Jacob Bohm's mother died on 9/11, before he was a year old. Now eleven, he's never spoken a word, preferring to fill books with numbers and patterns and developing a recent alarming habit of climbing cell phone towers. But that's not where this story starts. It starts with a globetrotting kitchen supplies salesman named Simon losing his cell phone at Heathrow Airport. It finds its way into the hands of Martin Bohm -- yes, that would be Jake's dad, played by Kiefer Sutherland, currently working as a baggage handler at JFK and collecting lost cell phones for Jake to take apart. Kiefer's just about to send Simon's phone back to him when he forgets about it to go get his kid down from his roost. On their way back from that errand, the Bohms run afoul of a guy named Randall Mead buying a lottery ticket at a gas station when Jake snakes the ticket and copies the numbers in his book. After that ugly scene, which firmly establishes Kiefer's non-Bauer bonafides, Kiefer is at his wit's end; Jake seems totally unaware of his father's existence, and now there's a social worker named Claire who wants to take him in for evaluation, which may end with Jake being institutionalized.
Meanwhile, Simon's phone has found its way to Dublin and into the hands of a call center drone who uses it to film what he thinks will be a star-making performance by his coworker Kayla before sticking the phone into the suitcase of a Japanese businessman for some reason rather than just posting the video on YouTube like a normal person. Oh, and there's this teenager in Baghdad who wants to be Chris Rock, but the breakdown of his family's oven means certain ruin for the family bakery unless he can get a new one. So why not steal one from a restaurant where terrorists hang out? It beats earning the money by becoming a suicide bomber.
Back in New York, Kiefer is stunned when every cell phone in Jake's collection rings with the same number -- the lottery numbers from Randall's ticket, which just happen to make him the big jackpot winner. Between that and the recurring 318 motif Jake seems particularly obsessed with, Kiefer starts to figure out that maybe Jake is trying to tell him something.
Simon is still desperately trying to find his phone for the photos he had on it, even as it and he circle the globe separately. As for the phone, it finds its way into the hands of a Japanese escort who decides to hand it off to another client who's leaving for Kuwait, but not before she gives the data on it to the Jumbotron programmer at Shibuya Crossing, who apparently doesn't have anything better to put up than random crap saved on a lost phone that's been traveling around by itself like a digital Flat Stanley.
Kiefer pays a visit to Danny Glover, playing a character named Teller who, despite seeming rather disreputable, appears to be an expert on special people like Jake who can see the universe's connections and patterns (or maybe "despite" is the wrong word). At the clinic, Jake brings Claire into his loop of mysterious numerical communication by spelling out her mom's old phone number and then making it ring on Claire's cell phone. She and Kiefer meet again and figure out that something's supposed to happen that day, March 18, at 3:18, at Grand Central Station, but all that happens is that Kiefer gets in a fight with Randall again and they both wind up getting arrested. Nice payoff.
But we're not done yet, because as a result of Kiefer causing Randall to miss his train, Randall is in a position to save a busload of kids later that night. Kiefer finds this out on the news almost at the same time he learns that Randall tried and failed to save Jake's mom on 9/11. And we're still just getting started. While trying to steal that oven, our young comedian wannabe is busted and drafted into perpetrating a suicide bombing. And Simon's still looking for his phone, which he reveals contain the last photos of his daughter, now dead exactly one year. Fortunately the customer service agent he reaches is none other than Kayla, the Irish karaoke singer, who takes pity on him and dials Simon's phone despite it being out of bounds. How out of bounds is it? It's freaking wired to the bomb on the unwilling suicide bomber's chest, is where the hell it is. And the kid ANSWERS IT. Kayla talks him down by promising him an oven, which of course she can get from none other than kitchen supplies salesman Simon. Who at that moment is at Shibuya Crossing, seeing the last photos of his daughter fifty feet high, and is thus healed.
Is that everything? I don't even care any more. In the middle of the night, Jake climbs his cell phone tower one more time, and Jake and Claire follow him up there -- Jake conquering his fear of heights to do so. Jake rewards Kiefer with his first hug -- and a new assignment, in the form of a new phone number. Something tells me Kiefer's soon going to miss the days when his son didn't communicate at all.
A young boy's voice talks about the recurring ratio of 1:1.618, which leads into a soliloquy about patterns that only some of us can see. (Although images on the screen of things like nautilus shells and pineapples help clear it up.) Then he says that 7,080,360,000 people live on this planet. "This is the story of some of them." Okay, thanks for narrowing that down. The boy continues to talk about the ancient Chinese myth of the Red Thread of Fate, which unbreakably connects the ankles of those whose lives touch each other. Sounds tangly. And this boy seems to think it's his job to keep track of all of them. While this is going on, there are shots of people who are presumably guest stars of the week (and Danny Glover), with threads stretched across the screen seemingly at random. One of these, a tall dude in a suit, gets up from a seat at a departure gate, dropping a sticker-bedecked cell phone on the floor and walking obliviously away. The kid goes on, talking about making connections for people who need to find each other. The kid himself is filling a book with tight, spiraling number as his voice tells us he was born on October 26, 2000. "I've been alive for eleven years, four months, twenty-one days, and fourteen hours. And in all that time, I've never said a single word." OMG, what are we hearing then? This show is already so freaky!
After the title sequence (time-lapse film, patterns, your basic poor man's Tree of Life stuff), we're at baggage claim at JFK. Kiefer Sutherland -- in a baggage handler's uniform and day-glo vest -- receives a box of lost cell phones from another worker, explaining that his son likes to take them apart. Yes, Kiefer is playing a character named Martin Bohm, but after referring to the actor as simply Kiefer for 5.29 seasons and a TV movie of 24, I'm not about to stop now for this overcooked mess. While he's walking off, one of the phones in the box rings. It's the stickered one, and when Kiefer answers it, the British guy who dropped it in the opening -- I'll just say right now his name is Simon -- very much wants it back. Seems he dropped it at Heathrow two days ago and now he's in Mumbai and it's been traveling around the world without him ever since. He and Kiefer throw a little attitude at each other, but eventually Kiefer agrees to send Simon his phone back. Apparently the phone has a picture of Simon's daughter in it, whose birthday is tomorrow. Cheap-ass present, dude. While Kiefer gropes for a pen, his own phone rings. He puts down Simon's phone down on a suitcase on a luggage belt to answer, and quickly forgets all about him as a result of some urgent news regarding his son. He promises to be right there, and hangs up with a reminder that nobody is allowed to touch his son. Meanwhile, Simon's phone takes a ride on a suitcase back into the bowels of the airport. Enjoy Mumbai, Simon.