Title: Cold Case, "Blood On the Tracks" (Episode 4x15)
Original Airdate: February 18, 2007
Availability: Season 4 is now on DVD.
Synopsis: When traces of an explosive are found in a house that's being rennovated, the Cold Case team re-opens the 1981 case of a married couple (Jamie Bamber and Kelly Overton) who died in the same house in what was then ruled as an accidental gas leak. Through gradual revelations about a reunion of college friends which happened just prior to the explosion, we discover a conspiracy to cover up a murder... but who has the motive?
Worth Watching?: A big yes. I've actually been looking forward to this edition of CotM for a while; despite the basic premise making me slightly twitchy (Whyyy must he always be the victim in these CBS procedural guest shots? I see you, Ghost Whisperer!), this one is easily superior to that other one. For the most part it's a twisty, watchable whodunit, and Jamie's character - despite having done some deeply horrible things - is right up my alley. On a shallow level, he also looks fantastic. (Though I should probably warn anyone currently afflicted with the rash of sideburns-allergies going around, you might have to avert your eyes on occasion... ;) )
Does he live or die? Dashing political idealist turned suburban hubby Jamie is dead before the opening credits roll, so that's not a spoiler. :( But if he weren't, we wouldn't have an episode... hang in there, folks, and venture behind the cut...
So we're introduced to a vaguely-period gathering of friends all sitting around drinking beers and looking at slides of their youth in the early-1970's peace movement whilst Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin'" blares. (Which just off the top one's head, if you do the math, would make this setting early 80's.) There are three gents - one of whom is Jamie, another is Sam Trammell - and two ladies, both of whom are blonde and around which there is a light-hearted moment where Jamie's character mistakes a photo of the one he's not married to for his wife. (Well, it's light-hearted now... I'm not saying this is going to be HUGELY IMPORTANT in the plot later, or anything like that... ;) )
There's also a moment where wifey stares at a picture of bullhorn-wielding Bamber addressing a throng of protesters and declares "Bobby Kennedy, eat your heart out." (With which I whole-heartedly agree. I'll expand on this in a minute but every one of my buttons has just been pushed. Hummina.)
Oh, but sadness, now they're boring old fart adults who have long commutes and who pay bills and vote for Reagan. (Well, Sam did anyway, it seems. So, definitely early-80's.) And the tone really shifts when suddenly a photo of not-wifey blonde and another guy with a beard appears and Jamie's character scrambles to apologize, saying he doesn't know how that got in there, etc. Other blonde appears devastated. Yeah, I'm going to guess the bearded one is no longer with us...
Suddenly, we cut to an alarm clock and a restless (and rumpled. And UNNF...) Bamber rolls over to see that the other side of the bed is empty. He stumbles down the stairs looking for the wifey (whose name, it turns out, is Johanna) and finds a kettle boiling on the stove. No sooner does he cut the pilot and turn to see a shadowy figure walk past in the darkness, but...
THE MOTHER FRAKKING KITCHEN EXPLODES. Oh, Cold Case. It's gonna be LIKE THAT, is it? Like, not a chance in hell that Jamie did a dive-and-roll out the kitchen window in his jim-jams to the relative safety of the back lawn... or something? Probably not. *pfft* Okay, then, fine... there had better be lots of flashback close-ups if you want us to still be friends.
So it's many years later, and Lilly Rush (our Cold Case protagonist for the not-regular watchers - I know, I'm not either) is now at the house being told that in 1981, an accidental gas leak was blamed for the deaths of Jack and Johanna Kimball. Only now, the current owners have been doing rennovations and the construction team found fragments of what appears to be an explosive device. WHO WANTED SEXY!PAJAMAS JACK DEAD?! (And can I shiv them on the prison yard once we throw their ass in jail? Yeah, I'm still a little sore, what of it?)
So Team Cold Case gives us the background: Jack and Johanna met at Penn State, married in '73; they followed up their rebel-rousing college years with respectable white-collar careers as an ad copy writer and a corporate lawyer, respectively. No kids. "1981, first wave of yuppies," it is said. (And thank god for that; by the second or third wave is when they really started to have shitty taste in clothes and music... ;) ) Seems a friend by the name of Sarah Lowell (the other blonde, natch) paid for the Kimballs' funeral.
(NOTE: Here is where I'm required by my need to be at least somewhat thorough to point out that the B-plot of this episode is Cold Case-er Stillman attempting to guardian/connect with his grandson, but since I really can't be bothered... this is the last you're going to hear about that storyline. Sorry, Cold Case fans, if there are any! ;) )
Team Cold Case visits Sarah, who in her middle-aged affluence is now played by Cindy Pickett. (Who will always, always be Ferris Bueller's mom to me. ;) ) She explains that the "college reunion" weekend we saw previously is the last time anyone saw them; the next night, they were dead. Sarah says even in '81 she was stuck in her hippie ways; not so much Jack and Johanna, who even back in the day were "true activists."
