White Collar: Front Man

Neal tells his gorgeous former cohort Alex (Gloria Votsis) that he’s willing to steal the music box and give it to her… after he’s done with it. Alex, suspecting the box won’t be worth a plumb nickel after Neal gets his beautiful grubby fingers all over it, insists they split the proceeds fifty-fifty. Alex is a smart lady. It’s a moot point at the moment anyway, since she refuses to do business with him until he demonstrates he can get the FBI tracking device on his ankle off whenever he needs to.

At FBI headquarters, Neal and Peter meet with Agent Kimberly Rice (Law & Order: SVU’s Diane Neal) of the Kidnapping and Missing Persons division, who wants to borrow Neal to help her with a new case. The young daughter of Stuart Gless, the CEO of the company whose bonds Neal was convicted of forging, has been kidnapped by Ryan Wilkes (Charles Malik Whitfield), the head of a brutal crime syndicate and one of Neal’s former partners; Rice thinks Neal’s insights into the way Wilkes operates will help them track down the missing girl, Lindsey.

(I love how every other guest star on this show turns out to be either one of Neal’s old partners or a former nemesis -- or both at once, as in the case of Wilkes here. For plot purposes, may the well of vengeance-driven adversaries never dry up.)

Stuart Gless claims Wilkes has made contact with him, but has not yet given him any ransom demands. When Neal tries to question Gless about the kidnapping, Agent Rice gets prickly with him. Waxing metaphorically, she compares Neal to a tool in her belt and orders him to wait in the car. None of this endears her to Neal.

Peter, who: a) is suspicious of Rice’s intentions in using Neal for this operation, b) doesn’t much like Rice, and c) wants Neal all to himself again, party-crashes Rice's investigation and helps Neal snoop around outside Gless's apartment. They (conveniently) find a coat-check stub for an underground casino, presumably left by one of Wilkes’s accomplices. Rice orders Neal to go undercover in the casino to try to find out what Wilkes is up to. She agrees to let Neal remove his anklet for this purpose. Neal, who has been kind of bummed about this whole operation, perks up at this.

Mozzie is incredulous that Neal would let himself be used as bait to trap Wilkes -- Neal, naughty boy that he is, screwed Wilkes out of half a million dollars during their last scheme together (Neal piously claims he did it because he objected to Wilkes's use of violence), and Wilkes has been very clear about wanting to settle the score.

Back at FBI headquarters, Peter talks to Stuart Gless, who inadvertently tips him off to Wilkes’s demands: Wilkes asked the FBI to give him Neal in exchange for Lindsay, a bit of information that Agent Rice neglected to mention to Peter. Peter calls Neal to warn him, but Wilkes sneaks up on Neal, tasers him unconscious, and tosses him in the back of a van.

New rule: Any episode where Neal gets manhandled or tied up is automatically a good episode. Funny how that works.

Wilkes roughs up Neal and orders him to charm the receptionist at a travel agency into giving him the itinerary and travel plans for a man named Thomas Loze. When his charm and dimples (surprisingly) fail to work on the receptionist, Neal resorts to guilt-tripping the information out of her. He also gets her to send a text message about the travel agency’s rewards program to Mozzie.

Irked at the way Rice mishandled the situation, Hughes puts Peter in charge of finding Neal and Lindsey. Peter examines a DVD sent to Gless featuring Lindsey holding up a current newspaper while pleading with her father to obey the kidnappers’ demands. From the (overly convenient) foghorn noises in the background and the crumbling wall behind Lindsey, he deduces she’s being held in an old building by the waterfront.

(Look: I’m flexible here. I’m willing to assume the kidnappers left behind the coat-check stub deliberately to lure Neal into their trap, even though apparently Agent Rice already knew about the casino, since that’s where she was supposed to hand Neal over to them. But… posing their hostage in front of distinctive architecture? With foghorn noises in the background? Sloppy, Wilkes. Sloppy!)

Neal refuses to go along with Wilkes’s scheme any further until he has proof Lindsey is still alive, so Wilkes knocks him unconscious again and takes him to where Lindsey is being held. Neal reassures Lindsey the FBI is actively looking for her, then agrees to help Wilkes in Round Two of his plan.

Wilkes orders Neal to pose as a limo driver, meet Mr. Loze at the airport when his flight arrives from Sydney, steal his titanium briefcase, and hand it off to Wilkes at a specified location at four o’clock. If he does all this, Wilkes promises to release Lindsey. Wilkes leaves Neal to his own devices during all this, apparently trusting Neal to follow his instructions and not try to contact the FBI for help. Oh, Wilkes. Not much of an arch-nemesis, are you?

Peter comes home to find Mozzie having tea with Elizabeth (hi, Elizabeth! We haven’t seen much of you these past few episodes!). Mozzie tells him about the travel agency text message, which he suspects is a distress call from Neal. Peter discovers from the agency that Neal was asking about Loze’s travel plans. Loze turns out to be the alias of Edward Reilly, a highly dangerous trafficker of stolen goods.

Following Reilly’s itinerary, Peter and Agent Rice intercept Neal at the airport while he’s waiting to meet Reilly’s flight. Neal tells them he doesn’t know exactly where Lindsey is being held, but he gives them the name of the Chinese restaurant from which one of Wilkes’s henchmen had ordered takeout, which should help them pinpoint the location.

After Peter and Rice leave, Mozzie approaches Neal. You know, what with all of Neal’s surprise visitors in this scene, Wilkes probably should have reconsidered his decision not to keep an eye on Neal at the airport. Upon hearing that Neal is planning on robbing notorious criminal Reilly, who is known for killing people with his bare hands, Mozzie tries to talk him out of it. Neal convinces Mozzie to help him run a scam on Reilly (Mozzie makes a big deal of getting into character by taking off his glasses and replacing them with an identical pair, which is sort of hilarious and makes me lose my heart to Mozzie, just a bit, in this episode).

Neal and Mozzie pose as Customs agents and intercept Loze at baggage claim. They rifle through his titanium briefcase and find hundreds of fully-loaded high-limit credit cards (when Neal opens the case, it shines gold up onto his face, a la Pulp Fiction). Neal and Mozzie hint around broadly that they’d be perfectly amenable to being bribed, and Loze, who seems pretty laid-back and cooperative for a vicious criminal, cheerfully gives them the case in exchange for his freedom.

Neal, case in hand, meets Wilkes by the waterfront as arranged. Wilkes gives the order for his men to kill Lindsey, then prepares to shoot Neal. Peter rescues Lindsey, the rest of the FBI swoop in and arrest Wilkes, Peter and Agent Rice exchange congratulations, and in all the chaos, Neal strolls off without his tracking device.

Neal meets with Alex and shows her his unfettered ankle. In exchange, she gives him an origami flower with the location of the music box written on it.

When Neal returns to FBI headquarters, he claims he simply forgot he was no longer wearing the tracking device. Peter is not fooled. He knows Neal met with Alex, and he knows Neal is planning on stealing the music box. He gives him a lecture on doing the right thing and helping people and not stealing stuff, which goes in one of Neal’s beautiful ears and out the other.

Next week: Season finale!


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