, inherently original to any of these episodes," he said, warming to his subject. "Without A Trace is slick and handsome, but feels like empty calories—the same tired old clichés seen dozens of times on other crime and cop dramas wrapped up in a nice package with some twists of editing."
Taylor smirked. "Sounds like motive to me," he said quietly.
Adam looked up in alarm. "What? No! Look," he said, suddenly nervous. "I admire the show for having a character-driven focus. Without A Trace is stylish and well-directed. Really, one of the best looking shows on TV, no doubt about it!" he said, his tone slightly desperate.
They simply stared at him, faces expressionless.
"Umm…" he said, pulling at his collar. "My problem is, I can't seem to make a connection with any of these people. They're boring! They're carved out of wood, the lot of them. Some of the stories themselves are okay," he admitted, "but every plot device has been done to death."
"To death?" Malone asked, his face grim.
"No!" Adam said quickly. "Not like that. I mean…" he said, sweating now. "So the show isn't personally to my taste. That's no reason for me to delay the review! Not liking the show doesn't make me a criminal!"
They stared at him blankly for a few seconds, but then slowly exchanged knowing looks. Adam may have been a terrible writer, but he clearly wasn't a murderer…
26 HOURS MISSING
"I'm having second thoughts," said Johnson. "Taylor seems convinced, but I don't think it was the writer."
Malone grunted. "I hate to admit it, but you're right. He may be a putz, but we can't arrest him for that. At least, I don't think we can. I'll have to check our procedure book."
"Very funny. So where does that leave us?" Johnson asked.
Just then, the phone rang. Malone hit the speaker phone button, but before he could say a word, Slade began talking excitedly.
"I've got them! I found the discs!" she shouted. "Looks like the DVDs made it onto retail shelves almost a month ago, and in the confusion, we missed it," said Slade, relief apparent in her voice.
"Good work! Any sign of the review?" Malone asked.
Slade hesitated, then said, "No, I'm sorry."
Malone hung up. The frustration was evident in his face. In a reproachful tone, Johnson said, "We did good, Jack. We found the DVDs. We can get the writer to write us up another DVD review. Taylor will lean on him, and by the end of it, he'll be more than happy to re-write the review."
Malone said nothing, lost in thought, his face inscrutable. He stared out the window onto the New York skyline below him, lights twinkling into the evening.
A final word from the author: Though I personally found Without A Trace redundant and dull, I fully recognize its merits. It has a very slick presentation and I completely appreciate and respect all those who choose to enjoy it, episode after episode.
I take full responsibility for my actions, and having fulfilled my plea bargain agreement with the FBI, this review is now complete.
Now, can someone uncuff me now? Hello?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Missing Evidence: Unaired Scenes
Review content copyright © 2007 Adam Arseneau; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.