Lilly re-opens the 1968 case of an 18-year-old young woman who died -- apparently accidentally -- the night of her debutante ball. Now her mother comes forth with new evidence when a local art dealer is accused of murdering his wife in the same manner in which the debutante died.
December 14, 1968. A group of young women are in a ballroom waiting for their debutante ball to begin. As a Emma departs from the group, it is easy to see that she isn’t used to being in high society, and especially not used to walking in heels. Her mother quickly approaches her bubbling with excitement, but Emma doesn’t share the same enthusiasm about the whole event. But Emma’s mother is sure that Emma debuting will bring about more opportunities for her. Finally the ball is underway as each woman is introduced and escorted off the stage. However, when Emma’s name is called, she is nowhere to be found. At the base of a flight of stairs lies the body of Emma Elizabeth Vine. A detective files away Emma’s case file as Richard Nixon’s inauguration is being played on TV.
Present Day. Lilly, Vera and Kat Miller stroll into the office. Vera asks the two if one of them is interested in going to the Sixers' NBA game with him on Wednesday, but neither can make it for different reasons. Lilly meets up with Stillman who introduces him to Lillian Vine. Mrs. Vine has come about Travis Whitman, the art dealer, whose wife died and he is now being charged with her murder. Coincidently, Mrs. Vine’s daughter, Emma died in 1968 on the night of her debutante ball. Travis had been her escort and the two deaths look suspicious: both women died from falling down the stairs. Stillman informs Lilly that Emma’s death was ruled as suspicious and nobody looked at the case too closely after that. But as Lilly points out, it’s 2006, and they like to look.
Lilly, Scotty and Miller go over Emma’s file. She was found at the base of a flight of stairs with skull and spinal injuries. Nobody talked back then because upper society didn’t want a scandal on their hands. Their only suspect now is Travis Whitman. Lillian also said that Emma was wearing a ring that night: a gold swan with a diamond eye. It disappeared and hasn’t been seen since. At the time of the murder, Emma was living in Fishtown, definitely not a high society neighborhood. Scotty pays a visit to Mrs. Vine. In truth she was the one who wanted Emma to debut since she had spent her whole life fascinated with those types of people. The only reason Emma was invited was because of Lillian’s husband and Emma’s father, Timothy. Back in 1968 astronauts were huge and Timothy was on the list to go to the moon. Just like that, they were society.
Flashback: In a fancy club, Mrs. Vine and Emma are being asked numerous questions about the proposed launch date. There is a bit of an awkward moment when Emma reveals she would rather aim for being a pilot than the typical stewardess, but that is quickly covered up by Landon’s mother, Irene. Since their debutante season is starting soon, it would be an honor for Emma to make her debut. All Emma would have to do is attend parties all season, and then bow to her father onstage in a white dress. Landon offers up her boyfriend, Travis, to be Emma’s escort since she has to take Chip as a business deal between their fathers. Irene assures Mrs. Vine that there will be a spot open to Emma since she is the one in charge.
Back to Present: Mrs. Vine admits that Emma only agreed to debut after she pointed out all the possibilities that would be opened up to her, all the people she would meet. But it ended up being the mistake of her life.
Lilly and Jeffries pay a visit to Travis’ art gallery. He is still sticking to his belief that his wife Sadie had a seizure and fell down the stairs, unlike Emma. Travis barely knew Emma, he only escorted her to the ball as a favor to Landon. The young women took the debut season seriously and some were talking bad about Emma since she had taken someone else’s spot at the ball. That spot had belonged to Sloane, a young woman known to be a boozer and an all-around floozy. Sloane wasn’t too pleased to find out that Emma had taken her spot.
Flashback: At a party, Landon introduces Emma to Sloane. Her dad’s going to be the first man to walk on the moon and Emma wants to be the first girl to go to Harvard because they have the best physics program. Travis is intrigued and offers to show Emma the echo spot in the ballroom when they’re at the debutante ball. Sloane is shocked and angered to find out that she has been replaced by Emma.
Back to Present: Travis also lets it slip that Sloane was at the ball that night, fuming mad. If they don’t believe him Lilly and Jeffries can go and ask Chip, his best friend. But he doesn’t expect the detectives to believe Chip since they don’t believe him.
