It’s all making sense now. Ellen worked for a security firm during her witness relocation, and thus had access to the Empire State Building, where she hid an evidence box containing irrefutable proof of James’ innocence. And now that Elle came clean with Peter about asking Neal to withhold info on the box’s whereabouts, Peter and Neal are back on the same page.
Only they get stopped cold by foxy new department head Amanda Calloway (Emily Procter of CSI: Miami repute), who’s clearly in cahoots with evil Senator Pratt (no sign of a returning Titus Welliver on-screen yet) and seeks to helicopter over Burke and Caffrey’s Empire State intentions while keeping them busy with Bureau-placating open-and-shut cases.
Only, Calloway is quick to discover that with the FBI’s finest G-Man and CI combo on the beat, no investigation is what it seems. To wit, Peter and Neal get assigned to look into art fraud, Neal’s area of de facto expertise. Seems an enterprising art seller is passing off fake Bernini sculptures as the real deal and scoring millions in profit. But within seconds, Neal ascertains that the gallery’s supposed dead ringer is the genuine article. The piece adjacent to it, however, tells a different story. It’s an epic hunk of marble impressionism purportedly crafted by a contemporary legend named Dubois. But Neal sees right through the con, which opens an entirely new line of inquiry into Dubois’ apprentice and authenticator, JB Bellmiere (played by the art historian-appropriate-named Pablo Schreiber).
Much like the imitation Dubois works that Bellmiere’s been molding and making a fortune from, even his identity is bogus. JB’s real personage is that of frustrated art-world wannabe James Blatenik, whose yen to ride his mentor’s coattails while reaping the benefits eventually ruins him. After Neal goads his suspect into a fistfight that shatters one of the quasi-Dubois originals, Blatenik’s signature is unfurled from a scroll placed inside it. Also, he tries to bash Neal’s brains in with a chiseling hammer, which is a bit unexpected and should add to his time behind bars.
This proves to be a formative tête-à-tête in Neal’s overarching pursuit of James’ exoneration, not to mention the wider umbrella of his own complicated life story. Much to Calloway’s chagrin, she okays Peter and Neal’s usage of the Bureau’s hi-res tomography scanner to help confirm whether Bellmier’s been planting his impostor Hancock within those Dubois replicas. Naturally, Neal gathers Mozzie and pops (welcome back, Treat Williams) for a little ruse that allows Neal to embed the device inside a 50th-floor-bound Empire State Building custodian’s floor buffer. All the while, Neal gets his Zack Morris/Ferris Bueller on by looping a pre-recorded audio file of arbitrary banging and chiseling, so as not to raise Agent Calloway’s suspicions. He even manages to block the signal from his tracking anklet, returning just in time to his sculpting station and the resumption of authorized undercover duties. Phew.
Somehow, it all works, and for one shining episode, all the high-tech trickery and double-timing feels grounded in very simple mathematics: Scan of 50th floor + swift incrimination of Bellmiere x Calloway being none the wiser about Operation Free James = the good guys win. And invariably, it’s almost always better for White Collar when Peter and Neal have a common adversary rather than testing each other’s loyalty. Plus, JB is a particularly repugnant villain prone to sniveling exhortations about how he’s taking his “time to define what makes a Bellmiere.”
Overall, “The Original” is very clear about its stance on high art and its high-stakes peddling: It’s not merely pretentious, but actually cheapens the medium’s mystique. All of which only further excuses the vintage Neal-in-wife-beater-while-sculpting montage, set to the show’s standard Soulive/Out Of Sight-derived funky Muzak. If White Collar concedes that all this business about the commerce and ego of art is fundamentally silly, then they may as well have fun with it too.
Of course, that brings us to the more serious impact of Neal’s encounter with JB. It gives James a chance to finally see Neal's handy work and shower him with fatherly compliments. It’s a cozy exchange, until Neal resents dad’s suggestion that he focus on being a real artist with his own vision. “To be an artist, you have to know who you are,” the angry son bristles, snapping at dad for playing papa-come-lately.
The conflict is a bit cliché, but the insight into Neal’s insecurity and failure to harness his talents for good is effective. All along, Neal Caffrey has essentially been an ordinary grifter in possession of comically gifted artistic ability. But as James points out and Peter’s always known, he’s not just a wunderkind or brilliant criminal mind—the dude’s a flat-out genius. Sadly, he’s also much more confident in anyone else’s skin than his own. Even if he does look damn fine in a fitted Gucci suit.
- I’m still a bit confused about the whole chicken-sexers metaphor.
- I love these revelations of Mozzie’s legally obtained operational licenses… and Peter’s begrudged acceptance of them.
- It was smart to suggest that Peter’s incentive isn’t just to help Neal vindicate Hughes.
- Procter isn’t exactly convincing as an authority figure, even if Calloway is really just a dummy proxy for Senator Pratt. (Also, she says “bureau” weird.)
- Gotta love Peter tripping over the desk gawking at the nude model.
- I highly enjoyed that commercial realtor’s exasperated “oy” at Mozzie’s antics.
- I’ll just overlook how obvious a risk Neal took of Bellmiere walking back into the studio and uncovered his Bueller homage.
- Mint chocolate tracking chip: best flavor ever.