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TV Review: White Collar – “Under the Radar”

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The season finale of USA’s White Collar this week was as frustrating as just about anything I’ve ever watched. USA is known for a certain type of show: procedurals that are a bit better on character development than the average network offering of the genre. I admit, I find about half of USA’s shows unwatchable because of how strong the procedural elements are, but White Collar is one of the better ones. Or it usually is. The season finale left me confused and annoyed.

First, let’s hit the strong points of the episode. Neal’s (Matthew Bomer) growing relationship with Sara (Hilarie Burton, who will be a series regular next year) is sweet. The double date dinner party the two of them have with Peter (Tim DeKay) and Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) feels right, and appears to open up the possibility of a more domesticated Neal. I would say that’s a great example of Peter rubbing off on Neal, except we have seen that Neal is no stranger to the love of one woman before. Elizabeth calming Sara’s nerves about jumping into something with a former con man was a high point of the episode.

Neal and Peter’s relationship, really the central linchpin of the show, has blossomed into wonderful understanding. While captured by baddie Adler (Andrew McCarthy), the two of them have great banter, and complete faith in each other. They break into an old German sub loaded with massive amounts of treasure. It’s the ultimate find that the music box mystery of the past two seasons has been leading them to. Yet, all I can think about is how much I enjoy watching Neal and Peter work together. I could care less about the treasure. It is a mark of how well the characters are written.

Lastly, the team has come together in surprising and wonderful ways. Mozzie (Willie Garson) still hates the ‘suits’, but has a respect for Peter. Diana (Marsha Thomason) hates Mozzie, but finds Neal likable enough. The two elements of cops and robbers are meshing nicely and naturally. It’s a slow process, far from complete, just as it should be. And with Jones (Sharif Atkins, still not a series regular, but should be!) finally being included in the off-the-book operations, it feels like a family has formed on the series. Funniest line in this vein? Mozzie not-even-close-to-convincingly saying “Nuts!” as he flees from Jones during a contrived set-up. Which by the way, despite the funny line, that scene is completely awkward and not at all believable, for the audience or the mark.

Unfortunately, the finale contains massive plot holes that make the whole experience a mixed bag, at best. The most glaring is how Peter has concluded that Neal has gone bad. After everything they have gone through, and the massive effort Neal has taken to putting his trust in Peter, how can Peter abandon him so quickly? Yes, the evidence of the exploding building and fragment of Neal’s painting look bad, but that should not change core emotions. Neal and Peter are best friends. It does not make sense that Peter will not give Neal the benefit of the doubt for at least a little while.

Secondly, Adler just behaves completely erratic. He loses contact with Neal and Peter in the German boat, but doesn’t run in with guns blazing. It’s more a calm saunter, with Adler out in front, unprotected from a sudden attack that Neal and Peter could have been ready to stage. And why didn’t they? There are only a couple of guards in the facility. There are plenty of potential weapons in the treasure trove. I just don’t get it.

Adler’s biggest mistake is not killing his prisoners outright. A few bullets in the head, and it would have all been over. Instead, he sends his goons to leave them tied up in a shipyard, then wait til they wake up from the drugs, and leave them unobserved as the hollow fills with water. Even if Adler has a penchant for theatrics, as Neal says he does, that would mean he would have wanted to watch them die. He is nowhere nearby. The guards don’t even stick around to watch. That may have worked for old, James Bond-style knockoffs, but it’s implausible and stupid here. The writers ought to know better.

And seriously, the kiss between Neal and Alex (Gloria Votsis)? I get the emotions involved in the moment. I don’t get why Sara wasn’t immediately out of the van and up to Neal before it could happen. I don’t get why Neal actually was into it, when he had something really nice brewing with Sara. He’s always been shown as a monogamous guy. This was out of character.

The mystery left is, who delivers the treasure to Neal with that note and key? I’m thinking it’s obviously Alex, though why didn’t she keep it for herself? Or at least half? I just want to see how Neal clears his name. At least Peter didn’t come bursting in, gun drawn, while Neal is surrounded by the treasure, as I expected him to do after the rest of the shoddy story.