Back at the station, Lilly, Scotty and Stillman go over the case. Lilly still insists that Travis is the doer; there is no way that lightening can strike twice. But flipping through the photo album, Scotty recognizes Sloane in one of the pictures: staring daggers at Emma. As Scotty and Vera make their way to Sloane’s house, Vera brings up the subject of Miller and the mystery person, Veronica. Vera even went as far as overhearing Miller ordering flowers for Wednesday night. Scotty points out that maybe Miller didn’t want to share with the rest of the team because it’s none of their business. But Vera says that they should share, since they are co-workers. Sloane tells the two detectives that she wanted to be a debutante more than anything in the world. She managed to get out of bed that night to attend the ball because Chip wanted her around for afterwards. For the most part she was upstairs in their hotel room. Sloane had found out a bit of information, and ran with it.
Flashback: During a dance rehearsal, Sloane overhears Travis and Emma talking. Travis points out the fact that Emma doesn’t seem as excited as all the other girls at the parties. Emma's mom says it's an opportunity, that's why she's debuting. Emma relates all their dancing to different aspects of physics. When the couple accidentally bump into Landon and Chip, they get snarky with them both. Travis instructs Emma not to look at anyone else but him.
Back to Present: Sloane thought that Travis and Emma were falling for each other. Sloane told Landon the news in hopes of getting her place back, but it didn’t work. When Landon heard the news she was like a child throwing a temper tantrum, a child that had never heard ”no”. Landon had gone 18 years without hearing that word. Lilly knows Emma was getting close to Travis, and she didn't like it. At a ball rehearsal, Landon (now Mistress of the Rose and in charge of all the organizing) insists that when Sloane told her the news, she didn’t get angry because ”a lady doesn’t get angry," but sometimes what she does instead is worse.
Flashback: At the end of the dress rehearsal, Landon’s father, Matthew, asks if Emma needs a ride home since her father isn't there. He’s impressed to hear that she’s been reading up on physics lectures and goes to get the car. Landon finally drops the news to Emma: Travis and his family are Jewish but they all hide it well. That's the dirty Whitman secret. But Jews aren't allowed.
Back to Present: Landon admits that was her way of trying to keep Travis to herself, even though she could see he liked Emma. If the Whitman secret had been revealed, it would have been the end of Travis and his whole family, both socially and economically. It was how it was, not how Landon thought it should be. So Travis has a secret and Emma knew it. That could be motive. Back at the art gallery, Lilly tells Travis she’s found out about his little secret. His family changed their name from Weissman to Whitman back in 1955 because at the time, Jewish families could only climb so high. But Travis admits that there were no threats: the both of them came clean.
Flashback: In her backyard, Emma is peering through her telescope when Travis shows up to return Emma’s ring. It's very special to her. He had tried to flag her down but she seemed to be avoiding him. Emma knows about his family secret and doesn’t find that a problem, but she wonders why he would hang around people who didn’t like the real him. He asks her the same. She goes on to reveal that her dad is no longer going to the moon: he got pulled off the list, but Mrs. Vine still wants the two of them to keep up appearances. Emma also reveals that she doesn’t want to stop being around Travis. The two share a kiss.
Back to Present: Landon didn't know. Travis and Emma had planned to deal with everything after the ball but then she died. Travis didn’t tell Lilly before because he was sure she didn’t want to hear it, that she only wanted to arrest him. Just before Lilly leaves, Travis has some news to tell her. From a second autopsy conducted by the city’s medical examiner, it was discovered that Sadie did in fact have a seizure moments before she fell down the stairs, according to the medical examiner. Lilly leaves in disbelief. Back at the station, Mrs. Vine insists that she still knows that Emma was killed by Travis. She can't walk away now. She begs Stillman and Lilly not to drop her case. She admits that when she found out that her husband had been pulled from going to the moon, there was no choice but to go and tell Irene. She thought that she and Emma would get kicked out, but on the morning of the ball they found Matthew instead, and he turned out to be their angel.
Flashback: In the mansion, Mrs. Vine and Emma meet up with Matthew to explain the circumstances. Since Timothy won’t be able to make it to the ball, he's in the hospital. Therefore, Emma won’t be able to make her bow to him, they will have to drop out. Matthew suggests that Emma can make her bow to him; he’d be honored to present the first woman astronaut. But Landon appears, angry. Why should she have to share her father with someone else? Landon wishes that Emma never showed up, she's ruining everything.
