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Remember when you took the thingy, with the glowing thingy, and you used it to kill the guy who was on the shiny stuff, and also there was all this magic?


Winter season premiere. From TNT: When homeless veterans in the Boston area begin disappearing, the team must go back to college and infiltrate the world of secret societies.

The Client[]

A group of homeless vets who have disappeared from Boston shelters. The team is approached by Rachel Schaevel, the daughter of one of the vets, David, who turned up dead in a river near a local college after having been involved in a sleep study on campus. The police, after a cursory investigation, ruled he died of a heart attack, but his daughter believed there was foul play.

The Mark[]

Travis Zilgram, a wealthy undergraduate student in psychology and the president of "The 206", a secret society on the campus. Zilgram is conducting sleep deprivation research as part of his senior honors project.

The Con[]

Sophie and Eliot pose as a true crime novelist and associate in order to befriend Detective Grayson a sympathetic Boston PD Detective. Nate poses as a professor in Zilgram's game theory class and has Zilgram participate in his demonstration of the Prisoner's Dilemna, telling him that it is always better to rat out your partner. Hardison, posing as a cooler version of himself, gains Travis Zilgram's attention by showing up Nate in the game theory class. This allows him to infiltrate the secret society of "dustmen" that are protecting Zilgram. Parker poses as an undergraduate research assistant in order to steal access to the sleep study and gain a roster of participants. The roster shows all the participants are from a homeless shelter so Eliot poses as a homeless vet in order to get recruited for the study.

Eliot discovers the sleep study is a cover for illegal "research" on how to break people and cause PTSD. Eliot tries to help his fellow participants and outwits his CIA interrogator. However, in doing so he blows his cover and gets Hardison's cover blown as well. Hardison is captured by Zilgram so Eliot tortures his interrogator to find Hardison's location while Parker retrieves him. Sophie and Detective Grayson pretend to arrest Zilgram while Eliot and the homeless vets convert the psych building into a fake police station. Nate brings Mr. Conrad, the CIA man and fellow dustman, who is protecting Zilgram from prosecution, and has him watch the fake interrogation. Sophie and Detective Grayson push Zilgram to betray Mr. Conrad and so he removes his protection. After leaving Zilgram to stew in the fake interrogation room, he eventually "breaks out" and discovers it was all a setup. However, without Mr. Conrad's protection he is immediately arrested and convicted in David Schaevel's death.

Guest Cast[]

  • Travis Zilgram (Jonathan Keltz):
  • Mr. Conrad (Andy McCone):
  • The CIA Interrogator (Stoney Westmoreland):
  • Mac (Ebbie Roe Smith):
  • Detective Grayson (Val Landrum):

Episode Notes[]

  • This episode was filmed in part on the campus of Reed College, whose alumni include Steve Jobs. Coincidentally, much of the action was filmed in and around Eliot Hall, an actual building on the campus. The opening sequence, where the students dispose of the body, was filmed on the campus' Blue Bridge.
  • Game theory is not about games per se, but rather a social psychological model for mathematically predicting human responses to any of a series of human interactions, known as games, in which we engage. One of these games is the Prisoner's Dilemma, commonly used by law enforcement interrogators. In the Prisoner's Dilemma, two suspects are captured and separated from one another. In a classic application, the police know if neither talk, they'll do a short sentence on a lesser charge at best. To assure a better outcome for the police, each is offered two options: remain silent and let your confederate talk (confederate goes free, prisoner serves full sentence); talk and go free while the confederate serves the full sentence. Only the police know that if both talk, both may do a lesser sentence. The game is framed so as to appear that the best outcome is for each to betray the other, yet cooperation yields a good result as well.
  • At the end of the episode, Sophie and Det. Grayson apply the prisoner's dilemma, along with some of his own research methods, when interrogating Travis. At the same time, Nate encourages Mr. Conrad to withdraw his protection from Travis, which leads Travis to turn over evidence of his CIA connections, and Conrad to ask whether it's worth "attracting my attention."
  • Secret societies are an institution at a number of major American colleges and universities, particularly on the east coast. The episode's society most closely resembles Skull and Bones at Yale University, arguably the best known of these societies. Their logo is a skull and crossed bones with the number 322, the meaning of which is lost in time. Membership is restricted to fifteen seniors, known as Bonesmen, who are invited to join near the end of their junior year. For much of its history, Skull and Bones membership was almost exclusively white, Protestant males; it first admitted women in 1992. Once a highly desirable organization on the Yale campus, the society has lost much of its appeal over the years, despite its association with powerful former members and the belief that the CIA is almost entirely run by Bonesmen, including former CIA director and U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
  • When Zilgram hands Hardison the CIA file some of the demographic details are visible. For example his age being listed as 33 and a birthday far too old to be Hardison's. It is possible that the CIA actually has one of the alias's Hardison developed for himself.
  • As Nate notes in the episode, the nickname Dustmen refers to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, perhaps the darkest of his tragedies. In the play, Titus' daughter, Lavinia is horribly mutilated, and he seeks revenge on the brothers who did so. As he prepares to kill them, his monologue includes the following passage, describing their fate:
You know your mother means to feast with me,
And calls herself Revenge, and thinks me mad:
Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust
And with your blood and it I'll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear
And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
And bid that strumpet, your unhallow'd dam,
Like to the earth swallow her own increase.

