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The Ending Of Netflix's The Recruit Season 1 Explained

A Netflix show that follows a fresh-faced CIA employee finding his footing within the labyrinthine ranks of the intelligence realm, "The Recruit" stars Noah Centineo (Atom Smasher in "Black Adam") as Owen Hendricks, a lawyer who mostly deals in paperwork for the organization. The show devotes significant time to examining Owen's personal life, revealing what drives his ambitions (and frequently lands him in over his head). Factor in some not-so-good-natured hazing from his new coworkers, and Owen has a lot on his plate.

There is a direct parallel between what Noah Centineo is attempting with his performance and what his onscreen character, Owen, is attempting with his career. Centineo has become something akin to Netflix's golden boy, having appeared in a slew of their original teen movies, including the "To All The Boys" franchise. But with "Black Adam" and now this show, he seems determined to break away from that mold. This isn't to suggest Centineo's approach is different; he plays to his strengths in portraying Owen, a stoic archetypal lead, while also injecting quick wit into a series in desperate need of it.

"The Recruit" spends a lot of time bouncing between Owen's high-octane fieldwork and his very ordinary domestic life. The balance isn't always perfect — but if you stick around until the conclusion of its introductory eight episodes, the series' saving grace comes via a well-earned ending, in which the two storylines ultimately merge. 

Below is a (spoiler-heavy) analysis of the implications of the first season's ending.

Hannah receives texts telling her about Prague

Throughout the season, viewers watch as Owen becomes increasingly mired in the web of lies that seems to be a prerequisite for serving as a competent agent. The only people concerned about how this job at the agency is affecting him psychologically are his two roommates, Hannah and Terence. So, the duo devise a plan to follow him to an agency operation in Geneva and see what they can do to assist.

Geneva quickly proves to be too much, however, for Hannah and Terence to handle. The unfortunate timing of their arrival coincides with the murder of Owen's fellow agent — in Owen's room. Hannah eventually sees Owen departing the incident with Max, but the pandemonium stops her from drawing Owen's attention. Owen notices her but is wise enough to ignore his roommate (though he does end up worriedly staring at her anyhow). Karolina notices this from a distance and nods slightly before walking away.

Terence decides the situation is too much for him, but Hannah is determined to be there for Owen (and explore her own lingering feelings from when they were together). That's when she receives a text message from a blocked number, notifying her that Owen is on his way to Prague. The text is most likely from Karolina, who will later use her as bait to track down Owen.

Owen and Max have genuine feelings for each other

Owen and Max are not only the show's key relationship in its first season, but also the most intriguing. Drawn to each other by their mutual conviction that the CIA views its agents as nothing more than tools, the two learn they can only completely trust each other — and despite differing agendas, they come to depend on each other for survival. 

In the second half of the season, however, Max attempts to seduce Owen. Initially, it appears like she is trying to gain an edge over him , with manipulation in mind, but Owen sees the ruse for what it is.

When the two appear to have made it out of the woods in Geneva, they share a sense of relief, finally capitulating to their feelings. Viewers most likely aren't surprised (their chemistry is palpable), but what follows is less expected: a relationship built on genuine affection and vulnerability. When the two end up in Prague and yet another plot fails, Owen tells Max in a furious exchange that he's done with the agency and that he hoped he could save Max and get her out of this spy life, but he believes she's in too deep now.

Owen and Max grow to care for one another, which makes Max's apparent death at the end all the more painful. Credit the writers for giving Owen something better than a series of disposable, interchangeable love interests. 

Owen has earned the respect of the agency

"The Recruit" is appealing because it aims to be more than simply another spy show. Owen is simply a lawyer, not a highly-skilled spy, so the show manages to balance the intense life of a spy with the mundane office squabbles of a desk job. But from Owen's point of view, the audience gets unique insight into what it could be like to work for the CIA. Viewers learn the minutiae of the agency, such as how an agent's pseudonym and true name should never be written on the same piece of paper.

