I feel like I'm breaking some major unwritten rule of the blog (don't ask me what the other rules are, I didn't know I had any until I started to type this - obviously they are flexible *wink*) by writing an review of episode fourteen of season two of one of my absolute favorite shows EVER. But I can't help it. I've mentioned White Collar a few times here, and if you're friends with me on Facebook it's probably pretty hard to miss my love affair with this show. White Collar has been pretty much made of awesome since the series premiere - but last night's episode, aptly entitled "Payback," was SO. FREAKING. FANTASTIC. I find I must discuss it. So settle in for a lengthy recap & review - since I've never discussed this show before, I must give Neal & Peter their due. :)
FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) and his wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), or El as she's affectionately known, have one of my favorite TV marriages ever. Too often it seems like marriage on television is portrayed as either highly dysfunctional, undesirable, or some sort of last resort (why marry when you can live together? *sigh*). Peter and El are a glorious exception to that norm. They are deeply in love, respect each other, and are committed and invested in making their marriage work. There's also tons of humor in their relationship - I love that they're not afraid to tease each other or be a little silly. As I've discussed on Facebook with Rachel, a new fan of the series, one of the most delightful things about Peter's personal life is that he married way up and he knows it. This episode plays with that idea by having Peter and El have a fight involving *gasp* dry cleaning (as mundane as this may sound, trust me, this "fight" was serious business for my favs!) - to make a long story short, Peter got upset because El didn't call to remind him to pick up the dry cleaning, because she knew he'd probably forget anyway. And thus one of Peter's worst nightmares has been realized - he's one of "those" guys who never follows through for his woman. A little dramatic, sure, but this type of thing is serious business in the paradise otherwise known as the Burke household.
Conman-turned-FBI consultant Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) has become one of Peter's closest friends over the course of the show (the other half of the time he's sort of the overgrown, annoying son Peter never wanted - HA!!). The friendship between Neal and Peter is the heart and soul of the show, and how they push and pull and annoy and help and like each other in spite of it all is an absolute delight to watch each week. Neal's gotten the chance to give Peter some marriage/relationship advice before, but it was pretty funny to witness Neal's reaction to the discovery that Peter was upset over dry cleaning, and even funnier to see Peter accept Neal's counsel so quickly and gratefully. And the fact that Peter shares the story about the importance of saying "hon" to El with Neal? Absolutely priceless. They've come a long way, baby. *wink*
This episode witnesses the return of Neal's nemesis Matthew Keller (Ross McCall), last seen in episode twelve of season one ("Bottlenecked"). When we last saw Keller, he had just ripped off the Russian mob to the tune of 2.5 million dollars and was actually perhaps thankful to be arrested by the FBI. Keller is Neal's polar opposite in pretty much every way imaginable - he's as classless as Neal is like Cary Grant (wasn't his glee over having Peter compare him to Grant hilarious?). Prior to his scheduled transfer to a SuperMax (filled with lots of Russians), Keller requests a meeting. In exchange for giving up info on a forger making "Caffrey-quality" perfect passports, he wants his transfer cancelled. The forger turns out to be an old associate of Keller's - one Jason Lang (Adam Goldberg), now a photographer. When Neal and Peter visit Lang's studio to check out Keller's story, it proves to be a set-up, as Peter is kidnapped and Neal receives a phone call from Keller, who promises to kill Peter unless Neal cooperates. The look of absolute HORROR on Neal's face as he witnesses Peter being stuffed in the van was wrenching, and of course I loved every second it since it spoke to the depth of their friendship.
Keller wants an item Neal has worth (conveniently) 2.5 million to pay off the Russians in exchange for Peter's life. While Peter's boss Reese (James Rebhorn) organizes the "largest manhunt in a decade" to get Peter back, he orders Neal not to engage Keller, since the FBI doesn't negotiate. But of course - and this is the beauty of Neal - he doesn't take orders well, and since no one knows Keller better than him and he has to get his BFF back alive, he arranges a meet with Mozzie (Willie Garson) to plan a course of action. Mozzie is just adorable, and the fact that he's so upset over "the Suit's" (a.k.a. Peter) kidnapping that he brings an "arsenal of hammers" to the meeting with Neal was truly a heartwarming (if eccentric) moment. The hammer was required to chisel a GORGEOUS ring from its hiding place on a statue. The ring was meant for Kate (who, thankfully, is DEAD and anyway Neal, she didn't deserve a rock like that, nevermind a proposal!!), but in perhaps one of the best moments in a show chock-full of priceless scenes, Neal declares that using the ring to save Peter is more important than hanging onto it as a symbol of what he lost with Kate (and their pathetic love story...oh wait, I'm projecting my disdain for Kate here...whoops...).