Historical Notes and Accuracy[]

This episode takes considerable liberties with current research procedures at universities in the United States, while drawing much of its story from highly controversial research: the Stanford University prison study (Zimbardo, 1971), experiments examining obedience to authority (Milgram, 1963-64), and the Tuskegee syphilis studies of the 1930's. The mark's last name is a portmanteau of Zimbardo and Milgram.

Current research practices require intense scrutiny of all studies involving human participants (the term subject is no longer used in the social sciences.) Researchers must submit detailed research plans including a statement of risk to participants, all tools and materials used, consent forms and other relevant documentation to the university's Institutional Review Board for approval prior to the initiation of any research. Review procedures are stringent, and studies are rarely approved without some modifications. A critical element of the review is assuring participants are not placed at risk, and informed consent

Student research, particularly research by undergraduates, is closely supervised by academic faculty, who oversee every step of a student research project. Undergraduate research assistants have very limited duties, and most research assistants are now graduate students with appropriate training in research methodology and ethical practices.

The historic studies used as the basis for Zilgram's activities were instrumental in leading to the development of contemporary human participant protections. In each case, abuses of human subjects lead to specific procedures now observed by American universities.

  • Beginning in the 1932 and over the next 40 years, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute studied untreated syphilis in 600 poor rural black men Tuskegee, AL. Roughly 2/3 of the participants had syphilis when they entered the study and the remaining third served as a control group. Although penicillin was an available treatment from 1947 onward, the USPHS left the men untreated, and failed to inform them they had syphilis. Instead, they were given free meals, palliative medical treatment and burial insurance. This study lead directly to the requirement that all participants give informed consent before participating in any study, and the founding of Institutional Review Boards at all universities.
  • In a series of experiments begun in 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram studied the degree to which participants were willing to obey an authority figure who asked them to perform acts that were against their personal conscience. Milgram was interested in exploring whether events such as the Holocaust were really the result of shared morality, or largely due to compliance of subordinates to the orders of their superiors. In Milgram's study, the participant was given the role of "teacher", and a confederate the role of "student". The "teacher" was to teach pairs of words, then test the "student"'s knowledge, administering increasingly strong electric shocks for each incorrect response. Most "teachers" showed some level of distress regarding the punishment inflicted, but were subjected to increasingly forceful prompting to continue if they attempted to stop or to check on the "student." Unknown to the "teacher", the "student" was actually a member of the research team, and was not subjected to shock, but rather pretended to be. The psychologically abusive nature of the studies broadened the scope of institutional review board consideration of risk to include not only medical but psychological risk, and lead to ethical standards requiring participants be fully briefed about the nature of the study before giving consent.
  • In August, 1971, the U.S. Office of Naval Research funded what was to be a two-week experiment by Stanford University professor of psychology Robert Zimbardo designed to examine the interactions between prison guards and prisoners, particularly the origins of conflict between them. The basement of Stanford's psychology building was converted to a mock prison, with 12 students randomly selected to play "guards" and another 12 randomly selected to play "prisoners". The prison was supervised by an undergraduate research assistant who played the role of warden. Zimbardo, who cast himself in the role of prison superintendent, anticipated the student guards would exhibit some authoritarian behavior appropriate to their assumed role, and prisoners would display some passivity, but found the "guards" willing to both subject "prisoners" to torture for perceived misbehavior and willing to retaliate against "prisoners" who attempted to stop them. Ultimately, Zimbardo lost objectivity and became complicit in the torture by failing to stop it, resulting in the experiment being terminated after six days. Although its findings suggested conditions under which violent tendencies may emerge and become adaptive, the study was deeply flawed. Zimbardo ceased to be a neutral observer, rendering his conclusions biased, and committed multiple violations of the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association, rendering his conclusions almost meaningless. Instead, the study has become a cautionary example often considered during contemporary research design.