Cold Case (“Useless Cats”)

Season 1, Episode 3
Date of airing: October 12, 2003 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.82 million viewers, 8.6/13 in Households, 2.8/8 with Adults 18-49

Three episodes in and the writers already went into the premise of rape and murder, which is always something a crime procedural should touch with gloves, because those kind of stories are a hot iron every time you decide to take it as a premise. If you’re not sensitive enough with a fictional story of rape and murder, you get a ton of complaints, advertisers jump ship and your show might be dead before it has even begun. This episode of COLD CASE did the job alright — it was not insensitive with its case, it was thankfully not filled with multiple red herrings, in which one suspects gives the baton to another, and it managed to give Nick Vera enough screentime and a back story to find out who this fine gentleman is as a homicide detective. Three episodes in, and Nick is pretty much the only one being given a back story with depth, but the thing is that depth only consists of a homicide he couldn’t solve.

Can you remember who raped you?

I also noticed that this episode showed what COLD CASE could look like when it doesn’t have a lot of flashback scenes, let alone songs from the era to stick into the hour of entertainment. There wasn’t much of all of that in this episode, which was both refreshing and disappointing — refreshing because COLD CASE is already putting hard work into not being defined by the same thing over and over, but disappointed because I started watching the show, hoping to get a bit of music with my homicide investigation. Maybe the producers were a bit gun shy to go all in which this episode, because the murder happened five years ago, which in television terms isn’t a lot of time — between then and now there was a presidential election and the war of terror has begun. Okay, television kind of changed in general during those five years, but that is a different topic.

Kids are the ones leading the detectives to a new clue.

What I liked about this episode is the aforementioned disuse of red herrings. Yes, the first half of the episode had Lilly and Vera deal with two suspects, but one of them was pretty much innocent, since he accepted to give another DNA sample if needed, while the other was just a huge dick. As soon as those two suspects were put away with negative DNA matching, the episode was off to the race to introduce the real serial rapist and one-time murderer, and from here on the writers took their time to establish the guy and make him look as evil yet charming as possible. The first time Carl talked to the detectives, he definitely had something going for himself that instantly made him the perp, and he never gave that up even after it was clear that he was the serial rapist and killer. Crime procedurals usually don’t give that much attention to the killer — essentially telling the audience that this is the guy, but needing the detectives to find it out for themselves, with proof and evidence that is submittable in court. Usually those kind of shows go through the ranks of suspects, with the killer having been one of the people interviewed by the detectives throughout the episode, but COLD CASE did it a little different with this episode, and here is to hoping that the show will keep it up and be a bit different from other crime procedurals. When it already managed to look different from the first two episodes by putting Carl in a cell immediately, without onlookers throwing their eyes at the newly arrested perp of the Philadelphia police department, then there definitely is hope that COLD CASE won’t be the same show in every episode.

In jail no one can hear you worry about your future.

Then again, this positive aspect fo the episode came with the eradication of some of the flashback scenes, making Gail a victim no one really knows about at the end. Carl’s other victims, those who survived, got more attention than the dead girl the episode’s story started with. Which also means the flashbacks are just a means to an end in this show, and the writers could live without it, since you can create other means to certain ends.

Best part of the episode: There was a sense of realism in the story. Ella couldn’t identify the rapist because she wasn’t ready — it was too close to the event, she was probably too traumatized to have a sketch of the perp created. Sometimes it simply takes a while for the memories to be as clear as Ella’s. It’s also a great way to emphasize on victims of sexual assault not coming forward immediately and instead wait years or forever.
Worst part of the episode: Vera was being told to be nice, yet he was still somewhat of a dick to his prime suspect during the investigation. It didn’t really make him look like a proper homicide detective.
Weirdest part of the episode: Justin Chambers was already removed from the opening credits with this episode. I always remembered he was in at least four episodes before Danny Pino replaced him, but it turns out Chambers only kept it up for two hours. In cases like these I am always interested to know why the actor left a show this suddenly. Or if the writers decided to at least give the characters a sense of goodbye, when the actor happened to have left quickly — similar to how Maria Bellow was written off ER in the fifth season premiere. But no word about Chris’s departure here.
Victim/perpetrator rate: This episode’s victim was a woman, killed by a man. The victim rate is Women 3:0 Men. The perp rate is Women 0:3 Men.
Player of the episode: Lieutenant Stillman gets respect for keeping Lilly and Jeffries away from the rape victims, because it was too late to have them be asked about a rape five years ago. Somebody in this police department is thinking before investigating, which is great.

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