A security guard wearing the uniform of Pete Davis, working at the Virginia Central Penitentiary, goes off shift and waves to two of the incoming guards. As he drives off, the two new guards discover that someone has killed everyone in the security center. As they sound the alarms, prisoner Joe Carroll, dressed as David, drives off down the hallway, smiling.
In Brooklyn, retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy wakes up when his phone rings. He ignores the calls and turns on the news, which is running stories about the escape of convicted serial killer Joe Carroll. Ryan’s phone rings again and he finally takes the call. It’s Director Franklin at the FBI, who wants Ryan to go to Virginia to work as a consultant on Carroll’s escape. Franklin admits that things didn't go well and Ryan left the Bureau as a result, but wants Ryan on the case because he was the one who captured Carroll. Ryan hangs up, packs his bags, and tosses in a water bottle filled with vodka.
In Norfolk, VA, Detective Warren and a squad of police officers go to the home of pre-med student Sarah Fuller. Warren tells Sarah that Carroll has escaped.
Sarah, Carroll’s last victim, testifies against him in court. She tells the jury that Carroll stabbed her in the stomach with a knife. When she couldn’t pull it out, she pushed it in deeper to kill herself and stop the pain.
As Warren places his men on guard, Sarah’s neighbor Will Wilson comes over. She has them let Will in and he assures her that everyone, including his boyfriend Billy Thomas, are there for her.
Ryan arrives at the penitentiary and FBI agents Jennifer Mason and Troy Reilly meet him. As they brief him on their search for Carroll, Troy tells Ryan to let them do the talking because of Ryan’s reputation. Ryan asks how Sarah is doing and they assure him that she’s under 24-hour watch. Ryan wants to talk to her and Jennifer says that they may set it up later.
In the security center, Deputy Marshal Scott Turner is reviewing the footage. When he see Ryan, he points out that he was there when Ryan brought the captured Carroll in. Turner isn’t happy to see Ryan there and tells them that he’s their problem. Jennifer takes Ryan to Carroll’s cell and he looks through the killer’s collection of Romantic era books. There is also a poster of a lighthouse on the wall and a copy of another book, The Poetry of a Killer
. The book has Ryan listed as the author, and he finds a note inside from Carroll saying that he enjoyed Ryan’s book. Jennifer sees the note and says that she’s read Ryan’s file, but he warns her that she doesn’t know a thing about him. As Jennifer leaves, Ryan asks if anyone has contacted Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire Matthews. Jennifer tells him that she’s in FBI custody.
In Richmond, Claire watches the news crews gather outside her house. Detective Garcia with the local police tries to talk to her about Carroll, but Claire insists that she will only talk to Ryan.
Claire and Carroll are in their bedroom and playfully wrestling. She finally tells her husband that she’s pregnant and they kiss.
Claire’s son Joey asks his mother why he can’t watch TV. The nanny, Denise, tells Claire that she didn’t know what to tell the boy, and Joey realizes that something is wrong with his father.
The FBI set up a command center in nearby Waverly, and a woman comes in and asks to talk to someone about Carroll. The clerk gives her a form and tells her to take a seat. Meanwhile, Ryan, Troy, and Jennifer arrive and meet with a cyber-expert, Agent Mike Weston. Mike is going over Carroll’s history and Ryan mutters that his analysis isn’t correct. When Mike hears him, he invites Ryan to speak up, bringing up Ryan’s photo and a picture of his book. Ryan steps forward and warns the gathered agents that Carroll was obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and believed that art had to be felt. Ryan believes that Carroll was aroused by the bloodletting, but Ryan says that it’s more complicated than that. He explains how Carroll believed that he was creating art, and cut the eyes out of his victims because Poe had a fascination with eyes.
Mike ends the briefing and then thanks Ryan for his input, and says that he wrote his college thesis based on Ryan’s book. Ryan walks away, unimpressed, and Mike tells Troy that Ryan was a hero for capturing Carroll. When Troy points out that Ryan retired, Mike tells him that he had to because Carroll stabbed Ryan in the chest during their final encounter. As a result, Ryan has a pacemaker and can’t work in the field.
As Ryan goes out front, he notices the nervous woman from earlier. Jennifer explains that the woman was one of 112 “groupies” that visited Carroll in prison. Mike comes over and points out that Carroll only left his cell once a week when he was transported under heavy guard to a law library to prepare his legal appeals. Ryan realizes that Carroll had access to the Internet and knew enough about computer security to bypass any restrictions that were applied to his computer.
As Jennifer and Troy leave for the library to check out Ryan’s suspicions, the woman from earlier walks to the center of the room, takes a knife out of her purse, and removes her dress. Every square inch of her body is covered in writing. She ignores Troy’s order to drop the knife and Ryan tells her to focus on her, assuring her that everything will be okay. The woman mumbles a few lines of poetry and then drives the knife into her right eye, instantly killing herself.
