When Emma has one of Sutton's recurring nightmares about drowning, she asks for Ethan's help to interpret it and decode the mystery of the picture. (She claims it's not because of his Shaman-like Native American powers. Uh huh.) During their overlook meet-out, she gets so frustrated that she throws the picture into a very convenient campfire, which unlocks the secret of the dream -- she wasn't drowning, she was trapped in a fire. More on that later...
Amidst all this, Ethan is vindicated of any crimes and saved from grown-up prison when Laurel takes the fall for stealing the laptop and planting it on Ethan as a solid for "Sutton" delivering Justin to her on a silver platter. For his part, Alec Rybak is completely unfazed by Laurel's lie about the laptop, even though he is the only one who knows who really stole it (a.k.a. him). That's not the only thing he keeps Ted in the dark about as Ted gets increasingly anxious that "Sutton" is digging into the past.
Meanwhile, Sutton and Thayer zoom in on the photo of Emma and the mystery biomom and make out a water tower that reads Fillmore, CA. Road trip! Emma fills her in on death-by-fire her revelation and, like, five seconds later, Emma and Thayer find a burned-out house that Emma instantly recognizes. Strongest among Emma's memories is a star mural on the ceiling of her childhood room. Sutton sweeps off the ash-covered fresco, and they learn their mother's name was Annie Hobbs. Sutton gives her the name, and Emma grows suspicious that Ted knows more than he's putting on. She not-so-subtly probes Kristin about the possible circumstances of her birth mother's death, and Kristin unknowingly spills the fire theory to Ted. Seeing that crack secret detective has doodled the name "Annie" all over the same notepad she uses to write down his messages -- come on!), Ted runs like he's got a fire in his pants over to Rybak. And I quote, "If there's dirty work to be done, leave it to me -- just like in high school." Dun dun dun!
In other news, Laurel goes on her first date with Justin before getting cock blocked by lockdown. Char spots them and develops an insta-vendetta. Nisha, who we learn used to be Sutton's best friend, enlists Mads' hottie ballerino boyfriend (named Eduardo, we learn) for private dance lessons to improve her tennis form and immediately cottons on to their completely blatant "secret" relationship. Though Eduardo thinks better of rockin' it with the jail bait, Mads disrobes and attempts to seduce him just in time for Nisha to get photographic evidence. Then she sets about putting a wedge between Char and Sutton. In doing so, she spills about Mads and Eduardo. Since Char is a weak-minded brat, she confronts Mads in the school hallway about the relationship, and Mads lies that she's deeply entangled (bow-chicka-wow-wow) with Eduardo. Mainly, I think it's a set-up to spitefully ask Nisha if she's getting any ass from the freshman on the tennis team. Awesome.
Oh, and at the end, Laurel nearly stumbles upon a three-way (Skype) between Sutton, Emma, and Ethan. Emma begs Sutton to come home, but she refuses. This forces Emma to realize that she is nothing to the Mercers, or anyone in Sutton's life, and that she will most likely be dismissed and told not to let the door hit her on the ass when Sutton returns. She falls into an existential crisis. As luck would have it, Ethan finds all things existential super-sexy. They don't kiss yet, but it is imminent.
Previously: Laptopgate2011. NewGuygate2011. Sutton is growing jealous that her birth mom wanted Emma more. And Alec Rybak lurked in the bushes through it all.
Emma goes out for a late-night job, like all smart, pretty, young girls are wont to do. She sees a car trailing her and tries to escape but is stopped by a locked fence. Out pops the ever-sinister Alec, saying, "Young lady, you've got some explaining to do." Of course he's referring to the state of the art sports facility he erected Sutton's high school and her thoughtless choice to jog in the park instead. It's all jokey jokey, "I'm so funny I bet you forgot to la--BOO!" You know, typical Alec. She lamely lies that she got turned around, which he can't believe because he used to drive her and Mads this very route to gymnastics for years. In any case, he's all, "Why don't you get in my car, little girrrrrrrl?" And she has no choice but to play along. Credits.
Back the Mercers', Alec and Ted have a whispered powwow. Alec has noticed that "Sutton" seems to have adopted a completely different character, but Ted hasn't noticed. Alec brings up Sutton's persistent questions about her birth mom. Ted tells him he's sticking to the story that she's dead. Alec: "What are we gonna tell her when she finds out that isn't true?" Ted says glibly that he's just following Alec's script, so Alec shoots back cutting that it's all to protect Ted, the one who screwed up. They agree they both have a lot to lose. He tells Ted to keep an eye on "Sutton" because it would be disastrous if she were to snoop around L.A. Ted smugly says, "Last time I checked, she's still here in Phoenix. Can't be in two places at once, right?" Wrong-o, T-bird!
Upstairs, Emma is telling an underwhelmed Sutton about Alec's Lurky McLurkerson tendencies. Emma admits maybe she's being paranoid, then starts conspiracy theorizing about the laptop theft. Sutton tells her to move on. They need to figure out how and when Sutton can take her life back -- the sooner the better. Emma greets this news with a glum face. Sutton asks if the photo triggered any memories for Emma, but Emma says she has a terrible memory. Sutton thinks that's weird since hers is practically photographic. Emma grumbles, "Well, you lived a life worth remembering." Sutton, who clearly wants to tell Emma to buck up and stop being a baby, adopts a gentler approach, encouraging Emma that she's the only one who can unlock the key to their next clue.