Even aside from Agent Kelton's personal angst, Vanished is weighed down by clichés.
When Sarah Collins (Joanne Kelly) stepped away from a benefit dinner in her honor, she turned to her husband, U.S. Senator Jeffrey Collins (John Allen Nelson), and said, "I'll be right back." We knew then that she'd never return.
In part this is because she's on a show called Vanished. And in part, it's because FBI Special Agent Graham Kelton (Gale Harold) needs redemption. From his first moments on screen, he and partner Lin Mei (Ming-Na, who didn't have much to do in the pilot) were all over the case. It's his first assignment since his last kidnapping case, a boy who blew up in front of him six months ago. Traumatizing stuff, sure, but it was hard to empathize with Kelton, given the cheesy green screen graphics he remembered while in church, listening to a children's choir.
Kelton's neatly laid out past set up his drama for the rest of the episode. It served as emotional trigger when cutthroat reporter Judy Nash (Rebecca Gayheart) taunted him, purring "Remember last time... Boom?" And it marked Kelton's uncanny professional intuition, as said boom would have been avoided if the Bureau had followed his advice instead of their protocol. Our Agent Kelton is earnest, driven, and always right.
Even aside from Kelton, Vanished is weighed down by clichés. In a textbook "someone's missing" shot, the camera craned up and panned out as the panicked Senator turned in circles in an empty street calling his wife's name. Or again, Kelton's crack team used CSI-like forensic gizmos to trace everything from hair samples to calling in special glass-encased exploding glue pellets. "We can't risk smudging these prints," the boss explains, importantly but also obviously. It's hard to say whether this moment is dropping hints at something sinister for the future, or if it's merely an opportunity to show off some jump-cut filled special effects. The familiar crime-show images (aerial views of nighttime cityscapes, techno-ish theme music) don't bode well for any original plotting to come.
Vanished has already established a possible overarching political conspiracy as motive for Sarah's disappearance, a notion that asks viewers to pay attention, to "connect the dots." When Kelton's team began to probe into the Senator's political dealings, lots of distinguished, gray-haired men furrowed their brows and wagged fingers at his attempts. "You think you know what's going on? You haven't even sucked the tip of that iceberg," warns one. But for Kelton, as intrepid as Jack Bauer, veiled threats only spur him on, even though, as a weekend Dad, he has plenty to lose. Kelton's incipient arc looks like it will feature tangents and dead ends, to impress on us his heroic tenacity.
The pilot tested that tenacity -- and our patience -- with details reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. One clue led to the discovery of a dead woman who went missing 12 years prior; the team found her sprawled out in the attic of an abandoned house. As they examined the well-preserved corpse (frozen for 12 years), Agent Mei found a Virgin Mary prayer card tucked in the victim's hand, with ancient numbers scrawled on the back, some sort of "coded message" they deduce. They also find, in the trunk of a car no less, the man seen with Sarah, shot dead, with numbers inked on his palm postmortem. Clearly, there's a mastermind pulling the strings, so the work of the series will become uncovering who and understanding why, not simply finding Sarah Collins.
Among the many suspects (in the pilot, everyone seemed suspicious), the team encountered a hot trail or two, one involving the Senator's ex-wife Jessica (Penelope Ann Miller), with whom Sarah secretly had lunch on the day she went missing. In Vanished, technology is always watching somewhere, with such surveillance providing the illusion of safety or guarantee of return. For example, Sarah's lunch date was confirmed by manipulating the footage from across the street by an ATM camera, one fortunately equipped with a panoramic lens appropriate for what Agent Kelton coined "our scary new world."
Whether Kelton was referring to terrorism or the feds' big brothering response remained ambiguous. As the pilot repeatedly recognized that complete surveillance is but a court order away, it also suggested that the measures one would have to take to "vanish" in a society so steeped in technology would be extreme. Astute viewers will suspect that Sarah's vanishing had to be a well-orchestrated inside job. The implication is that, despite all best efforts, no one is ever really secure.
Kelton must find Sarah Collins, not only to redeem himself, but also to stand up to the Senator, who represents the bureaucracy that caused his last case's tragic end. Brazenly ignoring his partner's request to employ "appropriate deference" when dealing with the Senator, he stubbornly insisted that Collins remain their prime suspect, despite lots of convincing evidence to the contrary. The mounting tension between Agent Kelton and Collins, rooted in the former's obvious mistrust of the latter, clutters an already overstuffed plot with the agent's "personal demons." When the Senator makes a seemingly heartfelt plea for the FBI to find his wife, Kelton responds with skepticism. Apparently Kelton is the only one who can see through the Senator's façade. He's made that much clear, as inappropriately as he can manage.