Protest is the sixteenth episode of the second season, and the twenty-ninth episode overall. It was released on March 3, 2006.
The bombing of a recruitment office puts Don and his father at odds over ends and means, and brings an agent out of retirement. Don is forced to question his path in life, as his future with the Bureau seems less than certain.
Protest footage against the Vietnam War is shown.
Somebody is adding glyceride and other things to a chemical. They are making a bomb. A couple is walking past an army recruitment center near an ATM when a bomb goes off under a car. Don and Megan arrive on the scene and are briefed by Colby. The husband died at the scene and the wife is in hospital. David (correctly) thinks it’s homemade.
Just before the bomb went off an e-mail was sent to the FBI. The tech is going to try to find its origin, but doesn’t know if they can. The e-mail is signed by the Weather Underground (WU), a protest group from the 70s. They thought it was defunct until now. Thomas Lawson, a retired agent that worked to stop the group, joins them. The bombing was 35 years before to the day of an identical bombing at an ROTC center. He believes it was Matthew Stirling who was responsible for three bombings including the one that just had its anniversary. Stirling has been missing since the 70s.
Lawson briefs the core team about the bombing 35 years ago. Don introduces him to Charlie who has just arrived. Charlie says that there will be challenges due to the length of time between attacks, but he’ll do what he can. Lawson still believes it’s Stirling so they don’t need to look for anybody else, but Megan puts it forward that the possibility of a copycat shouldn’t be ruled out. Stirling abandoned his family after being interrogated so Lawson wants to find Stirling.
David and Colby talk to an anti-war group, American Peace Movement (APM). They deny involvement in the bombing. The boys want all e-mails coming in and out of the office.
Don comes to the house to find that Charlie and Alan have finished a small remodeling project. They talk about the case and Stirling. Alan knew him in the 60s and 70s. They worked together in Californians for Peace. They learn that Alan and Stirling participated in peaceful anti-war protests. Don and Alan butt heads about him. Don retreats to the garage and Charlie follows. Charlie didn’t realize he had been as active as he was in protesting the war. During his background check Don found out that Alan had been arrested twice at sit-ins. He was three one time when Alan and Margaret took him to a protest and Alan was taken away in cuffs. Don has never really looked at Alan’s FBI file. They go back to talking about the case. Charlie can see how Stirling worked and who with. Colby and David bring Megan up to speed. Megan thinks it could be a copycat, but can’t totally dismissed Stirling at this stage. They look at people from his past.
David talks to Jack Bennett who now works construction. He doesn’t believe in the things that they used to anymore. His son, Adam, approaches with a problem on the job site, but Bennett says he can handle it. David leaves him his card.
Lawson is looking at his old files about the WU. He gives them to Don then brings up Alan’s file, wondering if Don should be working this case. David and Colby come in with the information about the bomb. They used a homemade nitroglycerine. There was also baking soda in the bomb, a signature of Stirling’s bombs. Megan talks to Dr. Sarah Kemple, another one of Stirling’s old contacts. She is still strong on her convictions from back then, but doesn’t know where he is. Don and Lawson go to talk to Stirling’s wife, Hester, and daughter, Laura. They haven’t seen him since ’71. She still maintains that he never bombed the ROTC center back them. Lawson makes some statements about Stirling living a new life somewhere upsetting the two women and Hester kicks them out.
Lawson is working at a bar. Charlie is looking for Don and comes to Lawson. They talk about the case. He explains his method, Social Network Analysis (SNA). Using SNA they can identify who the true leaders of groups are as well as others in a group.
Charlie, Amita, and Larry are working on the case at CalSci. A lot of protests were held on campus in the 70s due to contracts with the DoD. Three of the more violent protests there rank high in Charlie’s analysis to be repeated like the ROTC bombing. Two destroyed research work and the third was a fire just outside where they are. They all happened around then 35 years ago. The fire alarm goes off. The globe in the courtyard has been set on fire as it had been all those years ago.
The next morning Don, David, and Lawson are discussing the night before. Another note has been found at the scene of the fire. The fire had been started with creosote which isn’t commonly found. David and Colby are about go to get a list of recent buyers, but Lawson thinks it’s a waste of time. He is sure it’s Stirling and he wants to bring in all known associates to interrogate. Don disagrees and wants to follow the modern leads. He sends the boys to look into the creosote. Lawson thinks that Don’s apprehension to follow the leads from the 70s is because of Alan.
Laura Stirling knocks on Charlie’s office. He tells her that he can’t help her and that she needs to talk to the FBI. She gives him a hairbrush that belonged to Stirling. She wonders if the FBI could match his DNA to any of the crime scenes.
Don enters the Eppes’ house to talk to Alan about Stirling. They were organizing voters. Stirling was a lawyer devoted to non-violent protest and was a good orator which the FBI didn’t like. Alan shows Don some old records from the 70s including a phone tree. They discuss the politics behind the protests.
Megan, David, and Colby are going over Alan’s records and recent sales records. None of the people had access to all of the materials needed to make the bomb, but Colby knows that if you can’t get grain alcohol then you can get pure alcohol from pre-med/medical students for various things including bomb-making. Kemple was in med school in ’71 and so had access to the alcohol needed for the bomb. Don and Megan go and talk to her again. They cuff her in the waiting room of her practice. She admits to making the nitroglycerine for the bomb back then, but she did not do the one now, not after two young teens died because of the original bombing. She was out of town for the recent one. The idea for the bomb back then didn’t come from Stirling, but from a man named Sysco. He was a friend of Stirling's and she didn’t know him well.
