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On a deserted road near Tijuana, while Mexican policemen Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez and Manolo Sanchez wait to intercept an incoming plane carrying a cargo of illegal drugs, they see a truck. The suspicious Javier stops it, finds a large cache of drugs in the back and arrests the drivers. Several cars then speed toward them, and General Arturo Salazar exits one to tell Javier that he has done an excellent job, but his own men will take over. As Ohio Supreme Court Judge Robert Wakefield leaves for Washington to accept the position of U.S. Drug Czar, DEA agents Ray Castro and Montel Gordon are finalizing a sting operation in San Diego, California. Ray and Montel are about to complete the bogus drug buy with dealer Eduardo "Eddie" Ruiz, when pandemonium ensues following the unexpected arrival of local police. Ray and Montel chase the escaping Eddie, who is wounded, and corner him in a children's play palace. In the large Wakefield home in Cincinnati, Robert's daughter Caroline freebases cocaine for the first time with her prep school friend Seth Abrahms, while in San Diego, pregnant Helena Ayala lunches with her friends at the country club. Now in Washington, Robert meets with the Chief of Staff and learns from outgoing drug Czar General Ralph Landry that he will not be able to achieve long-lasting results. Later, Robert attends a cocktail party and listens patiently as Washington insiders offer him advice. In San Diego, Helen's husband Carlos is arrested in front of her and their young son David, while in Mexico, Javier is summoned by Salazar, who tells him that he wants his help in wiping out the Tijuana drug cartel run by the Obregon family. He then shows Javier a picture of ruthless Obregon hitman Francisco Flores, known as "Frankie Flowers," and asks him to bring Frankie to him. After returning to Cincinnati, Robert is annoyed by Caroline's flip comments about his new position, causing friction between himself and his wife Barbara. While a tearful Helena seeks advice from Carl's business partner, Arnie Metzger, in another section of San Diego, Javier makes contact with Frankie in a gay bar, and soon a blindfolded Frankie is driven to Salazar's desert headquarters. At night, in the Wakefield house, Caroline, Seth and several others take drugs and philosophize about life until one of the boys overdoses and goes into convulsions. Seth then drives everyone to an emergency room, where they dump the boy and attempt to flee, but are arrested by the police. At Salazar's headquarters, Javier is disturbed to hear Frankie's screams, while in San Diego, a worried Helena is visited by Arnie, who surreptitiously warns her that the house is bugged. After Caroline is released into her parents' custody, she claims she was only smoking marijuana and barely knew the boy who overdosed, but Robert senses she is lying and later argues with Barbara, who used drugs in college and seems unconcerned about Caroline's experimentation. Some time later, Salazar explains his methods to Javier: first torture, then get the prisoner to love and trust him like a father, after which he will learn everything. Salazar then goes to see a now-broken Frankie and scolds the guard for treating him so badly. In San Diego, Carl is denied bail, while in Cincinnati, Robert asks Assistant District Attorney Dan Collier to drop the charges against Caroline. Collier agrees, but tells Robert that the boy overdosed on heroin and cocaine. In a San Diego hospital, Eddie smugly tells Ray and Montel about the drug pipeline, saying that the war on drugs has been lost, but is afraid to testify against his life-long friend Carl. Frankie, still unnerved by torture, is now dining with Salazar, who cajoles him into revealing the names of the top men in the Obregon cartel. As Javier, Manolo and others arrest the men, telling reporters that credit goes to Salazar, news is broadcast that Porfilio Madrigal, head of the rival Juarez cartel, died during a plastic surgery procedure. A short time later, Javier and Manolo release the terrified Frankie, knowing that he is a marked man. At the border in San Ysidro, California, Robert is frustrated to learn that less than half of the drugs being smuggled into the U.S. are intercepted. When Robert visits El Paso, he is shocked to learn that he has no Mexican counterpart and chagrined that no one on his staff can suggest new strategies. Meanwhile, Caroline and Seth buy drugs in the Cincinnati slums, then get high while having sexin a cheap hotel. In a San Diego park, Helena, who has tearfully told Carl about their dire financial straits, sees a man approach David and is terrified when the man, Tigrillo, threatens the boy, saying that Carl owes $3,000,000 to the Obregons. Across the border, Javier is visited by Ana, Manolo's wife, who tells Javier that she is worried about Manolo. Javier then warns Manolo, who wants to make more money, to be careful of Salazar. Later, Javier is approached by an American who says that he has heard he is not happy with his work. In Arnie's San Diego office, Helena desperately tells him about the $3 million demanded by