Lilly and the cold case team will have to decode the clues given by a twisted killer in order to save the life of a young boy who has been left to die alone. But first they must find the boy and for that they need to dig a little deeper into their own pasts.
June 1980. A 17-year-old Steve is getting ready to leave for his senior prom. Before he makes it out the door, his father manages to snap a picture of him and his mother and offers him the keys to the Cadillac, for which Steve is thrilled. In the pouring rain, Steven is trying to replace a flat tire when he manages to flag down a passing car. By morning, the police find him in a wooden box that had been buried near a playground. Down in the vault, a detective files away Steve’s cold case box.
Present day. Just before Lilly leaves police headquarters late at night, a stranger appears and asks if she is a detective. He has information on a boy who was buried alive 26 years ago: Steve Jablonski. When Lilly asks if the stranger has any information, the man produces a shovel. He buried him with this.
Lilly and Stillman are debating over whether or not the man is for real, but lab results on the shovel won’t be available for a few hours. Lilly went through the box and found that the killer had made the boy write out his own will and sent it to his parents. In the will, Steve assures his parents he will be okay and apologizes to his father for the car. The ”John Doe” assures Lilly that he feels terrible for the murder. John knows that Lilly probably doesn’t believe him because he looks like such an honest and simple man: that’s why Steve didn’t believe him either.
Flashback: As the car pulls up in the pouring rain, Steve rushes inside and eagerly accepts the ride. The driver is John. Steve points him to a nearby gas station. John notices Steve’s formal wear and concludes that he must be 17. Since he is almost legal, John offers Steve a beer and assures him that it isn’t poisoned in any way. After some initial hesitation, Steve accepts the drink. John informs Steve that he is going to die tonight, and wants to know how Steve feels with that information. At first Steve refuses to believe John, but becomes more panicky as he realizes the door handle is missing. He tries to throw a punch at John, but John is quicker and knocks Steve unconscious.
Back to Present: Now John remembers where he heard the name Rush before. He knew Lilly was involved in a standoff with that serial killer last year. Lilly still refuses to believe that John is the killer until he recites the last few lines of Steve’s Last Will and Testament, word for word. Stillman knocks on the door and presents Lilly with new information. The lab found fresh dirt on the shovel. John has done it again, but time may not have run out: Steve lasted 6 hours in the ground, maybe this boy will too. Stillman tries to bargain with John, but John isn’t interested in that. John insists that knowing who he is and his background isn’t going to help them find the new boy. When Jeffries starts to get angry, John informs him that anger is Stage 2 of the dying process. And Steve did get angry.
Flashback: In the car, Steve regains consciousness to find his hands have been bound. He begs John to turn around and go back to the Caddie, he got his grades up and spent weekends working on the yard to gain his father’s trust. If they don’t go back, his father will think he messed up again. He tries punching and kicking his way out of the car, but no luck. Why did he have to be the one?
Back to Present: John explains to the detectives that there are five stages of dying. First is denial, then anger. Depression and acceptance are the next two, Jeffries is familiar with that. The biggest surprise comes when John wants to meet with Steve’s parents to tell them he’s sorry. John tells Mrs. Jablonski that Steve chose to be buried in that playground because that was where he hit his first home run when he was 10. That was the only time in his life that Steve knew his parents were proud of him. Mrs. Jablonski asks John what it was like for Steve at the end; she needs to know.
Flashback: Pulling up to the park in the pouring rain, Steve is still trying to bargain with John. Does John want money? His dad is a lawyer, and his parents would pay anything to get him back. But John just hands him a pad of paper and a pen and asks Steve to think how he’d like to say goodbye. But Steve is still bargaining. He’ll do anything John wants as long as John promises not to hurt him. Unable to hold back any longer, Steve breaks down in tears, calling for his mother.
Flashback to Present: In a fit of rage, Mrs. Jablonski tries to hurt John, but is held back by her husband. John tries to tell her that Steve was lucky, he had a warm home and a loving family to say goodbye to, while some boys just have a locker and a heating vent to call home. Stillman and Jeffries realize that John is talking about a train station. Down at the station, the police are asking everyone there but nobody has seen anything. Scotty are Vera are becoming frustrated; John might be leading them on a wild goose chase. But Scotty looks past Vera and sees that John didn’t lead them astray: there is an envelope taped to the locker labelled ”Last Will and Testament.” Lilly rushes down to the station to read the will. The boy’s name is Justin Bradley and he leaves everything in his locker (sneakers, a sweatshirt and a box of tickets) to a guy named Valentino. Miller and Vera manage to find Valentino hooking outside the train station. Valentino is hesitant to tell them any information, until Miller mentions the horses in the field and shows him Justin’s will. Yes, he did see John Doe two hours ago.
Flashback: Justin and Valentino are standing outside the train station. Justin tells Valentino he has a dream, to jack the next car that comes along and ride off into the sunset. He knows of this other place where his mom brought him once, where there were horses in a field. He asks Valentino if he wants to come. There is a honk and Justin gets into the car.