Back to Present: Mrs. Vine admits that the two of them knew each other growing up: she and her mother used to clean their family’s house. She didn’t envy the material things of the upper class, she envied their security and thought Emma could have a piece of that. She admits that when they were alone, she and Matthew were friends. That night as Scotty, Jeffries and Vera are pouring through debutante photos, Miller asks the location of the address she’s supposed to go to. Miller asks about the location of Breaker Hall. After she gets the needed information and leaves, Vera is certain the address is where Miller is going to her ”date” on Wednesday night but Jeffries and Scotty insist that it is none of their business. Looking through the photos of the 2006 debutantes, Jeffries notices that Landon’s daughter is wearing Emma’s ring. Landon, however, insists that the ring came from her father’s family. She's been helpful to them so far. Any screts she had has nothing to do with this. Landon admits that what her father did upset her, because she didn’t want to share. She confided in her friends, and they said they had a way of cheering her up.
Flashback: Chip, Sloane, Travis and Landon are upstairs in the hotel room drinking and taking drugs when Emma shows up. If Landon wants, she’ll say no to her father, refuse to bow in front of him. She knows her father is proud of Emma, in a way he's never been of her. But Landon doesn’t want to hear it, and fights hard not to cry since she’s wearing mascara. When Chip makes a joke about Jews, Travis laughs along with him, causing Emma to leave the room.
Back to Present: A few minutes later they all went downstairs to start the bows, except for Travis, who had slipped off to find Emma. Miller reminds her that's the time Emma was killed. Just then Lilly appears, informing them that Travis had quietly put up two pieces of jewelry for auction, and one of them was the swan ring. Travis tries to tell Lilly and Scotty that there are probably a thousand of those rings but the two detectives know there are only two. Landon’s grandfather had those two rings made as Christmas present: one for his daughter, and one for the daughter of his housekeeper, Lillian, when they each turned 18. Travis insists that he loved her, and that was the only piece of her he had. But how did it make him feel knowing he was a fraud, and Emma knew it as well. He was trying to change but he couldn’t, not fast enough.
Flashback: Emma stands in the hallway, admiring a full moon in the window. Travis catches up to Emma and she tells him she understands how he could have laughed at Chip’s joke, they’re like his family. But because of Emma, Travis knows that’s wrong. As the music starts to play, Emma realizes it’s a waltz, she knows that because of him. He asks her to dance. She tells him she knows he doesn’t want her and he can go and find someone else who will fit in with the rest of high society. But Travis wants her. Except Emma doesn’t want to be like Travis, a phony. In anger, Travis pushes Emma down the stairs before he realizes what he's done.
Back to Present: Scotty and Lilly arrest Travis. On TV, Sloane watches breaking news of Travis’ confession. Stillman returns Emma’s ring to Mrs. Vine. Vera, Jeffries and Scotty pull up to the address that Miller mentioned and see a bunch young girls in tutus standing outside. Backstage, Landon watches her own daughter debut. Miller comes up to the car to say hi to the rest of team. She then goes over to her daughter, Veronica, who waves at the detectives, leaving Vera red-faced and Jeffries and Scotty laughing at him. Mrs. Vine walks out onto the porch to see Emma and her telescope.
- Kathryn Morris as Lilly Rush
- Danny Pino as Scotty Valens
- John Finn as John Stillman
- Jeremy Ratchford as Nick Vera
- Thom Barry as Will Jeffries
- Tracie Thoms as Kat Miller
- Elizabeth Hendrickson as Emma Vine (1968)
- Charlie Koznick as Travis Whitman (1968)
- Kelly Miller as Lillian Vine (1968)
- Julie Mond as Landon Ridgely (1968)
- Ben Murphy as Travis Whitman (2006)
- Priscilla Pointer as Lillian Vine (2006)
- Tom Virtue as Matthew Ridgely (1968)
- Valerie Wildman as Landon Ridgely (2006)
- Josh Janowicz as Chip (1968)
- Sarah Shelton as Sloane (2006)
- Holly Lynch as Sloane (1968)
- Tina Morasco as Irene (1968)
- Warren Sweeney as M.C. (1968)
- Unknown actress as Claire Henley (1968)
- Tracie Thoms became a member of the main cast of Cold Case from this episode, having guest starred in several previous episodes.
- This episode is loosely based on the case of Michael Peterson.
- The song "Daydream Believer" by The Monkees is also used in the episode Forever Blue, which also takes place in 1968.
- B.J. Thomas "Hooked on a Feeling"
- The Monkees "Daydream Believer"
- Melanie "Beautiful People"
- The Rascals "A Beautiful Morning"
- Pyotr Tchaikovsky "Waltz" from the ballet "Sleeping Beauty"
- 5 Alarm Music Library "Air on the G String"
- Master Source Music Catalog "Danny's Waltz"
- Steppenwolf "Magic Carpet Ride"
- Closing Song: Henry Mancini - Moon River"