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Throwback Thursday - Without a Trace - White Balance

Throwback Thursday, a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from over the years.

When I watch television on Friday evenings (meaning actually watching one of the national channels in my country on the screen), I usually watch the Friday combination of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Without a Trace. Both of them usually make for a pretty good Friday evening and usually contain a pretty standalone case. For this Throwback Thursday I will be focusing on Without a Trace.

The series ran for seven seasons on CBS from September 2006 until its cancellation in May 2009. The show focusses on the Missing Persons Unit (MPU) of the FBI in New York. Most of the episodes feature the investigation into an individual's disappearance. The MPU is led by Special Agent Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia). In terms of the cast, the show must be one of the most consistent shows there is. The only cast change in its seven seasons occurred in season 4, with the addition of new series regular Roselyn Sánchez (playing Special Agent Elena Delgado).

In this review I will be focussing on the season 4 episode "White Balance". This episode shows two cases of missing persons, young white girl Emily Grant and young black boy Darnell Williams, who go missing on the same night. Besides solving the cases, there is also the race issue that is presented in the episode. The media show a lot of interest in the disappearance of Emily, and virtually no interest in Darnell's. Jack does the best he can to give Darnell's case some attention, but he doesn't succeed. In fact, he gets orders from up top to assign more agents to the Emily Grant case. This leads to Samantha being transferred from Darnell's case to Emily's. Vivian gets pissed at Jack for giving more attention to Emily's case and thinks it has to do with his race. While not suggested in the episode, it could also be that Emily's case gets more focus because she is a girl. Needless to say, there is a lot of pressure on the cases, the agents and the victims' families.

The cases play out as follows. The girl had a boyfriend, who wanted her to have paid sex with another man named Franklin. However, Emily drew back and Franklin subsequently got angry. He hit the boyfriend in the face while Emily ran away. Meanwhile, Darnell hacked into the school system and got paid to change some grades. He needed the money, which he received from his classmate Carter, for his dying father. Darnell hadn't seen his father in 10 years and learned his father was sick, but sadly his father died in the end. However, since Darnell actually didn't change Carter's grades, Carter confronted him after Darnell found his father's body. In the end, the prime suspects in both cases, Franklin and Carter, are arrested.

In a shocking twist, after interrogations with both suspects, Samantha tells Jack that one of the children is alive and one is dead. Elena later calls Jack to tell that they have a positive ID on the body that was found. As Jack walks towards the children's mothers, the episode ends without resolution as to who died and who lived.

Obviously, that ending was quite a controversial one since it didn't have a resolution. Some felt cheated and dissatisfied that they didn't get that resolution, while others felt it made the episode more memorable. I didn't mind not knowing who died, and I'm used to such ambiguous endings from SVU. Speculation led fans to believe that Emily had died, since Samantha was the one who handled Franklin's interrogation and Elena also worked on the Emily case. Either way, that has never been confirmed.

This was an interesting episode which nicely portrayed the race issues in crimes. America might have changed in the time since this episode first aired on May 11, 2006, but sadly I believe it can still be an issue. The episode showed us how everyone dealt with it, from Emily's mother to Jack and from Darnell's mother to Vivian. The standouts in this episode for me were Darnell's mother Audrey, who was played by the brilliant Viola Davis (currently seen on ABC's How To Get Away With Murder), and Emily's mother Karyn, played by Marin Mazzie. Surprising guest stars for me included Lynn Whitfield (who recently guest starred on How To Get Away With Murder) and Johnny Whitworth (currently, but hopefully not for long, recurring in a villainous role on The CW's The 100). There was also a fitting song at the end: 'Cry' from James Blunt.

What did you think of this episode when you first saw it? Did you find the ending controversial or did you not need resolution? Which of the two kids do you think died? Let me know in the comments.

About the Author - Daniel van der Veer
Daniel van der Veer is a Dutch university student studying Psychology. On SpoilerTV he is a reviewer of NCIS, The 100, Stalker, Madam Secretary and the upcoming shows Battle Creek and Odyssey. He also enjoys LOST, Arrow, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans, Nikita, The Blacklist, Scorpion and How To Get Away With Murder.
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