Jane is reunited with his former nemesis, cult leader Bret Stiles, when the head of an anti-cult activist group is killed. Stiles attempts to recruit Grace into his cult, Visualize. Surprisingly, he gets dangerously close to her.
The team is investigating the death of anti-cult activist Gabe Meadows. The murder and theft (only the laptop is stolen) seem rushed, but yet someone took the time to wipe up blood and fingerprints, as if two people were involved. Jane smokes out the clean up man by spouting rhetoric about Meadows’ main target, Visualize. Officer Downs, the first uniform at the scene, was the one who cleaned up. He’s not talking though.
But that’s only the first layer of this case, because Downs had an alibi for the time of death.
Meadows was apparently born into Visualize and left after his parents died 5 years ago. Unfortunately, his sister didn’t leave with him and he’s devoted his time since with trying to expose the cult for what it was and to try to get her out. Rigsby talks to Frank Bisbang, another activist that runs a website, to learn more about Meadows and learns that Meadows had been working on proving that the leader of Visualize, Bret Stiles, had murdered his competition, a man named Farragut, in the early years of the cult and gotten away with it. Lisbon and Jane are discussing that when Stiles himself shows up. He’s able to get Downs to talk and he admits to cleaning up, but says he did it of his own choice, not because of his duty to the cult. It’s Brainwashing 101 to teach your followers to protect the cult. Stiles gives his own alibi on his way back to the “flock”, which, as Jane says, “won’t fleece itself” and Downs gets taken to booking.
Van Pelt and Cho are still on “trash detail”, looking for the murder weapon, which is a special joy for Van Pelt since she hasn’t had any hot water for three days courtesy of an uncooperative landlord. Finally, one of the officers finds a hand-tailored suit with blood on it in one of the dumpsters and they have a clue to work with. They pass the word along to Jane and Lisbon that the tailor identified it as that of Stiles. Turns out his alibi didn’t hold up either.
Lisbon wants to be careful though, calling Visualize, an international cult, a proverbial 900-pound gorilla. Jane, always up for some fun, leads her to a banquet at the Visualize center to poke the gorilla, where Lisbon is finally able to show Stiles a picture of him wearing that same suit the day before. They arrest him and at first it looks like his entire following is about to get into it to keep them from taking him away, but he tells them to “be at peace” while he leaves quietly with Jane and Lisbon.
Even in interrogation, he identifies the suit, but insists that he doesn’t know where the blood came from. When Lisbon discusses motive, Stiles doesn’t deny that he may have killed Farragut, he only says that Meadows couldn’t have found evidence of it because there was nothing to find. Then he tries to get under Lisbon’s skin, like he does with his followers. Stiles lawyers up.
Lisbon goes out to talk status with the team, since time is short, but there’s not much to go on. The blood is the right blood type, but there won’t be DNA for another few days and there’s still no murder weapon. Van Pelt will get a warrant to search his house and Rigsby will go talk to the old hippy and former member, Randall Parker, that Meadows had talked to last week. Lisbon herself will try to talk to Meadows' sister, who’s apparently attending the Visualize “college”.
Stiles has been cooling his heels, waiting for Jane to come and talk to him. Jane knows that Stiles didn’t do it, but is confused that he isn’t acting like someone who’s being framed. In walks John Musashi, Stiles’ lawyer, to declare the interview over just as things might have gotten interesting.
At the Clearview campus, Lisbon is clearly being unnerved by the “student”, Rose, waiting with her until Dean Nora Hill shows up to show her around, and introduce her to Meadows’ sister, Jessie. Things seem business as usual on the campus, which isn’t surprising since it’s been decided that they don’t need to know what’s going on. They don’t even have the internet, considering it “junk food” for the mind. Even Lisbon’s conversation with Jessie, who’s clearly bought into the entire “faith”, is closely monitored by Hill. She seems a little angry at her brother leaving her, but insists that her real family is there. Rigsby is having better luck with Parker.
