In a bank lobby, a security guard is sitting on the floor handcuffed to a counter. His face is bloody. He thinks back to how he got there, when an armed gunman entered the bank and took his gun. The bank patrons and workers are sitting together in the lobby, scared, undressed, while a masked gunman threatens them. The gunman menaces them, reminding them to watch closely. He hits one man who isn't "watching."
In the BAU conference room, JJ briefs the team on a series of bank robberies in the LA metro area pulled off by a man with a unique MO: he forces the bank patrons to undress. Morgan remarks that it is a smart idea as the people are less likely to chase after him if they are undressed. There may also be a psychological aspect, observes Reid, as the patrons would feel exposed and less likely to fight back. In the last robbery two things changed: he beat the security guard senseless and he forced two pairs of people to simulate sex with each other. While Reid finds the unsub's behavior fascinating, Elle says he is now a sex offender and Gideon agrees: the unsub is being fueled by a violent rage and, if he understood it himself, he would no longer be robbing banks.
In the unsub's messy apartment, he winds the strap of the MAC-10 around and around his arm and postures with the gun, gathering up handfuls of bullets from the table. The team sees him as a violent sex offender in denial and a serial killer in the making.
Hotch is surprised when Haley shows up at his office door. She seems quietly angry, and, when he asks if everything is all right she notices that his ready bag is packed and he's headed out of town – again. "You really don't know why I'm here?" she asks. Hotch is not in a mood to guess as the plane is ready to take off for LA. When Haley reminds Hotch that they'd had an appointment at the hospital this morning for some medical tests for Jack, Hotch is devastated that he'd completely forgotten. Haley tells him that Jack has a treatable condition, and he's going to be okay, but that Jack was scared and wondering where his daddy was during the tests. Hotch is very emotional as Haley reminds him that he'd promised to be there for them. "Look, I know this job is important to you. But we're important, too," says Haley. "I don't want you to wake up some day in some random city and realize that you don't know your own son." Although Hotch offers to stay home this time, Haley urges him to go, and says they'll talk when he gets home.
Elle is reading a fax that has just come in on the BAU jet that labels the unsub the "Stripping Bandit." The team has four bank robberies to study in detail before the plane touches down in LA. They must determine if he is still a bank robber, or if he should now be considered a sex offender. Gideon believes the bank patrons are playing a part in the unsub's fantasy, and they may be able to predict his targets if they can figure out his fantasy. Elle wonders why there are no photos of what he made the victims do in the last robbery, and JJ advises her that there was a problem with the surveillance cameras in that bank. When they arrive in LA, Reid will run a geographical profile of the banks that have been hit, Elle and Hotch will study the sexual aspects of the crimes, and Morgan and Gideon will try to understand the unsub himself and his perspective on the crimes by studying the crime scenes.
The traffic in LA is snarled when Morgan and Gideon arrive at the Central Plaza Bank with Agent Wallace. Wallace tells them that a man on a motorcycle was seen leaving the area right after the robbery. Since this bank is within half a mile of three different freeways, it is a perfect location.
Reid explains geographic profiling to JJ at the local field office as he draws on a large-scale map. Unsubs will commit crimes close to their homes, but far enough away to remain anonymous. By intersecting lines on the map he has narrowed down the search to a couple hundred thousand people. Det. Murad gives Elle a large box of files to go through and mentions that she's not going to have a lot of time for sightseeing. Elle is not too disappointed, and, by her sarcasm the agent pegs her as a New Yorker. Hotch enters and asks about available computer equipment so he can set up a link with Garcia at Quantico. "We've got another bay as crappy as this down the hall," the agent replies, leading him out.
