By John Keegan and Gregg Wright
"White Collar" has become one of those old, reliable shows that I can count on for its consistency. The show is never so dramatic or dark as to seriously challenge me as a viewer, but it's also never been disposable fluff, either. It may never be as gripping or emotionally involving as other standbys such as "Fringe" or "Supernatural", but the characters are always given enough depth and development to make the journey a worthwhile one. The return of "White Collar" was a reminder to me of just how fond of the show I've become, and the premiere is a great example of the show's strengths.
To repeat one of my most common statements regarding the show, the relationship between semi-reformed con man Neal Caffrey and straight-laced FBI man Peter Burke is the beating heart of the show. And the previous season's finale marked a highly important moment in the development of that relationship. Believing that Neal Caffrey really had changed and deserved a second chance at freedom, Peter gave Neal the signal to run, so that he could escape his impending arrest. The moment was just as much about how much Peter had changed as it was about how much Neal had changed.
The premiere picks up beautifully from that cliffhanger with Peter simply lost in thought, going over all the troubling recent events in his mind. It's clear that he's feeling a bit lost without Neal around. Meanwhile, down in Cape Verde, Neal and Mozzie are living a very comfortable existence. Neal misses New York, but he's making the best of his situation by wooing local woman Mia (played by Mia Maestro)--the one woman on the island who poses a challenge. And he does so while wearing some fabulous linen suits and a new hat (styled after Neal's fedora-like "Rat Pack" favorites). It doesn't take long for Neal's charm to wear off on Mia.
And this is how things would have remained, if not for Agent Kramer's new attack dog, FBI agent Kyle Collins, predictably played by Mekhi Phifer. It's certainly not new territory for Phifer, but he does seem to be well-suited for this type of role. And this version of that type of role seems better-crafted than previous versions I've seen him play. He's more crafty, villainous, and relentless here. Agent Collins has Neal in his sights, and he's not going to stop until he's brought him back into the fold.
Peter is quickly roped into aiding in the investigation, and knowing that it's only a matter of time before Collins tracks Neal down, he makes an effort to contact Neal and warn him (with the help of his ever-so-supportive wife, of course). I was hoping for more info about Ellen (the women Neal met in the previous finale) and Neal's parents this season, and it came a lot sooner than I thought it would. Peter and Elizabeth seek out Ellen, whereupon Peter learns that she was originally the partner of Neal's corrupt cop father.
It's a bit of a discomforting issue that Peter's attempts to track Neal down are what ultimately tip off Collins to Neal's location. But I suppose it's likely that Collins would have located Neal soon enough on his own, and this was just a convenient way to accelerate the plot. And it was worth it to see Peter, Diana, and Jones doing their detective work together. Needless to say, it quickly becomes clear where the episode's climax is going to take place. I was pleasantly surprised to see Reese Hughes back again, indirectly giving Peter the go ahead to take a trip to Cape Verde and help Neal.
And this is where a lot of the episode's best scenes take place. After Peter arrives in Cape Verde, he spies a sign for a hat shop and smiles. It's immediately clear what Peter is thinking. Of course, Agent Collins is there as well. There's a lot that I liked about these Cape Verde scenes: Peter's questioning of Mia, his and Mia's reactions when Collins shows up at the bar, and Peter's subsequent reunion with Neal and Mozzie. Things quickly get hairy, and Neal has to rely on Mia to pull him out of the fire. It wasn't clear until then how she would react to discovering that Neal was a wanted con man and forger, but his earlier honesty made enough of a positive impression on Mia to gain her as an ally. Yes, it certainly does pay to have Neal's charm.
When the episode began, I was fairly confident that Neal would end up back in New York by the time the credits rolled, ready to solve more crimes with Peter. But in yet another pleasant surprise, things ended on a cliffhanger. The foreshadowing that Dobbs was going to become a problem later was a bit obvious (especially considering that the actor playing Dobbs often seems to play bad guy roles), but the alliance between Dobbs and Collins was still a surprise. Now we're set for what could be a whole other episode in Cape Verde. If you ask me, this is a great way to start the season, and it could be the first time that a season of "White Collar" has started with a two-parter. I would like more of this, thank you.
The premiere certainly delivers all the fun I expect from "White Collar", and it's also a good examination of where Peter and Neal are at, in terms of their psychology and how they relate to each other. There's a certain subtle complexity in how they react to each other that is hard to describe in words. I love the tenuous way they talk to each other on the phone, with Neal remaining somewhat guarded and Peter being more open and genuine (and I loved the visual of the destroyed New York sand castle). That dynamic presents itself again in their reunion, when Peter initiates a hug and Neal isn't quite sure how to respond. I'm looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops in the coming season, and I hope that the myth-arc is a bit stronger and more consistent than last season's.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.