By John Keegan and Gregg Wright
I'm really loving how "White Collar" is refusing to brush aside the consequences of everything that's happened in the past few episodes. Ever since Peter gave Neal the go-ahead to run from the law in the previous season finale, he's been finding himself going further and further outside the bounds of authority. And now he's paying for it. With plenty of people in the Bureau gunning for him, Peter is re-assigned to perform menial, repetitive tasks in an evidence warehouse, lorded over by his new boss (played by one of my favorite TV actors, Brett Cullen).
This season of "White Collar" has been surprisingly brave in shaking up the status quo, but it's understandable that they'd want to find a way to let Peter and Neal (and co.) investigate a case of white collar crime. And this case is rather cleverly placed. Peter has been re-assigned on the very week that he expects an old robbery suspect to make his move again. Neal picks up on the significance of this case pretty quickly, and feeling a bit of guilt over contributing to Peter's current situation, he decides to help Peter solve this case as a way of helping him gain favor with the Bureau again.
I'm not entirely clear on how Neal, Diana, and Jones solving Peter's old case will help make him look better, especially since his only involvement in the investigation can be in a somewhat unofficial capacity, but I'm willing to let this pass. It's fun to see Neal visiting Peter at his hell-ish new job in "The Cave", bringing him food, making humorous comparisons with prison life, and generally just trying to cheer Peter up. And I loved that Peter was in a ideal position to get away with looking at the evidence that Neal had transferred to his location.
Peter takes a very active role in the investigation, even taking on an old cover in order to set up their thief. It's always fun to see Peter go undercover. He always has this look on his face: the look of a man who isn't quite sure that he can pull this off. But Peter tends to have a surprising knack for undercover work (and also seems to be a damn good tennis player). Neal has done so much of the undercover work on the show, so I enjoy the fact that the show has trended towards more of a role reversal lately, with Neal taking Peter's place in the traditional support role.
Peter has often been an almost fatherly figure to Neal, but sometimes, as in the most recent two episodes, Neal becomes the master and Peter the student. I like the idea of Neal continually training Peter as a con man, which, in turn, makes Peter even better at catching the bad guys. I have no idea if Neal's lessons about directing someone's attention to the desired object would actually work in real life, but they're plausible enough that I could accept them. Mentalists and magicians have become quite adept at using tricks like this to misdirect attention and fool their audiences into seeing what they want them to see.
All this time on the investigation leaves Peter scrambling to meet the requirements of his work in The Cave. Enter Mozzie. I expected, and hoped, that he would return. But this is sooner than I expected. You won't hear me complaining, though. The show just isn't the same without Mozzie. His return couldn't have occurred at a more appropriate moment, as he becomes instrumental in saving Peter's job. In return for secretly finishing Peter's work, I'm sure that Mozzie absolutely loved getting the chance to snoop around a giant evidence warehouse. I loved Peter's amused reaction upon noticing the curiously familiar bald head of the FBI agent slinking away with the car.
The case itself is a good bit of fun, though the final sting operation seems to go off a little too smoothly. I could have used a complication or two there. But the episode also packs some good myth-arc meat into Neal's conversations with Peter and with Ellen Parker. It's funny how that first discovery that Neal's dad was a corrupt cop, way back in the season 2 episode "What Happens in Burma", was initially judged by me to be a completely throwaway piece of information. And now it has become the basis for an entire season arc.
It was a smart move to put another mystery at the center of the show, and I'm finding this one to be just as intriguing as the music box mystery. Did Neal's father really kill a fellow police officer? And why did he claim innocence, only to confess to the murder shortly afterward? It's interesting to think that Neal's father, whose actions directly led to Neal rebelling against his father's occupation and taking up a life of crime, may have been a better man that he appeared to be.
In case you can't tell, I'm very pleased with how this season is shaping up. This season has started out strong, and continues to show signs that it will be an improvement on the previous season. That season suffered from a weak story arc that struggled to fill the gap left by the whole "music box" arc that had been in play since the beginning of the show. But the season ended on a high note and introduced elements that looked to play a key role in the following season's direction. Three episodes in, and that prediction is being proven correct.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Gregg Wright is Critical Myth's reviewer for White Collar.