As a new employee, Owen's journey to earn the respect of his coworkers is as crucial as ensuring he returns safely from his most recent field operation. Violet and Lester, in particular, vow to make Owen's life more difficult by attempting to sabotage his every step because they feel threatened. However, as Owen continues to solve every problem that comes across his desk, the two reluctantly realize that they'd rather help than get in his way.

Owen makes a name for himself in the agency with how he puts out office fires; occasionally, he even goes out of his way to aid coworkers with difficulties that don't actually concern him, such as how he ended up being the saving grace of Janus with the stolen missiles quandary. By the end of the first season, everyone respects his ability to get things done.

Owen's first kill made him want a different path

Owen has a complicated past. His father was killed while serving in Afghanistan, and his mother was very protective of him, causing their relationship to deteriorate. Although Owen frequently dismisses his background with self-deprecating jokes about how he got the CIA position in an attempt to thrill-seek, it's clear that the CIA job is eroding his moral compass. This is where Centineo's performance truly shines. 

"I love the tone," he told International Spy Museum while talking about the show, "of being dramatic with crazy stakes but also having a bit of comedy and light-heartedness." 

Owen's jokes cease to be amusing once the audience realizes he's in over his head. He is not a spy; he is merely a lawyer. He does not murder people. However, in the last episode, Owen finds himself in Prague behind two mercenaries who are slowly approaching Max while she takes cover, and he must decide whether to shoot them and save Max or not shoot them and leave Max to die. He then makes the only logical decision and fires upon the mercenaries, killing one.

This causes Owen to suffer a panic attack as they flee. He gets intense flashbacks of the shooting, and leaps from the car. Owen appears to have to force his way out of that world to leave it behind, so he tells Max he's finished with the CIA.

The end of the road for Max

Max Meladze is the show's beating heart. She is the main reason Owen ends up in the field, and in some ways, she is his handler, continually teaching him how to gain and use leverage in the field. 

Laura Haddock performs the role beautifully, telling The Hollywood Reporter that she went through not only intense stunt work training but also worked hard to get her psyche into the frame of mind of someone who has had to survive her entire life.

Karolina finished Season 1 by shooting her mother Max in the chest and then menacingly asking Owen how he knew her mother. It was shocking since up until that point, it had seemed as though Owen and Max's dynamic, which is constantly changing, carried the series. Viewers who are optimistic will hope that this is not their last glimpse of Max in "The Recruit," but it is also often cheap to resurrect people from the dead; if it is done, it must be done with finesse.

Netflix has yet to announce whether or not the show will be renewed. When asked about a potential Season 2, series creator Alexi Hawley told Collider, "I know things about where I would want to take it, and where I'd want to go with it." 

Given how well-planned the death was, perhaps the groundwork for Max's possible return has already been laid.

Can Owen get himself out of this new problem?

Owen consistently manages to pull himself out of trouble, despite his troublesome mix of inexperience and overconfidence. Despite how he got there, the results propel him rapidly up the agency ladder, and before he knows it, he's playing a key role in the agency's deepest and most vital operation yet: infiltrating the Russian intelligence agency.

Due to too many unresolved personal issues, however, the agents devise various ways to destroy the operation. Soon after, Owen is tied to a chair and entangled in Russian mafia infighting. At this point, the audience is accustomed to Owen always finding a solution to his problems. But there's a huge difference this time: he no longer has the drive to please his agency superiors, and he no longer has Max's guidance.

Owen's urgent desire for approbation has propelled him thus far in his profession; now that he no longer values it, it will be interesting to watch how he gets out of this latest predicament, and what could potentially motivate this new chapter of his life.

Owen's moral compass

When Owen joins the CIA, he meets people who are, at best, amoral. His bosses are unconcerned with the wellbeing of their employees, his coworkers are willing to put Owen's life in danger to advance, and Lester even admits to sleeping with many assets during his time as a field agent. When it appears Owen is determined to avoid going down similar roads, by the finale, he has committed all of the above. 

By the end, he clearly has learned how to protect himself and the agency at the same time. But the question is how much it cost him. How will it impact his relationship with Hannah, as well, now that her perception of him has to change? Owen's path is bleak enough as it is, but the thought of him losing the only thing he has going for him (the respect of his friends) would truly be tragic.

