“Neal Caffrey, at your service.” Is there no end to Neal’s skills? Apparently not, as in this episode of White Collar, he helps a case as an undercover butler. And of course, looks like a million bucks doing it.
[SPOILER heavy – proceed with caution]
After the tighter tension of the first four episodes of the season, this standalone gives us a breather from the greater season story arc, and yet in the process actually gives Our Man, Caffrey, yet another master. Thankfully, this one is by choice and is part of a case. Seems Elizabeth Burke (nee Mitchell) spent some time overseas in her early years and did some tutoring, specifically to young Patrick Wolcott, apparent soon to be heir of the Wolcott fortunes. The fact that there is a case at all is brought to the front because El has a feeling something is off, and this heir apparent doesn’t ring true to the boy she tutored back in the day. Since Patrick has been MIA overseas — primarily in Europe – for 15 years, no one in the family is any wiser to the prodigal son’s return. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a stretch that it takes an outsider like El to suss out a bad vibe, but then she is married to FBI ASAC Peter Burke and she is, as he reminds us quite often, a terribly clever and smart woman. I’ll give her that.
We’ve already had one encounter in the Burke’s bedroom this season, so it’s no surprise when we open this episode with a pretty amusing, very Burke-ish romantic moment gone awry. Peter’s hot for El, sure, but on this day he’s just hot in general – with the flu. El shuts his amorous passions down but can’t keep his work ethic in check as he insists he’s fine and can go to the office. You just know this can’t lead to anything good, but you also can’t help but want to see how bad it can get for our favorite Fed.
We’re allowed a fun, divergent side story with Mozzie and some honeybee hives. Mozzie explains to Neal that the North American honeybees are still in the throes of Colony Collapse (which is true, credit to Moz for taking up the torch), and that he’d be doing Mother Nature – and grape growers — a solid by taking a hive or three. Neal concedes to housing one, with the admission that a hive would be a great place to store contraband (that got a good guffaw out of me) but I have to wonder what poor June would have to say about having bees on her terrace. She didn’t get a vote, methinks. And Mozzie being Mozzie, he’s looking to use the byproducts of honey- propolis and pollen- as a side business.
When El visits the family to help with acquiring art from a gallery, she finds the family’s long standing butler, Stanton, literally on the way out. William tells her that Stanton leaked the details of his ailing health to the media (he’s got a bad ticker), so this is our cue to wait for EL to get clued in that things aren’t as they should be in the Wolcott household (long employed, trusted butler to the family suddenly goes public with private family affairs? Yeah, nothing suspicious about that at all). But it’s only when she meets with Patrick to review his art preferences, which have changed drastically from when she knew him, that she starts to suspect the authenticity of the young man. I have my doubts about this assumption, since we all know that with age comes experience and growth and we discover new things we like, or that we like things we didn’t before. I know the example Neal used with Peter about not suddenly becoming a Red Sox fan was meant to nail the point home, but I still feel like there could have been more to show us Patrick isn’t who she remembers him to be. But timing is tight and we have a possible crime to solve here!
So she turns to Neal to help convince Peter that this needs investigating. As Peter fights the onset of the flu symptoms (including a pretty ick inducing moment later on with his trash basket, his upset stomach and his tie) he agrees with Neal and El that Neal can go in under cover to at least get a read on Patrick. Neal proudly declares that he’s butled before (and yes, it seems “butle” is a verb, albeit very seldom used) and does right by Stanton, at least.
While inside the household as Carlyle, Neal does the usual butlery things, like offering beverages and papers, receiving the mail and guests, and standard valet services. Trying first to get DNA evidence, Neal finds that Patrick is really good at keeping any potential DNA samples – fingerprints, hair strands, etc. – from being left around the house. Not sure you can keep every strand of hair off of every article of clothing, but I suppose if he only had to do it until the trust fund was signed over, Patrick could be super meticulous. Adding some extra heart to the story, we find out that younger daughter Bea knows that her brother is a stranger to her (she’s just not sure yet why) and when her father does pass away, she’ll be left alone with him as her only family. Again, not integral to the story, but this is Neal – a guy with no family to speak of – so it drives home his desire to help get to the bottom of the mystery.
Neal manages to snag a cufflink off Patrick, and back at the Burke’s shows them how he did it. I’m only mentioning this because credit to writer Alexandra McNally for being clever in her scripting. Neal gives El a paper clip to put on her jacket sleeve, but he says he’s “going to steal something right off your wrist. Watch.” And sure enough, he takes her wrist watch. Get it? Well, I thought it was clever.
Back at the apartment Mozzie has 3 hives and Neal has yet another wonderfully put upon expression as he walks in the door. He’s also not thrilled that Mozzie’s drunk almost all the Brunello. This Odd Couple bit just never gets old. And now Moz gets to test his bee byproducts on ill Peter. I have to give props to Tim DeKay, as he certainly put in quite the believable turn as a sickly Suit.
Since the fingerprints don’t pan out, they go to Plan B, which is to get a blood sample. Unfortunately, this means El has to confide in William that she has doubts about his son. And as he protests, Patrick takes the syringe and pulls his own sample from his arm. Of course the results come back as a DNA match, and William has El fired. But Neal suspects the family dog might be the real keeper of the secrets, and at the Vet’s discovers that the visit was to take out the blood tube Patrick had inserted into his arm to fake the DNA. Neal and the Feds figure out that the real Patrick must be alive and nearby and that Faux Patrick has been going to see him on his bike rides in the area. Peter goes in as a Polish mob fixer and actually makes a pretty convincing bad guy. Enough to get Faux Patrick spooked and headed out on his bike so the Feds can tail him to the real Patrick. We get a quick chase scene (Agent Clinton Jones on a bike is always welcome) and our boys take down Faux Patrick and bring the real Patrick home.
I’m pretty sure Wolcott should be giving Elizabeth a much larger paycheck since he was really close to signing over his fortune and his son’s life to Faux Patrick. But that’s just my opinion. And also in my opinion, this was a fun little episode not tied directly to the major arc. But then again, it’s not like Peter and Neal would spend their time only on cases that dealt with it anyway. And for many fans, this is exactly their cup of tea. Now, if only they could get Neal Caffrey to serve it to them.