Review: Bruckheimer TV Double on Male Survivors

British Satellite Station Sky Television recently re-ran this old episode of Cold Case from its very first season.

Cold Case comes across as all gloss and zero substance. Considering this is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, that’s perhaps an easy and unfair charge, but it’s not helped by episodes as lazily written as this one. It marks a progression in quality to 2008’s Without A Trace Episode “Satellites” at the end of season six – same producer, but a thousand times more intelligent on the writing front.

Almost a quarter of the running time of “The Plan” is taken up with the B plot of one character’s missing girlfriend. The abuse is set in a military academy with a swimming coach as the paedophile and I can see why they didn’t even attempt to have this storyline sustain the whole episode – even the interesting twist betrays a second stereotype for male survivors, after the one that is really insulting – that a victim would voluntarily go through abuse again in order to put his abuser in the right place to be murdered. I haven’t met a single survivor that would do this in real life.

Whilst we have the main cast making all the right noises about how unfair it all is, the final stereotype when the killer is revealed takes us all the way back to archaic 1970s prejudice – he asks to be taken in because he has begun “watching boys like [his abuser]” and wants to be stopped. Total nonsense, considering the character was meant to have continued working alongside his abuser for another five years knowing the abuse was happening to other boys all that time.

The saving grace is that this piece of stereotypical crap, written by two female writers (one of whom was the show’s creator) was five years ago.

Fast forward to Without A Trace, whose opening episode in 2002 also tackled Child Sexual Abuse, purely from its missing person premise. At the end of Season Six, The episode “Satellites” features at least two male writers (again, one of them the creator of the whole series) and in terms of the handling of child abuse, steers clear of the worst stereotyping of the Cold Case episode.

Staying true to the show’s format, the disappearance scene is the opening teaser, this time five people at once from a coffee shop, and the episode proceeds to reveal its child abuse theme, but in a highly understated manner, with no departure from subtlety and sensitivity in depicting the effects of child abuse upon surviving adults until the end, which features the single flashpoint of the father of one victim that committed suicide, seeking revenge. In the end, morality wins as must happen on American television drama as both the father and the original perpetrator are led off to unknown fates.

There are two resolutions of other plots; lead agent Jack’s defriefing regarding a shooting nine episodes before, and the birth of another agent’s baby, a son. You are left to join the dots yourself – sons need as much protection as daughters from child abuse. However neither of these other two arcs has been shoehorned into the plot to shore up something unsustainable as in Cold Case, and there is much less distracting music to contend with. In short, it’s the best depiction of male survivors I’ve seen on American television since those depicted in the Law and Order SVU Episode “Quarry” which I will review separately. If I remember rightly, that Law and Order Episode was from the 2004 season, then again the standard of writing on that show has to be higher if it deals with child and adult sexual abuse and rape much more often and more readily than any other typical cop show, and was one of the three strands of Law and Order to survive and not get cancelled.

What we don’t know is whether these two portrayals of male survivors in a dramatic context from two different shows by the same executive producer, have either the genders or the talent level of the individual writers to thank for the progression from stereotypes to rounded characters or whether the past 5-6 years of the way male victims are treated in America, have been partly why Without A Trace stands out for all the right reasons.

Whatever the reason, the need to disclose and report in order to seek justice is another message that the writers found time to cram into a very packed 44 minutes, and since W.A.T. Box Sets are comparatively cheap, makes Season Six’s finale highly rewatchable for those with a special interest. CSA aside, you may want to watch Season Six in general for the cutaway plots to make any sense when resolved in “Satellites”.


Thanks to for its TV Episode Guide tracking.

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