Thursday, October 24, 2013

White Collar - 5.01 - At What Price - Recap

Previously on White Collar - 4 seasons happened and this one recaps all the way to the pilot. Neal was a convicted con on loan to the FBI as a consultant to catch the Dutchman. Three seasons later, his father comes back into the picture complete with a corruption case reaching the Senate. Neal's dad shoots a senator, but Peter is accused of it instead. Although Neal tries to get his dad to turn himself in, he refuses and goes on the run.

 In a reversal of the pilot, it is Peter in an orange jumpsuit being visited by a suited Neal. Peter: "The irony of this is not lost of me." The auidence either. Neal blames himself for James' actions and disappearance although Peter assures him that James is responsible for his own decisions. They recap the overwhelming evidence against Peter, who snarks, "I would have arrested me." Neal platitudes about justice prevailing but Peter seems cynical. Enter Jones to spin Diana's pregnancy unsuccessfully. It's awkward and I have a hard time believing it fits the character. Your mileage may vary. Even Peter seems stunned. His greatest visitor (since Mozzie's visit was cut - bring on the DVD extras) is of course Elizabeth. They exchange the traditional "Hi, hon" and El gives him a pep talk that finally seems to work. He promises he will beat the charges, but back at the house with Neal, El frets over the 6 weeks she's already spent apart from Peter. The indictment trial is the next day and if Peter is indicted he can never work for the FBI again. El doesn't care about that and accuses Neal of being self-serving since if Peter is indicted, Neal goes back to jail too. Neal counters that he's thinking of Peter. "Peter cares and I can 't be responsible for taking away his badge. That's why I want to clear him before the indictment, get him home to you as soon as possible." Easier said than done unless the Burkes are willing to go arctic under assumed names. El: "Well I always wanted to drive a snowmobile to work so..." Ha! That's the spirit El. She tells Neal to do whatever to get Peter out. Hmm, that hasn't worked well in the past.

What is working well is Mozzie's attempt to crack Neal's anklet. It's about time. I like Neal with a little more freedom. Moz and Neal banter about breaking Peter out of jail without consent but are interrupted by a cryptic text from Curtis Hagen, aka the Dutchman, who is on work release restoring an opera house painting. Neal and Curtis word dance about forgery, murder, and how the guards seem to be working for Hagen, not the other way around. Hagen says he can free Peter but Neal scoffs until Hagen says he has a federal prosecutor in his pocket. Neal rightly asks why Hagen isn't out of jail himself but he spouts some rigmarole about bad timing. Neal's intrigued enough to agree to steal for Hagen in exchange for Peter's release. Hagen: "There's one more thing." Neal: "There always is." Hagen requires a forged audiotape of James confessing to the murder. Really? If Neal can do that, why does he need Hagen's help? I assume it's so the prosecutor won't look hard at its authenticity under Hagen's orders, and a slipshod plot device to get Neal in Hagen's grasp. Still it brings more Mozzie time, so bring it on. Moz: "So the Dutchman appears out of nowhere offering gifts and I'm not suspicious?" More like they're out of time for alternatives which don't leave Peter a criminal. Mozzie can do the tape of course, but Neal must provide the voice. Neal: "In spite of everything, he's still my father. If I record this, he'll be a fugitive the rest of his life." Moz: "Neal, James did that all by himself. You're offering redemption that he doesn't deserve." So true, Moz. Neal plays his last phone message from James, a bittersweet memory and repeats James' last words. "See you soon, son." He asks Mozzie how it sounded. Moz: "Uncomfortably tragic." Aww, again so true. Mozzie offers to leave but Neal wants him to stay. Man do I love this dynamic!

The next day at Peter's indictment hearing, the prosecutor lays out his case. When Peter tries to speak on his own behalf, he is coldly stopped. Prosecutor: "Nothing you say will change my decision. Sit down." His voice softens as he talks new evidence and plays the audio confession Mozzie and Neal made. Sounds like James to me too. Case dismissed. Peter is stunned; El is ecstatic as they hug hello. Peter also gets a warm welcome as he enters the FBI office and exchanges words with Jones. Meanwhile, Neal tosses a baseball in Peter's office with his feet on the desk. Peter quickly reclaims his space. Peter: "I don't believe for a second that James Bennett made that call…" Uh oh, Neal. Peter: "…not without his son convincing him." Whew, your secrets safe for awhile longer. Peter thanks Neal but he brushes it off. Neal: "I can't admit to an FBI agent that I consorted with a fugitive. Come on." It's a sweet, slightly devious moment interrupted by Hagen, of course. Time for Neal to pay the piper. Peter, on the other hand, enjoys the small comforts of being out of prison before the FBI section chief offers him a promotion to ASAC with an option on moving up to Washington, D.C.. Looks like season 5 will be the opposite of season 4. Sadly, I guess it means no more Reese. It also means Peter not partnering with Neal. That can't last long. Peter says he'll think about it and a very pregnant Diana encourages him to take the position. They back story Diana's awkward pregnancy. Diana: "It's not Neal's." Bwah!

