Flashback episodes are always, always tricky. And I always say this. But that is because it’s true. As a writer, you run the risk of spending too much time on pointless details, creating backstories that aren’t important or generally going against what the fans thought happened “back then.” This seems to be particularly true for a series with a moderately sized mythology wherein the fans could definitely like the background context given to a character or a situation, but they don’t necessarily need it.
White Collar feels like that kind of program. In theory, dipping back into the past and finding out how Neal became an expert con, how he met Kate, what Peter was doing to catch Neal, etc. seems like a really fun idea. But it’s also not information that the plot or the characters must have/experience in the present to keep the overall narrative moving forward. The series has done a good job of discussing past issues between Neal and Peter or Neal and Mozzie or whomever else thus far. And after watching “Forging Bonds,” I mostly feel like the series could have just as easy executed the beats about Neal and Kate and the new big bad with nearly the same amount of effectiveness in a present day story.
But of course then we wouldn’t get those two minutes with Tim DeKay in a freaking ridiculous mustache. Or Willie Garson in various terrible wigs. In that sense “Forging Bonds” feels a bit like the series stepping out for a bit of excessive fun and exposition that isn’t completely necessary, but it’s still a fairly enjoyable episode. Sure, sometimes this effort gets too caught up in making sure we know where every. single. one. of the characters was eight years ago and what they were doing and also seems really, really interested in letting Matt Bomer take his clothes off, but it wasn’t like I was ready to press fast forward on my DVR or something.
Last week, I praised the mid-season premiere for quickly telling us who the new villain was and sort of addressing what he wanted. “Forging Bonds” builds upon the work done in “Burke’s Seven,” but doesn’t succeed in the same ways. Vincent Adler is nicely embodied by the always reliable Andrew McCarthy, but there isn’t a whole lot in this episode that’s actually about him. Adler is a younger version of Bernie Madoff who ended up swindling most of his patrons out of their money…and then disappeared. Though I liked McCarthy’s interactions with Bomer, this is information that we totally could have been given in a post-teaser task force meeting with Neal, Peter and Diana. For the most part, the only real new bit of information this episode presents to us is that the fractal apparently points to a specific thing. More MacGuffins! That’s okay.
Moreover, even though this is also the most time we’ve ever spent with Kate in the series’ short history, it feels like she still gets the short shift again. The character has never actually be a character, just a goal for Neal to accomplish along with stealing the music box or whatever else and that doesn’t really change here. We learn how the two of them met, how they got together and kind of why they broke up. But she still doesn’t get much definition. Kate just IS, apparently.
My final criticism is a small one, but still generally relevant: This episode tries way too hard to integrate everyone. No offense to Jones or Diana, but I can’t imagine that too many people really cared about how they joined the NYC branch of the FBI with Peter. And we especially didn’t need to see them come in randomly and make a big addition to the case just as a way to impress Peter. It just felt forced and a bit ridiculousness and monotonous when there were seemingly bigger things happening around them. Same goes for Alex. It’s almost as if the writers thought to themselves, “OH CRAP, Alex! Just throw her in there somewhere. Oh, sex scene with Bomer? Sure!”
Fortunately, “Forging Bonds” is a wonderful showcase for Bomer. The series has made a concerted effort in season two to give him more shades of Neal to play and obviously a flashback into the days when he was just becoming a superstar thief is any easy way to accomplish that goal. Even though both Adler and Kate are less developed than they could have been, they are basically used to give us more insight into Neal’s psyche more than anything else. Bomer is good at embodying the younger, greener version of Neal and at least Kate’s appearance means that the romantic version of the character makes more sense in context.
In the end, “Forging Bonds” isn’t as strong as “Burke’s Seven” and doesn’t add as much to the characters’ backgrounds as it could have, but it’s still a lightweight, fun effort that gives us at least some information that should be helpful moving forward. Plus, Burke-stache!