White Collar “Diminishing Returns” gets reviewed by our resident White Collar expert. And boy does she deliver the goods.

It’s episode three (already) of season four of White Collar. In this episode, “Diminishing Returns” (written by one of my favorites, Jim Campolongo) we are, thank heavens, back in New York. Don’t get me wrong: it was interesting to have two entire episodes shot in the colorful, bright markets and streets of Puerto Rico. And I may go to my deathbed wishing for Tim DeKay to dress in a tuxedo and mix me a drink. (I didn’t know that his Peter Burke had that much debonair in him. I really didn’t. And that brings me to a point that I’ll be making later on…keep reading.) But finally, we’re back at home. Time to sleep in our own bed, get a coffee from the corner bagel vendor and walk familiar streets to work.

In the opening scene, Neal looks exactly as relieved and happy to be in New York as I am for him to be there. The scene makes a point to show an honest smile from Neal – because no one else is there to impress – and it IS actual happiness. Good for Neal; he gets so few of these non-troubling moments. He’s usually chasing a fantasy lifestyle, dancing on the edges of the law, or being torn by love. Right now, this moment, Neal feels good. A rare treat.

If I may be so bold, the definite, specific look of happiness on Neal’s face is almost a bookend to the numberless enigmatic expressions he wore in the last scene of season 3’s finale. It’s nice to have closure, as Peter will soon find out.

Next Neal meets up with Peter who, as we found out in the last episode, has been reassigned. Back in the office we find out where: the Evidence Warehouse, forebodingly nicknamed “The Cave”. Peter tries to look on the bright side, but we also find out that he’s been restricted from working his case load. Unfortunately, a criminal who’s been haunting him for 10 years is about to resurface. This is a win that Peter wants, and now he’s not able to get it.

Meanwhile, we find out that “The Cave” is just as nice as it sounds, and the agent in charge is a no-excuses, by-the-book guy with the personality of a pall bearer. After Peter is assigned a thoroughly tedious project, Neal visits Peter on a lunch break. While they are in “the picnic area”, Neal remarks how much the new assignment resembles prison. But when he finds out about Peter’s long-awaited case, he’s determined to help him solve it.

I think this is where this episode really starts fleshing out the theme of White Collar season 4: First, Peter begins to ask Neal, again, about his past. It’s clear that Neal doesn’t know a lot, but that he wants to. And it’s clear that Neal, had his life been allowed to run its normal course, would have been a much more upstanding, model citizen. Second, we get very specific references to Peter being forced into situations that run him afoul of the FBI (possibly afoul of the law in general) and, in many ways, incarcerated. There was a time, right around “Burke’s Seven” where we got the sense that Peter was uncomfortable with the idea of “running a scam” to catch the bad guys. No more is that the case, as in the previous episode Peter deftly goes from faking a suave bartender role (more characteristic of his conman partner) and charming partygoers, to arm-twisting an FBI agent to get what he wants. Echoing in my head throughout this – and the last – are Agent Kramer’s words “Are you handling him or becoming him?”

When Neal goes back to the FBI offices, he has a take-charge attitude towards this case and the team that we haven’t seen before. For a large part of that scene, he seems like the person in charge. In many ways, this episode has Peter and Neal switching their natural roles. For instance, there’s a scene where Peter is reluctant to get involved in his old case, because that’s not his job right now. But Neal convinces him to help. It’s as if Peter is the criminal consultant. I love it. I think it’s great that the characters are developing like this. It’s a new, unexpected turn for both of them.

Other hints at Peter’s new dilemma:
-When Neal calls Peter at The Cave, the agent in charge is over his shoulder in a minute. Like in jail, Peter only has restricted use of a phone.
-The background for an alias that Peter must use in this episode had a history of larceny.

But I digress. Back to the story.

The actual criminal, David Cook (played by Michael Weston, who I love), does a big hit every five years to run out the statute of limitations for each job. If he gets caught, he can only be convicted for a single crime. From the identification of their suspect to the intricate task of finding out the location of the next hit, Peter and Neal work as closely together as they always did. And as usual, White Collar manages to weave together an old school mystery with intelligent wit and modern character development.