Meanwhile, Neal and Hagen trade restoration tips. Neal's a water color enthusiast while Hagen prefers tinted varnish. Hagen: "Something to be said for irreversible decisions, don’t you think?" Neal: "I'm here aren't I?" Ha! I love these two bantering. Hagen tells him the target is Welsh gold coins, which is apparently more valuable than regular gold. Who knew? Hagen: "And the only worthwhile thing about the Welsh." I bet Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sir Anthony Hopkins disagree. Neal suggests an alternate way to get money but Hagen insists on getting the coins in 3 days, startling Neal. Hagen: "Now I worked under your rather urgent deadline. Are you telling me you can't get this done under mine?" I love Mark Sheppard in any role, but he was made to play smart, snarky cons like the Dutchman. Back at Neal's, Mozzie protests that the job is too hard for the time limit, but Neal plans to go through the travel agency next door using a back draft con. Mozzie: "I've put my inner firebug to bed. Best not to awaken him." Bwah! Basically Neal will impersonate a fireman while Mozzie provides a reason for the fire department to clear the building. After exposition on how Mozzie's anti-anklet machine will keep Neal untraceable by looping the signal, Peter drops by for a surprise inspection which Neal finds comforting. He's been in this situation for far too long. Mozzie bumbles his way out so Peter can talk about taking the promotion, stunning Neal. Peter: "I've made sure that your deal stays in place." Neal: "Never would have doubted you." The undercurrents here are surprisingly touching and Neal is obviously shaken by the change. Peter goes on to say how proud he is of Neal for not trying to get him out by illegal means as Neal looks down and swallows hard. It's one of the best Peter and Neal scenes in a long time.

As the sun rises over New York City, Mozzie prepares for his role until Neal says no conspiracies. Such a killjoy, Neal. He does make sense though. A conspiracy theorist on the scene will sound very suspicious to Peter. Bwah! Mozzie plays a jumper, complete with goofy disguise. Not sure why a suicide threat requires clearing an entire NYC building though, but that's what Neal in fireman gear tells the people in the travel agency. I'm also not sure why Neal takes off his helmet since his cover is blown if anyone comes in. He's also touching the coins without gloves. I smell plot device, but am delightfully distracted by the cop trying to engage Mozzie in conspiracy theories. I think he's literally biting his tongue. Mozzie: "Conspiracy theories are not real." Bwah! Though I do think Mozzie is a better actor than this comic relief segment shows. In the end he gets a text from Neal and basically says, "Gotcha!" to end the conversation. Cop: "So why are you here?" Mozzie: "Oh…uh, why…why do you think?" Cop: "Because somebody hurt you." Mozzie: "Let's go with that. Okay, bye." Funny, but too abrupt. The cop tells Moz he needs a psychiatric evaluation so Neal offers to take him. Sadly, just as they are about to get away with it, an overenthusiastic rookie takes the tanks Neal put the coins into. Having no other choice, they watch their loot speed off in the fire truck. Mozzie suggests they wait until the truck heads to another emergency, but Neal's day keeps getting more complicated.

Peter calls Neal in to work one last case together. Of course it is the missing coins. Peter's excited; Neal noticeably less so. Peter: "Sounds like a good one to end on, doesn't it?" Neal: "Yeah, feels about right." Peter asks Neal how he would do it and Neal concocts a different story, but Peter is too sharp for that. He notices the tanks on Neal's fireman outfit and calls foul. It's off to the firehouse they go, as Mozzie lures the truck out so the tanks will be long gone. One convertible product placement later and Neal's bubble bursts. The tanks are not on the trucks, having already been unloaded. Neal stalls for time by having Peter call for a warrant, and rigs the kitchen to create a grease fire to the chagrin of the abused rookie. Captain: "That's what I get for hiring my sister's kid." In the chaos, Neal grabs the tanks which are too big to fit through the window. Therefore, he rolls them through a hose into a baby carriage Mozzie finds in the alley. Perhaps he'll use it for another spy baby, Bartholomew 2.0. Of course Neal leaves his fingerprints all over everything so if they ever want to build a case, they've got plenty of evidence in both crime scenes. Just wiping down the tanks doesn't seem to be enough. Meanwhile Peter banters with the captain about how El hates his now charred suit coat before realizing that Neal has been AWOL the whole time. He rushes upstairs to find Neal with a stack of blankets to put out the fire. Nothing like making Peter suspicious on his first day back.

