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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

White Collar: "Controlling Interest"

Illustration for article titled White Collar: "Controlling Interest"
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For nearly 15 years, Elizabeth Marvel has been a daring darling of off-Broadway theater. She’s bared her soul and body as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire and fought off flying tomato juice while portraying the titular heroine in Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (and won an Obie Award for both performances). But tonight, she remained unstained and fully clothed as Dr. Mara Summers, a malicious psychiatrist with intentions of exposing Neal and other ex-cons for her own gain.

It’s not uncommon for stage favorites to get cozy with supporting parts among serialized ensembles. Take Orange is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba. Despite limited TV work, the Great White Way regular (Godspell, Coram Boy et al) found an unlikely home behind bars as quirky stalker Crazy Eyes in Netflix’s cult hit. Marvel has more robust television credits to her name (The District and Lights Out, among others), but like Aduba, her small-screen presence can be a tad outsized. Also a la Aduba in OITNB, that’s exactly what the role of Doc Summers calls for, so it all feels in proportion. This is all to say that Marvel makes a terrific villain, and with all the macho energy—not discounting Mozz’s metro joi de vivre—on the loose in season five, it’s refreshing for Neal and Peter to confront such a strong female energy.

Overall, “Controlling Interest” needed a strong enough story to distract its primary characters, and the audience, from Siegel’s death. That’s meant to be resolved at another time. As Peter details in an opening debrief, it’s an ongoing investigation, but backlogged cases must be closed. Tim DeKay sells the explanation, and White Collar resumes business as once was usual, i.e., he and Neal busting baddies together. Their jovial return to odd-couple banter and matching wits is, at first, a bit too sudden. As the department head, Peter clearly delineated business, and a requisite time jump ensued. Still, viewers may have initially felt disconnected from the familiar Caffrey-Burke repartee.

Fortunately, their next case literally walks through the door at that very moment, and it is a goodie. Bloodied, reforming thief Nate Griffith enters the bureau office with $2 million in marked bills, eager to confess to a heist he doesn’t recall committing. Turns out Nate’s on a quite a bundle of meds as prescribed by his psychiatrist, the aforementioned Dr. Summers. Moreover, the trail leads to Shane Jacoby, another former prisoner who appears to have initially, illegally possessed the couple mil in question. What do they have in common? Yep, a certain lady analyst.

The most enjoyable thread of how this story comes together isn’t even the working theory, which is that Dr. Summers somehow brainwashed both men into stealing and transporting an enormous sum of money for her. What’s more fun is that it all plays out as entirely plausible. And it’s delightfully lurid. We even get Neal’s first ever near-psychedelic experience. When he introduces himself to Dr. Summers as a recently released inmate needing to stay on the true course, she invites him in for a session and promptly doses him with a heady cocktail of disorienting and depressive drugs that Mozzie later identifies with the street name “Goodnight Cinderella." (Naturally.) The potion apparently functions as a truth serum, and a suspicious Summers gets Neal to spill the beans that he’s with the FBI and they have no real evidence on her.

This is all fairly mischievous territory for White Collar, the kind of thing you might ordinarily see in Sherlock or Luther (perhaps someone’s been watching their BBC America?), with an added femme-fatale twist. But what keeps things grounded is that, all mind-warping aside, “Controlling Interest” is really all about Neal coming to terms with his true temperament. It just so happens that arriving at these revelations required he and Mozz to simulate the conditions of his therapy visit—down to cooking up a stimulated variant of Dr. Summers’ narcotic—allowing for Matt Bomer to go ape in a blissed-out state of honest and confusion.


All of this is a formula for highly potent television. It’s heartbreaking when Neal confesses to relishing his one-upmanship on Peter and derides Mozzie for con-man complacency, but it is a clever and unpredictable move for Neal’s soul to lay bare during an otherwise hyper-real comedic sequence.

As we discover without debate by hour’s end, Neal has taken his intoxicated lucidity as affirmative epiphany, and he appears ready to be a bad guy again; a good-looking, non-murderous bad guy, but decidedly afoul of the law nonetheless. Because if he learned one thing during his time in Dr. Summers’ chair, or by sitting across from a weak and floundering Griffith, it’s that the more we try to conceal our urges, the likelier they are to undo us. That’s another case of the show sourcing superhero lore, as it often does, but what’s interesting about where Mr. Caffrey’s headed is that he’s embracing his human nature like never before.


Stray observations:

  • Ah, so that awesome location where Siegel got murdered was in Bushwick.
  • Miss Incarcerated. Heh. Overall, much snappier dialogue between Neal and Mozz this week.
  • Jones’ straight face about Real Housewives being his catnip suggested an expressive comedian in the making. Also, Jones still figures to fit into all this more significantly.
  • Poor Lewis.
  • Nice swerve that the Kaplan Securities guy was just a mean boss, not involved in the scheme.
  • No, there is no Brooklyn Residential high school.
  • In recent episodes of both Homeland and now White Collar, we’ve seen nostalgia sink a criminal’s master plans.
  • Lot of use of light and dark, shadows and reflections this episode. Kinda liked it.
  • Hongeo Hoe, or rotted skate-fish, is in fact considered one of the world’s stinkiest foods. Must be fun to work in research for this show.
  • That was quite the pan up from Neal’s crotch in Dr. Summers’ office. That’s really all I can think to say on the matter.
  • Neal, stoned and urging Mozzie, “You can do anything without a height requirement” was arguably the show’s funniest one-liner ever.
  • I’d also like to try Elizabeth’s game hens. And once again, have nothing else to say on that matter.
  • Mozzie’s “For the love of Thoreau, you can’t simply wander off into the woods like that” was Mozz at his most charmingly pretentious.
  • Whenever there’s a kid in peril who gets set free, I always think, “Ya know, in real life, that kid’s basically traumatized for years.”
  • Peter 1, Jacoby 0.
  • Neal may actually really need to consider talking to somebody.