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Friday, March 11, 2011

White Collar goes "Under the Radar"

     The season finale of USA's White Collar this week was as frustrating as just about anything I've ever watched. USA is known for a certain type of show: procedurals that are a bit better on character development than the average network offering of the genre. I admit, I find about half of USA's shows unwatchable because of how strong the procedural elements are, but White Collar is one of the better ones. Or it usually is. The season finale left me confused and annoyed.

     First, let's hit the strong points of the episode. Neal's (Matthew Bomer) growing relationship with Sara (Hilarie Burton, who will be a series regular next year) is sweet. The double date dinner party the two of them have with Peter (Tim DeKay) and Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) feels right, and appears to open up the possibility of a more domesticated Neal. I would say that's a great example of Peter rubbing off on Neal, except we have seen that Neal is no stranger to the love of one woman before. Elizabeth calming Sara's nerves about jumping into something with a former con man was a high point of the episode.

     Neal and Peter's relationship, really the central linchpin of the show, has blossomed into wonderful understanding. While captured by baddie Adler (Andrew McCarthy), the two of them have great banter, and complete faith in each other. They break into an old German sub loaded with massive amounts of treasure. It's the ultimate find that the music box mystery of the past two seasons has been leading them to. Yet, all I can think about is how much I enjoy watching Neal and Peter work together. I could care less about the treasure. It is a mark of how well the characters are written.

     Lastly, the team has come together in surprising and wonderful ways. Mozzie (Willie Garson) still hates the 'suits', but has a respect for Peter. Diana (Marsha Thomason) hates Mozzie, but finds Neal likable enough. The two elements of cops and robbers are meshing nicely and naturally. It's a slow process, far from complete, just as it should be. And with Jones (Sharif Atkins, still not a series regular, but should be!) finally being included in the off-the-book operations, it feels like a family has formed on the series. Funniest line in this vein? Mozzie not-even-close-to-convincingly saying "Nuts!" as he flees from Jones during a contrived set-up. Which by the way, despite the funny line, that scene is completely awkward and not at all believable, for the audience or the mark.

     Unfortunately, the finale contains massive plot holes that make the whole experience a mixed bag, at best. The most glaring is how Peter has concluded that Neal has gone bad. After everything they have gone through, and the massive effort Neal has taken to putting his trust in Peter, how can Peter abandon him so quickly? Yes, the evidence of the exploding building and fragment of Neal's painting look bad, but that should not change core emotions. Neal and Peter are best friends. It does not make sense that Peter will not give Neal the benefit of the doubt for at least a little while.

     Secondly, Adler just behaves completely erratic. He loses contact with Neal and Peter in the German boat, but doesn't run in with guns blazing. It's more a calm saunter, with Adler out in front, unprotected from a sudden attack that Neal and Peter could have been ready to stage. And why didn't they? There are only a couple of guards in the facility. There are plenty of potential weapons in the treasure trove. I just don't get it.

     Adler's biggest mistake is not killing his prisoners outright. A few bullets in the head, and it would have all been over. Instead, he sends his goons to leave them tied up in a shipyard, then wait til they wake up from the drugs, and leave them unobserved as the hollow fills with water. Even if Adler has a penchant for theatrics, as Neal says he does, that would mean he would have wanted to watch them die. He is nowhere nearby. The guards don't even stick around to watch. That may have worked for old, James Bond-style knockoffs, but it's implausible and stupid here. The writers ought to know better.

     And seriously, the kiss between Neal and Alex (Gloria Votsis)? I get the emotions involved in the moment. I don't get why Sara wasn't immediately out of the van and up to Neal before it could happen. I don't get why Neal actually was into it, when he had something really nice brewing with Sara. He's always been shown as a monogamous guy. This was out of character.

     The mystery left is, who delivers the treasure to Neal with that note and key? I'm thinking it's obviously Alex, though why didn't she keep it for herself? Or at least half? I just want to see how Neal clears his name. At least Peter didn't come bursting in, gun drawn, while Neal is surrounded by the treasure, as I expected him to do after the rest of the shoddy story.
   
     White Collar will return in the summer on USA.


Article first published as TV Review: White Collar - "Under the Radar" on Blogcritics.

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