White Collar: “Ice Breaker”
B+

White Collar: “Ice Breaker”

B+

White Collar

"Ice Breaker"

Season 5, Episode 6
B+

White Collar

"Ice Breaker"

Season 5, Episode 6

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Well, it’s official: The Mosconi Codex is this season’s music box. As expected, foxy former museum employee Rebecca (Bridget Regan) has returned, initially to receive a letter from the FBI declaring her innocence in the Codex’s theft—and then, after some sly manipulation by Neal and Mozzie, to assist them in de-encrypting the stolen chapter’s text. The only catch is that Rebecca thinks she’s cooperating under the auspices of the agency’s art-crimes division. In reality, she’s unwittingly assisting Neal’s efforts to stay one step ahead of the Dutchman. And thanks to some convincing acting from Mozz as Art Crimes Agent Greuchner, and June (hello again) as office admin, she’s none the wiser. Though as it turns out, she’s got plenty more knowledge about Mosconi than Neal. Namely that he never included a 13th chapter in his works. Doink.

With his attention unfailingly divided between Hagen and everyday Bureau matters, Neal also continues to walk a tightrope evading Peter’s gaze. It’s pretty shocking that he expected to disappear from their engagement in Little Odessa (aka Brooklyn’s real-life Russian enclave Brighton Beach, providing some fresh atmosphere for the show), schlep to the medical office Mozz had mocked up as Art Crimes HQ and not sound Peter’s alarms. To be fair, it’s just as surprising that Jones, there at Peter’s behest to keep an eye on his wayward C.I., didn’t follow Neal when he left the boardwalk. The notion that he stayed back to have Peter’s back with Sergei felt a tad flimsy.

Which brings us to tonight’s primary investigation, that of Moscow émigré/hockey enthusiast Sergei (Canadian Mike Dupod, whom some may recognize from his home country’s grisly drama Durham County). As Neal so literarily observes, Sergei has the “Crime and Punishment” of rap sheets back home, and he appears to be illegally forging passports stateside to help conceal the identities of his fellow transplanted baddies. He also lords over a kept woman, talented ice skater Katya (The Americans’ Annet Mahendru, clearly destined for big things, hopefully beyond playing kept Russian woman... also, do they and WC share casting directors?), and wearily accepts Peter and Neal’s cover story that they’re a coach and agent, respectively, interested in working with her.

Mahendru isn’t asked to do much, outside of appearing relatively convincing on the frozen pond, when not out of focus in deference to a stunt double. Katya is essentially a narrative cog, creating a way in for the FBI’s sting and stirring up some jealousy at the Burke home with Elizabeth that leads to a climactic Cutting Edge moment with the couple. Sergei is the true catalyst, albeit one who never seems much of a threat. For one, there's Dupod’s emotive accent, which isn’t exactly helped by his character’s limitations. In essence, he and his henchman drink vodka, menacingly snarl, slap the old puck around (no dirty double entendre intended), and generally get up to no good. It’s an unfortunately one-sided portrayal of Brighton Beach’s colorful culture, but alas, foreign stereotypes are historically the fiber in any American cop-show diet, helping make sure formulaic cases travel safely through an episode’s rear end.

Political correctness aside, “Ice Breakers” actually does get most of the procedural details right (save missing the golden opportunity to title itself “Doris Day Parking”). Just when you question how Sergei could buy Agent Burke’s alter ego of skating coach Peter Nevins, his Wikipedia page emerges (a one-upping likely intended with a wink for the show’s nitpicky audience). And as I mentioned before, Peter doesn’t let Neal’s disappearing act go unnoticed, even if Jones more or less botched the tail.

But ah, Peter’s never overeager. All he needs is a whiff that Neal’s up to no good and he’ll sniff out the path to indiscretion. Caffrey and Mozz may be imperceptible when covering their tracks, but I can’t say the same for rusty June, who dropped an FBI pen (or was that Mozz’s bad?) in her haste to flee their faux-agency address unscathed. Of course, Peter could never fathom the pickle his felonious colleague has gotten into this time, and the season can really take its time connecting the dots.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of open doors to explore—particularly Neal’s budding chemistry with Rebecca and their continued efforts to understand the Mosconi mystery, albeit with very different intentions and varying degrees of being duly informed. But that’s what’s interesting about the current state of play: No one’s really operating with a full deck, and anyone is capable of seeing through the other’s duplicity or outmaneuvering their adversary. And in some cases, adversaries and allies can look awfully alike, depending on the situation.

All told, “Ice Breakers” widened the dramatic scope after last week’s comparatively low stakes. It was also a charismatic episode scripted with nuance and performed with fitting confidence. You can tell Matt Bomer and the rest of the cast really responded to the material, and that helps us engage, even when Peter’s arresting a room full of crude Russian stereotypes in the middle of a wedding toast.

Stray observations:

  • So are we to assume broken-bad Neal is still under a hypnotic spell? And does it matter?
  • Poor Agent Siegel.
  • Great touch with the Nevens/Nevins misdirection.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, the real Peter Nevins.
  • Okay, I’ll buy the overall fake-out, but wouldn’t Sergei have wanted a card or at least the name of their agency at first blush?
  • Cutesy Liz and Peter are getting a bit much.
  • Although, DeKay and Thiessen do have a very believable chemistry. Icky, but believable.
  • No socks at work, Neal?
  • Sergei, if you don’t want to arouse suspicion, don’t offer ultimatums like, “Stay on the ice and out of my business.”
  • Yeeeaaaah, no one's mistaking Rebecca for “another bookworm.”
  • Now how did Neal never come up with as fun an alias as Sammy Jordache?
  • “Leave your heart off your sleeve,” warneth Mozzie to Neal. Sagely, he is.

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