White Collar, “Withdrawal”

I really enjoy White Collar. I watched every episode last season, most of them live. I think Matthew Bomer and Tim DeKay are fantastic together. But the series clumsily handled both its mid-season and season finales last year, making me wonder if it should just drop any major mythology and simply focus on fun cases, the leads’ chemistry and nice suits/ties. The season two premiere “Withdrawal” suggests that maybe Jeff Eastin and company have figured out how to create an overarching story while still providing episodic delights.

Despite a totally stupid teaser that saw Neal back in prison, a weird time jump and the posing of a question we already knew the answer to (“Is Neal really going to re-join Peter with the ankle bracelet?”), this episode handled a lot of things well. I never totally cared about Kate or why she wouldn’t just talk to Neal, so I’m glad that we had a shiny new case to distract us — and Neal — from her death. I’ll get that in a second, but I wanted to discuss why “Withdrawal” smartly handles a few plots that could be lingering on for the whole season.

Last year, it was all about Kate and that damn music box, which was totally important to Neal, but didn’t have a whole lot of relevance to Peter aside from how its affect on Neal would then effect him. Basically, it held second-hand importance to him on a personal level. And in some ways, I think that’s why it was such an unappealing story to some, though there were obvious other issues. But this season, while Neal is still dealing with Kate’s death and what that means for him personally, Peter actually has something to worry about aside from Neal skipping town. With the FBI brass breathing down his neck, everything means more to Peter. The stakes are raised, clearing cases is suddenly crucial and there’s really no room for mistakes — or Neal’s horseplay. Of course, the series could just as easy avoid using this new status quo to its advantage, but I think there’s room to get some mileage out of it. I’m hoping this means the writers recognize that an overarching story doesn’t have to involve multi-layered conspiracies, especially if the story being told is crucial to a character.

Speaking of, at least Kate’s death puts Neal in a different place that could also lead to some nice character development. Last season, he was chasing and conning as a way to get to Kate, but now that she’s gone, he has to deal with it. We see some of that in “Withdrawal,” but because of the time jump, there’s no clear indication of how Neal handled her death right after. Again, this might be wishful thinking for a USA series, but I think there’s room to really dive into Neal’s psyche, maybe have him be a little self-destructive, which would actually play nicely into Peter’s work situation. Again, there doesn’t have to be lots of conning or scheming involved, just give me a few character moments.

Anyway, aside from introducing all those possibilities, this episode also featured a tremendous case, thanks in most part to Tim Matheson’s performance as the Architect bank robber. Not only was it fun to watch Neal and Peter get back together trying to take down a rich, bored snob, but it reminded me that even amid questions about the ongoing plots, White Collar can really deliver a procedural story. However, I thought it would have been a much smart decision to keep the Architect around for multiple episodes or even a half-season. Not only would it give Neal something to throw himself into, but the series really needs to present us with someone who is Neal’s equal and doesn’t thus quickly get caught as soon as dialogue says as much. Perhaps Matheson couldn’t stick around, but that would have made this fine episode even better.

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