the Obregons and her fear of being alone, but he says there is no money and tries to comfort her. A short time later, in Mexico City, Javier and Manolo drive a flashy young woman to the new house her older lover has bought her. Javier is stunned when Manolo informs him that the man is Madrigal, whose face has been surgically altered, and says that Salazar has been Madrigal's partner all along. When Robert returns to Cincinnati, he and Barbara bitterly argue over his long absences and her frustration over Caroline's behavior. Barbara leaves and when Robert goes to Caroline's room, he discovers that she has been freebasing and angrily destroys her drug paraphernalia. In San Diego, Javier meets with DEA agents and insists that he will only talk to them in a public swimming pool. He refuses offers of money for information, but talks about a baseball park to prevent kids from becoming criminals. At night, unable to sleep, Helena thinks about what Carl has told her during her visits to him in jail and remembers something about a painting. She goes to the painting and finds hidden microfilm containing numbers and Frankie's name. Robert now flies to Mexico City to meet Salazar and is dismayed by the general's contempt for drug users and treatment programs. Some time later, as Carl's trial begins in San Diego, Eddie, who has agreed to testify against him, is being guarded by Ray and Montel at a faded hotel near the court huse, while Helena hires Frankie to kill him. In Tijuana, as Ana tells Javier that she fears Manolo is selling information to the DEA and will get himself killed, Robert returns to Cincinnati after learning that Caroline has escaped from her expensive rehab facility. While he vainly searches for her, she has sex with a drug dealer and injects heroin for the first time. Outside the San Diego court house, as Frankie plants a bomb under Ray's car, he is observed from a distance by Tigrillo. When court is recessed early, Eddie asks that they walk instead of drive to the hotel, causing a panicked Frankie to call Helena on her cellphone. Helena screams that he should just shoot Eddie in the head, but before he can, Frankie is shot and killed by Tigrillo. When Ray returns to the car, the bomb explodes, killing him. Elsewhere in San Diego, Manolo is nervously sitting at an outdoor café when he is pushed into a car by two of Salazar's men, who had previously handcuffed Javier. Although Manolo protests that he acted alone, both he and Javier are forced to dig their own graves in the desert. When shots are fired, only Manolo is killed and Salazar's men tell Javier that he is now "like family." Javier later comforts Ana, then angrily wanders Tijuana and brushes past Helena as she goes to see Juan Obregon. She makes her deal to have the $3 million debt forgiven and be the Obregons' sole U.S. distributor for cocaine that will be smuggled into the country in teddy bears. At the same time, Javier takes a polygraph test to prove the veracity of his information to DEA agents, but feels like a traitor. Robert is awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from his aide, who tells him that Salazar has been arrested, but Robert hangs up when Barbara discovers that Caroline has just stolen expensive items from their home. After kissing Barbara, Robert goes to Caroline's school and pulls Seth from his classroom, then forces the belligerent adolescent into helping him look for her. After failing to find her with his drug dealer, Seth leaves, but Robert later follows him to the hotel room where Caroline is with a John. After breaking the door in, Robert sees the high and barely conscious Caroline, then starts to cry and comfort her. On the day of Eddie's testimony, a phony room service waiter delivers his breakfast. After contemptuously telling Montel that his efforts to stop the drug traffic are futile, Eddie has a few bites of the meal then goes into convulsions and dies. Without Eddie's testimony, the charges against Carl cannot be proven and he is set free. In Mexico, Javier has been promoted and is now working with DEA agents, while Salazar is being tortured at his old headquarters. At the White House, Robert begins a press conference but finds it difficult to deliver prepared remarks about the war on drugs. After faltering, he rhetorically asks how you can wage war against your own family and leaves the podium. With Carl now free, he and Helena host a large party at their house. In his study, Carl calls Arnie and confronts him with stealing the $3 million owed to the Obregons and plotting to take over his life. Arnie protests, but it is too late. As Carl hangs up the phone, hired killers enter Arnie's office. A moment later, Montel breaks into Carl's study and loudly accuses him of being a murderer. After Helena and several security people rush in, Montel is escorted out, but not before he plants a "bug" under Carl's desk. In the mid-West, Caroline shyly tells her therapy group that she has good days and bad. When asked to comment, Robert, who is there with Barbara, says that they are just there to listen. At night, in Tijuana, Javier smiles as local boys play Little League in the newly built baseball field.