Owen has proven to be a rather insightful character thus far, so it's unlikely that he'll immediately drop to the depths of simply doing things that serve his own selfish interests. If he wants to stay with the CIA, however, it seems like further compromises must be made.

Hannah's safety

Owen's employer Nylan advises him to keep people in his personal life from knowing about his CIA operations, but Owen frequently stumbles in maintaining such secrecy. Owen's work life often bleeds into his personal one, complicating matters.

Owen keeps pulling Hannah and Terrence into his spy life, even knowing it would get them all in a lot more trouble if they were included in his espionage missions. But he continues to push the boundaries, even asking Hannah for a favor to complete a mission. When the two get increasingly concerned and decide to follow Owen, it's his sloppy insistence on not keeping his work and personal lives apart that leads them to quickly determine Owen is in Geneva, allowing them to pursue him.

Karolina notices and tries to use her as bait for Owen, so she is now on the Russian mafia's radar. If Owen survives, he now must be concerned not only for his own safety, but also that of Hannah. Because the mafia now knows how to reach him.

Owen leaving the agency

Hannah and Terrence keep pleading with Owen to quit his job after his first week, nearly running him to the ground. Hannah, in particular, is concerned about him since she may still harbor romantic feelings for Owen. When Owen eventually promises not to work for the CIA anymore, it's almost a relief. He then calls Hannah, and the two of them agree to meet.

Before Owen can quit his job, he needs to see how severely his employment has impacted his life, because the counsel of his friends wasn't enough. Even Max, his most reliable partner, is eventually confronted. In Owen's opinion, if he stays in the field any longer, he will become as broken as everyone else.

If you strip away the espionage and drama, "The Rookie" has the potential to resonate with millennials who are just entering the workforce and feeling burnout for the first time. It's an intriguing theme for a show, tackled in a broad, involving style.

Max lied about Karolina being alive

One of the most shocking revelations in Season 1 is that Max's daughter, Karolina, is still alive. Max never told anyone about this, and her statement to Owen explains why. "Everything is about leverage," she keeps reminding him. She knew if anyone knew about Karolina, they'd have leverage over her.

Looking back after the fact, breadcrumbs were dropped throughout the season. Every time she mentioned her child, the show found a way to wink at the viewer — and it all built to the shocking sequence in which Karolina's identity was revealed. Max, seemingly astonished that Karolina found her, seems to be laying further breadcrumbs that could be explored in a future season.

Max has a private relationship with information, so it's no wonder she decides to keep her daughter's existence hidden from everyone in the agency. The idea of discovering why Max would try to conceal Karolina's whereabouts — and Karolina's desire to kill Max — makes a prospective Season 2 much more exciting.

Dawn's motive to save Owen

Owen has created many enemies during his brief tenure at the CIA. Dawn is one of the most formidable; when he first met her at a black site in Yemen, a misunderstanding caused her to take out one of his nails, and they've never seen eye to eye since.

Where we are left, the two characters have even higher stakes than torture at CIA black sites. Viewers already know that part of what pushed Dawn to put up with Owen was her drive to get to Max, who was aware of her corrupt past and could connect her with Russian intelligence. But now that Max appears to be dead, Dawn has no reason to go save Owen. She stands to lose more than she gains.

If the trend of the agent's previous behavior is anything to go by, Owen is probably going to have to get himself out of this one alone.

Owen might get fired

Hannah's involvement complicates the lives of Owen and Max during their final mission to Geneva. She phones her influential mother, and through her, they end up asking about Owen's well-being, and the complaint travels up the agency ladder to the point where the White House chief of staff comes to Nyland's office to inquire about Owen.

This threatens to embarrass Nyland, because it appears he is unable to competently oversee his team. So, Nyland confronts Owen and offers an ultimatum: tell anyone about the current mission, and he will be fired. When Owen chooses to leave the CIA, he calls Hannah and asks if they can meet because she is also in Prague. He's unaware that he is falling for Karolina's trap.

Owen may decide to change his mind, as he has in the past, and return to the agency. But it's possible that if he tries that, he won't have a job to go back to.