This episode was such a great showcase for the unlikely family of sorts that's formed between Peter, El, Neal, and Mozzie. There was a time when Mozzie would've refused to darken the door of an FBI agent's home, but he's grown to like Peter, and he has this hilariously special bond with El (because seriously, who doesn't lover her, she's awesome) that compels him to go offer his support to her while she's waiting on word regarding Peter's whereabouts. Not only does Mozzie assure El that Peter is sure to be home for dinner, but he drops a kiss on her forehead (GAH!!! SO SWEET!!!) and then bugs the FBI's headphones to El can hear all the calls that come into her home. That, my friends, is true and abiding love as only Mozzie could display it. The writers gave Mozzie some of his most hilarious lines yet, including this priceless gem that he drops after El confides in him about her morning "fight" with Peter - "The longest relationship I ever had was eleven days...and then she deflated" - I laughed so hard at Garson's deadpan delivery on that line!
Another fascinating thing to witness throughout this show has been the role reversal that Peter and Neal undergo as their friendship/partnership develops. The straight-as-an-arrow Peter has become a bit more lax about the rules thanks to his association with Neal. He has this wonderful faith in Neal's character, in his innate goodness, that allows him to trust the former conman's judgment when everyone else thinks he's crazy. A great illustration of this moment is when Neal convinces Diana (Marsha Thomason) to allow him to "go rogue" and attempt to work with Keller in order to ensure Peter's safety - because that's what Peter would let him do. And though Neal doesn't have nearly as much faith in himself as Peter does (I really want to know more about his parents!), he's learned to trust Peter and embrace - to some extent, anway - the system he once opposed.
When Keller escapes*, Reese comes down hard on Neal for attempting to work outside the FBI's strict protocols. But this set-down turns into an excuse for even more brilliance on the parts of Neal and Peter when Peter, having escaped his handcuffs, calls the office needing Neal to walk him through a jailbreak. Oh my word, that was awesome. From Neal running around the office building a mock-up of Peter's cell, to Peter proving just how fantastic and capable he is in a pinch by following - and more importantly, trusting - Neal's instructions and nailing his kidnapper, the role-reversal was a great cap to what is probably my favorite episode of the series yet. It was also nice to see Neal validate Peter's faith in him and prove his worth to the teamAND to have all of the above acknowledged by Reese.
*This show really needs to give Clinton Jones (Sharif Atkins) a little more to do. When subordinate FBI team members get screen time, the bulk of it seems to fall in favor of Diana - and she's a great character, but that tendency unfortunately makes poor Jones occasionally seem a bit superfluous.
So, all's well that ends well this hour as Peter gets to be daring and brave and dashing in the field and Neal gets to play the part of heroic and stalwart consultant/agent. And they hug at the end of the episode. THEY HUG. I can't let this overly-long blog end without mentioning the hug, because it was freaking awesome. I don't believe Keller is due to return this season, but I am oh so happy that the showrunners are setting him up as recurring Neal's nemesis. As I suggested to Rachel, Keller disappearing on the streets of New York is like Moriarty to Neal's Sherlock. The moment where he accuses Neal of "sounding like a lawman" was PRICELESS, moreso since Neal didn't refute the claim. My darling hero is more and more accepting of a future on the right side of the law. And while his methods are sure to remain unorthodox, I can't wait to see where this ride takes Neal, Peter, and company next. With superb writing and clear affection for these characters I've fallen in love with, White Collar is on fire story-wise - if you've never watched this show, what on earth are you waiting for? :)
Just because I love Neal, and I love Neal in suits, and I really adore Neal in vests too, here's another gratuitous Matt Bomer pic from the episode:
Here's a few scene clips from "Payback" that I found on White Collar's YouTube channel: