White Collar: Bad Judgment

Hey, you know what’s a really fun show? The excellent new USA Network series White Collar, which features Carnivale’s Tim DeKay as FBI Special Agent Peter Burke, Chuck’s Matthew Bomer as convicted con artist/art thief/fashion plate Neal Caffrey, and Matthew Bomer’s cheekbones as one of the natural wonders of the world. As part of his sentence, Neal works under Peter’s supervision as a special consultant to the FBI on white-collar crimes. Meanwhile, he also follows a string of clues in search of his duplicitous girlfriend Kate, whom he believes is in the clutches of rogue FBI agent Garrett Fowler (Noah Emmerich). The charm of the show is in the dynamic between the two leads: Neal is charismatic and sneaky yet fundamentally sweet, whereas Peter is straightlaced and gruff, but genuinely seems to get a kick out of Neal.

Previously on White Collar: Neal told Peter he’d been set up by Fowler, Peter told Neal about his clandestine meeting with Kate in which Kate asked for a priceless jewelry box Neal once stole in exchange for getting out of Neal’s life for good, and Neal pointedly did not tell Peter that he didn’t really steal the jewelry box in question, but just let everyone think he took it so all the other world-class thieves would think he was cool. This is the way Neal’s brain works.

At the FBI headquarters, Peter and Neal meet with a man named David Sullivan, who wants them to investigate his now-deceased father’s fishy second mortgage. Peter examines the file and sees that all of the documents appear to have been properly signed and notarized. The only odd thing about the case is that the NYPD detective who initially investigated the fraud charges, Officer Herrera, retired this year at the tender age of 33, lucky fellow.

Peter and Neal meet with Herrera at a coffee shop. Hey, it’s Erik Palladino! Palladino is probably best known for his stint on ER, but he’s near and dear to my heart as slutty gymnastics coach Marty on the moderately good/moderately awful Family Channel series Make It Or Break It. Palladino also hasn’t seen 33 for about a decade, but that’s neither here nor there. Herrera insists there’s nothing funny about his retirement -- he was just sick of the grind. He prepares to leave, then makes a big show of leaving the tip for their coffee: $4.76.

(This show really is pretty clever. It’s a tip. See? Double meaning. Okay, it might not be brilliant, but someone is putting in the effort to make the scripts fresh and interesting, and I appreciate that.)

Peter and Neal pore over the Sullivan case files and discover that 476 is the ID number for Federal District Judge Michelle Clark, who presided over the Sullivan case as well as a number of other suspicious foreclosure cases. Neal’s omnipresent friend/cohort/broker/sometime lawyer Mozzie (Willie Garson) clues Neal in on another interesting fact about Judge Clark: She signed the search warrant and arrest papers when Fowler had Neal arrested on false charges of stealing a diamond a couple episodes back. From that, Neal deduces that Fowler probably has Judge Clark in his pocket.

Peter’s smart, sensible wife Elizabeth (a weirdly good Tiffani Thiessen), who works as an event planner, summons Peter back to the house for lunch to test out the caterer’s menu for a new shindig. She asks him to bring Neal and his superior palate along as well. En route to the house, Neal grills Peter about how he managed to get in contact with Kate last episode. Peter won’t tell him, but Neal asks him to pass along a message: Did the empty wine bottle she left for him after he escaped from prison really mean goodbye?

(Kate is transparently no good for Neal, and he’s kind of an idiot about her, and in fact his obsession with her has a good chance of eventually destroying his life. Peter knows this, Mozzie knows this, and all evidence suggests that at some level Neal knows this as well, but he’s so hopelessly in love that he doesn’t care. The Kate plotline adds kind of a cool Cowboy Bebop-esque dimension to what could otherwise be a pretty straightforward crime procedural.)

At the Burke home, while Peter and Neal grimace their way through some godawful foie gras, Elizabeth mentions that a cable repairman unexpectedly dropped by earlier in the day. Elizabeth, who is no fool, had called the cable company and confirmed that the cable was down in the neighborhood, but when a suspicious Peter redials the number, he finds it’s been disconnected. Sure enough, there’s a listening device inside the cable box.

Armed with top-of-the-line Russian military surplus equipment, Mozzie arrives at the Burke home to sweep for more bugs, which he does with a great deal of zest and enthusiasm. (Elizabeth: “I don’t think he bugged the dog.” Mozzie: “Amateur.”)

Diabolical Agent Fowler breezes into the FBI headquarters and announces that he’ll be working out of their office on a project for a while, which causes Neal and Peter to seethe and fume and pull faces at each other. Neal examines Sullivan’s father’s signature on the mortgage file and concludes that it’s a fake. While demonstrating optimal forging technique (always forge upside down, as though you’re copying a drawing instead of a signature), he flawlessly duplicates Peter’s signature. Peter is equal parts impressed and wary.

Peter meets with Judge Clarke, who is attractive and friendly. She claims not to recall the Sullivan case, or any of the other suspicious forgery cases over which she presided. When Peter applies pressure, she makes a not-terribly-veiled offer of a bribe of a quarter million dollars. She secretly videotapes the meeting while Peter appears to consider her offer.

Judge Clark calls Fowler to fill him in. Fowler asks for the incriminating tape so he can use it against Peter, but she promises to release it only if he agrees to seal the files on the suspicious mortgages. Peter’s boss Hughes drops by the Burke home in the middle of the night to secretly warn him that the FBI is launching an internal investigation based on Judge Clark’s bribe offer. Which... I'm not sure why the FBI, Hughes excepted, would be so ready to believe that Peter was going to accept the bribe. He's investigating a case, and by extension he's investigating Clark for fraud. Was his only correct course of action to arrest Clark and thus possibly blow his whole case as soon as she made the bribe? Really?

Mozzie passes along an anonymous letter to Neal, which contains only a chess move. Mozzie wonders if it’s from Kate, but Neal insists that Kate hates chess. This is another reason to regard Kate as a highly suspicious character. Chess is awesome. Neal heads over to his chess board, makes the move, and discovers it’s an iconoclastic (and wholly illegal) opening with a black piece. I suppose it was more dramatically interesting to have Neal walk to his chess set and physically move a piece, but I call bullshit on this scene. Neal’s a sharp cookie, and he plays a lot of chess -- he would’ve seen from a glance at the chess notation that he was moving a piece from the seventh or eighth rank, which would have to be a black piece.

He’s interrupted by a surprise visit from Elizabeth, who asks him to help out Peter by breaking into the judge’s chambers and stealing the incriminating videotape. Elizabeth is pretty and charming and strong-willed, and thus can get away with blithely asking an ex-convict on probation to commit a felony without seeming like an asshole. Neal agrees to do it, so Mozzie devises an Byzantine tape-stealing strategy, which he demonstrates to Neal through the use of an old game board, a handful of toy soldiers, a pumpkin magnet, and a covered wagon toy.

Fowler fulfills his promise to Judge Clark and freezes the Sullivan files. Without access to the files, Peter’s investigation is severely hampered. He meets again with Officer Herrera, who is still unwilling to help, but who mentions that he was never able to get a search warrant for Judge Clark’s chambers -- that’s probably where she’s keeping the money from the illegal foreclosures.

Neal and Mozzie set their (elaborate and ludicrous) operation to swipe the tape in motion: While Mozzie waylays the real courier, Neal dons a courier uniform, slips into the courthouse, and picks up the tape, which is set to be delivered to Fowler. He uses a super-strong magnet to erase the tape, whips off the courier uniform, changes into one of his usual impeccably-tailored suits, intercepts the real courier, and hands off the now-worthless tape to him.

In the middle of this, Peter calls to fill him in on what he learned from Herrera. As soon as he learns that Judge Clark might have the money in her chambers, Neal happily picks her lock with a paperclip and does a quick search of the place. He can’t find the money, so he ransacks the place to make it readily apparent that he’s been in there. It’s kinda hard to follow his train of thought here, but Neal often moves in mysterious ways.

Judge Clark returns to her chambers and discovers the break-in. Mozzie and Neal listen in while she tells her assistant she’ll need to move the money to a deposit box at Certified National the next day.

During Peter’s disciplinary hearing, Fowler goes to play the incriminating tape. Thanks to Neal, it’s now blank. Fowler flounces out of the office and sees Neal, the scalawag, grinning at him. Neal has just enough personal dignity to keep from thumbing his nose as well, but you can tell he's considering it.

Peter fills Neal in on Judge Clark’s plan to transfer the money in the morning. Peter knows Fowler is tapping his cell phone, so Neal and Peter stage a big fake phone call in which Peter claims Judge Clark will give him the real tape in exchange for money.

Fowler accosts Judge Clark outside Certified National and demands the tape. He grabs her briefcase and finds that it’s filled with the foreclosure money. Peter and Hughes and the rest of the FBI swoop in and surround them. Peter tells Fowler he’s going to arrest Clark for mortgage fraud. He’s got Fowler’s signature on her arrest warrant -- flawlessly forged by Neal, naturally -- and informs Fowler that, if he confirms that it’s his own genuine signature, he’ll look like a hero for bringing down Clark. If he denies it, it’ll raise questions as to why Fowler was meeting with Clark, if he had no plans to arrest her.

Peter passes along a message from Kate to Neal: See Robert. As Robert is Kate’s dead father, they head out to the cemetery, where they meet up with Mozzie. Neal finds an origami iris tucked into a bouquet of fresh flowers on Robert’s grave, which he pockets before Peter can see it. Mozzie secretly asks him if the iris means what he thinks it means. Neal replies, “I think it does.”

A cool little show. I’m digging it. Let’s see where it goes.


Anonymous said…
I'm thrilled you're recapping "White Collar" which has turned out to be one of those shows I anxiously look forward to each week. I've mentioned before that I absolutely love the older brother/younger brother vibe between Peter and Neal and the chemistry between the actors helps sell the pairing. Since they're the centre point of the show, it's a huge plus. The icing on the cake, however, are the actors who round out the ensemble. I find myself caring about and interested in Elizabeth and Mozzie and the other agents. All the various interactions compliment each other and make the show feel like it has far more layers than I thought it would have before watching the pilot.

I also like how the show (and this episode is a great example) balances out the drama with well timed humour (Mozzie debugging the house and Elizabeth's comment about the dog, Peter and Neal's reaction to the bad pate).

My reaction at seeing Erik Palladino was the same as yours -- first I thought of "ER" and then "Make It Or Break It" (which I don't get in Canada so I have to download it off of certain sites).

I also called BS on people thinking Peter would take the bribe, but for the sake of an otherwise strong show (and episode) I was willing to look the other way.

Kate...is a character I'm still not sure about. I like that so many people think she's up to no good and Neal seems to grasp that but can't quite let her go. I'm curious to see how this plays out.

On a side note, the only real weakness of this show for me is Natalie Morales who plays Agent Lauren Cruz. She wasn't in this episode and I definitely didn't miss her. I find myself unable to warm up to her and much prefer Marsha Thomason who played Diana Lancing in the pilot. She made much more of an impression on me in one episode than Morales has over the course of many.
Morgan Richter said…
I've only seen five or six of the first eight episodes, and thus far Agent Cruz really hasn't registered with me much at all, other than noting that she's very pretty. Maybe as the series goes along, her character will take stronger shape.

I have yet to decide if I love or hate Make It Or Break It. It's a guilty pleasure.

Peter and Neal are great together. I love how they both seem to get a kick out of each other. And yeah, Mozzie and Elizabeth are both strong. They cast the right actors, and they've got some good writers.

I was worried at first that the whole Kate plot would make Neal look like a chump, but it's surprisingly effective and even sort of poignant. It'll be interesting to see where it goes.
Anonymous said…
I've only seen five or six of the first eight episodes, and thus far Agent Cruz really hasn't registered with me much at all, other than noting that she's very pretty.

Right now this is my problem with her. The only thing I get from her is that she's pretty and finds Neal attractive but "hides" that behind put upon indifference and attitude. I can handle it if it's just one episode we're talking about, but it's every one she's in. Either she needs to be fleshed out or she needs to be replaced with someone else. I still stand by the actress from the pilot.

Peter and Elizabeth are rivaling the Taylors on "Friday Night Lights" as my favourite renderings of a married couple. In both cases I actually believe these people are friends with each other, which in turn makes me believe in the strength of their marriages. Elizabeth isn't clingy/needy, she's smart and has a sense of humour. There's an ease to her relationship with Peter which makes her interactions with Neal feel friendly and platonic, not with some underlying hint of something else.
Morgan Richter said…
There's an ease to her relationship with Peter which makes her interactions with Neal feel friendly and platonic, not with some underlying hint of something else.

I agree with this a thousandfold. I'd be really disappointed in the show if they ever tried to suggest something between Neal and Elizabeth, because Elizabeth and Peter seem so mature and stable and natural together. It's refreshing, and really puts into perspective how accustomed we've become to seeing tedious and belabored relationships on television. Peter and Elizabeth make their marriage look like fun, which is an accomplishment.

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