‘Without a Trace’ Turns 20: 10 Best Episodes of the Procedural

Anthony LaPaglia as Jack Malone in Without a Trace

The Missing Persons Unit of Without a Trace solved dozens of fictitious disappearances, with Anthony LaPaglia, Poppy Montgomery, Enrique Murciano, Eric Close, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Roselyn Sánchez playing the show’s dogged FBI agents.

And occasionally, the show helped solve actual cases, too: CBS shared information on real-life disappearances through public service announcements during Without a Trace broadcasts, and in July 2005, a kidnapped brother and sister were found as the direct result of one of the Without a Trace PSAs.

Without a Trace turns 20 on September 26, and in honor of that anniversary, we’re rounding up IMDb voters’ picks for the show’s 10 best episodes. Read on, and then check out the episodes on HBO Max and The Roku Channel, where they’re currently streaming.

10. Season 2, Episode 21: “Two Families”

A convicted murderer on death row loses his last appeal, much to the despair of his father, played by guest star J.K. Simmons. But then, just before his son’s execution, the father mysteriously vanishes…

9. Season 5, Episode 1: “Stolen”

The Missing Persons Unit swings into action when a young boy says his father abducted another child, but then the team suspects that their pint-sized informant might be an abductee himself.

8. Season 6, Episode 5: “Run”

After a woman vanishes in the wake of an office shooting, the MPU uncovers a custody battle and realizes it may have been a dark secret that caused the woman to flee.

7. Season 1, Episode 5: “Suspect”

A student disappears just after telling his mother he wanted to drop out of the boarding school he attends. The MPU squad suspect the school’s headmaster had something to do with the disappearance, and Jack (LaPaglia) breaks rules in his effort to find the boy.

6. Season 4, Episode 7: “The Innocents”

The team suspects a grieving father of pedophilia after finding images of a young girl in his home. The man’s sister and estranged wife argue he’s innocent, though, and the man ends up aiding the team’s investigation.

5. Season 1, Episode 22: “Fallout: Part 1”

In the first half of the two-part Season 1 finale, an office worker named Sydney Harrison disappears shortly after her coworkers receive a ransom email demanding $50,000. Guest stars included Lynn Whitfield, Gregory Itzin, and Betsy Brandt.

4. Season 1, Episode 23: “Fallout: Part 2”

In the second half of the two-parter, Sam (Montgomery) is shot and held hostage in a bookstore after a botched ransom drop. As Jack speaks with the captor, he eventually offers to take Sam’s place.

3. Season 4, Episode 8: “A Day in the Life”

In a first for the series, Without a Trace tells a missing-persons case from the viewpoint of the missing person’s loved ones — as a missing teenager’s parents (one of whom was played by Laurie Metcalfe) get increasingly frustrated with the MPU’s investigation.

2. Season 1, Episode 13: “Hang on to Me”

A father — played by Charles Dutton, who got an Emmy Award for the role — goes missing after years of searching for his missing son and going deeper and deeper into debt. Jack, who has become friends with the man, goes to great lengths to find both father and son.

1. Season 2, Episode 15: “Wannabe”

A 12-year-old boy disappears from a school bathroom, leaving only a bloody broken mirror behind. The MPU’s investigation reveals that the boy was desperate to become popular at the school, and soon the team has to save the boy from himself.