A man wipes the windshield of a car stuck in traffic, over the driver's objections. The driver, a woman named Wendy Berman, continues on her way. In a garage, two guards complain about a dumb customer when Berman pulls in. One of the guards gives the other some money and a coffee order, but just after the other guard leaves, a bomb detonates in the garage.
The first guard, face bloody, is being treated by EMS as Briscoe and Logan talk to the other one. He can't tell them anything. They then talk to the lead firefighter, who says they got the fire under control quickly. The firefighter thinks a car bomb caused the explosion, and says that the building will be under repairs for at least a month. A body is carted off as the opening credits roll.
The detectives look at the destroyed car. The analysist explains that the bomb was in the trunk and contained chemical fertilizer and diesel fuel. The bomb was simple but well made, using acid and latex to make a fuse. The acid would eat through the latex at a controlled rate, and once it made a hole it would ignite the diesel and fertilizer and blow up. The detectives are also told that the latex is the same sort used to make condoms.
"I never did like those things."
In Van Buren's office, Briscoe says that there was only one fatality — the kid who was carted out earlier. They can't identify the body, and a bunch of terrorist groups and other members of the political fringe are claiming credit. Running through the tenants, they find a bank used for a variety of terrorist groups. Profaci enters with the news that forensics traced the car; it was leased to the Egyptian embassy. Logan reads the reports and says that a man named Aasad Asalam was supposed to have the car.
Driving to Asalam's hotel room, the detectives discuss immigration — Logan wants to fence off the country, while Briscoe disagrees. When they get at the hotel, Asalam is arrested without incident. In interrogation, he gives an alibi of being with members of the State Department at the time of the bombing. He says his car was stolen overnight after he came back from Albany, and shrugs off Briscoe's skepticism.
"The stolen car story? I told that one in high school."
"I went to the Wharton school. I assure you I could come up with a better story."
—Lennie Briscoe and Aasad Asalam
When Asalam asks what his motive is supposed to be, Logan says that maybe he's a religious terrorist. But Van Buren interrupts the interrogation. Agent Garrett of the FBI has arrived; his alibi checked out. Garrett guesses that whoever did it has fled jurisdiction.
Later, Briscoe reads the medical examiner's report. The dead body was female, 18-ish, with blond hair, and had ammonium nitrate under her fingernails — she set off the bomb. Briscoe says that she must have either been slow to leave the garage or the makeshift fuse leaked. Logan guesses that the girl might have been reported as a missing person. The missing persons office uses dental records to identify the dead body as Wendy Berman. She'd been missing for 4 years.
Talking to Wendy's mother Margaret, the detectives wonder why Wendy fled. Margaret says that her husband David died suddenly when Wendy was 13. She spent a year with psychiatrists, then became a drug-user and promiscuous. Eventually she ran away and didn't return. Wendy sent a letter three years later, which said that she was find but that Margaret couldn't contact her because some disaster would happen if she tried.
Logan reads the letter, which is full of apocalyptic religious imagery. The return address puzzles Logan, but Briscoe figures it out.
"Get this: Return address — 476, Avenue Bearing the Initial of Our Lord in the New Kingdom"
"Great. This time of day it's gonna take us an hour to get downtown."
"Since when do you have a roadmap to Heaven?"
"I don't, but I've been up and down Avenue C."
—Mike Logan and Lennie Briscoe
At the address, they find a prayer circle.
At the station, Briscoe talks to a member of the congregation named Donald Melnick. He claims that the congregation is peaceful and that he doesn't know Berman. Logan talks to another member of the congregation, Barbara Mann, who is very polite and positive. She also doesn't admit to knowing anything about the bombing. When she asks if Logan is a skeptic, they compare stories of strict Catholic schools in their youths. She says she doesn't really have a family anymore. Profaci comes in — Daniel Hendricks, the head of the church, is at the precinct.
