When we get inside the head of Neal Caffrey, everyone wins. No really, we all win. As in, this episode was made of win.
[SPOILER heavy – proceed with caution]
In case you forgot that Agent David Siegel was murdered (and if you did, why are you here reading this and not catching up?), ASAC Peter Burke briefs his team that since it’s been over 2 weeks, they’re reducing the task force to stay on that investigation – which still looks like a simple, random mugging – while the rest of the team will go back to their usual cases. This serves as a nice transitional step, as it keeps us from lingering too long on the murder, but also doesn’t gloss over the fact that an FBI agent was killed. Peter having suspicions about how it really went down is a given.
Cut to a great scene of Neal in his undershirt. Sorry, of Neal and Mozzie, working it Odd Couple style, as it seems Mozzie’s resources were literally blown up with the feds’ investigation into Teddy Winters. Mozzie’s idea of a home life differs from that of our sleek and classy Con, but what I really like about this scene (and in case you haven’t noticed, I hone in on some pretty small stuff, but I always assume the showmakers put it in for a reason) is that even as Neal becomes increasingly tetchy, before he goes straight to bitchy, he stops and asks Mozzie if there’s anything he can do to help. Yes, it’s a trigger for exposition, but it’s also so very Neal, the guy who always wants to help his friends. The scene also touches on Neal’s sense of guilt at possibly being the cause of Siegel’s death.
Peter takes it upon himself to handle Neal again (I love getting to write that) and their resulting interplay is perfect. Yes, Neal had to remind Peter a few times in the past that Peter’s moved on, that he’s not Neal’s handler anymore, etc. but hey, now Peter is his handler again and leave it to Neal to slip lock step into the Laurel and Hardy banter from the get go. They may not have been able to pal around as much as before, but Neal’s been doing everything but making puppy eyes at Peter to have him come out to play with him again. (And don’t tell me that little snore wasn’t adorable; it was ad libbed by Bomer, natch). And after all, it’s never a bad thing when Neal and Peter get to team up again. (If you disagree, remind me why you’re watching this show?)
And team up they do, as the case of the day walks right into their offices: Agent Clinton Jones escorts Nate Griffith into the office, explaining later to Peter that Griffith is handing over himself and a pretty impressive wad (2 million) of crisp $100 bills, which according to Agent Jones, should be catnip for Peter. As Peter questions Griffith, a self-proclaimed reformed criminal with a wife and child, we learn that Griffith is either very good at obfuscation or he really doesn’t remember quite what made him commit the theft from the private security vault. He tells the feds where he left the money, and although Peter is still suspicious, it’s obvious Neal’s spider sense is tingling as he observes Griffiths. Neal senses a kindred spirit, especially since Griffith wants to reform and really doesn’t want to relive his life of crime, and even assures Griffith that there is a chance for redemption for guys like them – Neal’s proof. Right there, right then, Neal believes what he says, and so do we because this is Neal, and he’s come so far – after all he’s an invaluable asset to the FBI, right?
When Neal and Peter check out Kaplan Securities, the company Griffith said he robbed, they’re told there’s been no report of any break in or missing money and no they can’t see client lists. This leads our boys to assume the money was stolen in the first place, as a thief usually doesn’t file a police report on stolen goods. Knowing they need to see the files at Kaplan, we get a fun scene of Neal making a very quick, very shady fake company ID. Peter’s look of fascination and general horror as he watches and keeps a lookout is priceless. They work their usual mojo to discover the vault is leased by Nightowl Holdings, which is owned by Shane Jacoby . They find the connection between Jacoby and Griffith: Dr. Mara Summers, psychiatrist to the criminally remorseful. As we are introduced to Dr. Summers in a seminar, she notes that for ICD (Impulse Control Disorder) patients, those that feel guilt for their actions usually fall back into their destructive patterns. (Hold on to that thought for a bit. As I mentioned before, I pick up on the small details, and have a feeling the writers kept this piece of dialog in for a reason.) It’s obvious the next step is to have Neal go in as a patient. Right? Right!
I’d love to go into obscene detail about how amazing the scenes are with Neal and Summers, as it really is a fabulous thing to see, and instead I’m going to focus on what we get out of the scenes. Our smooth, confident Conman is very sure that he can withstand the scrutiny and head shrinking of Summers, and at first does verbally parry quite well. The word association is insightful (“caught” = “oops” which is a clear sign that in Neal’s mind, it’s not the deed that was wrong, but the fact that he got caught) but Neal’s soon put at a disadvantage when the drugs Summers has slipped him start to kick in. Summers goes into a great riff about Neal being sociopathic, manipulative and deceitful, and that he’s deluding himself. Neal clearly bristles at these accusations, but as we realize the drugs are taking hold, we also see that Neal’s hold on his facade is slipping.