And we do that nifty widescreen-to-anamorphic trick so that we know we're back in flashback. Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" (Go on, make your jokes now ;) ) is playing on Jack's ultra-expensive 1981 hi-fi stereo while Sarah listens dreamily and Porter (that'd be Sam Trammell) tries to get him to fess up how much it cost. (It seems he's quite uncomfortable writing candy bar jingles for a living. So unbecoming of the sense of purpose and ambition they had in their youth... ) Jack heads to the kitchen for more drinks along with Sarah, leaving Johanna alone with Porter...
...which gives Porter the opportunity to play with Johanna's hair and flirt, which Sarah sees from the next room. Johanna appears deeply unamused. Porter starts guilt-tripping her comfortable suburban existence by reminding her of her poor roots (dad was a plumber), and Johanna bites back by pointing out that Porter now works for a military contractor. "I wonder what your boss would say if he knew what you did in college?" OOH, no seriously, woman... what did he do?! She threatens blackmail, he gets prickly and calls her a manipulative bitch... yeah, I don't remember The Big Chill ever being this vicious. Back in present-day, Sarah reveals to the team that Porter and Johanna used to date before she dumped him for Jack. (Clearly a wise move. Sorry, True Blood fans. ;) ) Sarah doesn't know if Porter came to the funeral because she didn't go, even though she paid the bill. "I wanted to remember Jack and Johanna as they were..."
Back at the office, middle-aged and balding Porter has been brought in for questioning. He claims he'd never hurt Johanna, even if she was threatening to blackmail him. He confesses that freshman year, the lot of them got busted by Penn campus security breaking into the ROTC headquarters and smashing it up with a baseball bat, but claims that's the only source of the blackmail. (Aaaand that doesn't sound stinky enough to me, even for a guy now working for the military... there's got to be more, esp. since we're only 11 1/2 mins. into the episode.) Coppers don't believe Porter, so he says "Look, it's not what Johanna had on me... it's what Zee had on all of us." Oh, do tell, not-Sam Trammell...
Zee (i.e. "the other dude") , at some point during Big Chill Weekend, decided it would be a great idea to ride a bicycle drunkenly (and nakedly) around the Kimball's front driveway while wearing a Reagan mask. To be fair, Jack and Porter find it pretty funny at first, too. (See above. Eeee... purdy smiiiile...) Eventually, concerned about what the neighbors might think, Jack asks Zee to stop... and then the drunk, it gets ugly. Zee berates him for once being a hero, but now he wonders if it was ever about "the cause" - "Or was it just about hearing yourself talk?" More Dylan ("Ballad of A Thin Man") and an indication that they're both going to hell (for somer reason) later, we still don't know exactly what they did....
So the "Mr. Jones" part in the Dylan track actually has some significance, i.e. "The Jones Family" - a radical protest movement a-la The Weathermen that espoused violence for change. Aha... so, not so much sit-in, flower-power protestors then, huh? Porter claims they only went to a few meetings, and that he personally felt like "they were all nuts." Still not buying that there isn't more to it, obviously...
And the FBI surveillance photos from the Jones Family meetings bears that suspicion out. The gang were at "a lot" of meetings, all except Sarah appaerently. No FBI files on any of them individually, which means they only attended meetings.... "or they were never caught blowing stuff up." Oh, bother. And wait for it, turns out Zee took out student loans training for a career with a construction outfit where his job is... to BLOW SHIT UP. Hi there, next suspect!...
So Zee is now Professor Zimmerman, and played by Sam McMurray. (At which point I do the obligatory hoot-and-holler that greets any ex-cast member of the original Tracey Ullman Show, even though the casting of him and younger-Zee requires a massive stretch of the imagination. NO resemblance, at all. Also, if the fact that Zimmerman is also Bob Dylan's real last name isn't intentional, I'll be sorely disappointed... ) Coppers insinuate that the bomb that killed the Kimballs is reminiscent of the sort of boom-making that Zee knows a lot about, but he seems genuinely shocked. He insists that he and Jack worked out their disagreement, and he had gone home by the time of the explosion. "If anyone had a problem with Jack that weekend.. it was Sarah." OH, FFS!
Breakfast table in the midst of Big Chill Weekend, morning after naked driveway biking. Zee's Reagan mask is sitting on the coffee table, eliciting an apology, followed by Jack admitting "It wouldn't be a party without seeing your ass." (It also wouldn't be a worthwhile Bamber guest shot without seeing some hint of bicep for our trouble... and OH THERE YOU ARE, LOVELIES. Ringer tees FTMFW!!) Zee says he's thinking of proposing to his girlfriend because Jack and Johanna make it seems so easy; Jack just kinda smiles and shrugs it off before realizing that Sarah, who was very sternly chopping vegetables has just sliced a huge gash into her finger and blood is pouring over the counter. Crikey!
As Jack rushes to her w/ a towel, she blurts out that she should have what the Kimballs have... but McBride was the only one who ever loved her (Who? OH, right, beardy dead guy)... "And you killed him." Ohhh.... oh, heavens to Murgatroyd. Sarah admits that she's never been able to move on the way they have, and claims if she disappered tomorrow, "no one would even notice". And THEN she tells Jack he's the one who should be dead. HARSH! But Jack... can only feel like total shit on a shingle, and stare at her. Prettily. And guilt-ily.