Hendricks discusses his church, the Etrusian Temple. He admits to knowing Wendy and having taken her into the church, but says that she left a couple months back. When he calls her Ruth, he clarifies that she was using a new name to forget her past life. He says he was just trying to care for the people in his flock. Hendricks says that the people in his church tend to come from dsyfunctional families, but that they often get better from the church. When he leaves, Logan criticizes religion in general, then points out that a drug addict like Wendy wouldn't have been able to build the bomb herself. Van Buren has them get a list of the congregation members from Hendricks.
Over lunch, Logan says that half of the congregants have felony records. The crimes range from narcotics to armed robbery. Briscoe reads that Hendricks has been commended by the city for his work. Logan continues to speak negatively of religion in general.
"My old lady had a rosary in her left hand while she used to beat the crap out of me with her right. Next time I go to church, six of my closest buddies will be carrying me."
Briscoe then reads that Hendricks got thrown out a Lutheran church about ten years ago.
The President of the Lutheran congregation says that Hendricks was charismatic and a great evangelist, but crazy, and became crazier once they rejected him as their head. The President says that Hendricks screamed from the pulpit that the whole congregation would burn in Hell for rejecting him. He calls Hendricks's church a cult, because Hendricks takes all the money its members can steal. They talk to Hendricks's mother next, who says that he always excelled at whatever he put his mind to. His older brother died of drug use. She says that Hendricks might have been interested in marrying Wendy, and says that the two of them came for dinner a month ago. This challenges Hendricks's story that Wendy left the church a few months back.
At the precinct, Logan says that Hendricks was thrown out of the military. He was a demolitions expert in the Green Berets. The detectives realize that the stolen car ran on diesel, so the bombers probably siphoned gas from the tank. Van Buren recalls that Asalam says he drove to Albany and back the day before, which would deplete the tank; she has them check all the diesel gas stations around the garage. Sure enough, they find an attendant who identifies Hendricks and Berman as getting gas the night before the bombing. He identifies Hendricks as the one who bought the fuel.
In court, Kincaid is unconvinced, but Van Buren convinces her that they have a lot of physical evidence, even if they have no motive. She authorizes the arrest, and the detectives arrest Hendricks in his church. He continues to preach in a loud voice as he's arrested.
"Mike, tell him about the right to keep his mouth shut."
Hendrick's lawyer, Louise Gruman, tries to play off Hendrick's lie about knowing Berman. Stone is unconvinced. Hendricks says that he thought the car was Berman's father's, and that he had no idea the diesel would be used in a bomb. Gruman is dismissive of Stone's evidence, saying he can't prove intent to commit any crime. Later, Schiff is less skeptical. He says they can't prove that Hendricks did anything besides buy gas and that they can't even prove he knew what the gas would be used for. He orders Stone to withdraw the indictment unless they can find better evidence. Schiff says they should talk to family members of the Etrusians.
Stuart Melnick, Donald's father, discusses his son. Donald had been diagnosed with learning disorders as a child, and more recently last spoke to Stuart asking for the rest of his trust fund so he could give it to Hendricks. Kincaid next talks to Dale Rudolph, who is an ex-member of the church himself. He says he and his wife found Hendricks when they were struggling financially, He left the church when his daughter Joanne told him that Daniel was her daddy, not him, but his wife couldn't leave. It took him a year to get Joanne out of the church, as well as a lot of money.
Kincaid says that church members are cut off from their families. Stone says that nothing anyone's described Daniel doing is a crime. Kincaid says that, combining Berman's letter (which included a reference to a disaster occurring if her family looked for her) and Dale saying his wife couldn't leave, they may have a case for kidnapping. Stone says they can charge Hendricks with felony murder, with the 'felony' being kidnapping.
Gruman tries to dissuade Stone, but Stone says that they can make a good case that Hendricks's brainwashing is a form of kidnapping. When Louise sees that they're serious, she says that, while they have no case, Hendricks is so insane that he can't help her defend him. She's pleading him guilty by reason of insanity, and tells them that they can have Olivet look at him if they think he's sane.
Hendricks evangelizes to Olivet. He sees himself as a Messiah, bound to fight against evil.
"I didn't want to be what I am. But I was chosen. The choice was His, not mine."
