Last night’s White Collar, “The Original”, (sadly the last episode that will be credited to writer Mark Goffman, who is now writing for Elementary…Good luck, Mark!) was the neatly done connective tissue between the second half of season 4 and what’s certain to be an action-heavy, issue-resolving season finale. In the first act of the episode, we had some housekeeping to do: Peter tells Neal that he knows why Neal lied to him, and the two are once again on the same page. We re-establish the main motivation for the search for Ellen’s evidence box: Neal wants to clear his father’s name; Peter wants to bring Pratt to justice. And finally, we get a replacement for poor Reese Hughes, the very hands-on Amanda Calloway (Emily Procter, CSI: Miami and West Wing alum.)
White Collar Review – “The Original” (Season 4)
Then comes the weekly puzzle: On another assignment, Neal happens to see a sculpture that he realizes is a forgery. Since forgery is a felony and the felony in question yielded a $6.5 million sale, Peter wants to take it on.
There are two themes that this puzzle brings to the table that are echoed throughout the episode. The first is about instinct and intuition, specifically Neal’s. When asked how he knows the sculpture is a fake, Neal ambles through a lot of exposition about chicken sexers – an enjoyable left turn into bizarro world. But his point was: sometimes, you just know. He knows about the forged sculpture, and he knows about Amanda Calloway. For what it’s worth, she also seems to have his number.
The second theme of this puzzle, and the episode, is fatherhood.
James is back, inadvisably so, and there are some sweet moments between him and Neal. More on that later. But we do get a chance to compare the impact of his real father (Neal seems to genuinely take his father’s encouragement to heart) and his pseudo father, Peter. While more the caring-but-stern, over-your-shoulder father that Neal probably needed, Peter doesn’t give Neal the kind of affirmations that James does. Neal’s relationship with James is new but trusting; Neal’s with Peter is still more antagonistic and guarded (though better recently).
Meanwhile, the criminal-of-the-week has his own pseudo-daddy issues. The protégé of a master artist, Bellmiere (AKA Jeffrey Blatenik, a troubled artist played convincingly by Pablo Schreiber) had worked for 10 years with the famous artist, DuBois, before he died. Judging by how he treats his own students, it was a pretty brutal relationship. Bellmiere, though, has decided to go into business for himself now that DuBois is dead, forging DuBois pieces and selling them. He also uses DuBois’ signature, a scroll inserted into the “heart” of his sculptures.
In order to nail the forger, Peter wants to use an expensive FBI scanner that can scan with enough detail to lift the fingerprints off a scroll that’s been embedded in marble. If the fingerprints are Bellmiere’s, the sculpture is a fraud. The cool thing is…Neal can also use the scanner to examine the 50th floor ceiling of the Empire State Building. But he’s not allowed. Here is one of my favorite exchanges of the episode, for its rapid dialogue, its feel, and its overall comedic value:
Neal: I know how we can find the box in the Empire State Building.
Peter: The scanner.
Peter: No. That little device is worth a small Dubois. I can’t just check it out like a library book.
Neal: I’ll use it while I’m supposed to be in Bellmiere’s loft.
Peter: Did you miss the part about no detours? Calloway’s gonna be in the van. I’m not gonna jeopardize our first operation.
Neal: She won’t know a thing.
Peter: This is NOT a wink and a nod. NO.
Neal (smiling): I hear you.
Peter: I don’t think you do.
Peter: I need you to say, “I will not use the scanner to search The Empire State Building.”
Neal: I will not use the scanner to search The Empire State Building.
Peter: Or Mozzie or James…
Neal: Neither I, nor Mozzie, nor James will use the scanner for such a search. Little pinky swear action?
If you substitute Neal and Peter for a teenager asking his dad to use the car past curfew on a Saturday night, you’ll completely have the feel of this scene. Of course, the minute Neal leaves the FBI office, he starts scheming to use the scanner to search The Empire State Building.
As they get ready to scan the forgery in Bellmiere’s studio, Neal pulls a short con on the FBI with the help of James and Mozzie (James, looking very natural in the con), allowing them to scan the marble floor above the 50th floor. They manage to get Neal back to the studio with the scanner just before Calloway can pull Neal’s tracking data. The scanner, however, has been damaged during the Empire State scan. They ask Neal to abort, and he’s about to. But you know he’s not going to blow the case, especially since it’s his fault that the scanner is damaged. So, he goes for the confession.
What follows is an interesting conversation between Neal and Bellmiere/Blatenik.
Bellmiere: He obsessed over every detail.
Neal: He made you start over, several times if i recall.
Bellmiere: You have no idea.