Farragut was leader when the cult started and it seemed like a pretty typical hippy commune until Stiles came along in 1976. A year later, Farragut, who never drank, died in an “alcohol- related” accident. Then, later yet, the cop who Parker says doctored the report “committed suicide”. It does sound suspicious, but even he says that they’ll never find evidence to prove it.
Jane calls Lisbon to fill her in on the little scene that Stiles just put on. He’s on his way into the “snake pit” at Visualize to put on a little scene of his own. He sends one of the “inner circle”, Charles Leben, to gather everyone up, since he has a message for them. While he’s waiting for the gathering, Van Pelt’s questioning Stiles about his belongings. Apparently he has none, at least not in his name. Then he starts trying to get into her head. He’s good and almost pulls it off, but she catches him, telling him he’s good, but not as good as Jane. He teaches her a little trick, a valid one, about how to dispel her anger. In the meantime, the circle has gathered and Jane strolls in to seat himself in Stiles chair, where they all insist they’re holding a meeting tomorrow to reaffirm Stiles as their leader. He tells them he didn’t have a message and just wanted them all there to accuse one of them of framing Stiles, but they didn’t.
Rigsby recaps the whole scenario from Parker to the team and Van Pelt suggests she try talking to Stiles again. Lisbon catches that Stiles is trying to get to her and tells her to be careful talking to him. He’s not very helpful though. He’s still trying to get to her and not offering much. He clearly didn’t like Farragut as a leader though, calling him a dreamer that didn’t know what to do with his followers once he had them. When asked again if he killed Farragut, he changes the subject to talk about Van Pelt instead, flattering her intellect and asking her what it was like to kill someone she was close to and offering to show her how to “fly”.
Jane comes back while she’s down there and obviously he has a theory. He enlists Van Pelt’s help to manufacture some evidence and has Lisbon call Stiles’ lawyer in. They show Stiles and Mushashi a photo from a local traffic camera showing a bloody Stiles leaving Meadows’ office. They arrest him and send his attorney away, so they can “book” him. Jane comes in and Stiles jumps on him for the phony photo and it comes out that Stiles was actually framing himself to flush out his suspected competition in the inner circle. He’s surprised that no one has made a move yet, but it explains why Jane “turned up the heat” with the photo. They all head back to Visualize to crash the meeting where they were supposedly going to reaffirm Stiles. Instead, with the exception of Hill, everyone votes for Jason Cooper to take the seat at the head of the table, just as Stiles, Lisbon and Jane walk in. They’re all quick to try to suck up and make up for their error in judgment, or, in Hill’s case, to make sure that Stiles knows that she supported him against all of the others. Hill had to speak up in Stiles’ favor because she was the killer and knew that Stiles wouldn’t be convicted. In the interrogation she spills it all. She was Meadows’ source for everything he’d written so far, but had started to worry when he kept pushing for more information about Farragut than she could provide. In a stupid move, he even went so far as to threaten to tell Stiles about her. So, Hill is off to prison for murder and Stiles is heading back to his followers without Van Pelt, in spite of one last attempt to bring her into the fold.
- Simon Baker as Patrick Jane
- Robin Tunney as Teresa Lisbon
- Tim Kang as Kimball Cho
- Owain Yeoman as Wayne Rigsby
- Amanda Righetti as Grace Van Pelt
- Louise Lombard as Dean Nora Hill
- Caitlin Custer as Jessie Meadows
- Eric Steinberg as Jon Musashi
- Elaine Loh as Devlin
- John Newton as Charles Leben
- Jorge-Luis Pallo as Officer Downs
- Jeanne Syquia as Rose
- Eli Goodman as Dave Bisping
- Bob McCracken as Randal Parker
- Jake Olson as Gabriel Meadows
- Darla Delgado as Uniformed Officer
- Dasha Flynn as Visualize Member
- Sunil Narkar as Inner Circle Member
- John Zderko as Inner Circle Member
- The episode's title is derived from the short story Sredni Vashtar by Saki.