Olivet reports that Hendricks is manic-depressive, and not legally responsible for his actions. She says that a fundamental incident in his life was his brother dying of an overdose; he sees himself as warring against the evil drug lords for the souls of humanity. She is adamant that he is not responsible for himself.
In court, Gruman tries to plead guilty, but Hendricks overrules it. He maintains his not-guilty plea and fires Gruman. Later, Kincaid tells Stone that Hendrick's new lawyer is Nicholas Burke. Burke is a high-priced attorney, and is moving to dismiss the charges on 1st amendment grounds. In her office, Judge Elayne Link is skeptical, but eventually allows the case to continue. She cautions Stone that he can't challenge the veracity of any of Hendrick's beliefs, only the means and the purposes Hendricks had when teaching those beliefs.
In Schiff's office, Stone learns that Burke is playing the press. Schiff is pessimistic about their chances. Later, in court, Dale Rudolph testifies about his difficulties in leaving the church and his inability to free his wife from Hendricks. Burke gets him to admit that several of the threats about 'rivers of fire' were metaphorical, and that the church door wasn't locked. He points out that no one tried to stop Dale himself from leaving. Margaret testifies that she would have tried to rescue Wendy if she'd known about Hendricks. Stone has Margaret read Wendy's letter, over Burke's objection on grounds of hearsay.
"I am fine, but I fear what will happen if you try to contact me."
—Margaret Berman, reading Wendy Berman's letter
Burke gets Margaret to admit that the letter doesn't say who Wendy was scared of, and brings up prior suicide attempts by Wendy. Lastly, he points out that Wendy was gone for four years, and could have learned about bomb from someone in that time. Later, Stone tells Schiff they're losing, and Kincaid says they can call Joanne Rudolph. Schiff objects, since Joanne's just a kid, but they all acknowledge it's their only chance.
On the stand, Joanne says that Hendricks promised that her father would be damned and chained. She says she didn't want to leave because Hendricks convinced her that the world was going to end in fire and only those who accepted "the lamb" would be saved. She believes Hendricks to be "the lamb." Burke asks Joanne if she ever heard Hendricks ask someone to plant a bomb; Joanne says 'no.' Barabara testifies for Hendricks next; she says she could have left at any time, and did often leave to go to work. She says she doesn't feel brainwashed. Stone gets her to talk about how her faith is completely in God's Word, as interpreted by Hendricks, and that he damned the people that worked in the bombed building. He asks if she would cut off contact with her parents or go on a five-day fast for Hendricks, and she says yes. He asks about planting a bomb, she says that she'd do that too.
Hendricks testifies last. He says he's just a spiritual leader trying to help people. He says he helped free Wendy from drugs and prostitution and that he didn't know anything about the bombing plan. Stone asks what Hendricks would have done had he known; Hendricks says that he'd have tried to stop her. Stone gets him to say that the 'moneylenders' are sinful, then gets him to go on a short apocalyptic rant about the destruction of the world. He admits that he thinks he's a Messiah.
"You cannot survive without me!"
"Oh, to the contrary, sir. We will not only survive, we will endure."
—Daniel Hendricks and Ben Stone
Stone cites a Bible verse telling people not to believe in future Christs, then ends his questioning.
In closings, Burke says that Wendy Berman was the only one responsible for the bombing. He says that all Hendricks did was get Berman out of crime and into church, and claims that Stone is just conducting a religious inquisition. Stone says that Hendricks took Wendy's need to manipulate her into murdering for him. He says that Hendricks is just another religious con man.
Hendricks is convicted of kidnapping and murder. Hendricks stands up with pierced hands and speaks a benediction; his disciples in the audience aww. Later, Schiff tells Stone that he should have lost, and Stone admits that he scammed the jury a little. Kincaid points out that Hendricks really was responsible, but Stone says that he was genuinely insane. Then Stone gets a phone call and looks horrified.
Briscoe and Logan return to the church, where the disciples have committed suicide. All Briscoe can do is have the press kept out. Logan makes the sign of the cross as he leaves the room.