Leverage breaks format for the second straight week with "The Girls' Night Out Job," and it's not as successful as "The Office Job" but it's the first half of what should be an interesting two-part escapade.

The show opens with everyone pointing out to Nate that he doesn't have a social life. Even socially challenged Parker has plans with Peggy from the first season's "Juror Number Six Job" - if you count checking out someone's blind date as having plans. Said blind date Craig (Wil Traval) has a bit of a James Bond act going on, but comes with a long rap sheet. That's enough for Parker to call in Sophie, who's having drinks with Tara Cole (Jeri Ryan), to see what Craig is up to.

It all boils down to a scheme involving Venezuelan oil and rich Texans. There's the stealing of data, the swapping of briefcases, and one climb up an elevator shaft - all stuff one would expect from an episode of Leverage. Yet there are a few things it does differently, all of which pique interest without taking us too far away from what makes the show work.

There's the neat trick of using the show's flashback device to show us how the bad guys put together their scheme, instead of the usual showing us how the team pulled off their con. In fact, there's a significant part of the episode that involves our heroes getting outwitted, which is a refreshing change of pace compared to most TV shows.

And it's funny as heck to see Peggy get in on the action (shrieking "That knife was part of a set!" before beating the guy trying to kill her into submission with a pan). She's used well in the episode, rather than just as a means to set up the story, which is a nice touch.

"The Girls' Night Out Job" reminds me of a third-series Coupling episode called "Split," which also featured a divided narrative, albeit within one episode instead of two. (I also can't help but chuckle at the comparison since Gina Bellman was one of the stars of Coupling.) Like "Split," it mixes things up and ends up showing us different sides of our characters than we usually see thanks to the differing company.

It's fun to see Sophie and Tara, who fill the same role, banter about their varying philosophies as we see how dissimilar they can be - although at times it feels like that takes the focus away from what could have been a strong Parker-centric episode. No offense to Ms. Ryan, but I'm not interested in Tara's hooking up with Craig (which seems a bit random when it happens at episode's end). His interactions with Parker and what they said about her are more important to me.

Beth Riesgraf does shine when she has the moments to do so, however. It's compelling to see Parker screw up and then try to right her friendship with Peggy - as pointed out in the beginning of the episode by Eliot, our heroes should have some relationships outside of their team. It's doubly important for Parker, who's not the most sociable person in the world. The fact that she's even trying says a lot about the continual growth of her character, and I'm glad that she's able to repair her friendship with Peggy at episode's end.

It also helps me appreciate the entire cast of Leverage a bit more. Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder, because although the episode is fine as is, I found myself missing Nate and Eliot, and glad to see Hardison when he appeared. It just reminded me that, as Tim Hutton said, the show is at its best when the whole team is together.

If I have one quibble, it seems that by its format, this installment might have been better off as a two-hour event, but that doesn't dull my interest in next week one bit. (Why are Hardison and Eliot at a place labeled "Mexican Gang Headquarters"? Uh-oh.) This is a solid episode for Leverage, one that I can only imagine will look even better when we see "The Boys' Night Out Job" and put all the pieces together.

(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.