But he's not the only one. After some light banter about Chagall, Neal recaps Hagen's motives. Hagen: "You figure out what I want yet?" Neal: "Me." Bingo! Hagen has pictures of Neal breaking into the vault, which of course he could have avoided if Neal had kept the sodding helmet on. Argh! Even Mozzie finds fault with it. Moz: "So on top of your new, yet to be determined FBI handler, you now have a criminal handler to deal with?" Neal says Peter is worth it and sets up the season's mytharc. Hagen wants Neal to destroy the bonds used as evidence against him so the prosecutor can reasonably drop all charges in his appeal. Oh well, it ensures more Mark Sheppard time which can only be a good thing. What's not a good plan? Splitting Peter and Neal up with a new handler and yet another round of Peter not trusting Neal. He shares his suspicions with El when he notices that Neal's anklet monitor did not move for 4 hours. El spouts the uncrackable anklet party line of 4 seasons but Peter sums it up nicely. Peter: "Impossible is what Neal Caffrey specializes in." Well Mozzie in this case. Peter is stumped as to why Neal would steal the coins but El calls him on being emotionally involved in his cases. El: "This is the reason you landed yourself in jail." Peter agrees.

Change is coming and it starts with Peter crashing Neal's place again, who is painting to establish an alibi for why he didn’t move for 4 hours. While it might make sense for Peter to assign Diana or Jones the job of Neal's handler, Peter makes the case that they are all too much like family. It keeps them from having proper perspective. He calls Neal a criminal again and says he's let caring about Neal cloud his judgment as a handler. He wants someone to see Neal "as you are." Neal: "A criminal." He brings up Peter's previous "proud of you" speech, but that's apparently old news. Peter says a new handler is in Neal's best interest too because Peter "can't risk" Neal ending up in prison again. Peter: "I don't like this any more than you do, but it's the way it has to be." I'm sure this is supposed to elicit sympathy for both of them, but it's hard for me to sympathize with Peter here given he's been all for breaking the rules in some instances too. He hands Neal a new tracking anklet and now I really protest. Can't Neal stay off leash a little while longer? I'd enjoy seeing Neal have fun. Neal: "It looks the same on the outside. I think there's a metaphor there somewhere." Me too. It's the same White Collar but without a Peter-Neal partnership. I'd give that sour lemon look too, Neal. Neal ends the episode pondering how used he has become to the anklet. Peter: "See you tomorrow." Neal: "Goodbye Peter." That sounds ominous.

I thought this episode was a solid start to the new season but it seems like the discord between Peter and Neal has been done too often. The show works best when they have a common goal and pursue it together. I don't buy that Peter sees the world in black and white anymore. He's shown too many shades of grey along the way. I also don't buy that Neal was so easily caught by Hagen. Still I am a huge Mark Sheppard fan and I loved the equal snark exchange between Hagen and Neal. I foresee a lot of great scenes this season. I also liked that they used Mozzie well, although I would have liked more Jones and Diana. I also missed having a welcome home scene with Peter and El. I bet Satchmo missed Peter too. Leaving behind the police corruption issues sounds like a smart plan and there's bound to be more capers involved this year. I just hope that this new handler thing goes away quickly.

Episode Awards:

Best scene - Neal realizes that Hagen was after him not the gold

Best Reason to Watch - tie - resolving Peter's jail time and the return of the Dutchman

Biggest Laugh - Mozzie trying to disavow conspiracy theories

Biggest Awww Moment - tie - Peter tells Neal he's proud of him and Peter and El hugging outside the courthouse

Best Disguise - Sorry Mozzie, but I have to go with Neal on this one

Best Quotes -

Peter: "The irony of this is not lost of me."
Mozzie: "I've put my inner firebug to bed. Best not to awaken him."
El: "Well I always wanted to drive a snowmobile to work so..."
Mozzie: "The tracker says you're standing right where you are." Neal: "I am standing where I am."
Mozzie: "How farfetched. The world's most secretive organization keeping alien technology for their own gain." Cop: "Yeah I suppose you're right. What about the Kennedy assassinations?"
Mozzie: "Out of the frying pan, into the firehouse."
Peter: "Impossible is what Neal Caffrey specializes in."

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