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Thursday, September 20, 2012

A "Vested Interest" in the success of White Collar

USA's mid-season finale of White Collar is not what I expected. Recently, White Collar finales have been marked by huge events, with a normal case-of-the-week disappearing in favor of larger-scale plots. Last night's, "Vested Interest," is a typical story, with a one-shot bad guy that must be caught. However, that can be overlooked because the episode does something important. It makes major progress on the trust that has been missing between Peter (Tim DeKay) and Neal (Matt Bomer).

Over the first two years of the series, this central pair build a lasting bond of friendship. In season three, this is put at risk because Neal is complicit in Mozzie's (Willie Garson) theft of the stolen Nazi treasure. This leads to Peter becoming regularly more suspicious of Neal. Peter stops confiding in Neal about things that he should, which makes Neal wary in turn. They still care a lot about one another, but they no longer have that unspoken relationship that pulls them together so strongly, and it looks like they may soon split completely.

"Vested Interest" does a lot to heal that. Much credit can be given to Peter, but then, we've already seen Neal stick his neck out for the other guy before, so it doesn't feel one-sided. Peter actually feels bad for how he has been handling the situation with Sam (Treat Williams, Everwood), so he sort of extends an olive branch. Neal bats it away at first, but realizes that Peter's instincts are usually correct, and so chooses Peter's side over Sam's. This is what finally allows them to heal the relationship.

Does that mean that things between Neal and Peter can get back to normal? What is normal for them? Their closest phase lasted only a short time, and considering the origins of their partnership and the still-missing treasure, there will long be a gap between them that can not be completely bridged. I'm not saying that, at the end of the series, we might not finally see complete trust. I'm saying, given the circumstances, that will be very hard to come by. As much as I like seeing them get along, it makes White Collar more interesting that they don't always.

As for the main meat of the episode, a story where Peter and Neal attend a conference where the inventor of a super bullet proof vest (Pawel Szajda, Generation Kill) is almost kidnapped, it works. It's definitely one of the more entertaining episodes, with Neal and Peter giving a public talk about their partnership with a moderator (Ned Eisenberg, Law & Order: SVU), and a thrilling shootout. Neal wearing the vest sort of cheapens his rescue efforts, but it works pretty well.

"Vested Interest" does end with a bombshell. Neal learns that Sam is actually his father. Was this man a crooked cop? What can he do to make up for missing most of Neal's life? Will he stick around as a recurring character for years to come, the preferred development, or will he soon be killed off or disappear again, the more likely scenarios? There are plenty of questions here to ponder.

White Collar will return to USA to finish its fourth season in January.

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