Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday at the Movies #81 - Cold Case

This is going to be a tricky one, but in a way, that's fitting. Cold Case is not available on DVD, most likely due to copyright regarding the music that plays a heavy role in each episode, and I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want a single note changed. Reruns are currently on Ion Television and that's good enough for me.

Detective Lily Rush and her colleagues delve into unsolved homicide cases from the past, and it's the victims, perpetrators, and those they left behind who are the real stars here. What makes Cold Case work for me the most is that it's not only about solving crimes, but providing closure. Stories unfold over the course of each episode, with flashbacks to the events preceding the deaths. With these glimpses into the lives and worlds of the victims, accompanied by period-appropriate soundtracks, we not only find out what happened, but why.

Whether homicide, accident or even suicide, each case is comprised of multiple layers. Victims have their perspective, but so do witnesses, friends, family members and often the killers as well. Not everybody has all the pieces to any puzzle, and it's only years later, when there's been some distance to allow for new perspective -or for investigative techniques or technology to catch up- that everything can fit together. Witnesses who were children at the time can now see through more mature eyes. Detectives may have to dig hard to unearth memories from older witnesses with memory disorders. A formerly drug-addicted witness may now be thinking clearly, or a sober one might have spent the intervening years in an alcoholic fog from guilt or despair. Viewers get to see the characters involved in each case shift between their past and present selves, the change fluid and poignant.

Any drama filled with history and emotion is a no-brainer for me, and Cold Case fits the bill. With periods ranging from the early 20th century to the 1990s and all points in between, viewers get to engage in some vicarious time travel as past and present intermingle to weave the whole tale that could not be told until the time was right. All good on its own, but the angsty, sniffly bow that ties up every story is the closing montage. Without dialogue, we see the case close, the evildoers taken into custody, and the loved ones begin to heal. The crowning moment of closure comes when a vision of the deceased person appears to the one most affected by their passing, and with a wistful smile, they vanish, their business now complete.

If you haven't seen these episodes but plan to, SPOILERS are in the closing montage clips below, from my two favorite episodes.

Season One's "Lover's Lane" requires detectives to reopen the case of a teenage girl, beautifully played by Mae Whitman, when DNA evidence exonerates the man wrongly convicted for her death in 1986:

Season Two's "Revolution" stars Sarah Jones, now starring in Alcatraz, as a Vietnam-era small town girl torn bewteen caring for her disabled veteran brother and fleeing to Canada with the love of her life:

Being a romance writer, I want to reach into the episodes and grab these wounded characters out and make everything turn out better. They make me feel and invest in the lives of people with human wants and fallibilities, living out stories that could not have taken place if they had lived in any other time. I find Cold Case a wonderful lesson in how to marry the history to the emotional journey, and quite possibly that could turn into a springboard for an upcoming workshop lesson.

How about you? Do you have a favorite Cold Case episode? Know of any other shows or movies that use past and present to tell a single story? Ever rewrite endings in your own head to make them turn out the way you'd like?


Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
I have only seen the program a few times, so I can't really say I have a favorite episode. Like you, I enjoy the way the show plays out, using flashbacks to the time of the incident, showing the tormented souls. Screenwriters, however, are a different breed of writer in that they have to wrap it up in a 60 minute show. I never did screenwriting, but would like to give it a shot.
Gerri Brousseau

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

Tormented souls is a perfect phrase for the characters connected with those long-ago crimes, and it's always an interesting road they take to finally getting some peace.

I have a lot of admiration for screenwriters, telling such stories in so short a time.