As the FBI secures the crime scene, Mike confirms that some of the writing was in areas that the woman couldn’t have reached on her own, meaning that she had help. Ryan takes a sip from his “water” bottle and Mike catches a whiff of the alcohol. As they examine the body, Ryan realizes that the phrases are all lines from the poems of Edgar Allen Poe. Further, the last words the woman said were Poe’s famous last words. As Jennifer comes over, Mike offers Ryan a mint to conceal the alcohol on his breath. She tells them that the woman had multiple fake identities and had visited Carroll repeatedly in prison. The last text message on her cell phone reads, “Do it now” and Mike figures that Carroll convinced the unbalanced woman to kill herself to send a message to Ryan.
Sarah calls and manages to reach Ryan, who talks to her privately. He promises that the FBI will find Carroll and keep her safe. As Ryan hangs up, Jennifer tells him that Claire will only talk to him. When she wonders why, Ryan claims that he doesn’t know.
Willy and Billy move into Sarah’s kitchen to make food for her and the police. As they cook, Sarah watches a newscast about how Carroll was popular with his female students.
Carroll is in the classroom giving a lecture about Poe. As he talks about how the writer equated death with penalty, Sarah speaks up to agree with him. Carroll smiles at her, praising her insight into Poe.
Mike tries to check Carroll’s Internet history but discovers that the killer has left a virus to cover his tracks. They check the duty roster and discover that one guard, Jordy Raines, typically took Carroll to the law library. He wasn’t at the prison the previous night because he called in sick, and they figure that Jordy is working with Carroll. Ryan and Mike have Turner take a team there to the guard’s house and break in. They find video footage on Jordy’s computer showing him playing with a pet dog. Meanwhile, Ryan looks around and finds missing dog posters stuck to the refrigerator. When Turner finds a workroom, they go in and discover that Jordy has been practicing murder by killing and torturing dogs while removing their eyes.
As the FBI searches the house, Ryan finds a copy of Carroll’s book, signed to Jordy and telling him that he’s capable of greatness. They figure that Carroll seduced Jordy, who now plans to emulate his mentor. When they wonder how Ryan captured Carroll, he explains that he only suspected him at first but had no evidence, so he started secretly following him. Ryan admits that Carroll had the ability to inspire people. Jennifer arrives and tells Ryan that they’re going to go see Claire.
Sarah and her neighbors are watching a news report about the woman’s suicide and Billy turns the TV off. Claire says that she’s going to get some sleep and the two men assure her that they’ll be there for her. As Sarah undresses in front of the mirror, she sees the scars on her shoulder and stomach.
Sarah and her friend Annie return to their sorority after a night of clubbing. Annie goes to take a shower while Sarah goes to her bedroom. She hears something fall in the bathroom and then the water shut off. When Sarah goes to investigate, a mortally wounded Annie staggers down the hallway and collapses, and Carroll steps out behind her.
Warren barges into the bedroom and, realizing that Sarah is undressing, covers his eyes. He then ells her that he’s stationed two officers outside if she needs them.
When Ryan arrives at the Mathews house, Joey enthusiastically greets him. Claire comes in and sees Ryan there.
Ryan visits Claire after she gets done teaching classes. He tells her that all of the victims were women who had their eyes cut out, and Claire points out the connection to Poe. She suggests that Ryan talk to her husband, Carroll, and Ryan admits that he’s surprised that she’s married. Claire asks if he’s flirting with her and Ryan hastily tells her that he isn’t.
Jennifer tries to stop Ryan and Claire from talking alone but Claire insists. They go into the next room and make small talk, and Claire realizes that Ryan is drinking again. He refuses to discuss it and asks her if she’s received a letter from Carroll. Claire gives Ryan the letter and he reads it, and she’s surprised that Carroll knows about them. Ryan assures her that Carroll is just guessing. He explains how Carroll apprenticed Jordy as a serial killer and Claire points out that her ex-husband was always a good teacher.
Ryan wonders how he can capture Carroll again and then apologizes to Claire for not calling. She says that she understands how he couldn’t once the FBI found out the two of them were in a sexual relationship. However, Ryan tells her that he didn't call her because he figures that she deserves more than a man connected to her husband. Rather than pursue the matter, Claire asks about Sarah and Ryan tells her that he’s under guard. She suggests that Carroll would consider Sarah his last unfinished work and reminds Ryan that Carroll’s novel was a homage to Poe’s last unfinished work, The Lighthouse
. Realizing what Carroll intends, Ryan heads for the SUV. Jennifer goes after him, asking what he talked about with Claire, and he tells her that it’s none of her business. As they get in the car, Ryan tells the others that they have to get to Sarah because Carroll will go after her next.
