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We open in Brooklyn in 2005. A young boy is walking to school. A man who the boy seems to know drives up beside him and offers to drive the boy, Adam, to school. Adam seems hesitant to get in then sees the man has a bunch of ‘Thank You’ balloons in the back of his car. Adam asks the man about them and he tells Adam that they are for his parents and says he’ll explain once Adam gets in the car. Adam gets in the car and the man, who we don’t see leaves a few of the balloons tied to a brick, where he picked up Adam and they drive off.
Shoot to Holmes looking at a picture of the balloons. He’s sitting on his floor shirtless, surrounded by boxes. Watson comes down in a jogging outfit and asks Holmes what he’s doing. He tells her that he’s looking though his boxes that have info and pictures on open serial killer cases. Then, he takes out a picture of Adam. Holmes then tells Watson that he won’t be joining her on her jog even though she thinks it’s would be a good edition to his sobriety regimen and reminds him that he agreed. Holmes replies, “For future reference, when I say ‘I agree’ it means I’m not listening.” Watson then suggests Jazzercise, to which Holmes replies, “I agree with you.”
Watson then sees that Holmes is working on “The Balloon Man” file. Holmes tells Watson that the case came to his attention while he was still living in London and he calls him “New York’s very own boogeyman.” Watson has heard of the case and that he has taken six children so far. Holmes then tells Watson that “The Balloon Man” took his seventh victim the previous evening, 10-year-old Mariana Castillo from Astoria, Queens. Holmes says he heard about it on his police scanner and Watson replied that he hasn’t actually been assigned the case to which Holmes replies, “Not yet” and adds that serial murders and child abductions require task forces and Gregson can’t call him until he gets the police commissioner’s approval. Just then, Holmes’ phone rings. It’s Gregson giving him the address in Astoria.
Shoot to Holmes, Watson, Detective Bell and Gregson at the address. Gregson tells them that the “girl’s bedroom is in the back. The perp forced the lock on her window around 9:30 last night, took her and tied the balloons to her bed.” Detective Bell adds, “Mom’s a painter, she went to a friend’s gallery. Dad went to the bodega on the corner to get some wine around 9:45.” Holmes notices broken leaves nearby and concludes, “These are freshly broken presumably by the girl for a fresh handhold.” Bell thinks that shows she’s a “fighter’ but Holmes replies, “If little girls could actually win fights against grown men then yeah, it would be a great cause for optimism.” Then, they all go into the house. Mariana’s parents are making a video plea for the return of their daughter. Holmes tries to stop it but the cameraman says he going live in 10 seconds. To stop the video, Holmes spray paints the camera’s lens. Then, Holmes says to Mariana’s parents that he did so to keep their daughter alive. Gregson then introduces Holmes to Marianna’s parents, Robert and Sara Castillo, as a consultant on the case. Holmes explains his reasoning for stopping the video plea. In his research on the case, he’s found that the more media exposure each kidnapping got, the quicker “The Balloon Man” killed the child and their bodies were found. “’The Balloon Man’ feeds off of the public grief of the victim’ families. You nourish him, he’ll get bored, end the game. Keep him hungry, we might get two days,’” Holmes tells the Castillos. He then adds that if they want their daughter back, they’ll listen to everything he says.
Shoot to Holmes going through the Castillos home, even their fridge. Meanwhile, Watson talks about “The Balloon Man’s” first victim, Adam Kemper, how “The Balloon Man” left the balloons on the sidewalk where he took him and how his actions have destroyed the victims’ families. Holmes then asks Watson to go outside because she’s distracting him. Holmes then takes a bottle of wine from the fridge and takes it with him into the living room where Gregson is assuring Robert that Mariana’s abduction wasn’t his fault. But, then Holmes walks in with the bottle and says it WAS his fault. Holmes clarifies that it’s Robert’s fault for “impeding the investigation.” Robert then insists that he’s told the police everything. Holmes fires back, “If everything includes one very big lie. Where’s the wine you claimed you were buying when your daughter was abducted last night?” Robert replies that it’s in Holmes’ hand. Holmes replies, “That’s the lie. The bodega puts the price tag on the cap itself. It saves stacking time.” Holmes then holds up the bottle of wine and says, “Tag – bottom, you – liar. Obviously, you bought this at another time. Presumably at the liquor store on Atlantic where you purchased the case of Prosecco you have in your pantry. The bottle was already in the fridge, which provided you an effective cover as to why you were really out of the house. Tell us her name, Mr. Castillo, right now. “Whose name?” Gregson interrupts. “His mistress,” Holmes replies. Robert then laughs. To that, Holmes adds that he shouldn’t deny it because his lemon presses gave him away, “one old, one quite new, less than a year. The pattern repeats itself with two corkscrews, two pepper mills. The older items belonged to you and your wife, the doubles were bought by you when you moved into your new place on Long Island.” Castillo replies simply with, “How?” Holmes then says he found a letter in Robert’s mail forwarded to him from a long term hotel chain in Islip. Holmes then assumes that the Castillos separated for a while then reconciled.