Neal: Oh I do. I went through his notes. He didn’t want to destroy his work, you left him no choice. He had to start over because you weren’t good enough
Bellmiere: Oh please, he never knew what he wanted. He’d start over 20 times. He’d blow everything up at the last minute and leave me to fix it. I made him what he is. Whenever you’re looking at DuBois, you’re looking at me.
Neal: Then why isn’t your name on it? You hide behind his work, you live off his name. Without DuBois you’re nothing. You don’t exist.
Neal uses his understanding of the frustration he has working with Peter, who always obsesses over every detail, to play on Bellmiere’s insecurity. Then he drives it home with the shame that he feels by not ever being able to use his own name. He identifies, now, with having to clean up his father’s mess and also with the feeling that, until he gets his father’s name cleared, he doesn’t really exist. (Also, note that Peter had to start over at the FBI, basically, because Neal wasn’t good enough. And without Peter, Neal largely doesn’t exist. There are a lot of parallels in this conversation, a lot of them pointing at Neal trying to define himself through his father-figures and never being able to.)
“The sad thing is, you’re more talented than DuBois,” Neal says as they take Bellmiere away. And the sad thing is, we know that Neal is better than James in so many ways, and deserving of more appreciation from Peter as well.
Make Room for Daddy
The interactions between James and Neal are so sweet this week that I think the writers have lulled us into forgetting the show that we are watching. I have to take a minute to burst your bubble: Neal is a tragic character, and White Collar doesn’t like to give Neal happy endings. So, while the actual “Atta boy” that he got from his father was probably one of the biggest positive moments of Neal’s life, and while the encouragement James gives Neal regarding his artwork is the kind of boost that a kid only gets from a parent (not even a pseudo parent, as I have a hard time seeing Peter give Neal this kind of encouragement), I think James is playing an angle here. I don’t think he’s totally manipulative, but remember that James is closer to the man who ruined his life than ever, and I think – much as he’s pleased with his son – he’s really got only one goal: to destroy Pratt. Now that James knows, essentially, where the evidence box is, I think James will be a wildly loose cannon in the season finale.
You can see it at the end, when Neal comes back to his apartment from the caper-of-the-week. James asks, “How’d it go?” and Neal assumes that he’s asking about his work, something that James showed (feigned?) interest in previously. No, James is only concerned about one thing: the evidence box. After Neal tells James that he’s found the evidence box, and actually shows him where it is, James wants to go after it. But Neal won’t do it without Peter. A short argument ensues, where a frustrated Neal spits out, “He’s been more of a father to me than you ever were.” Neal then tells James about why he can’t be an artist: with all the aliases he’s had, he doesn’t know who he is. James replies, “You’re my son. And I’m very proud of that.” I don’t actually doubt that, but while you’d hope that reuniting with your son would be his first priority, I think James’ first priority is revenge.
Of course, as I said before, this episode is also about intuition. (Or, chicken-sexers.) Neal’s intuition for this whole episode has been right on, yet he seems to trust his father so implicitly with information, with himself, with his feelings. At the beginning of the episode, Neal makes the statement, “When people are nice they’re usually working an angle.” Yet he doesn’t apply this rule to his father. Does that mean that I am wrong about his father, or that James sits in an instinct-blind spot for Neal? We’ll see next week.
Highlights and Random Observations
– I LOVE the art forgery episodes. I love to see Neal forging art. I love to see Neal’s unparalleled genius. “This is not a DuBois. This is THE DuBois.” Ok, Neal sculpting in a white tank top doesn’t hurt. Gratuitous, possibly. I’m going to go with the high road and say that he takes his shirt off as a symbolic gesture to show his vulnerability as he does his art. Yeah. That’s it.
– The chemistry of Matt Bomer as an approval-deprived son to Treat Williams’ proud father is so very well done. Bravo to both.
– Mint Chocolate Tracking Chip. That was nice.
– Mozzie’s safe house is a 10 x 10 windowless bomb shelter, surrounded by a pig farm and a bog. Of course.
– Walk and talks. I love the walk and talks.
– I really think we need to get Neal some hand-to-hand combat training.
Best White Collar Quotes from “The Original”
James: I can’t take Mozzie’s safe house anymore
James (pauses): He’s a very weird dude
Peter: Yeah, it’s gonna be hard to keep the empire state off the radar.
Neal: Especially with my father back in town.
Peter (shocked): Send him back, immediately.
Neal: I tried. If we force him he’ll just go rouge, which’ll be even more problematic.
Peter: Guess that answers the age-old question of nature vs nurture.
Written by Ceil Kessler, subscribe to get her White Collar insights every week.