That night, Ryan, Mike, and Jennifer check in at Sarah's place. Warren tells them that Sarah went to bed an hour ago and they go upstairs to check on her. They discover that one of the two officers on guard is dead, his throat slit. Ryan follows the blood trail to a closet and discovers that somebody cut a hole through the wall into the next apartment: Billy and Will's. When they go through, they follow the blood trail down to the basement and find the second police officer, also dead. The person who abducted Sarah has written the word "Nevermore" repeatedly on the wall using the dead officer's blood.
As the FBI moves in, Turner informs the others that Billy and Will left 40 minutes ago. Since they weren't suspects, no one searched their vehicle. Ryan figures that Carroll placed the two men there to watch over Sarah until he was ready to initiate his plan. He suggests that the two men weren't gay and Turned doesn't believe that two men would pretend to be just to get close to a woman so they could abduct her. However, Ryan warns them that Carroll is highly charismatic and has created a cult of people that will obey his every word. When he loses his temper and tells the team to try and track Sarah, Ryan finally loses it and storms off on his own.
As Ryan scouts the campus looking for the killer, he runs into Sarah and Annie as they go into the sorority house. Once they're inside, Ryan senses that something is wrong and goes in after them. He hears Sarah scream and finds her on the floor, a knife on her stomach. She tries to warn Ryan as Carroll attacks Ryan from behind, knocking him into a cabinet. The killer pulls the knife out of Sarah and stabs Ryan in the heart, and then goes back to finish off Sarah. As Carroll starts to stab her, Ryan manages to shoot him before he can succeed.
Ryan goes back inside and checks with Mike, who informs him that both men were on Carroll's visiting list. He's checking background but all he has so far is that they owned property in Lake Whitehurst. Among their belongings is a photo of the two of them together and Ryan notices that they're standing in front of The Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast. Once he confirms that the B&B is at Lake Whitehurst, Ryan slips outside and drives away.
When Ryan arrives at Lake Whitehurst, he goes to the B&B, which is scheduled for demolition. He gets inside and hears someone moving around, but remembers that as an ex-agent he isn't carrying a gun. Ryan calls out to Carroll, telling him that he's alone, and Sarah screams from somewhere in the B&B. Ryan follows the sound but Carroll attacks him from behind, knocking him down. The killer continues kicking Ryan, watching as he clutches at his chest as his pacemaker tries to keep up with the street. Carroll finally tells Ryan that he cut out Sarah's eyes and demonstrates how he used a tape recording to lure Ryan in. He then goes to the wall and releases a rope, and Sarah's corpse drops from the ceiling.
Furious, Ryan charges at Carroll and gets him in a hold. Carroll tries to surrender just as the rest of the FBI team arrive. Ryan keeps strangling Carroll and Troy finally manages to pull him away. Smiling, Carroll kneels on the floor and tells the BFI agents that he surrenders.
Come morning, Carroll is taken away while the FBI search the B&B. Jennifer tells Ryan that Carroll will be put back in federal detention. However, Ryan blames himself for not being quick enough to figure where they took Sarah.
At the detention center, Mike tells Ryan that Carroll has at least 47 dedicated website. Jennifer arrives and tells Ryan that Carroll will only talk to Ryan, no one else. Ryan goes in and Carroll explains that Sarah had to die. When he talks about Ryan's book, Ryan asks Carroll what he plans for a sequel. Carroll explains that the two of them will write his next book together, and he has friends in outside world that will help him. As Ryan prepares to leave, Carroll tells him that according to FBI estimates, there are approximately three hundred serial killers active in the U.S. on any given day.
A girl, Linda, is going into her sorority house. Jordy, posing as a security guard, comes up behind her. He suggests that with the recent reports about serial killers, he should come inside and look around.
Carroll offers to be Ryan's friend and reminds him that he knows that Ryan slept with Claire.
Claire watches a news report about Carroll's capture.
Carroll asks Ryan if Claire showed him the letter he sent. Ryan glances nervously up at the security cameras, aware that Jennifer and the others are watching. Carroll continues, telling Ryan that Claire is very important.
Claire says goodnight to her security detail and goes to check on Joey... and discovers that he's gone.
Carroll asks to see Claire, telling Ryan that she's the only woman that he ever loved. Ryan warns him that Claire will never agree but Carroll says that she might change her mind. Meanwhile, he explains that Ryan will be the flawed hero in his new book and he killed Sarah to set Ryan up for his new role. Ryan warns him to prepare for a rewrite if he doesn't die, leans over, and breaks Carroll's fingers.
Carroll realizes that Denise is gone.
Denise, whose real name is Emma, drives a sleeping Joey to a parking lot. She meets Billy and Will, really Jacob and Paul, gets in their car, and they drive off with Joey.
The guards run in and pull Ryan away, and Carroll tells his adversary to call Claire.