The Recruit season 1 episode 1 recap: One hell of a first week

(L to R) Noah Centineo as Owen Hendricks, Laura Haddock as Max Meladze sitting across each other at a table
CIA agents Owen Hendricks and Max Meladze in The Recruit. (Image credit: Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022)

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for The Recruit season 1 episode 1, “I’m not a spy, I’m a lawyer.”

The Recruit is a new action thriller following Owen Hendricks (Noah Centineo), a young CIA lawyer whose first week on the job kicks up a notch when he discovers a threatening letter by former asset Max Meladze (Laura Haddock, see our The Recruit cast piece for full casting). Wanting to get out of prison, she plans to expose the agency unless they help exonerate her. Owen becomes entangled in a dangerous world of power politics filled with mischievous players, as he travels the world to hopefully complete his assignment and make his mark at the CIA.

Let’s take a look at how The Recruit’s first episode takes us on a wild ride around the hazardous world of the CIA...

New job, new challenges

In the tradition of many action shows, The Recruit opens with a flashforward. Viewers find themselves in a snowy environment that must be somewhere in Eastern Europe based on the language we hear people talking. A woman is driving a car: we do not know it yet but this is Max Meladze, but more on her later. The following shot shows us our hero, Owen Hendricks, pissing next to a truck while humming a Taylor Swift song. That sets the tone of the show, so cut to the opening credits.

Two weeks earlier, we find Owen in his boss’s office at the CIA. He has only been working at the General Counsel’s Office as a lawyer for two days and his superior, Walter Nyland (Vondie Curtis Hall) wants him to stop a senator from reading a classified document during a public hearing. Owen’s job is on the line here so when Senator Smoot (Linus Roache) threatens to subpoena him for getting in the way, the young lawyer is not afraid to show off his skills to make him understand he should not reveal classified information.

Back at Langley, Owen meets Lester (Colton Dunn) and Violet (Aarti Maan) and is given another assignment that is about as crappy as the previous one: go over the graymail sent to the CIA, letters from people threatening to expose classified information if the agency does not help them. Faced with boxes upon boxes to go through, Owen can tell this is the type of chore no one wants to do. 

Mailing threats

Owen is not about to give up that easily though. He goes through letter after letter until he stumbles on one that sets his spy-senses on high alert. Sent by a woman named Max Meladze, the letter threatens to reveal secret information unless the CIA helps get her out of prison. Owen seeks the help of another lawyer, Janus (Kristian Bruun), who first refuses before Owen offers him Adderall in exchange for answers. He finds out that the letter he found mentions the code name of a clandestine operation, which leads him to believe he should dig more into the matter.

Owen goes on to find out Max Meladze was a hip-pocket asset, someone with no official file at the CIA and no way to identify her case officer. Armed with all that information, he takes the matter to Nyland who is unimpressed that Lester and Violet did not pick up on this threat sooner and calls them into his office. Feeling humiliated, Lester then gives Owen bad advice when the latter asks how to get to Yemen in order to keep going with his investigation.

Laura Haddock as Max Meladze in an orange prison jumpsuit

(Image credit: Netflix)

Not a spy

Before heading out of the country, Owen stops by his apartment where we get to meet his roommates, Hannah (Fivel Stewart) and Terrence (Daniel Quincy Annoh). She works in a law firm (and turns out to be Owen’s ex-girlfriend) while Terrence works at the Department of Treasury. They are both rather curious about where Owen is going but he keeps this classified information close to the chest. All in all, Hannah and Terrence are intrigued by Owen’s job but also worried that he might be in over his head.

Off to Yemen to meet the agent part of the secret operation mentioned by Meladze in her letter, Owen flies commercial and rents a car, not realizing he is not following the correct procedure there. He arrives at the black site and does not get a warm welcome. There was no communication about his visit so the agents on site are not about to trust him. Before he can convince them he is just a new lawyer at the agency, he gets some teeth loosened and loses a fingernail. 

The main agent there, Dawn Gilbane (Angel Parker), gives him further information on Meladze and also advises Owen to figure out how the agency works because if not, in a place where it is every man for himself, he will get in real trouble.

Back at the agency, Owen confronts Lester and Violet about how they tried to jeopardize him. Nyland is impressed with his initiative, and orders Owen to go see Meladze in prison to see what she wants.

Meet the asset

Owen is exhausted but the job never stops so he flies to Phoenix to meet with Max Meladze. She is not impressed that the CIA sent such a young lawyer to see her and is reluctant to talk to him, but she reveals she has classified documents in her possession. Owen then offers to help her if she gives those to him. Nyland tells him to secure the files and to get an FBI escort to do so, but when Owen calls the Bureau, he cannot get to anyone, so he decides to go along, continuing on his habit of making poorly thought-through decisions.

When Owen arrives at the storage unit where Max said she kept the documents, he runs into a couple of Hispanic men who are also after something in the unit. When Owen walks out with a duffle bag, they ask for it, guns showing. This starts a chase that starts with Owen running away from them and eventually sees him caught, but when the men open the bag, they find it’s booby-trapped with acid and full of cash, not CIA documents.

Back at the prison, Owen confronts Max about the dangerous errand she sent him on. She claims she knows about dozens of secret CIA operations in Belarus and Russia involving well-connected people, and if he doesn’t help her get out of prison, she will release those secrets. But Owen doesn’t buy all of what she is saying and the bottom line is that he needs her to find his way around the lion’s den that is the CIA, and she needs him in order to get out of prison alive. Max wants to make a deal with him to get them both out of this mess in one piece.

Noah Centineo as Owen Hendricks looking bloodied and battered

(Image credit: Philippe Bossé/Netflix © 2022)

Radioactive case

Before he left Phoenix, Max told Owen her handler was someone named Not Bob, so when he gets back to Langley, the young lawyer asks Janus about that name. He finds out that Not Bob used to run the most dangerous missions in the agency’s history and retired as a division chief. But what makes Janus tick is that Max should not know an internal nickname such as this one, especially when Not Bob is now the Chief of Staff for the President of the United States.

Finding himself in Nyland’s office, Owen starts doubting what to say and who to trust. This job is a lot and Owen is getting a taste of just how much. On his desk he finds a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee, and seeing that Smoot followed through on this threat makes Owen even more stressed out. He decides to call Max in prison and asks one question: can he trust her? “When our interests align. Otherwise, no,” she tells him. Now Owen knows what to expect, so he is in.

That’s it for the first episode of The Recruit. Looking for more action in the world of spies and secret operations? The first season of The Recruit is now available on Netflix.

Marine Perot is a freelance entertainment writer living in London. She has been writing about television for 10 years, which led us to work with various publications including Paste Magazine, Radio Times, Konbini, Giddy, and more. Her favorite shows include LostOutlanderGame of Thrones, and The Haunting of Hill House. When not writing, Marine enjoys going on adventures with her corgi and reading a good book.