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Another show (2002-2009) from the CSI-SVU school of "let's focus on a lesser-known faction of the criminal investigation world"; this one takes a look at the FBI's missing persons unit. It's hip and gritty and hyper-edited like its contemporaries, with a similar focus on the cases rather than investigators; it sets itself apart, however, by having a more emotional interest in the cases than procedural, which is greatly helped by a top-drawer performance from Anthony LaPaglia.

It should be noted that while the investigation should stop with the discovery of a body, the unit very frequently ends up investigating murders along the way as well as that of the missing person, should that scenario appear.

Tropes used in Without a Trace include:

  • Adults Are Useless: Happens a lot whenever a kid disappears as the parents would prefer to deny that their kids might have been involved in something they shouldn't have.
  • Bottle Episode: A great deal of the Doppelganger was an intense mind game interrogation scene.
    • The same could be said of the episode that focuses mostly on Jack's deposition for his parental custody dispute.
  • Crime-Time Soap: Every character gets some drama at some point, but Jack Malone takes the cake. His utterly horrific personal life came to dominate the series for a time. When he's killed off temporarily, rather than being tragic it comes as more of a relief, because at least he finally has some peace.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Samantha, as revealed in Season 5.
  • Death Seeker: Jack eventually becomes one for reasons that are obvious to any longtime viewer.
  • Downer Ending: And how. Half of the time the missing end up dead.
  • Eagle-Eye Detection: Cases are solved mostly through interrogation and clues such as things left behind at a scene.
  • Fake American: Half the damn cast. Malone and Spade are played by Aussies, and Johnson is played by a Brit.
  • Fake Brit
  • Fan Service: Elena, played by the beautiful Roselyn Sanchez, went undercover as a stripper in one episode.
  • Flash Back: Every episode and sometimes a Flash Back within a Flash Back.
  • Flashback Effects: The ubiquitous fade-to-white.
  • Hollywood Pudgy: One episode had, as the victim, a girl with a noticeable but reasonable amount of heft to her. Needless to say she was treated as though she were morbidly obese: she had only one friend, was constantly terrorized for her weight, and had massive self-esteem issues.
  • I Am the Noun: In one of the later episodes, Jack's girlfriend Anne must have surgery following a miscarriage. Jack is in the waiting room and starts to get annoyed, rather loudly, that nobody has the courtesy (his words) to tell him what's going on. The nurse tells him that she'll call the police if he doesn't quiet down and he replies "I am the damn police!" She tells him that she'll see if she can get a nurse.
  • In Medias Res: One of the basic foundations of the show. The story typically begins just before the disappearance and the remainder of the show is spent fleshing out the back-story through the use of flashbacks during interviews.
  • Infant Immortality: Both averted and played straight. Children and teens turn up missing in quite a few episodes, and their turning up alive is never guaranteed.
  • It's Personal
  • Love Triangle: Repeatedly, between the different members of the squad.
  • Mama Bear: Elena is willing to go as far as to disobey direct orders and hold a corrupt cop at gunpoint in his car to rescue her daughter Sophie.
  • Murder.Com: "Party Girl"
  • No Ending
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Poppy Montgomery's accent has racked up enough frequent flyer miles over the Pacific that it will never need to buy a plane ticket again.
  • Paedo Hunt: A more literal application of the trope happens in one episode. A young looking woman poses as underage bait, a fledging, wheelchair bound unofficial cop (an accident prevented him from getting a badge), and a cameraman (who was later revealed to have been raped during a home invasion when he was 12) set up a sting operation to catch pedophiles, a la To Catch a Predator. Unlike the Chris Hanson manned operation, this version is more vigilante based and not exactly full proof to prevent people from escaping, which one guy managed to do. The cop goes after him and gives him a Reason You Suck Speech, which drove the pedophile to shoot himself with the cop's gun. To make things even better, when the cameraman realized the cop was about to tell the police about what happened, he tried to kill him to shut up, though was unsuccessful. By episode's end, the cop survived the assault but by killing the cameraman.
  • Perp Walk: Pretty much whenever the Missing Persons case leads to an arrest.
  • Proscenium Reveal: Security guard sees suspicious car. He looks inside and sees a bomb, which explodes, setting him on fire. Turns out this security guard is actually a stuntman, participating and shooting of B-Movie. Then he walks away from the set and never comes back.
  • Punny Name: Samantha "Sam" Spade, named for the hero of The Maltese Falcon
  • Rape as Backstory: Samantha's sister was raped by a local man. Sam beat him to death with a shovel, and the sisters buried him in the woods.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: Seen in two episodes, both during flashback sequences. In one episode, a blind girl recounts how she and her female tutor were kidnapped by two teens, one of whom proceeded to rape the tutor while the blind girl listened with terror on her face. The other episode uses this during the revelation of Samantha's Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: A favorite trope of the show, especially in "Our Sons and Daughters".
  • Vomiting Cop
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the Season 4 episode "White Balance," Jack gets this from both Vivian and the mother of a teenage black boy who's gone missing at the same time as a teenage white girl--the reason being that, under pressure from his superiors, Jack has placed more emphasis on finding the girl. When the mother confronts him in his office, Jack tries to explain that the directives for the case are out of his hands, but she fires back:

  Mother: Let me tell you what the real issue is here, Mr. Malone. My black son's life isn't half as important as that white girl's!

    • In a later episode, Samantha brings Jack to task for doing an unauthorized background check into the past life and criminal history of her child's father, which results in the guy waiving his parental rights to the unborn child.

 Jack: I was just trying to do what I thought was right.

Samantha: How long are you going to keep using that as an excuse to screw people over?