Is Neal (Matt Bomer) losing his edge? Last night’s episode, beautifully written by Daniel Shattuck, would certainly make viewers wonder.  He was out-conned by thief/fence Alex Hunter, did some out-of-character snapping at Mozzie (Willie Garson), and pretty much accused Peter (Tim DeKay) of mistrust and betrayal while in a meeting with other FBI agents. The calm, cool, cocky Neal Caffrey we’re so used to seeing seems to be slowly disappearing into a downward spiral of frustration, grief, and maybe a bit of fear over what he’ll find out about his father.

matt bomer

WHITE COLLAR — “Ancient History” — Pictured: (l-r) Gloria Votsis as Alexandra Hunter, Matt Bomer as Neal Caffrey — (Photo by: Giovanni Rufino/USA Network)

It was great to see Alex back. Gloria Votsis has the character down pat with the ambiguous relationship she has with Neal, and Matt Bomer plays off her perfectly.  Is she a friend, foe, or a little of both?  As she said in this episode, they’ve spent eight years cavorting around the globe together, and as past episodes show, they’ve also spent time together between the sheets.  She’s a beautiful female, a weakness of Neal’s, and he doesn’t want to see Peter arrest her for whatever heist she’s planning.  Alex, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any trouble alerting the NYPD, twice, about the two undercover stings Neal’s involved in, including the one where she’s an actual participant.

Turns out, that was the heist she’d been planning all along. She was playing Neal the entire time and he wasn’t very happy when he realized it. He should be disgusted with himself; Alex showed up extremely angry that she hadn’t received any of the Nazi treasure, she let Neal know this, she told him she’d called the NYPD about the FBI sting that opened the episode; Neal, how could you not know you were being duped?

Dear Jeff Eastin, can we please be done with that damn Nazi treasure now?  Thank you.

We have trouble between Neal and Mozzie.  A video, a beta max video, shows up on Neal’s dining table and turns out to be a gift from the grave from Ellen. Luckily, Mozzie has a beta max player; unluckily Neal wants to watch the video with Sam, not Mozzie. Mozzie, jealous, goes behind Neal’s back and tells Peter about it.  Peter lets it slip, oops, and Neal, already angry with them for being in Alex’s hotel room and wrecking his investigation of her, lets them both know he doesn’t appreciate the interference.

Are we watching Neal heading for his rock bottom?  He wants so desperately to know the truth about his father; he’s still grieving over the loss of Ellen, his mother-figure; he’s unsure about exactly who he can trust and his emotions are leaking all over the place. The scene in the conference room between Peter and Neal was brilliantly done in all areas: acting, directing, and editing. Angry at Peter for outing him with Alex, and for investigating Sam behind his back Neal loses his cool.

Peter: “What do you think, Neal? Think she’ll still go for it?”
Neal: “I don’t know, I mean, you seem to be the expert at investigating your friends, what do you think?”
Diana: “Whether she goes for it or not, doesn’t give us Spiteri.
Peter: “Unless Neal convinces Alex to roll on him.”
Neal: “I told her I wasn’t looking into her and then she caught me red-handed.  That kind of disloyalty stings for more than just a couple hours.”

Ouch.  Gives a whole new meaning to “glaring daggers” at someone.

They do make up a little later, but it’s very flimsy and will probably not last long.

So much was going on in this episode; the TV Guide blurb really didn’t give it justice: “The team investigates a series of museum heists that target rare antiquities.”  Actually, the team pulled off a couple of heists themselves.  Although which “team” that would be is debatable, this was a lovely example of the right hand not knowing what the left was doing.  It was great watching Neal, Alex, and Moz run their con at the Hellerman Gallery; such a seamless job you’d think the actors had known each other as long as their characters.

The only “huh” I experienced during those scenes was wondering who Neal was supposed to be playing.  It didn’t take anything away from the episode, but I wish the writers didn’t always assume their viewers are going to know something like that.  Turns out, Neal was pretending to be someone named “Banksy”, an England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director and painter. He’s famous for adorning various walls with stenciled art.

You go Alex, this was a brilliant con.  You ended up with the loot from two robberies, probably burned your bridges with both Neal and Mozzie; one hopes you’re going to be happy in your Sardinia villa filled with beautiful Greek antiquities. You might get lucky, though; Neal didn’t turn you in at the end when he found you on his terrace.

Every time we get the Ford product placement ad, I groan, but remind myself that they are paying lots of money to keep this show on the air which makes them a necessary evil.  I just wish it wasn’t so obvious; Neal’s horoscope?  Really?

It’s a shame “White Collar” isn’t an Emmy-nominate-able series being neither a drama nor comedy.  Matt Bomer, who’s done a fantastic job over the entire three-and-a-half years of this show, has outdone himself this season and especially in this episode. He put on that hoody, walked into the Hellerman Museum and immediately became an entirely different person. Different walk, stance, mannerisms, a lower voice; it’s easy to see why Neal Caffrey is considered one of the best conmen around, and Matt Bomer lauded by his peers for his fantastic acting talents.

We’re slowly but surely finding out about Neal.  We have his real name, Neal Bennett, his birthday, March 21st, his age, 33, and where he grew up, St Louis.  We know his father is alive but not his whereabouts, and that his mother wasn’t very good at mothering.  The suspense is killing me, I want more now.

They end the episode with Neal sharing the video viewing with Peter and Mozzie (“Gotta pick who you can trust, right?”), but not, surprisingly, with us.  We ended up with a close up on Neal’s face, and as handsome as it is, what we all really wanted to see was the video.

Cliffhangers.  “Dallas” and JR Ewing have a lot to answer for.

White Collar “Ancient History” Quotes:

Mozzie, re Neal:  “I don’t think he’s happy with us.”

Diana, re Alex: “We’re looking at antiquities theft, she checked into the Athena, I’m sure she’s clean.”

Neal: “I need to find a beta-max player.”
Mozzie: “Fortunately for you, I have a stockpile.”

Peter, to Neal: “Whatever your finagling methods (with Alex)? We’ll be watching.”

Peter: “I don’t have a warrant.”
Mozzie: “I’m trespassing. Exigent circumstances.”
Peter: “I love how you two think that law was designed as a loophole.”

Peter to Mozzie: “Someday I’m going to strangle you.”

Written by Dana Jeanne Norris. You can find her on Twitter @Dana_Jeanne.  She also helps run the always updated Official website for Michael Shanks.

Dana Jeanne Norris is a former travel agent, now a returning college student, and writer living on the central coast of California.  She’s an active advocate for LGBT civil rights, same-sex marriage, and anything that keeps our children safe.