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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

White Collar: “Family Business”

Illustration for article titled White Collar: “Family Business”
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Neal understands his “Family Business” adversary, Dennis Flynn (Scott Evans), all too well. The second-generation Irish mobster is desperate to resurrect his family’s good name. The only difference is, Dennis’ bloodline is defined by decades of petty crime and felonious murder. And while the Caffrey/Bennett legacy isn’t entirely untainted, Neal and his father’s transgressions are the result of good intentions gone awry—wrongs they’ve both been working diligently to right.

Tonight’s midseason première picks up right where “Vested Interest” left off. After three-plus seasons of dancing around Neal’s past, it’s at last disclosed that Sam Phelps (Treat Williams) is in fact James Bennett, a.k.a. Neal’s papa. The exchange isn’t exactly an earth-shattering, “Luke, I am your father” revelation, but it turns out to be something of a narrative decongestant for White Collar. Finally, with that all out on the table, we get the complete history of James’ fall from virtuous young cop and family man to witness-protected cop killer.

See, it’s tough providing for a family on an officer’s salary. So after stumbling on a crate of Benjamins during one particular bust, James tried to snatch a bundle for himself. After all, who’s gonna notice or care about a few hundy amid thousands in illegal bills? Unfortunately, his supervisor caught James in the act. More regrettably, said boss man was in cahoots with the Flynns. The only way James kept his badge was by running interference on mob raids and generally acting as a low-level double agent. This even required pulling the wool over his partner Ellen’s eyes. That is, until James finally had enough and wanted out, getting framed for murder as a parting gift. Making matters worse, just as Ellen dug up evidence to clear her partner’s name, an anonymous prison caller threatened Ellen, Neal, and his mother’s lives. What a pickle, indeed.

Now that Neal realizes James gave up everything for his safety, he’s hellbent on making sure dear old dad no longer has to spend life on the run. Too bad, then, that “Family Business” concludes with Neal imploring his father to flee New York (ah, so that’s how they’re going to get around Williams’ presumably limited appearance slate). He and Peter successfully take down Dennis’ whiskey-bootlegging business—via Neal and Mozz working undercover as counterfeit distillers and glass blowers, of course—and nab him for Ellen’s death, and are also ready to blow the lid on their larger familial operations. Alas, Dennis is slain en route to jail, likely by someone in similar circles as whoever forced James into confession all those years ago.

It’s actually too bad Dennis departs so quickly. Ridiculous choices in outerwear aside (nice jacket), he could have made a formidable villain, even if only occasionally and from behind a glass partition. Plus, this Flynn/Bennett rivalry has some juice, and it could have been intriguing for Neal to reach a more climactic face-off with the man who shot Ellen in cold blood and whose father set off a chain of events that led to Neal’s own wayward journey through crime and consequence.

Still, James does have a point in circling back to that one lapse in judgment when he tried to sneak away with stolen cash. If there’s one theme White Collar—and Peter as mentor to Neal—has always emphasized, it’s that every choice we make can seal our doom or enhance our destiny, and every possible angle warrants conscientious review. For Dennis, stowing away trophy murder weapons is a macho homage to the Flynn name. As for Neal, he’s not about to compound James’ mistakes with more rash and prideful behavior. For now, that means saying goodbye to his flesh and blood so no more of the latter gets shed. But hey, he’s still got Mozz—not to mention a warehouse’s worth of deliciously cheap, oak-aged, amber-hewed single malt.


Stray observations:

  • I’m neither a denizen of nor advocate for New Jersey, but man, this episode really jabs at the Garden State.
  • Much as the Shackleton myth sounded like a deserved dig at Jameson’s over-the-top corporate backstory, it’s apparently for real.
  • I enjoyed the overall, timely satirizing of pretentious micro-distillery culture.
  • James may be no Anakin, but Drunk Mozz is rather Yoda-esque.
  • Hey, it’s hard to render believable flashbacks on a tight budget, but not sure those sepia tones are helping.
  • This show’s really got a thing for boxes: jewelry boxes, evidence boxes, trophy-weapon boxes. Soon they might have to start plotting outside the box.
  • Something tells me White Collar’s new slogan, “Sometime it’s good to be a little bad,” is purposefully (and charmingly) self-referential.