There are also a few of those edge-of-your-seat moments that I love. For instance, Peter has to distract Cook while Neal examines the contents of Cook’s gym locker. Cook returns much earlier than expected, and we wait nervously to see if Neal gets caught red-handed. There are a few tense moments where Neal, just around the corner from Cook and Peter, is waiting for a video feed on Cook’s phone to reveal its secrets. Peter and Neal are silently, urgently communicating while, at the same time, Peter attempts to carry on a casual conversation with Cook. Of course they manage to get the phone back in Cook’s bag with seconds to spare, and they end up with the information they need.

One of the best scenes is Neal teaching Peter how to make a person do something specific without them knowing they’re being manipulated. Something wonderful happened in the editing room, where the scenes shift back and forth between Neal instructing Peter, and Peter actually executing the con with Neal’s voice in the background. It’s as if Neal is WITH Peter as he’s trapping Cook in a well-executed, complex sting.

In the end, Peter excuses himself from taking any credit in the FBI win, later telling Neal that what he got was better than credit. He got closure. Perhaps that’s what Neal will find this season as well, as Peter and Neal continue to poke around his past.

Also in this episode:

Mozzie returns hilariously, bringing with him three guests who hail from “colder climes.” We find out that the treasure is safe. And we see ties continuing to develop between Mozzie and Peter, as Mozzie helps The Suit finish his tedious Cave assignment.

Neal tells Peter that his father was a dirty cop, that Ellen was his partner, and she was also the person who arrested him.

We get huge clues to Neal’s past:
-Neal was in witness protection when he was three, and left when he walked away on his 18th birthday.
-The name he grew up with was Danny Brooks. Ellen told him that “Neal” was his real name. “Caffrey” is his mother’s maiden name.
-He grew up in Saint Louis
-We find out from Ellen some of the circumstances around Neal’s father’s (James) arrest and conviction. It appears largely circumstantial, except for a (obviously damning) confession.
-Ellen was investigating James’ case and was “on to something big” when he confessed.

Noteable White Collar Quotes:

Elle: “Do they know how many criminals you’ve taken off the street?”
Peter: “I think it’s the one I left ON the street that’s the problem.”

Elle (continuing to be sweetest, most supportive wife on Earth): “You’re an FBI Agent, Peter Burke. Go get your job back.”

Peter, undercover, to Cook: “Once I start something, I like to see it through.”

Peter: “Nobody trades up from baseball.”

After Peter questions Diana about scoping out the security of a diamond shop while looking at engagement rings, Diana replies, “Ring shopping’s not really my thing.”

Neal, getting grief from Peter about his familiarity with the interiors of several diamond shops, responds in kind, “Ring shopping’s not really my thing.”

Almost all of Mozzie’s first scene back is quotable, however:

Neal: “Back so soon?”
Mozzie: “No man is an island.”

Neal, to Mozzie: “You’re clean-shaven. You’ve retired from retirement.”

Neal: “So you’re saying I’m your front man?”
Mozzie: “Good partnerships are hard to find.”

In the final scene, Neal sits down with Ellen to find out as much about his father that he can.

Neal: “Did he do it?”
Ellen: “It was a long time ago.”
Neal: “Ellen, I need to understand who he was. You said there were lines my father would never cross, but he did. I need to know who I am.”

The mystery of Neal Caffrey and the ongoing adventures of Peter Burke, to be continued in episode 404, “Parting Shots”.

Ceil Kessler is a marketer, writer, social media addict, operations troubleshooter, dedicated mom, amateur pool hustler and fan of stage and screen. You can find her business site at http://www.polarismbs.com, and business blog at http://PolarisMBS.wordpress.com. Humor posts and fiction can be found at http://magnificentnose.com/author/ceilk/ and at http://ceilk.wordpress.com/. Reviews of White Collar are found at http://smallscreenscoop.com and you can follow her on Twitter @ceilck.

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