Bad news first: At no point in the White Collar season premiere does Neal wander around shirtless. Nor does he get captured and tied up and/or roughed up by miscreants. There are certain reasons why viewers turn to White Collar, and the expected weekly dose of Nealsploitation ranks high among those reasons.
So that’s disappointing.
More bad news: This is a thoroughly okayish kind of episode, but nothing more. Really, for a season premiere, it’s a bit underwhelming. Still, Neal is his usual beautiful and irrepressible self, and Peter is his usual gruff yet sympathetic self, and they still have that same fun chemistry and snappy banter that made the first season so satisfying, so how bad can things be? Mozzie, Elizabeth, June and Jones are all back, and Marsha Thomason even returns as Peter’s smart and savvy subordinate Diana; it’s good to see them all.
It’s been two months since the plane explosion that killed Kate. After a brief return to prison, Neal goes back to working with Peter as an FBI consultant. Ah, the idyllic world of White Collar, where Neal’s biggest complaint about prison life is the inadequate coffee.
Peter and Neal investigate a series of bank heists pulled off by a criminal calling himself “The Architect,” who leaves personalized business cards at the scenes of his crimes. I’m a little confused as to how the FBI could possibly lump armed robbery into the category of white-collar crime, but let’s go with it. From the distinctive Cyrillic “A” on the Architect’s card, Neal figures the culprit is a fan of Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky. From there, Neal unravels the identity of the Architect: art buff and wealthy businessman Edwin Walker. Walker is played by Tim “Otter” Matheson, who: a) also directed this episode, and b) also directed the premiere of USA’s splashy new series Covert Affairs, which immediately followed. So Matheson pretty much owned Tuesday night on USA.
Neal and Peter visit Walker at his personal putting green, which is located on the rooftop terrace of a Manhattan skyscraper. This is a negligent homicide charge waiting to happen. Walker is smarmy and arrogant, and they get nowhere with him. Also, Walker pokes fun at Neal’s golf ability and the electronic monitoring device on his ankle, so Neal swears to take him down.
Meanwhile, in a side plot, Peter and Mozzie keep skulking around and having clandestine meetings to exchange worried observations about Neal’s mental state following Kate’s murder. They’re both fretting up a storm about this, but honestly, Neal seems fairly hale and chipper about the whole ghastly business.
Oh, also, Elizabeth only makes one brief appearance (possibly owing to Tiffani Thiessen’s late stage of pregnancy during filming), in which she and Peter chat about Neal over lunch at Rockefeller Center, or at least a reasonable green-screen facsimile. I could be wrong -- White Collar films in New York, so there’s no reason they couldn’t have used the real location, but it struck me as strangely flat and artificial. Here’s hoping they increase Elizabeth’s presence in the rest of the season -- she’s a necessary and welcome component of the show.
Acting on his own, Neal orchestrates an allegedly accidental meeting with Walker’s attractive assistant. While Neal plies her with glasses of wine, Mozzie steals her phone and copies her schedule. Granted, Neal is just shamelessly exploiting this poor lady, but there are worse ways to kill an afternoon than hanging out in a posh wine bar while flirting with lovely Neal. After Mozzie successfully swipes her information, Neal gets rid of her by cheerfully telling her the truth about his criminal history. “You’re the first girl I’ve had a drink with since I got out of prison,” he chirps. She beats a hasty retreat.
Peter and Neal find a suspicious bank appointment on Walker’s schedule. They stake out the bank… you know what? I’m just not feeling this plot. I’ve been making glacially slow progress writing this recap, just because this episode really didn’t do much for me. It wasn’t bad -- it was just familiar, and more than a little dull. It’s the season premiere! I wanted more from the season premiere. Anyway, here’s the greatly condensed version of the plot: It turns out Walker is one step ahead of Peter and Neal. There’s another bank heist, and Walker gets away with the money, but Neal and Peter track down his accomplice and eventually manage to bring Walker to justice, the end.
And in another side plot, Mozzie tells Neal that the music box that Kate spent most of last season pursuing has been replaced by a counterfeit. And it turns out that Diana, of all people, is currently in possession of the original. I don’t know what that means, and honestly, I’m not all that interested. At this late stage, the whole music box plotline seems very last season.
So that was the premiere of White Collar. Not a disaster, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Let’s hope the rest of the season perks up a bit.