Detective Ray Velcoro drops his son Chad off at school. "Head up. Strong," Ray reminds the awkward boy, who is a target for bullies. Later, Ray meets with a lawyer to discuss expanding visitation with his son. The roadblock is the question of Chad's paternity; Ray's ex-wife Gena was raped nine months before Chad's birth. Ray says the rapist was never found. He dismisses the idea of a paternity test and tosses over a pile of cash. "I just need you to come up with something," he says. The attorney asks if there's anything she should be aware of about Ray's past, specifically referencing his eight years working with the L.A. Sheriff's Department before joining the City of Vinci's police force. "No," he answers, "I welcome judgment."
Years earlier, a clean-cut Ray meets gangster Frank Semyon, who offers the identity of Gena's rapist. Frank requests nothing in exchange. "Maybe we'll talk sometime," he says, "maybe not."
A black Cadillac with a raven's head in the passenger seat navigates the highway.
"You don't want to look hungry. Never do anything out of hunger." – Frank Semyon
Frank nervously prepares for a big day with wife Jordan by his side. The couple arrive at his office at the Vinci Gardens Casino. Frank's right-hand man Blake Churchman confirms that Osip, a key investor in Frank's imminent deal, is scheduled to arrive on time. Blake hands over a copy of the Los Angeles Times, opened to the first article of an eight-part series: "City of Vice: Is Vinci the Most Corrupt District in L.A. County?" Frank orders Blake to put Ray Velcoro on the reporter. Jordan shares Frank's concern: "Everybody gets touched," she tells Blake.
At Vinci City Hall, Chief Holloway and Lt. Kevin Burris review the newspaper story with Ray. Holloway conveys that Vinci's mayor, Austin Chessani, is panicked and that city manager Ben Caspere has disappeared. Ray is assigned to investigate the missing person case with Teague Dixon.
Dixon and Velcoro visit Caspere's office and speak to his secretary, Erica, who gives them a list of properties. The pair find Caspere's home -- filled with erotic art and items -- has been torn apart. Ray deduces that Caspere was kidnapped, a fact he assumes his bosses already know.
"The highway… It suits me. I am no good on the sidelines." – Paul Woodrugh
California Highway Patrol officer Paul Woodrugh pulls over Lacey Lindel, an actress he suspects is driving under the influence. Later, Commander Floyd Heschmeyer informs Paul that the encounter has placed him on administrative leave -- Lindel alleged that Paul solicited a blowjob -- and now the tabloids are looking into Paul's past work with Black Mountain.
In the backseat of the black Cadillac, a man wearing sunglasses slumps against the window.
"You're angry at the entire world, men in particular…" – Eliot Bezzerides
Sheriff's Detective Ani Bezzerides rushes Steve Mercer out of her apartment after a surprise in the bedroom. She avoids his attempt to have a conversation about their future as a couple.
Ani and her partner, Elvis Ilinca, lead a raid into a house of women performing sex acts that are streamed online. Ani finds her sister, Athena, among the workers. Ani confronts Athena, who defends herself. "I'm a performer," Athena says.
Elvis and Ani deliver a foreclosure notice to a Danielle Delvayo, who is disgusted the police don't have better things to do. "Why don't y'all find my sister?" she spits. Vera Delvayo has been missing for a month, Danielle reveals, and the city police have done nothing to investigate. Ani's ears perk up when she learns Vera last worked at a religious institute. "Panticapaeum?" she guesses correctly.
Ani and Elvis visit the institution. Vera's former coworkers disclose that the woman mentioned a new job on the club circuit. Ani questions a teacher -- her father, Eliot. Ani mentions her sister's "web performances" and is outraged at her dad's lack of concern. "I'm not comfortable imposing my will on anyone," Eliot maintains, and Ani brings up her mother's suicide. Eliot retorts that Ani is creating her own problems.
Later, Ani changes at the station, strapping on multiple knives under her clothes.
"This goes beyond us. A legitimate legacy." – Frank Semyon
A swanky party takes place in the Vinci Gardens Casino ballroom. Frank and Jordan welcome Mayor Austin Chessani and his young wife, Veronica; Frank assures them that the LA Times story won't be a problem. Osip arrives and greets Frank as an old friend. He introduces the Semyons to Michael Bugulari, his attorney.
Blake breaks the news to Frank that Caspere is missing -- Frank is forced to pitch the group in his absence. The proposition involves a $68 billion high-speed rail project set to start construction next year. Adjacent tracts have been purchased in anticipation of hundreds of millions in federal grants for commercial development, with overages guaranteed.
Later, Frank's inner circle pitches directly to Osip, who has cold feet in Caspere's absence. A similar business model is already functioning, Blake explains, as Vinci is pulling money from the subway system. The rail corridor's money will be filtered through their holding companies set up by the Catalast Group. Despite Frank's best efforts, Osip remains noncommittal.
"I used to want to be an astronaut. But astronauts don't even go to the moon anymore." – Ray Velcoro
Ray tracks down Dan Howser, the newspaper reporter responsible for the series on Vinci, and beats the man senseless. Afterward, he heads to Chad's school to surprise his son with a gift. The boy's stepdad, Richard, notices that Ray has been drinking and has blood on his sleeve. Ray is upset upon realizing Chad's new shoes are missing; Richard reveals that the shoes were stolen and destroyed. Ray presses Chad for the name of the bully, verbally threatening and berating his son until he names Aspen Conroy.
Using police resources, Ray tracks down the Conroy's address, where he goes under the pretext of investigating stolen property. He attacks Aspen's father in front of the boy.
Ray meets with Frank at the Black Rose bar, where he drops off the journalist's files and promises that the story is dead. A waitress with a scar across her face, Felicia, tends closely to Ray. Frank suggests that Ray find some female companionship and reveals that he and Jordan are attempting in vitro fertilization. Ray dedicates himself to a bender and Frank leaves.
"They found Ben Caspere." – Kevin Burris
Paul comes home to his girlfriend, Emily. When he sees that she's waiting to seduce him, he pretends to shower while he waits for a Viagra to kick in. Post-coital, Emily traces a scar down Paul's left shoulder. He reveals the wound was not, as Emily assumes, from his time in the army. He opts not to spend the night, claiming he has to work.
Navigating his motorcycle down the California highway, Paul tempts fate by killing the headlights. When he flicks them back on, Paul sees the dead body of Ben Caspere. His body was driven in the Cadillac and placed on a portion of the highway sponsored by the Catalast Group.
Paul calls in the crime scene and Ani, Elvis and Ray are summoned. The group scopes one another as the coroner reveals Caspere suffered a severe pelvic wound and his eyes were burned out with acid.