At the bank, Morgan role-plays the unsub's actions, noting how he entered the bank and chose his location very carefully in the lobby before pulling out his weapon and firing into the ceiling. He could see all the tellers, the front door and the back office. He had clearly been at the bank before. Morgan notes that the unsub disarmed the guard and handcuffed him, but wonders why he then assaulted him - he did not assault the guards in the previous banks. Gideon asks what the guards in the previous banks were wearing, and Morgan hands him photos – in all the previous banks the guards were wearing black suits, but in the latest bank he was wearing a uniform. Something about a guy in uniform triggers an emotional response, which means he's been in prison.
Garcia is on the phone with Hotch. She has access to the four banks' surveillance videos and wants to know what to do next. Hotch asks her to use her "Digital Video Analysis Rendering" software she helped develop to determine every physical aspect of the unsub, from height and weight to inseam.
Elle is watching interview videos and finds Mrs. Henderson, the bank manager's wife, of interest. She had stopped by the bank with her son and daughter to take her husband out to dinner. At the bank, Morgan and Gideon have placed pictures of the bank patrons in their exact locations in the lobby of the bank – a half circle facing the couples he forced to pair up. The unsub put together a woman in her sixties with a man in his thirties, and the married couple – the bank manager and his wife – in front of their kids. Why? Morgan suggests that the unsub is sadistic, putting together the most inappropriate couples and making them perform in front of everyone else. "Like a stage," remarks Gideon, "public humiliation." The unsub's actions were not about robbery, they were about his emotional release when he forced the people to act. They need to see exactly what happened, but the security videos were mostly erased.
Back at the field office, Agent Wallace tells the team that the bank manager hit the wrong button and erased part of the tapes. Wallace believes he was actually so embarrassed by what he'd been forced to do on the tapes that he had erased them on purpose. Hotch wonders about the possibility that the manager was somehow involved in the crimes, or if he was coerced into helping the unsub.
Garcia calls with very disturbing news. After running her program three times there are discrepancies with the height of the unsub. In the first three robberies he is 6'1", but in the last robbery he is 5'10".
During their interview, Mr. Henderson, the bank manager, immediately claims that he was nervous, and that was why the tapes got fouled up. Gideon tells him he understands that he wouldn't involve his family in something like this on purpose, but also that he would do everything he could to keep the tapes from getting out. Henderson says he couldn't take the chance of anyone seeing the tapes, even the police. "I didn't think it would matter." After talking with Mr. Henderson, Hotch and Gideon have a good picture of what this is about. "Shame and humiliation," says Gideon.
Garcia is pacing back and forth in her little computer room at Quantico. She's sure there's nothing wrong with her software, but the results are still the same. She sits down and takes off her shoes to relieve her aching feet, and the sight of her high heels gives her an idea. Calling Morgan and the rest of the team in LA she admits she may have missed something obvious: the unsub was wearing lifts in his shoes. Now the question becomes, why did the unsub – who was trying to throw them off his trail by disguising his height – suddenly stop wearing lifts on this last robbery? If he's getting careless, that means he's also getting more dangerous.
Back at his apartment, the unsub is snorting drugs, and anxiously working with his weapon again. His actions are frantic and jerky. Another bank has been targeted: the Los Angeles Federal Bank. As the team gives the profile to law enforcement, the unsub approaches the bank dressed in black, and putting on a ski mask.
Hotch reveals that the unsub spent between 5 and 10 years in jail beginning at about age 18 based on his stunted emotional growth and heightened criminal skills. He is now between 23 and 35. When he found himself in front of a bunch of naked people under his control, he snapped, and he decided to manipulate them. He now seeks out bigger banks at more populated times of the day in order to have more people to work with. He will most likely be high on drugs when he acts, but he isn't crazy.
The unsub enters the bank, and looks around at the crowd of people inside.
Gideon tells the group that the unsub is both a cold, organized bank robber and, at the same time, a disorganized sexual sadist.
The robber opens fire in the bank. A uniformed guard pulls his gun and tells the unsub to give up, but the unsub tells him his handgun is no match for the unsub's automatic weapon. The guard puts his gun down on the floor.
