Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

White Collar: "On The Fence"

Illustration for article titled White Collar: "On The Fence"
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Much like what the episode title suggests, I found myself a critic divided by White Collar's penultimate summer hour. There was some wonderful, dense writing and suspenseful clearing of the narrative air. There was also Mozzie's Walter White-ian transformation into a cold-blooded bounty hunter, in addition to the re-emergence of Neal’s archenemy, Matthew Keller, as an ongoing, almost Gotham City-worthy formidable villain. Conversely, there was Eliza Dushku at long last dropping by for her anticipated guest spot as breathy, bosom-y cryptologist/fencer Raquel LaRoque, a character who filled the screen with cliché like smoke wafting from a slim 100 cigarette. And the tradeoff for all this week’s punchy interstitial dialogue and closely vested action was less success using individual storylines as a means of exploring the season’s bigger themes, something “As You Were” and “Taking Account” had done quite nicely.

Fortunately, the decision to recast Ross McCall as Keller was a good one. Even more than Andrew McCarthy earlier this year, McCall actually seems like a White Collar bad guy who might be truly dangerous, and possibly sociopathic. His once-over on Sara while impersonating an Interpol agent was probably the most charisma we’ve seen from any of Peter and Neal’s foes, even if it’s sort of cheating, since McCall was born and raised in the U.K. (Playing with its actors’ accents for undercover scenes and cons is something Collar’s always done well, a la when Brit Marsha Thomason slipped into her native tongue as a magazine editor’s assistant.)

As for our other “On the Fence” badass, Mr. Mozzie, I’m sure some viewers were taken aback by his impulsive behavior and questionable judgment, and particularly his steely confidence while ordering a hit on Keller and practically snarling at Neal when he discovers that his partner's been lying about the manifest. I, for one, loved it, and kudos to Willie Garson for showing us that the “Dentist of Detroit” wasn’t just the exaggerated alias of an overeager teenage nerd.

What didn’t work so much, as I mentioned earlier, was Rachel LaRoque. It actually has nothing to do with Dushku herself, who was smoldering and having a ton of fun. The problem was LaRoque functioned as yet another of Collar’s cheeky distractions, and very purposely intended as a throwback noir stereotype who takes herself—and is regarded by the other characters—so seriously it’s almost comical. I know I’ve addressed the show’s tendency toward awkward camp in the past, but there are times, such as with LaRoque, when it needs to pick a tone for each episode and stick with it. Every time she came on screen, it suddenly felt like I was in Last Action Hero or Roger Rabbit.

There were other, smaller issues in an overall solid table-setter for next week’s half-season finale (it will return in the winter, similar to the way USA spread out Season 2). Namely, this was the second consecutive episode in which Neal’s potential assailant failed to do him in by way of the old, “I’m gonna stand here and point this thing and tell you to go to hell!” claptrap. Also, it was a tad too convenient that Keller's profile was atop Mozzie’s papers, tipping Sara off that she’d been duped by his Interpol act earlier on. Lastly, I can’t help but get taken out of every scene during which the writers are forced to shoehorn in a nod to the awesomeness of Ford’s digital technology in their SUVs and sedans. In this case especially, since I find it incredibly hard to believe Peter would have put Elizabeth on speaker in the car period, let alone without giving her a head’s up. Yes, it’s a TV show. But this is why, in a once-golden age, even when advertisements influenced storylines, there was at least a  superficial barrier known as the commercial break.

These are all minor quibbles though, given that the semi-finale should be, and hopefully will be, a game-changer for Neal, Peter, Mozzie and friends. White Collar has always been most effective when no one on the show knows who they can trust. Add in a fugitive murderer with a taste for Nazi treasure and Neal’s blood, and you’ve got yourself a slice of must-see TV. The real trick will be whether next week’s conclusion can simultaneously push the envelope, entertain us and tie up remaining loose threads, be they thematic, romantic or procedural.


Stray Observations

  • Vegan vampires. Lol.
  • Meh to the Malcolm Gladwell reference. I practically expected Mozz to raise a Dr. Evil pinky to his lips.
  • Nice newsboy hat, Keller. Does everyone on this show dress at turn-of-the-century retailers? Glad Peter at least scoffed at it.
  • “I hear she’s spicy.” “What does that mean?” “I don’t know. Not all my information’s helpful.”
  • Poor Vito.
  • Was kina surprised at Neal’s moxy when he slapped Peter down with, “Not everybody can be Peter and Elizabeth, OK?” Defensive much?
  • Mummy returns. Oy.
  • “I can’t wait to take you down.” Double oy. I still attest that they saddle poor Bomer with some rough one-liners now and again. It was like he was left out in the cold, waiting for someone to wrap him in a toughguy-repartee blanket.