The next morning is a Saturday, and Quentin comes downstairs to find his parents sitting in the dining room with Margo’s parents and a man he doesn’t recognize, who introduces himself as Detective Otis Warren. Margo’s parents tell Quentin that Margo has run away again; Detective Warren claims this is the fifth time that the Spiegelmans have reported her missing. Margo’s mother announces that she and her husband are changing the locks to their house and washing their hands of Margo. Quentin’s mother tries to calm Mrs. Spiegelman down, saying that Margo will need her parents’ love when she comes home, but Mrs. Spiegelman insists that they have allowed Margo to control them for too long.
The gathering of tense adults in his dining room introduces the possibility that Margo is not simply a girl who has gone on an adventure — which is the way Quentin has been thinking of her — but rather a girl who has run away from home. That change emphasizes the basic unhappiness at the center of Margo’s life, and connects her to a network of real, complex relationships that Quentin has never thought about. The seriously unhappy Margo itching to escape dysfunctional parents is a much less enticing and mysterious version of the girl Quentin knew.
Detective Warren mentions that Margo tends to leave clues before she runs away. Margo’s father lists some of the clues she has left them in the past — alphabet soup with only the letters M, I, S and P when she ran away to Mississippi, and Minnie Mouse ears when she spent the night at Disney World — and he insists that they never lead anywhere useful. He mentions that Margo was disappointed when nobody solved her clue about Mississippi, and remarks that there was no way they could have found her with so little information, since Mississippi is “a big state.” Margo’s mother tells the Jacobsens that Margo was “a sickness in this family”
Margo has always left clues as messages to her family, but her parents have always refused to do the work of deciphering the messages, giving up instantly rather than working to see her logic and follow the clues to their end. Margo is unable or unwilling to communicate with her parents in a language they find acceptable, and her parents refuse to indulge her when she attempts to speak to them in unconventional ways. The result is that Margo and her parents cannot talk to one another at all.
Detective Warren pulls Quentin aside, where the others cannot hear them. He tells Quentin that he does not approve of the Spiegelmans’ parenting, or care whether they are reunited with Margo, but that he does want to know whatever information Quentin has about her. He asks whether Margo had a partner who helped plan her various schemes, implying that Quentin might be that partner. Quentin swears he does not know what has happened to Margo, but he trusts Detective Warren enough to tell him about his adventure with Margo two nights earlier.
Detective Warren believes that Quentin and Margo may have had a special relationship, and though Quentin’s conduct over the past few days suggests that he also believes this to some extent — at least, he believes their experience together made them real friends with real understanding of each other — his total inability to guess what Margo may have planned for herself highlights all the ways in which he still doesn’t know her.
Detective Warren describes Margo as a tied-down balloon that has been straining against her strings and now has finally broken them and begun to float away. He tells Quentin that his desk is littered with the files of missing people, and says that the only thing worse than worrying about all those people is having only one, specific person to worry about — in other words, that it will be harder emotionally for Quentin to think about Margo than for Detective Warren to think about dozens of missing people at once. He tells Quentin that “once that string gets cut … you can’t uncut it.” Quentin is not sure he understands the detective’s advice, but he feels confident that Margo will return to Jefferson Park soon, just as she always has in the past.
Detective Warren’s balloon metaphor makes an important claim about Margo’s reasons for leaving. Balloons have the energy to travel, but cannot control what happens to them or where they go. Warren considers Margo’s decision to run away to be an expression of her unhappiness and of her desire for freedom, sources of courage and energy that made it possible for her to take the risk of leaving home, but does not believe — as Quentin does — that she has total control of the situation. His comment about uncut string seems to be an attempt to warn Quentin that there is nothing he can do to bring Margo home — she will have to return on her own, when the moment is right.
Quentin and Detective Warren return downstairs, and Detective Warren leaves with Margo’s parents to look through Margo’s room. Quentin talks with his parents about the Spiegelmans. All three of them agree that the Spiegelmans have not been good parents to Margo, and Quentin suggests that Margo might live with them after she returns home, until she graduates high school and begins college. Mrs. Jacobsen tells him that Margo would be welcome, and that they will be happy to help her however they can when she returns.
Though their failure to recognize Quentin’s shocked and altered state the morning after his escapade with Margo made the Jacobsens seem a bit distant and self-involved, they reveal themselves in this exchange to be compassionate and invested in helping others. Occasional cluelessness is not a sign of bad intentions, but a natural part of being human.
Ben, who has been sleeping upstairs since the night before, emerges from Quentin’s room. Quentin tells Ben about the visit from Detective Warren and the Spiegelmans, and Ben suggests they discuss the issue further over a game of “Resurrection.” Radar arrives and he and Ben play the video game while Quentin speculates aloud about Margo’s plans.
Though Ben and Radar are curious about Margo, neither one of them shows the same passionate interest as Quentin. They would rather talk about the mystery while playing video games than immerse themselves in a serious conversation, and they are not invested in Margo personally.
Glancing out the window, Quentin notices that someone has pulled down the shade in Margo’s room, which her parents raised shortly after she left. He sees a poster hanging on the back of the shade that hasn’t been there before. The poster is a photograph of a man holding a guitar, which is painted with the words: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Radar searches for the phrase on Omnictionary and tells Quentin that the man is Woody Guthrie, a folk singer from the early twentieth century. He suggests that Margo may have left the poster for Quentin to find. Quentin says that he thinks, by the look of the photograph, that Guthrie wants them to come into Margo’s room.
The slogan painted on Woody Guthrie’s guitar is a comment about the power of art to create radical change. Music, the slogan implies, can inspire common people and empower them to resist oppression. Though fascism, a system of government characterized by intensely oppressive and often violent dictatorships, is not a major political force in the world Quentin and Margo inhabit, her evocation of that suffocating government reflects Margo’s feelings of being stifled in conformist Orlando.