The episode opens in Braddock, Pennsylvania, where FBI Agent Holden Ford has just arrived on the scene of a hostage situation. The police officers seem to be having trouble getting through to the subject, Cody Miller, who is holding a woman and four other people hostage, and simultaneously demanding to speak to his wife. After Cody exits the building with the female hostage, Holden makes more progress in trying to talk him down, getting him to calm down by pushing the police perimeter backwards and getting rid of the surrounding reporters. Cody's wife soon arrives in a police cruiser, but is kept out of her husband's sight while she explains to Holden and the police how Cody has been having mental health issues, but is not a violent man. Holden repeatedly offers to help Cody, but Cody says that Holden can't help. He proceeds to shoot himself in the head with a shotgun while his wife screams in her car. Holden returns to his empty apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia, after the incident. He sees blood on his the cuff of his white dress shirt and proceeds to frantically attempt to wash it out, only to get frustrated by the obvious stain. He sits in the dark as he reflects on the day.
Holden is seen walking into the FBI office building in Quantico, Virginia. He sits alone, waiting to see his superior, and looks at the cover of Time magazine, where the Son of Sam is pictured. His boss, Unit Chief Shepard, congratulates him and tells him that he did all he could, and that since all of the hostages lived, the incident had a relatively favourable outcome. Holden is clearly not satisfied with not saving Cody's life, and muses that despite the fact that he did everything by the book, the subject had killed himself, indicating that he finds the standard procedures to be lacking. His boss disagrees, and tries to persuade Holden to teach full time at Quantico because of what happened, and the experience it had given him. Shepard reveals that he is telling Holden to teach, not asking him, and Holden is withdrawn from the field and ordered to begin teaching classes full-time the following Monday.
The next week he begins teaching. He encourages his students to try to understand the suspect, as that is the key to making any subject feel heard. He emphasized de-escalation, and tells the class to "establish non-threatening communication, ascertain demands, concede nothing, reject nothing, just listen." His class ends quickly and as he leaves, he overhears another professor's very popular lecture. He listens as the teacher asks his class, "where do we go when motive becomes elusive?" Holden approaches the professor, Peter Rathman, after class, and tells him that his speech really resonated with him. Holden proposes that they get a beer and the two discuss how the craft of killing has changed. They discuss the major events that they believe have caused the senseless crime. The professor leaves, and Holden strike up a conversation with a girl. She is a 24-year-old, post-graduate sociology student named Debbie. They discuss criminology and social theory, and she is surprised that he teaches, but knows so little about the modern criminal theories. They end up leaving together and head back to her place.
Later, Holden is seen running in Quantico, and then goes to the movies with Debbie to watch Dog Day Afternoon. Holden is engrossed and tells Debbie how much he enjoyed the complexity of the story. They head back to her house and have sex. The next day Holden talks to Shepard again. He tells the Unit Chief that they talking to the smartest people, and eventually gets approval to audit some classes, despite Shepard's disapproval of psychology.
Holden goes to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he sits in on a class and takes notes on criminology intently. He talks to the professor afterwards, and tells him that he wants to start a dialogue to hear the perspectives and insights of people like him. The professor is taken aback by the fact that Holden wants to recruit him to lecture at the FBI, and, exasperated, says no and leaves.
Back at Quantico, Holden shows his class Dog Day Afternoon so that they can figure out what the law enforcement is doing wrong during hostage situations. He tells them to always expect complicated. He sets up situations so that they can be psychologically prepared for the reality of a hostage situation. After Holden organizes an impromptu training exercise with his class, Shepard sets up a meeting with the Behavioural Science Unit so that they can go over the legitimacy of his roleplaying exercise.
He meets to talk with veteran agent Bill Tench from the Behavioural Science Unit about the exercise and the FBI. Bill calls him a big blue flamer; someone who is too eager to do good. He says that he just wants to be a better instructor. Bill offers him a job to work with him by traveling to different police departments across the country and talking about what he's teaching, and what the local law enforcement have been doing. Holden says yes.
He has sex with Debbie, who is now his girlfriend, and he asks her why she's with him. She says because he's smart and nice. He goes with Bob to their first teaching assignment in Fairfield, Iowa. There, they talk about psychology, and how people are motived to do things. Holden waxes poetic in a way that doesn't get across to the police officers very well. Afterwards, at their motel, Bill tells him not to make it too complicated when teaching.
The pair return to the police station and Holden talks about Charles Manson, encouraging the police officers to consider how his upbringing affected his crimes. Most of the officers are put off, but one officer in particular, a former member of the LAPD, takes it particularly personally, as he knew every man who worked on the Manson murders.
Later, at a restaurant, they are approached by the same cop, Frank McGraw, who apologizes for his hostility, and tells them about a current case in Fairfield. A kind and respectful single mother, Ada Jeffries, and her young son were brutally murdered, and their landlady found the bodies after they had been dead for four days. He explains that he doesn't understand why people do such awful things to each other. After Holden asks how they can help, the three men return to Frank's office to go over the details of the case. Holden gives ideas, but Frank is quickly irritated by his vagueness. Holden gives the evidence back and admits that the FBI knows no more than Frank does, which only agers the cop more. Bill keeps several of the crime scene photos, telling Frank he'll give them back.
In the car, Bob and Holden talk about how they don't know what happened, and how they can't explain Ada Jeffries' murder. Holden is very upset about this, and Bill responds with similar frustration and tells him that he's a mixed bag. Holden agrees. Bill tells him the next time he wants to talk about things like his emotions, he can just call his girlfriend.