Flashback to Present: All Valentino knows about Justin was that he was a runaway who was sick of foster homes and had been on his own since forever. By a stroke of luck, Valentino remembers part of the license plate number. Back in the interrogation room, Scotty asks John if he likes seventeen year old boys, has a thing for them? But Scotty’s way off base, John picks seventeen year old boys because they think they’ll live forever. In the end, even those boys gave up too.
Flashback: John leads Justin out into a field, asking him why Justin would want to die here. Justin evades the question for as long as he can, but John refuses to push on any further until Justin tells him the reason behind the choice. Justin and his mother rode the horses in this field once before she got into the car accident. He was ten; she was all he had in the world.
Flashback to Present: John laments over the fact that Justin is so alone out there in the rain. His hands start to shake, and before Scotty can say another word, there is a knock at the door. Because Valentino remembered the license plate, John Doe now has a name: John Harding, 54, divorced, high school teacher.
Lilly and Jeffries track down John’s ex-wife who admits she got a call from John this morning telling her the tremors had started, that this was the beginning of the end for him. Turns out John has MS, Multiple Sclerosis and is dying. Stillman finally understands why John buries his victims alive; he wants to see them die, slowly. Exactly how he’s dying now. They now know he was diagnosed the same year Steve Jablonski went missing. He must have gone into remission for 26 years until the tremors started up again. John admits he never told his ex-wife about his MS, she didn’t find out until their first son was born. Vera knows his ex-wife probably stayed and put up John because of his disease. Steve was just like John back then, on top of the world. And Justin is who John is now, alone in the world. John wonders what it’s like to be alone in the ground, and having to accept his death.
Flashback: Shivering, Justin slowly finishes his will and asks John to make sure Valentino gets this. Justin seems a bit relieved to hear that it won’t hurt. Still, there are a lot of things he wishes he could have said and done, like ask Valentino once again if he wanted to go to the horses in the field. He can only hope that his mom will remember him in heaven. Standing up, Justin can see the horses in the field, and the music playing. He’s ready now.
Flashback to Present: Stillman and Vera want to know where that field is, but John tells them that it is too late, for the both of them. Frustrated, the team discuss what they know so far. Horses in a field, music, tickets, Stillman knows Justin is talking about a merry-go-round, and there are 20 fairgrounds in the county. Lilly realizes John has gone through all the stages of dying, except for one. Acceptance. And he needs to do one more thing before that can happen. Lilly enters the room and begins to tell John about her standoff with George (please see 2 x 23 The Woods). That is why she hates the rain, the quietness it brings because that was what it was like inside of her head before she pulled the trigger. He was angry with boys like Steve and Justin because they believed they would live forever while John has been dying for 26 years and he never believed. Lilly also laments the regret she has of that standoff, because now she no longer believes she’ll live forever. John finally remembers a time when he believed he would live forever: he was 17.
Flashback: Standing on top of a bridge looking into the rough waters below, all of John’s friends are daring him to jump. Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, John steps off the bridge and freefalls into the water. It is dark and quiet until he re-emerges from the water, triumphant.
Flashback to Present: Lilly knows that John believed when he jumped. And so did Steve and Justin. Lilly rushes over to crime scene to find that Justin is still alive. Jeffries escorts John into a jail cell. Miller brings Valentino to the crime scene. He rushes over and embraces a tearful Justin. Mr. and Mrs. Jablonski look over Steve’s will one last time before giving it to Stillman to file away. The two of them look at the picture of Steven that was taken before he left for the prom. As Lilly leaves the crime scene, she sees Steve give her one last smile before he walks away.
- 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
- Željko Ivanek as John Harding ("John Doe") (2006)
- Anne Gee Byrd as Mrs. Jablonski (2006)
- Tim Haldeman as Ed Jablonski (1980)
- Taylor Handley as Steve Jablonski (1980)
- Scott Vickaryous as John Harding ("John Doe") (1980)
- Cole Williams as Justin Bradley
- Rosemary Alexander as Mrs. Harding
- Hallock Beals as John Harding ("John Doe") (1968)
- Shiloh Fernandez as Valentino
- Jolene Hjerleid as Mrs. Jablonski (1980)
- Bill Schoesser as Vagrant
- Tom Wagner as Ed Jablonski (2006)
- John and Lilly mention and talk about the events of the season 2 finale The Woods, when Lilly shoots to death serial killer George Marks, almost being shot herself.
- Supertramp "Take the Long Way Home"
- Blondie "Atomic"
- Leah Siegel "Black Tile Room"
- Steve Miller Band "Winter Time"
- Depeche Mode "Precious"
- Messy Music "Long Cold Silence"
- Okkervil River "Black Sheep Boy #4"
- Closing Song: Lifehouse "You And Me"