Worlds to Change and Worlds to Win (White Collar, Season 3 First Quartile: 3.01 to 3.04)

This seems like the right size chunk to consider something like White Collar in. Trying to analyse every episode would lead to a lot of repetition (which in greater writers might translate to very concise reviews, but you know with me I’d just talk a lot about nothing), but only checking in every half-season would take away the fun of speculating on the end (and mid-) points of the season arcs.

Thoughts on relationship re-adjustments and the perils of over-familiarity after the jump…

White Collar has undergone a subtle shift this season. The midseason episodes are doing their best to keep it in the background, but Peter and Neal are undeniably now at odds in a way we haven’t seen them since the very start of season 1. Neal wants to do something criminal; Peter wants to stop him. I’m generally very happy with this shift, as I think it breathes some new life into their friendship while also addressing questions that had to be addressed before the end of Neal’s 4 year sentence. I think the way it plays out will teach us more about the characters of both Neal and Peter, and I’m very much in favour of that as they are of course the main reason I watch the show. They’re the strongest characters, the strongest relationship, the glue that holds the show together, and so far this arc is doing its best to deepen both of them.

Neal cannot resist a challenge. We know this about him. It’s interesting that Peter phrases the question as whether Neal can walk away from pulling off the biggest heist of his life, since I don’t think that’s exactly the lure to Neal – and I don’t think Peter thinks it is either, or he wouldn’t choose to attack that angle. Neal loves matching his wits with people whose wits he respects in turn. The lure of finally outwitting Peter – when Peter has got the better of him twice in the past – will be strong. The show did something very clever, though, in making the paintings be stolen by Moz (even if I’m still very fuzzy on how he could have done it) – it gave Neal an additional reason to go through with selling the paintings, and certainly a reason not to delay in doing so. Because delay is exactly what I think he’d do if left to his own devices here. I feel that Neal would be perfectly happy to serve out the rest of his time with Peter, then dispose of the art when he is freer to do so. But Moz is forcing the issue, and Neal’s loyalty to Moz is pretty strong. Neal’s loyalty to all his friends is pretty strong, at least when it comes to endangering himself for their sake, and the show has commented on this before. This is the first time though that I think Neal is willing to seriously endanger his out-of-prison status and Peter’s friendship for the sake of someone who isn’t Kate. It’s also being nicely played that he’s not entirely willing, that Moz keeps having to tell him how good things will be to distract him from something he doesn’t really want to do. All of this is adding more depth and uncertainty to the charming confection that is Neal Caffrey.

Peter, on the other hand, does not so much gain depth but continues to be… fleshed out. I think that is the better term. He is a solid, reliable character who I do not expect to ever learn any surprise revelations about that will suddenly change all his motivations or character. He is not the sort of character who could survive that sort of entire rewriting. (Witness my hatred for the ring reveal at the s1 mid-season finale.) However, over the course of every season so far he has had his competence, his loyalty and his downright sneakiness built up to the point where I now absolutely believe that he can catch Neal. And, more to the point, where I believe that he believes it sufficiently to leave Neal reasonably free while he’s under suspicion. And where I also believe that he likes and trusts Neal enough to want to leave him free to make his own decisions, even if they’re the wrong ones.

What’s most interesting, of course, is that both of them now know all those facts about each other. This is no longer a mismatched buddy cop pairing having to adjust to each other, this is an incredibly strong working relationship between two people who know each other very well indeed. Neal knows better than Moz just how difficult it is going to be to stay out of Neal’s reach, and Peter knows better than Diana or Jones just how risky a game of trust they’re playing with each other. Not only do they know each other personally, they know each other’s support networks, resources and approach to problems. Has it given either of them an edge over the other? Should Neal actually manage to take the paintings and run, my money would be on Peter winning the game in the end. But then, my money would have been on Peter by the end of the pilot too. But… will Neal try to run?

I still don’t want to call it.

Sundry observations:

– I do love how successfully they’ve kept Neal and Peter being friends despite Neal’s criminal leanings and Peter’s suspicions. I think the first few episodes of this season did a great job of straining their friendship and allowing it to spring back into a new shape. Now they not only trust how the other will act when they’re both on the same side, they’re beginning to be open as enemies. That look that Peter gave Neal when he’d managed to outwit him with the DC Art Crimes woman’s flight – oh, game on. That was a beautiful moment of ‘I know and I know that you know that I know, now what are you going to do?’

– Moz is being interestingly villainous without actually being a bad guy. He’s talking Neal into committing crime, persuading him to abandon Peter’s friendship, talking them both into betraying the trust of their friends and chasing the imaginary castle in the sky, but you can look at him and see how he does all of that out of a belief that it is the best thing for both of them. Much as I didn’t like ‘Dentist of Detroit’ much as an episode, I feel the ending of Moz choosing to face his past rather than run represented an unusual moment of nobility from his character. Maybe he too might have second thoughts as the season progresses? Probably not, but I’m not sure how we come out of this season with all the friendships intact at the moment, and I really hope we can…

– I really quite enjoyed the brothers’ relationship in Where There’s A Will. Have I seen either of them in something before? *checks imdb* oh! They’re actually brothers! Oh, well that plays into what I was going to say – they had what felt like a really believable relationship, despite the typical antagonism the plot forced on them. The moment when they started to reconcile was really nicely under-played. Also, one of them played the oldest kid in Malcolm in the Middle. That would explain that, then.

– Diana was very well-used in Deadline. Now, a similar storyline for Sharif Atkins, please (though I did enjoy Jones getting taken hostage in the first episode). So far they’re also using Sara well (i.e. not too much, and believably).

– Neal and Peter’s spur of the moment ‘you’re fired!’ fight made me smile in very much the same way that their one in the bank vault in last season’s premiere did. It somehow makes me very happy that they’re both smart enough to use real-life grievances to make an argument sound realistic, but that their friendship is strong enough to actually make that a safe way to express them. Also loved the little bit of pushing it too far in this one – Peter got to make the funny face at Neal’s insinuations about Elizabeth, but I also raised an eyebrow at Peter’s accusation that a con is all Neal will ever be. Nicely played, boys.

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About Susannah

31-year-old who gave up her day job to go travelling for a few months, theoretically to help her work out what to do with her life. Amazingly enough, that seemed to work, and I am now back in the UK doing a PhD in a different field entirely. No longer posting regular travel blogs, because no longer travelling regularly. Boo.
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