Continuing, Gideon says that, when the two parts of this man's psyche merge he will combine the skills of a master bank robber with the rage of a suicide bomber. "He will explode."
The people in the bank are taking off their clothes, but the unsub notices one man kneeling away from the rest, still fully clothed. He orders him to take off his clothes, and fires many rounds into the floor near the man, but the man refuses. The unsub begins beating the man with his gun, hitting him again and again.
At the LA Field Office, Det. Murad tells the team that a bank robbery is in progress, reported by a young man hiding in a back office on his cell phone. The FBI and police try to race to the bank through the stop-and-go LA traffic, traveling down sidewalks to avoid the stopped cars. At the bank, the unsub has spotted the young man on his cell phone. Agent Wallace tells Hotch the bank is right around the corner.
The unsub approaches his motorcycle only to see a female traffic cop beginning to write him a parking ticket. When she asks if it is his bike, he punches her, knocking her to the ground, and jumps on his motorcycle. When Hotch and Morgan arrive, the policewoman is unconscious and the unsub is gone. Hotch radios Gideon to tell him the unsub may be headed his way, but Agent Wallace notes "Do you know what the odds are of catching a motorcycle with a car in LA?" The motorcycle appears in front of Gideon and Elle's SUV and they take off after him down alleys and side streets, until the unsub drives through a fence and down into a drainage canal, escaping up the other side as Gideon and Elle look on helplessly.
Hotch, Gideon and Morgan focus on the crime scene, where a yellow tarp is covering the body of the man who refused to take off his clothes. Hotch and Morgan discuss all the mistakes the unsub made this time: he hit the bank with more people around, didn't check out the back rooms, parked his bike right outside, and didn't bother to take any money. They are all affected by the death of the man, knowing that the unsub cannot bottle up the rage he has unleashed. Hotch calls JJ, Elle and Reid for an update on the suspect list. Gideon tells Agent Wallace that the unsub isn't after money anymore, but, that he'll hurt people who get in the way of what he does want.
Waiting in the car, Hotch is watching a video of his son, Jack, on his Blackberry when Morgan walks up. He tells Morgan that he's watching Jack's first steps – he had been out of town and Haley sent him the file. "It was 5 months ago and I haven't loaded anything on here since." Morgan tells him to film a new one when he gets home.
Elle, Reid and JJ are going through police files that belong to men who fit the profile based on criminal record, geographic location and age. There are about 350 names. This unsub is unique as gun crimes and sex crimes are not usually linked. JJ asks about pimps – they are often sociopathic and sometimes sadistic. Roland Lynch, the man in her file, worked his way up to pimping from robbing convenience stores, which combines both parts of the profile. Lynch's parole officer tells Gideon he hasn't talked to him in a month, but he used to keep his prostitutes in line by raping them in front of their little sisters. He also has a drug habit. Morgan convinces the parole officer to get them a location for Lynch.
They track Lynch down to a bar called JJ's Paradise, and Morgan arrests him. He denies knowing anything about bank robberies or murders. Gideon threatens to tell the people he'll be in jail with about how he enjoys watching old women and kids take their clothes off, but Lynch is not affected. Morgan tells the police with them to take Lynch to the station and he'll talk to him after he's come down from his current high.
Meanwhile, at a local restaurant, the unsub pulls his ski mask down on his face before entering and firing his weapon into the ceiling. Morgan calls Elle to tell her they've arrested Lynch, but JJ announces that the unsub just hit a local restaurant ten minutes ago, and killed a 14 year old boy. Elle tells Morgan, "You've got the wrong scumbag."
At the restaurant, the team watches a video of the unsub's attack. They watch as the unsub separates the kids from the parents, and then forces a young boy to hit his mother. When the boy refuses to hit his mother harder, the unsub shoots him. "It doesn't make sense, they're children," says Hotch. He's very emotional, angry that the unsub would use someone else's kids to get off on some kind of personal fantasy.
