A car is found at the bottom of a lake with the remains of a woman missing since 1999 inside. The detectives learn the woman had endured dire financial straights after her husband's death and was forced to live in the car with her two young daughters. Meanwhile, Jeffries confronts the hit and run driver who caused his wife's death.
An environmental group finds a car while testing the bottom of a lake. The Philadelphia police department takes over the case when a female skeleton and a bullet are found inside the car, together with some household stuff. From the car's registration plate, the detectives trace back the victim's identity. She was Marlene Bradford, mother of two girls, Abby and Natalie. After the girl's father died of cancer, they lost everything, including their home, to pay the medical expenses. Marlene and her daughters started living in their car. Then on Abby's tenth birthday, on November 17, 1999, Marlene disappeared: she dropped her girls at school and never came back. The girls were separated from each other and given to foster care.
The team starts the inquiries from Abby and Natalie. They had lost contact after being separated. Abby, the younger one, was lucky to get a family, but Natalie was driven from one family to the other because nobody wanted her. Besides, she always thought her mother was a failure and was angry at her for abandoning them. Natalie also tells them that at a homeless shelter, Marlene angered a woman named Vita for getting the bed she was assigned to.
The inquiries reveal that Marlene had a job at a local store. Her boss, Mr. Patel, had given her a gun – the same with which she was shot – to protect herself and her kids. At the store, she had met a homeless man called Vincent Hopper, who told her about a place in a nearby park where many homeless people used to live. There was also a lake at the park; the same lake Marlene's car was found in seven years later.
Marlene moved to the area with her daughters and their car. One night, at the park, Hopper gave her a lottery ticket he called the Hope Ticket. He told her that they would go halves if it was the lucky one: the $1 million jackpot. They were sharing their dreams when Natalie came screaming to her mother saying their car, with Abby sleeping inside, was gone. Marlene panicked, and then realized it had been towed. Marlene and Natalie managed to find Abby and the car. Abby was quite scared but safe and sound. Marlene tried, without much luck, to convince the tow driver to give her the car, at least for the night. The driver wouldn't give it away without money but as she couldn't afford it, he made her understand he accepted other forms of "payment". Marlene wanted to keep her daughters safe so she agreed.
Later in the car, Marlene and Natalie had a tiff over what she had done. Natalie told her mother some harsh words to which she replied by slapping her daughter. Natalie then ran away and Marlene couldn't stop her. Still, she went looking for her and found her at their old house. They apologized to each other. Marlene decided to try her luck with the lottery ticket. It came out to be a $25 win. They were happy cause they could now afford a cake for Abby's birthday. Marlene told Natalie they would have a decent celebration for Abby's birthday when they came back from school but first she had to pay a "finder's fee". The police reason she was talking of Hopper.
They question him and he ends up confessing the crime. He couldn't believe it was only a $12 win. He wanted more; he wanted $1 million and his dreams of re-uniting with his family to come true. He started searching her car for the rest of the money, crushing the cake Marlene had just bought for Abby. She tried to stop him and make him reason. Instead, he lost control and shot her with the gun he had found in the car. The cops arrest Hopper for murder. Abby and Natalie meet each other after a long time and they see their mother smiling back at them.
Meanwhile, Jeffries confronts Keller, the truck driver who ran over his wife, in the alley, while he is closing the diner, under the pouring rain. He puts his gun to Keller's chest and tells him about his wife, about the way she was left to die slowly and alone after the car crash. Later on, when Lt. Stillman visits Jeffries at home, he tells his boss what he did but that he couldn't kill Keller: his wife wouldn't come back even if he would've pulled the trigger. In the end, he sits in his room and listens to a Miles Davis record, his wife's favorite.
- Kathryn Morris as Lilly Rush
- Danny Pino as Scotty Valens
- John Finn as John Stillman
- Jeremy Ratchford as Nick Vera
- Thom Barry as Will Jeffries
- Tracie Thoms as Kat Miller
- Paula Malcomson as Marlene Bradford
- John Diehl as Isaac Keller
- Billy Gallo as Tony
- Gloria Garayua as Vita Chacon
- Holmes Osborne as Vincent Hopper
- Faran Tahir as Anil Patel
- Jennifer Lawrence as Abby Bradford (2007)
- Melinda Dahl as Natalie Bradford (2007)
- Darcy Rose Byrnes as Abby Bradford (1999)
- Channing Nichols as Natalie Bradford (1999)
- Verda Bridges as Social Worker
- Paula Malcomson and Jennifer Lawrence would later play mother and daughter again in the film The Hunger Games (2012). Coincidentally, both stories are about a single mother-two daughter family who fall into poverty and struggle to survive after the death of the husband/father.