Meanwhile, Peter goes to confront the owner, Shane Jacoby, who brushes off the fed until Peter fake-casually mentions that it’s a good thing Jacoby doesn’t know anything about Nightowl or the vault, since the $2 million is gone. I like me a little Peter out in the field action, so I was pleased we got to see our ASAC in action again, and not behind a desk.
Neal reports back to the office that he was drugged by Summers and he admits he has no recollection of what he may or may not have said to her about the case or anything else. They also know that Summers knew that Neal was a CI for the Feds, which ups the ante. Back in his apartment, we get more Odd Couple roomie action between Neal and Mozzie, while Mozzie guesses the drug used on Neal is “Goodnight Cinderella”, or basically a roofie used on men. (A pause to thank director Kevin Bray here. The entire episode was filmed with great lighting, creative use of lens foci when reliving Neal’s drugged states, and in this scene especially, a fresh new angle of filming in the small apartment. I just really liked the shooting from the length of the kitchenette while Neal makes his tea.) Mozzie mixes up a batch of the potent potable after he convinces a dubious Neal it will help him remember what he told Summers by recreating the condition at the time. What happens next is the stuff of White Collar legends, as we get a hopped up, hyper Neal, with no filters. He does remember his discussions with Summers, but before Mozzie can get more details, Neal breaks focus and starts admitting to Mozzie that Summer was right, he’s not reformed and that he likes doing the things he does. He’s quite adamant that he feels no remorse, and no guilt. Wait. Remember what Dr. Summers said in her seminar? That ICD patients who feel guilty usually fall back into destructive behaviours. Neal has just admitted that he feels no guilt for his transgressions. Maybe I read too much into what the writers put in the mouths of their actors, but I have to believe they vet every word. If the dialog doesn’t propel the story, expand the characters or otherwise add value, it’s taken out. Jim Campolongo did an incredible job this episode, letting us into Neal’s mind, and he’s no slouch with his art. So why were these lines of dialog used in the episode if not to counterbalance each other, and if not to provide assurances to us that Neal has reformed, at least in the ways that matter? He might still feel the urge to steal, to con, but the drive behind those impulses, in my opinion, has shifted, even if he doesn’t yet see that himself.
The scene is fabulous, and of course Matt and Willie play it for keeps. It’s nice how we get a quiet moment with Mozzie as we see he’s torn by having been ever so slowly tugged to the side of the good, of the Feds, along with Neal. And yes, it wouldn’t be show canon if Neal didn’t end up at the Burke’s in this particular state of consciousness. Let the social media GIFing commence. Neal amiably barges into the Burke’s home where he sits on the couch, hugging a pillow, as he lets loose his unhindered mind, admitting to petty theft and possible larceny in his early years, to the utter puzzlement of Peter and Elizabeth. Once they know why he’s in this situation, Peter asks to be alone with Neal. Of course, he asks Neal if he has any knowledge or part in Siegel’s murder, and against all impulses to speak, Neal remains silent. This mirrors Neal’s recollection of when Summers was asking him what the Feds know about her and her patients: Neal had admitted the Feds know everything, but when she asked him what they can prove, he was silent, which she deduced means they have nothing on her. With Neal, the silence is just as telling to Peter, since the yammering Neal from moments ago is mute. Mozzie gets there just in time and Peter realizes the priority must be getting all the details from Neal’s meeting with Summers. Neal remembers the phone number of someone she called and it ends up being our bad boy Jacoby.
Jones and Peter manage to take him down and clear Griffith’s name, but we are left with an insightful meeting of Neal back with Summers. She thinks he’s there for another session, but it’s part of a sting, and they’ve drugged her water this time. Since Neal only has to record her admission to using her patients for her crimes, he does just that. But he also gets her to tell him off the record where the money is. He brings the money to Mozzie, and again echoing Summers’ own words, says he took it “because it was there.” In the process he declares he’s done with being a puppet – to both Hagen and the Feds – and will cut all his strings when the time is right. This was meant to have us worry, but I’m not. He’s just exercising muscles he’s let atrophy for too long. Remember, when Hagen was telling Neal about the museum heist in the last episode, Neal says that prison hadn’t changed him, so why would his admissions now be a surprise to anyone? Neal’s admitted he’s a criminal, and he accepts that, I just don’t think he realizes yet there’s a difference between stealing something “because it was there” and actually being driven by greed or lust. After all, he’s our criminal with a heart of gold, and I’m more worried that’s what will get him into deep waters this season.