Gideon follows Hotch into the kitchen area. Hotch wonders why the unsub is now making the children act out his own rage – he didn't do that at the bank. The bank manager said he'd put the parents together, but the two wonder if there was more to the story. Gideon goes back to talk with the bank manager again.
The entire Henderson family is in the interview room this time – parents, son and daughter. They deny having anything else to tell Hotch and Gideon, but the two persist. "Go ahead," screams Mrs. Henderson, "why don't you tell them what he did to us, what you let him do?" After the interview, Henderson's son, Darren, tells Hotch and Gideon that the robber apologized to them when they were finished.
"Sadists don't apologize," notes Elle in confusion. Gideon admits they got that part of the profile wrong – he is not a sadist. The fantasies don't give him an emotional release; they are more like a compulsion. Reid says that he is compelled to direct these fantasies with these people as actors, and when something interferes, he kills them. "It's a psychodrama," Reid finally realizes, a form of therapy where actors serve as surrogates, playing people from a person's life. The San Luis Obispo County Jail had a pilot program that used psychodrama in inmate therapy in the mid 1990s. Garcia is able to narrow down the number of inmates in that jail in the right time frame to only one man who lives in LA: Caleb Dale Sheppard who lives only 1.6 miles from the restaurant. The team heads to that address, trying to intercept him before he attacks again.
At his apartment, Sheppard is agitated again, taking drugs, pacing, and looking out the window at a young boy and his mother. He picks up his gun and heads out.
The address turns out to be Sheppard's mother's house. Hotch, Gideon and Reid interview her: she is a disheveled woman in a messy house, who calls her son a "good boy." Gideon asks her if it was her fault that Caleb spent time in a juvenile home after attacking his sister. Reid asks her how many pills she's taken from the prescription bottle lying nearby. Garcia finds out that Sheppard's sister is dead – suicide. Mrs. Sheppard apparently turned to drugs when the children were young, and took out her loneliness on them. Caleb is now symbolically punishing his mother – his fantasy is about sons gaining total control over their mothers. A note they find inside leads them to the Daybreak Motel.
Morgan and Elle arrive at the motel, but Sheppard is gone. They find maps, crystal meth, alcohol and his ski mask. His motorcycle is in the parking lot. Caleb is walking through the neighborhood, watching children playing at birthday parties. Hotch, Reid and Gideon head to a public park near the motel, thinking that Caleb will be targeting any families that he sees. When they arrive at the park, Caleb isn't there.
Caleb walks into a child's backyard birthday party, holding his MAC-10. He approaches a woman and her son.
Gideon sees balloons decorating a house across the street from the park. The men begin to move towards it.
Caleb holds a knife to a young boy's throat. The boy is holding the gun and pointing it towards his mother, shaking. Caleb says, "Do it!" but the boy is crying, saying, "No, no!" The mother tells her son to do what he says, that it's okay, and Caleb sees his own mother's face superimposed over hers. Gideon, Reid and Hotch arrive with guns pointed at Caleb. Gideon tries to reason with him, telling him that no matter how many times he does it, it won't make it better. As he's talking, Hotch shoots Caleb in the shoulder and he falls to the ground, releasing the boy. Hotch forces Caleb onto his face and cuffs him, leaning into him and saying, "Look at these people – look at them! They're children! They're children for God's sake!" Hotch gets into the ambulance with Caleb, who's screaming for something for the pain. When the paramedic looks at Hotch, he shakes head no. Caleb tells Hotch that the children had to learn sometime that no one will ever be there for them.
On the jet, everyone is asleep except Gideon and Hotch. Gideon asks Hotch if he's okay. Hotch mentions a group of trainees he'd talked to that week, telling them what a great job he has, but that he didn't tell them the real story. Hotch wonders who's to blame for someone like Sheppard – his mother, society, jail? Gideon tries to comfort him with the thought that if they save one life, they've saved them all.