White Collar will return in the summer on USA.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Suzanne

    I believe the guards did point guns at Peter, Neal and Alex when they came up the stairs from the drydock. I just enjoy the interplay between the charachters and of course, looking at Neal for 45 minutes so I am good with the finale. Sorry but I think you are trying to be too technical. Most of us just don’t care about that. Ask any of the 4 million women who watched this episode if they care about a plothole. Nice to read your perspective though. Thanks

  • Michel

    This is one of the worst reviews that I’ve read. How many times did you watch the show? I’d hope that anyone making money from a blog wouldn’t phone it in. For example…

    1. Adler always had Alex for leverage so there’s no question as to why they don’t move against him.
    2. I didn’t see any weaponry inside the sub.
    3. They woke up right before the bad guys turned the water on.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    Suzanne – They did point guns, but they didn’t run in with guns held aggressively out in front. They entered the room at the same time as Adler, who walked calmly in. Their response just wasn’t enough, imo. As for women not caring, I have no complaints if you watch the show for handsome men, the lead is attractive, but writing with just a little more effort would have satisfied fans who actually want to see intelligent TV. And the fact that this show is usually better was a let down. I really like this series, on the whole.

    Michel – They did have Alex, but no one was left behind to keep her somewhere she could be used as leverage. They all just sauntered in to confront Neal and Peter. There was no weaponry inside, but all they had to do was pick up something heavy and made of metal, of which there were plenty, stand on either side of the door and whack them on the head. As for you third point, exactly! They obviously were not moved far. The drugs worked longer last time. Why stand around and wait for them to wake up? Why take them away to be drowned at all instead of just putting some bullets in the head? Your criticisms of me do not actually hold up.

  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com Nancy Hecko

    Neal has always been shady, and Peter always suspicious. However, Peter is probably jumping the gun this time. Neal clearly did not blow up the warehouse. As for stealing art, the time constraints bother me. At any rate, this series is fun to watch.

  • Vivek

    “There was no weaponry inside, but all they had to do was pick up something heavy and made of metal, of which there were plenty, stand on either side of the door and whack them on the head. As for you third point, exactly! They obviously were not moved far. The drugs worked longer last time. Why stand around and wait for them to wake up? Why take them away to be drowned at all instead of just putting some bullets in the head?”
    .
    Yeah next time why don’t you write the show? I’m sure millions would be watching!

  • Dee

    Seriously…that kiss of Neal and Alex was smoking hot!!! Wish the writers would stop foisting women on Neal who have no chemistry. Dressing Sara in sexy non-professional clothing does not make her “the love interest”. Elizabeth, Alex and Diana (I know she plays for the other team) are the only women Neal has shown any real chemistry with. Not Kate, not Sara and definitely not Lauren who the writers last tried as a love interest.
    And yes Sharif Atkins would be great as a regular but it is widely known that he was offered it but turned it down for his own reasons.

  • moz

    I disagree with your argument on peter going nuts with the painting. Of course he should always be on his toes, he’s a fed. And Neal’s a conman. Also I, it aligned perfectly with peter’s character on how quickly he recalled the “long con” that Neal told him about.

  • steph

    Just curious: Why do you review a show about the FBI if you don’t like “procedural elements”? If you want a relationship drama then go watch Brothers&Sisters or whatever. I love USA shows because they have just the right mixture of great stories and great characters, and the procedural part is pretty important to those storylines…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jeromewetzeltv/ Jerome Wetzel

    It doesn’t have to be a relationship drama to be a good show. 24, Prison Break and Alias were great shows, and they dealt with similar themes as White Collar. Even Bones, which is technically procedural, mixes it up enough to be a fantastic series. I do think it’s lazy to do procedural shows, and just write the same thing over and over. Also uninteresting after a few episodes. Certain USA shows rise enough above that formula to be interesting, but others don’t.