Don tells Lawson about the interrogation. Lawson still thinks that because she couldn’t have done the recent one it couldn’t have been her in ’71 and that they’re still looking for Stirling. Don believes it was a copycat for this one. Don asks him about Sysco. He was a drifter that was only there for a few months, nobody important. Don disagrees.
Charlie and Amita are looking at more data for the SNA analysis. After his analysis it appears that Stirling didn’t link Californians for Peace to the WU, but the FBI. They are both confused with this outcome. They come to the conclusion that the FBI had an inside man in the group. Don talks to Hester and informs her that Kemple is the one who did the bombing in ’71. He asks her about Sysco. She never met him, but did hear of him. Stirling was afraid of him. The FBI ignored this information back then, but Don promises he’ll look into it now. Stirling was scared when he disappeared and she’s afraid that something happened to him.
Charlie tells Don and Megan about his SNA results. This helps Don and Megan connect some dots. Don confronts Lawson about Sysco. Don thinks he was an undercover agent. Lawson says that the undercover agent never spoke with Kemple, only Stirling. Don wonders how he’s so sure and Lawson admits to being Sysco.
At the FBI Don and David talk to Lawson about the 70s. They spoke about bomb-making and other violence in the movement. Don can’t believe what he’s hearing. Colby is wondering why so much alcohol went missing in ‘71 when only one bomb was made. There was enough taken to make three. They wonder what happened to the rest.
Somebody throws out some trash and a moment later a bomb goes off in the can. It’s the same type as the other two recent bombings and a similar e-mail to before was sent. D.C. sent in their analysis of the bombs and the recent ones are the same recipe as the ones in ’71. Don wonders how this is possible. Megan talks to Kemple about the mix as she claimed she came up with the recipe herself. She found it in a book that she thought belonged to Stirling, but when she asked him about the book later he didn’t know what he was talking about. Megan also asks about the left over explosives. She kept it in a shed on her parent’s property, but they weren’t there when she went back to get them. Only Stirling knew where they were.
They search Stirling’s house for the book, but Hester doesn’t know anything about it. They can’t find anything about it. He was trying to prevent a mistake back in ’71. They think he was trying to get the explosives out of LA. Charlie, Amita, and Larry work to figure out possible routes he may have taken. Along one of the roads Colby finds a wrecked yellow Volkswagen. It’s the same model as Stirling’s. A skull is in the car. Most of the damage appears to be from an explosion in the car. All of the old materials are gone and Stirling is very obviously not involved in the current bombings.
They still cannot find the book anywhere. David comes in with information that Bennett, the construction worker made a donation to the APM. Don and David talk to him and he is astounded. He denies giving money to a group like that. Don, David, Colby, and Charlie are looking through mounds of records to link Bennett to the recent bombings. David doesn't know if Bennett did it as he isn’t great with chemistry. Colby finds signatures on chemical purchases that could be used in bomb making that don’t match the cheque made to the APM. They look at Bennett’s son. At the construction site, Adam comes in with blasting gelatin when they confront his father. Bennett pleads with his son to stop. Colby tackles him to the ground, causing him to drop the gelatin. It doesn’t go off much to everybody's relief. Colby knew that while blasting gelatin is more powerful than dynamite it’s far more stable. They find he book in Adam’s possessions. It turns out Bennett had the book. Don and Lawson share a drink and talk about the case. Don asks him if it’s his handwriting in the margins. He doesn’t outright admit to it, but it sounds plausible that he could have.
Charlie talks to Laura at CalSci about her father’s death. She’s glad to know that he was innocent. Alan is reading the paper in the living room of the Eppes' house. Don approaches him and they talk about the outcome of the case, the FBI’s history, and Don’s choice to join the FBI. Charlie is listening on the stairs. Don jokingly calls Alan ‘Commie’ and Alan jokingly calls him ‘G-Man’. Charlie joins them and the three go out to dinner.
- Rob Morrow as Don Eppes
- David Krumholtz as Charlie Eppes
- Judd Hirsch as Alan Eppes
- Alimi Ballard as David Sinclair
- Navi Rawat as Amita Ramanujan
- Diane Farr as Megan Reeves
- Peter MacNicol as Larry Fleinhardt
- Robert Forster as Agent Thomas Larson
- Concetta Tomei as Dr. Sarah Kemple
- Ray Baker as Jack Bennett
- Patrick J. Adams as Adam Bennett
- Bess Wohl as Laura Stirling
- Zeb Newman as Nate Tuttle
- Susan Beaubian as Stendhauser
The book "Essays on Revolution" on the episode was shown at the end of the episode and the cover says that the book was written by Cheryl Heuton and Nicolas Falacci, the two creators of the show.
Judd Hirsch's character, Alan Eppes, is revealed to have a history of protesting the Vietnam war, for which the FBI have a case file on him. Hirsch's character in Running on Empty (1988) had a similar history: in that film, his character Arthur Pope and his wife Annie, who also have two sons, are fugitives wanted by the FBI for a Vietnam War protest bombing. That film was based on the 1970 bombing of Sterling hall at the University of Wisconsin; is this episode, the character Matt Stirling is a suspected bomber and fugitive.
[This appears on the beginning of the episode] 5,000,000 Vietnamese killed, 58,226 US troops KIA, 3,000 bombings, 0 arrests