White Collar: “Bottlenecked”

C: In this week’s episode of White Collar, Neal encounters a thief he looks on as an “opponent” by the name of Matthew Keller.  At first it seems like a friendly rivalry, but we soon discover that Keller is ruthless and something of a thug in spite of his finesse.  Peter calls him Bizarro Caffrey, and it’s accurate; while Neal charms everyone he meets, Keller rubs you the wrong way instantly.  But he’s a good opponent for all that – unlike Neal, he’s never been caught.

M: I thought they set this up well, too.  In the last episode Neal had a chess board in his apartment, but we never got any info on who the game was with, just that he didn’t want Peter to know about it.  In this one we find that he’s been getting mysterious postcards with chess moves.  Playing chess via postcard with a mysterious adversary is almost always great.  It’s an intellectual game, marks a battle of wits and personally it usually makes me think of early James Bond films, which is good.

C: They did mention the mysterious postcards in an earlier episode – I love when a show sets things up in advance.  This was one of the best episodes yet, for two reasons: first, because it had a few surprises up its sleeve (it was clear at a certain point that Neal and Peter’s plan would go south – you can’t help but be suspicious when your protagonists are feeling confident at 40 minutes past the hour – but I didn’t expect what happened), and second, because there was some actual believability to Peter’s behavior this time.  Of course every week’s plot is a negotiation: how will the writers manipulate Peter into okaying some legally-shady shenanigans by Neal?  Often they don’t sell it; I enjoy the hijinks, but I don’t buy for a second that Peter would really go along — let alone instigate, as in the absurd “fake an organ failure” episode.

M: Yeah, I was thinking back on that episode, and everything that they got from the guy after faking that he needed an organ transplant would have been inadmissible.  It was fun to watch, but not believable that Peter would okay it.  Tonight was much more believable, as their hijinks were still technically above the board.

C: Right – and Peter had to be wheedled into what was, if rather baroque, at least a plan based on solid premises.  The auction house would not test the bottle unless their hand was forced; only a clever forgery would force their hand; making the clever forgery required shenanigans.  I liked that it was a comparatively solid chain of logic, but I particularly liked seeing Peter drag his heels every step of the way.

M: I loved that they continue to not write him as the stooge.  He does drag his feet, but he’s also willing to embrace the situations that help him solve the case, and comes up with some great surprises.  The exchange with snooty the wine “expert” that drew the “you’ve seen Sideways” response made you think that Peter wasn’t going to hold his own, but then he got to the tasting and pulled out the line about the wine having an earthy body and opening up well in the glass.  Great delivery, and the look of surprise on Neal’s face was classic.

C: The scene where Neal convinced him to go to the tasting was my favorite dialogue exchange of the night: Neal proposing an opportunity to put on fancy duds, drink port and schmooze, and Peter asking, “What about any of that do you think would appeal to me?”

M: And ending it with a complaint that port is too syrupy was a nice touch.

C: It was.  Back to a point we made last episode about the supporting characters… this episode also featured more Mozzie, which is always a very good thing.  His shriek on being startled by Neal?  Only bettered by him defending of his choice of weapon – wooden tweezers – with the argument that a ninja can make anything a weapon. 

M: Yeah, and Neal’s “You’re not a ninja” was a great comeback!

C: One thing this episode didn’t do, though, was make me think any better of Kate.  I don’t, of course, buy into Keller’s goading suggestion that he slept with her while Neal was in prison, but Neal himself implied that Kate had been involved with Keller before he came along – which makes me extremely dubious about her judgment!

M: I have to say, after having just seen the actress that plays Kate, Alexandra Daddario, rather convincingly portray a teenager in Percy Jackson and the Olympians (review to come!), and knowing that in real life she just turned 24, I am more and more creeped out by the Kate plotline.

C: She was colossally miscast. The actress is completely undynamic, she looks creepily similar to Elizabeth Burke with that unusual black hair/blue eyes combination, and with that baby face it just isn’t plausible to imagine her spending years running around with Neal before he was put in prison four years ago – she looks like she would have been just a kid then.  Which is too bad, because the idea of Kate is cool; if they’d cast a magnetic actress of around 30, I’d actually be invested in Neal’s unsinkable love for this mysterious woman.

M: And therein lies the problem.  We are supposed to believe that she is the one part of the life of the playboy con man is not a lie or an angle, but because of the out-of-place actress we can’t buy it, which means that we really can’t buy anything in Neal’s life.  Well, except Mozzie; his friendship we buy.  And I suppose, for as long as they stay away from the Kate plot line, that’s enough.

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11 comments on “White Collar: “Bottlenecked”

  1. STB says:

    Not to nitpick, but Peter calls Keller the Bizarro Neal because they’re complete opposites

    • C says:

      You’re welcome to nitpick, but in this instance I think you’ll find there’s no difference between your definition of “Bizarro” and mine…

      I wrote: “Peter calls him Bizarro Caffrey, and it’s accurate; while Neal charms everyone he meets, Keller rubs you the wrong way instantly.” Hence, opposites.

  2. Gina says:

    I LOVED Peter’s big reveal of his mad wine-tasting skillz. (I loved it so much I just wrote a fanfic about it on LJ! 🙂 ) Just when you’re afraid they’re going to have him get carried away and look like an idiot, he dazzles everybody.

    • M says:

      Clearly, we need the link to that!

      And I have said over and over that the way they write Peter to be on equal footing with Neal is one of the things that really separates White Collar from other formulaic com-con buddy shows. His undressing of the snooty rare books dealer in the pilot is still one of my favorite moments, as is when they repeatedly needle Neal about Peter having caught him twice. Love it, and is such a refreshing change!

      • Gina says:

        Sure, here you go!

        http://litlover12.livejournal.com/34783.html

        And I agree, it’s very refreshing and one of the best things about the show.

      • thepresidentrix says:

        I thought that was a great moment, too, but I’m also starting to wonder about what these two *don’t* know. Peter’s knowledge of wine makes sense, given his wife’s business, his line of work (though surely the percentage of white collar crimes involving high end wine is a slight one?), and potentially his own tastes. Oh, and he may have seen Sideways. But it would be okay with me if he turned out not to know everything Neal thinks he doesn’t know.

        My favorite things about Peter so far are: 1) his upright, paternal side – the fact that even though he and Neal bicker childishly sometimes, he’s still very much the grown-up in the relationship, and 2) the fact that Peter doesn’t need other people to realize all the things that he knows. (Used to great effect in this episode – and not just with Neal. I loved the way he kept his thoughts to himself in the scene with the auctioneer). Peter’s ability to play his cards close to the vest, even if that means being under-estimated or disrespected, speaks to me of a level of intelligence that transcends any particular field in which he might turn out to be knowledgeable.

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