Holmes then cites Robert’s cell phone’s caller ID, where he took a 15-second call from a Long Island area code right before Robert left the house the previous night. Holmes deduces the call was from the “woman you precipitated during your separation. She rang, you left the house. Why else would you hide information from the police when you’re clearly desperate to get your daughter back?” Robert then confesses that when he and his wife separated, he began dating a co-worker, who called the previous evening to tell him she was in town and she had to see him but he swears he only went to tell her they were through. Sara then starts yelling at Robert for not telling her. Holmes then asks Robert where he met the woman and he says a few houses down the street. Holmes says he wants to speak to the woman because she might have seen who took Mariana.
Shoot to the station where Gregson, Holmes and Watson speaking with Lori Thomas, Robert’s mistress. She’s mortified that she’s the reason Mariana was taken, “If I hadn’t called,” she says. As Holmes talks to her, Lori remembers a car running a stop sign and nearly hitting her and recalls the car being a dark brown van. Holmes then deduces that that the suspect got sloppy this time. He adds that “The Balloon Man” usually chloroforms his victims and Mariana was awake to break the ivy. Holmes thinks “The Balloon Man” was spooked because of the sirens. On the scanner, Holmes heard a call right before the kidnapping of a domestic dispute two blocks away. “The Balloon Man” must have thought the sirens were for him and sped off.
Shoot to Bell, Watson and Holmes canvassing the street Ms. Thomas and the dark brown van nearly collided. Bell asks if they’re looking for a security camera. As Holmes observes it’s a one-way street, Watson worries that he hasn’t eaten all day and tells Holmes that “people in recovery tend to relapse when they haven’t eaten.”
Holmes then tells Watson that he likes her talking while he’s thinking, “it’s like white noise, it helps me think better.” Holmes then sees a parked car with several parking tickets, indicating it has been there for several days yet has skid marks underneath it and it appears to have been sideswiped. Holmes deduces it's been sideswiped by a brown vehicle that was previously painted blue and white. He thinks it's a decommissioned NYPD van.
Shoot back to the station. Holmes assures Watson her listening to him is a valuable service. He then tells her that for a while in London he talked only to a phrenology bust he kept in his study, which he named "Angus." They get a hit on the BOLO on the van, find it and follow it. The driver drives off but they give chase. Then, the driver gets out and runs and Bell easily catches him but the van is empty. Bell then tells Gregson that guy he just tackled is too young to be “The Balloon Man.” Holmes recognizes a birthmark on his neck and realizes it's “The Balloon Man's” first victim, Adam.
Shoot back to the station. Adam isn’t talking. They think he might have begun to sympathize with his captor. They wonder how much he might have helped “The Balloon Man” with his killings. Holmes then asks permission to talk to Adam alone. Holmes tells Adam that he understands the man who took him also took care of him, taught him to drive and loved him. Holmes then tells him about how he was bulled in boarding school and how he eventually he came to feel gratitude to his bully for paying attention to him, "in tormenting me, he was attempting to correct what I knew to be wrong with myself." Holmes then added that he even covered for his bully. Holmes then asks how Adam got a cut on his hand. He says it was from trying to open a window in his room. Adam finally starts to open up about how “The Balloon Man” cared for him and how he brought him donuts every morning. Gregson interrupts the interview because Adam's parents called a lawyer for him. Gregson tells Holmes and Watson that Adam's parents know the police suspect him and they are trying to get him immunity with the DA. Holmes then pulls Gregson aside and suggests that from what Adam said he now knows “The Balloon Man” works nights. Holmes then goes home and looks at his old case files, determined to stay up all night. Watson offers to help and she shows him a squat exercise to help him stay awake.
Shoot to the next morning. Holmes wakes Watson up and tells her that “The Balloon Man’s” early victims had all had their houses fumigated, but when the FBI checked into the employees, none were suspicious. Holmes thinks how “The Balloon Man” changed jobs. They then learn the “The Balloon Man’s” recent victim's families or neighbors all had subscriptions to the same business newspaper. Holmes then gets the delivery man’s name from the company, Samuel Abbott.
