The Company You Keep episode 1 recap: Ventimiglia's con-show is off to sleek and sultry start

Milo Ventimiglia in The Company You Keep
Milo Ventimiglia in The Company You Keep (Image credit: ABC/Eric McCandless)

NOTE: this post contains spoilers for The Company You Keep episode 1.

We meet Charlie Nicoletti (Milo Ventimiglia) intensely practicing sleight of hand in the mirror, before we're suddenly thrust to an empty warehouse next to Baltimore harbor. 

Charlie is there to meet the Irish gangster Brendan Maguire (Timothy V. Murphy), who wants to buy the warehouse for his criminal activities. However, Maguire's consultant, Daphne Finch (Felisha Terrell), is dubious about the deal. She can't figure out why Charlie wants his payment of $10 million in crypto instead of cash. 

Daphne is right to be concerned. As soon as Charlie is paid, the FBI arrives. Maguire and his crew race away and Charlie is seemingly arrested, but the fake FBI team consists of Charlie's sister Birdie (Sarah Wayne Callie), father Leo (William Fichtner), mother Fran (Polly Draper) and girlfriend Tina (Bridget Regan). Charlie didn't even own the warehouse to begin with. 

We then meet Emma Hill (Catherine Haena Kim), an undercover CIA agent who is informing her bosses she's closing in on the leader of the largest drug ring in the country. Not everything is going her way, though. She finds her boyfriend cheating on her in a hotel. 

Charlie's life is about to come crashing down around him, too. Several hours later, after telling Tina to meet him at a hotel for a romantic night to celebrate their robbery, Charlie discovers she’s stolen the $10 million and left town. Now the entire family is flat broke, and the Maguire crime unit is after them. 

Charlie decides to drown his sorrows at the hotel bar. There he meets Emma. After being impressed by how she immediately deciphered the man hitting on her is married with a kid and had just back from Hawaii, Charlie bonds with her over their recently broken hearts and their newly developed distrust of relationships. They also take shots. Lots of shots.

Catherine Haena Kim and Milo Ventimiglia chat at a bar in The Company You Keep

Catherine Haena Kim and Milo Ventimiglia in The Company You Keep (Image credit: ABC/Eric McCandless)

When the topic of their jobs comes up, the pair lie. He says he's a yoga instructor. She pretends to be a pageant queen turned rocket scientist. When the time comes to pay the bill, Charlie charges it to the room and, despite their obvious attraction to each other, abruptly leaves. She can't help but follow him. They start to kiss passionately, but, rather than have sex, they both realize they're hungry and order up room service. 

The next morning, both Charlie and Emma are sheepish. He has numerous missed calls and messages to deal with from his family. Not wanting to contend with the issue just yet, he invites Emma to stay with him. Finally they have sex. More than that, they spend all day and night together, their bond and affection growing deeper. After 36 hours, they finally go their separate ways. 

Charlie immediately sets his eyes on a new target, Pastor Evan Earl (Doug Savant). While he runs one of the most profitable churches on the East Coast, he's also laundering money for some of Washington's most powerful people so he can have access to their influence. 

Watching the Nicolettis get close to Earl is where The Company You Keep is at its best. Over a slick montage, we witness Leo and Fran create a diversion and steal a keycard, Birdie break into a control room and Charlie pickpocket Earl's phone, download all of the necessary material, making sure he picks it up again without noticing. 

This is how the Nicolettis know to attend an expensive gala to watch Earl. Charlie is shocked to see Emma in attendance. She's there with her own family, which includes her mother Grace (Freda For Shen), father Joseph (James Saito), a former governor, and brother David (Tim Chiou), a senator.

Charlie can't resist going over to Emma, much to the annoyance of Birdie, who is keeping close tabs on Earl. Birdie reminds Charlie that his thieving ex-girlfriend is the reason they're having to commit this crime. When Emma asks Charlie out on another date, he says he can't see her again. Soon after, Birdie and Charlie follow Earl and convince him they're there to pick up the laundered money, before driving away seamlessly with it in hand. 

At the same time, Emma has been called away from the gala for her own work. The drug ring leader she’s after is Maguire. They've tracked him down to his private plane and go to arrest him just before it can take off. While they're able to catch Maguire, Daphne gets away. Although Emma briefly gives chase in her car, she is duly stopped when another vehicle smashes into the side of her. 

Back at the family bar, Charlie counts the money they stole from Earl. Charlie gives his parents enough to get to Mexico to retire, like they'd previously planned to do. But they turn it down. After Charlie was previously sent to prison for them, they're all going to work together to steal as much money as possible so Birdie and her deaf daughter (Shaylee Mansfield), as well as Charlie, can build the lives they want. 

William Fichtner in The Company You Keep

William Fichtner in The Company You Keep (Image credit: ABC/Scott Everett White)

Ever the romantic, Charlie goes to see Emma again. He explains his family is complicated, although he's scared to reveal too much thinking it'll make her run away. Even though they've only spent 36 hours together, he insists he knows Emma. He can't stop thinking about her and wants to take her on a date. They kiss and she invites him inside. 

Yet again, it doesn't take long for Charlie’s world to collapse around him. Upon his return to the bar, he finds Daphne found them and taken the rest of the Nicoletttis hostage. She doesn't just want the $10 million back, she wants an additional $5 million to get Brendan out of jail. As Daphne departs, Charlie realizes he's going to have to commit an awful lot of crimes to raise the $15 million required to keep his family safe.

The Company You Keep's hugely enjoyable pilot sets up plenty of conflict and intrigue. More than that, the chemistry between Ventimiglia and Kim is electric, there's a genuine wit to the script, while the show establishes a sleek pace and alluring visual style that should result in one of the most entertaining new series of the year.

New episodes of The Company You Keep air Sundays on ABC, then on-demand on Hulu the next day.

Gregory James Wakeman

Born and raised in England but now based in Philadelphia, Gregory Wakeman has written for the BBC, New York Times, The Guardian, GQ, and Yahoo Movies UK, all while defiantly trying to keep his accent.