[SPOILER heavy – proceed with caution]
When an episode of White Collar opens with Neal Caffrey waltzing his way through a rehearsal of moves to avoid a security camera – and he’s doing so in his undershirt – you know you’re in for a fun episode. Of course, it’s not for nothing that he’s being instructed by the inimitable Mozzie on this particular endeavor, as they need to get access to the FBI evidence room to help make some documents disappear. Disintegrate, actually. This is just part of a requirement from Curtis Hagen, Neal’s devious blackmailer, who conveniently has a new hearing coming up before an appellate court. Without the evidence of his forged bonds, he has a chance of succeeding so of course he’s pulled the strings on his new puppet, Neal, and thus we get our eye-pleasing opener. What’s so great about this scene (aside from the obvious) is that it enforces again the loyal friendship between Neal and Mozzie, since Mozzie technically has no horse in this race. Hagen only has blackmail goods directly on Neal, but Mozzie being Mozzie, he’s helping Neal in any way he can. The appreciation by Neal is evident, not least when he gives Mozzie an enthusiastic little head rub that is now canon in the fandoms, I assure you.
I’d say now we get to the fun bit, but to be honest, the entire episode is truly fun. That said, I’m going to say I love the idea of using classical music as a running audio motif through the episode, first with Neal’s rehearsal “dance” and then with Assistant Special Agent In Charge (ASAC) Peter Burke’s silent observation of his White Collar division offices. Not sure if it’s just me looking at him differently, but Peter just appears statelier, more authoritative and, well, calmer. No doubt it’s because he’s got a handler that he admires assigned to Neal, and for Peter, going through with his decision to bring in that new agent, David Siegel, to manage Neal is its own form of satisfaction. Our usual Neal and Peter banter ensues – as it does again in another sharp walk and talk — which I feel is important to note because it’s clear we’re going to see a shift in their relationship as the season unfolds, so keeping these little exchanges alive is heartening. When Neal finally does identify his new handler in the meeting room, it’s clear he’s impressed with his smarts and admittedly, I am, too. Although the conference room scene was a bit chaotic and was hard to find a rhythm to, I’m thinking that was actually a good thing. Neal knows he’s meeting his new handler there and he himself has to find a new rhythm, one that’s a slightly different beat than Peter’s.
Writer Dan Shattuck must have had a ball writing his Mozzie-Neal dialog this episode, at least as much as I had watching it and Garson and Bomer obviously had in playing it out. Siegel has taken Neal with him to a warehouse where he plans to arrest a major stolen art dealer, who Neal already knows is one of Mozzie’s aliases. Attempt #1 at faking his own death to escape (the cleverly named “Roanoke Praxis”) fails for Mozzie, but he manages to escape the capture of the Feds this time, but not before giving Neal some grief and us some amusing interplay. When Siegel comes in to see why the fire alarm went off, he’s already open to suspecting Neal had some part in it. But since we don’t know Siegel, and so far he seems like a good agent just doing his job, we don’t actually take any offense at this. It hurts more from Peter when it happens, but then that’s what we expect from that relationship.
Side note here to give thanks for having Agents Clinton Jones and Diana Barrigan provide bigger support roles in this episode. Jones has a nice scene where he lays out for Peter how tough it must be for Diana, with an impending birth and the shadow of losing her beloved job hanging over her head. These characters don’t get a lot of screen time, but this provides continuity to them being close working partners outside of our A stories every week, enough that Jones can empathize with Diana.
Aside from the ad-libbed head rub scene in the opener, one of my favorite moments of this episode is the look of total exasperation Neal gives Mozzie when he finds him posing as a human Statue of Liberty in the park. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such complete disbelief and bemusement on Neal’s face before. No idea how many takes they had in that scene but they undoubtedly kept the best one!
And so we have our big reveal for the episode: Mozzie’s true identity – the one even Neal didn’t know about – Theodore “Teddy” Winters. Mozzie later explains to Neal that, as an orphan, he kept the name in the event his parents ever look for him. So they plan Attempt #2 at faking Mozzie’s death, this time as Teddy Winters, to keep the feds away. Although it works this time, Diana is the first one to suspect foul play. She even asks Neal to check out the warehouse with her, but when he refuses, she goes it alone. (Actress Marsha Thomason was really pregnant during the filming of the episode, so it was easy for her to make her exerted movements look authentic). She finds a few too many man-hole covers and stumbles upon Mozzie’s underground (and well stocked, by the looks of it) safe house. In the midst of trying to arrest him, she instead goes into labor. One might consider this entirely preposterous, but we’re treated to some great moments with Mozzie and Diana. Against his better judgment, he doesn’t flee and instead harkens her pleas for help and proves quite capable at the art of midwifery (we really do have no end to Mozzie’s skill set!)
In the meantime, Neal gets to take the stage and try out his new dancing moves as he makes his way down the heavily CCTVed hallway to the FBI evidence room. Yes, watching Matt Bomer glide his way down a simple white hallway while keeping to the beat of the Mozart is not an unwelcome scene in any episode. (In case the writers need any encouragement for Season 6 plotlines). Even as Neal makes quick work of destroying Hagen’s bonds, Peter’s suspicions have been raised, in no small part by Siegel questioning concern for Neal’s whereabouts in the building. As much as I see where Peter is coming from, this is one time when I was a little disappointed in his suspicions of Neal. He went straight to the evidence storage knowing Hagen’s bonds where there, which is probably meant to give us that reason, but I don’t completely buy it: He mentioned Hagen’s possible release to Neal, but would have no reason to put 2 and 2 together. We do, since we know Neal’s beholden to Hagen, but Peter has no idea that Neal and Hagen have been in contact. I’m forgiving with this show, so I’ll give this one a hall pass, especially since I do like Peter obsessing over Neal enough to go check it out. Of course Neal avoids any detection and assures Peter his absence was easily explained (we all know Neal would never leave his hat in the office overnight, right? Right?).
All’s well that ends well in this episode as Diana has her baby boy (named Theo, to Mozzie’s obvious pride) and Neal and Mozzie have passed the latest labor of Hagen’s bequest. But it’s clear to them the respite is short lived, and a new chapter is soon to begin.