For all their steamroller ratings success as teleseries, one aspect of Jerry Bruckheimer's quartet of police procedurals that frequently gets overlooked is their plain ol' creepiness. In C.S.I. and its weak sister C.S.I.: Miami, it's the clinical focus on dead bodies and the almost Cronenbergian obsession with CGI-recreated body violation; in the missing person drama, Without A Trace, it's that pre-credits moment where we see the episode's victim vanish, fading away before our eyes. On the newest Bruckheimer copshow, Cold Case, this ghostliness is carried even further, as characters momentarily are replaced by the ghost of their former selves.
The moment makes sense, since the primary focus of Cold Case is on the way the past and present intersect. Set around the efforts of a Philadelphia police detective, Lily Rush (Kathryn Morris), who specializes in putting resolution to unsolved cases, the show has a feeling closer to Brit procedurals like Waking the Dead or Touching Evil than the more schematic C.S.I.. As a detective, Rush is more empathic and less methodical than a proto-scientist like Gil Grissom, which better suits the series' more emotional tone.
Sunday's episode provides a prime example: in it, Rush is brought into investigating a 13-year-old murder after the victim's wife, now elderly and suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, is picked up wandering the streets in her bathrobe, carrying a battered news story about her husband's death. From the opener, we've seen an edited version of the events leading up to that crime - and the main characters who'll reappear thirteen years later: mother and two children, in this instance. The murder has devastated the family in more ways than one, and the show spends as much time detailing the ways both son and daughter have been changed by it as it does reconstructing the actual crime. This approach can't help but add an undertone of sadness to the proceedings, which is emphasized by those moments when we see the present-day character momentarily replaced by their younger self contemplating all that lies ahead of them.
If police shows are at root about righting wrongs, than one of the implicit messages in Cold Case is that time can undermine even the most steadfast attempt at bringing the guilty to justice. The 13-year-old unsolved murder may be closed by the end of the hour, but only in the sense that a guilty party has been concretely identified. The enduring image we're left with at show's end is of the damaged family members left behind, the emotionally battered son and daughter, the mentally shattered mother now safely sequestered. It's not the closure that we typically expect from cop shows, but it's hard to imagine too many of Lily Rush's cases ending any other way. . .