So back in the now, Zee finally reveals that Jack's catch phrase - "peace at any cost" - had really caught on with McBride, who blew himself up planting a bomb at Penn's government-contracted science center. Oops.
Lilly and partner are now back at Sarah's asking her "WTF?" now... and she insists that at that time, she was a mess but she would never consider murdering Jack as revenge. Lilly suggests she had another Jones Family member call in a favor, but Sarah reminds them she was a pacifist. (And yeah, that's right, she wasn't at any meetings.) She does, however, fess up that McBride didn't act alone - the bombing was Jack's idea, and the others were all in on it, though they kept her in the dark until later. Much later...
...i.e. Big Chill Weekend, wherein Jack just couldn't live with the secret anymore. And in the next flashback, stand back because it's BAMBER ON TEH MOUNT. ;) Jack gives the gathered gang an idealistic talking-to, admitting that they all have a friend's blood on their hands and whoops, maybe he put that slide of McBride in the reel on purpose. Because he wants this out in the open, he wants them to confront what they did and make a choice... hopefully the same one he's already made: He's going to turn himself in. (The last straw was a phone call from McBride's dad in which he went on and on about how much his son looked up to Jack. Aww.) Jack's still off on a tear ("He died in my arms, and I ran away like a coward"...) - and seriously, I want Jamie to star in a remake of "Three Days of the Condor" or "The Candidate" SO BAD right now, I could taste it - while Johanna is fairly bursting with OMG HONEY, STOP. Too late, his mind is made up. Monday morning, he's going to the police; he leaves the rest sitting in the kitchen, dumbfounded.
So apparently the rest left that night, and Sunday evening the kitchen went BOOM, before Jack could get to the cops. Because Sarah wasn't part of the bombing plot, suspicion is tossed back onto Porter and Zee. (I'm getting dizzy w/ all the suspect shifts...) Coppers bring them both in and separate them, hoping to play them against each other; district attorney says she'll accept involuntary manslaughter on McBride if one of the fellas confesses to killing Jack and Johanna. Neither guy seems to budge, though Porter reveals they tried to talk Jack out of turning himself in...
Which involves "It's 1981, no one has sympathy now for the cause" and "the whole thing was Jack's idea"... during which Jack is pretty much unwavering, but Johanna seems to be simpering and fuming at an alarmingly increased rate over his shoulder at every moment. Sarah is the lone supporter, which the others dismiss outright as she has nothing at stake, having not been involved in the plot; Porter twists the knife by telling her McBride was massively unfaithful to her, so yeah. Nice job, Trammell, you win the MegaDouche door prize! Johanna suggests they revert to their old practice of a simple majority vote, which Jack is evidently not happy about but agrees to anyway.... and he's voted down. By his wife's deciding vote.
"HONEY, THE HELL?!!!"
He's kind of not letting the majority vote lie, either; later, Zee catches Jack and Johanna arguing in the backyard. And Jo is apparently way more pissed off than we realized, insisting that perhaps it's not what they imagined for themselves way back when but she likes their comfy middle-class life and she doesn't want to lose it all... go back to "being a poor kid with nothing." (I don't know if I like where this materialistic ex-blue-collar-moppet revelation is going.) She tries to rope Jack in with the prospect of finally starting a family but he insists he can't do that, or anything else, because the guilt is eating him up inside.
AND THEN.. we catch on that a comment which Zee relates to the cops, about Johanna calling orchids "the symbol of family", is the same thing Sarah told the cops earlier when they first questioned her, and.... OH BLOODY HELL, didn't Jack mistake Sarah for Johanna in a photo, and.... !!!!!!!!!! Really? RLY SRSLY? BIIIIIITCH.
Look, let's wrap this up as quickly and painlessly as possible. (Considering it ends with burnt to a crisp Bamber, it's painful to begin with): Johanna enlisted Porter, who still held a torch, to help her bomb the hubby, only according to him "She wasn't supposed to be in the house, just Jack." But as we just learned, they let depressed Sarah stay with them for some company... meaning Johanna had the perfect opportunity to let Sarah get blown to bits in her place, and take over her identity. Poor woebegone Sarah has been Johanna Kimball all along. Bitch blew up her hot-as-hell hubby AND sacrificed her look-alike friend to get away with it. EEEEEEEEEVIL, Katie Bueller, you are SO EEEEEVIL. *flail* Finally, Johanna's taken into custody... and we get the freaking painful coda wherein Johanna LIES to Jack about making her mind up to join him in confessing, knowing she's about to buy his silence with a big fuck-off bomb:
(Seriously, woman. Your evil is cramping my whole idealistic-Bamber-in-corderuoy-and-sideb
In the end: Johanna and her accomplice Porter go to jail. McBride's father is finally told the truth about his son's death. And the case of the death of Jack Kimball is finally closed. Sexy sweater-wearing ghost is finally at peace:
Though perhaps still a bit sad that he's dead. *sniffle* Aaaaaaand... FIN. Discuss!
(But first, a smattering of additional images... because you deserve it:)