Shoot to Holmes and Watson waiting in the van as teams bust into Abbott's apartment. It's completely empty, not even furniture. But, there's a bunch of balloons for the police that say "Congrats!" There's a flash drive attached, which has a recorded message from Abbott, confessing to killing the six children and saying if he doesn't get his "son" Adam back by tomorrow, he'll kill Mariana.
Shoot to Gregson filling the Castillos in on what’s been going on in the investigation. Sara Castillo asks Adam, who is now 19 years old, what he wants. Holmes points out that victims of abuse are sometimes protective of their abusers, but it doesn't mean they should be reunited with them. Gregson tells Holmes that no one with the NYPD can talk to Adam. Holmes asks where he is.
Shoot to Holmes and Watson waiting for Adam. Holmes thanks Watson for being willing to put up with a "difficult person with a difficult process for the greater good." He says he may even listen to her again in the future. When Holmes talks to Adam again, Adam calls Abbott his "dad." Holmes knows Adam loved him, but he didn't love when he did. Adam is confused and doesn't know what to do. Adam then asks Holmes if he signs the deal, will it make up for the things he's did. Holmes says no, he can never get their blood off his hands. "But that doesn't mean you should try," he says. Then, Adam agrees to sign the paper and tell them where he and “The Balloon Man” live.
Shoot to the cops busting in on Abbott at the table making a sandwich for Mariana. Abbott grabs her when they bust in, threatening to shoot Mariana. Instead, Abbott tells them to tell Adam he's sorry. Then, he shoots himself in the head. Later, Holmes stands over Abbott’s dead body. He's feebler than Holmes expected, and wearing a back brace after multiple surgeries and Holmes says that he would have needed Adam to help him get around. Holmes observes a dingy twin mattress on the floor and a real bed in the bedroom. Holmes then hears a whistling noise and finds a broken window in the bedroom. He then snaps a picture of a hair on the bed. Then Holmes announces Abbott isn’t “The Balloon Man.”
Shoot to Holmes waiting for Adam in his bedroom, Adam snuck in through the window. Holmes reminds Adam that he said he cut himself on the window in his bedroom. He knows the bedroom with the lamps, mattress and TV was Adam's room, Abbott slept on the dingy twin mattress. Holmes confirmed it by matching the hairs on each. "You occupied the master bedroom because you were the master," Holmes says to Adam. "You tricked me, Adam, which doesn't happen very often. I thought you were a dullard. You're actually quite brilliant. It must take a huge intellect for a boy to turn the tables on the man who abducted him," Holmes says. "You have no idea," Adam says smugly. Holmes asks whose idea it was to take more children. "I'd just turned 14, I was lonely," Adam says. "No, what you wanted was to make someone else the victim, hurt them like you'd been hurt," Holmes says. Adam then remembers seeing his parents on TV begging for his return at least once a day after he was abducted. He tells Holmes that he enjoyed it and that turning the tables on Abbott was easy, given his low IQ. Adam then adds that the trade for Mariana was his contingency plan in case he got caught because he knew the police would offer him immunity. "Are you here to kill me, Mr. Holmes? Because I have to admit I find the possibility very exciting," Adam says. He then announces he's going to brush his teeth and doesn't expect to see Holmes when he returns. Adam then adds that he’s thinking of leaving town soon.
Shoot back to Holmes’ brownstone, Holmes throws knives at Adam's immunity deal, which spares him from prosecution for any crimes committed "in consort" with Abbott. "I handed a psychopath a get-out-of-jail free card," he says to Watson, who suggests Holmes try more squats instead of throwing knives, but he did too many and his back hurts. He has a back pain epiphany.
Shoot to Holmes finding Adam in a park, watching a family with a young child. Holmes asks Adam about his fifth victim, Billy. They just ran the DNA under Billy's fingernails and it wasn't Abbott's. Holmes mentions the date of the abduction, the same time Abbott was in traction in the hospital for his back surgery. Holmes then tells Adam that his immunity deal only covers murders committed with Abbott. "It was only one murder, and Samuel abused me. I'll be out soon," Adam says as police cars pull up for him.
Shoot back to Holmes’ brownstone. Watson closes the blinds saying it's time for Holmes to sleep. He thinks he'll see everything with a new light on his solving high. "I'm going to solve three cases by nightfall," he boasts. Watson sips tea. When she turns around, Holmes is asleep on the floor.