It has not taken long for Without a Trace to emerge from the shadows of CSI and become a ratings force in its own right. Jerry Bruckheimer produced both series, and both feature the-face-is-familiar character actors with extensive and diverse resumes who have been catapulted to primetime stardom. Jack Malone, head of a crack FBI missing persons unit, is the Australian-born Anthony LaPaglia's breakout role after years of portraying enough Italian mobsters and criminals to populate a season of The Sopranos. LaPaglia was a surprise Golden Globe Award-winner for this inaugural season. Without a Trace is instantly arresting. "The clock is ticking" in each episode, as Malone and company race against time to find a missing person. "After 48 hours," Malone explains to the rookie member of the team in the series pilot, "they're gone." To solve each baffling case, Malone and fellow agents Samantha Spade (Poppy Montgomery), Vivian Johnson (Marianne Jean-Baptiste of Secrets and Lies), Danny Taylor (Enrique Murciano), and new guy Martin Fitzgerald (Eric Close), must work from the inside out. "Once we find out who she is," Malone says of one victim, "odds are we'll find out where she is."
Among the inaugural season's most wrenching episodes are "Between the Cracks" and "Hang On to Me," both featuring Charles Dutton in his Emmy Award-winning performance as a father whose son has been missing for five years. The powerful season finale, "Fallout," presented in this four-disc set in a "creator's cut," concerns a man who lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks. The riveting episodes mostly stand alone, but some cases do return to haunt Malone, as witness "In Extremis," a case that ends tragically and leads to an internal investigation that threatens to subvert the close-knit unit in the episode. "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?" Sharp writing, authentic procedurals, taut direction, and effective use of music make Without a Tracea series worth finding on DVD. --Donald Liebenson