White Collar: “Ancient History”
B+

White Collar: “Ancient History”

Wow. That was a dizzying one, huh?

First, let’s get to the bad: Peter inconceivably not pulling Mozz out of Alex’s hotel room immediately, let alone sticking around to play bad-guy scavenger hunt; the fact that Neal coulda shoulda just told Alex he had to pee in the first place (what, he’s not human?); and the absolutely, almost unforgivably atrocious product placement, which was somehow unseemly even for White Collar.

Next, there’s the almost-bad-but-somehow winning, namely Neal’s stab at portraying a Banksy impostor to aid he and Alex’s fake heist that turns out to be a real heist. There are Banksy copycats out there, and there’s nothing about Neal physically or in terms of his phony credentials to suggest he couldn’t be the infamous graffiti bomber. But, ya know, it was a bit cute. 

Now, onto the good, which was very good: Conceptually, everything about all the layers of double-timing was brilliant—a perfect ode to the script-checked Rockford Files (and, really, all the similarly intelligent procedurals that once defined network drama). There was real moral ground being stood on and sanded off, bonds being tested and indeed broken, and concerns both personal and collective enticingly hung off cliffs with barely any room for our appetites to dry. “Ancient History” is a hard installment to grade, so bear with the B+ and feel free to interpret it on a curve if you like. 

Firstly, what a positive injection to the show it is to have Alex back. Gloria Votsis clearly played her part this time with feeling, and it was smart to write a con around her own Greek background. One wonders if she had input in the storyline, which follows her return to the States and attempted abetting of a crooked Grecian Tourism Secretary who wants to steal priceless works of Greco art from a New York museum. Alex one-ups the perpetually sly Neal and hapless said official all at once, with barely the wink of an eye and suggestion of a touch. And Votsis puts to bed memories of her neurotic Prada rep on a latter-day episode of Sex And The City, and hopefully general character-actress doldrums, with one last turn as the cunning lady in black. Too bad it’s just the one turn, unless Alex suddenly decides to jeopardize her island villa-cum-priceless historical gallery. 

Then there’s the ingenious decision to have Mozzie tattle on Neal to Peter out of impulsive, petty jealousy when his buddy won’t share a mysterious Beta-Max tape from Ellen. (I stand somewhat corrected re: devoting an hour two weeks back to Mozz’s sensitivity.) Willie Garson was on fire tonight, turning Peter into a veritable bumbling Clouseau by fouling up his stakeout. Except instead of the Pink Panther, all Peter got was a lacy bra and red-herring manila envelope. (Sort of. Mozz’s maligned sticky enclosure did lead to at least one arrest.) You had to love it, and in retrospect get the prickly undercurrent, when Mozz quipped to Neal, “You’re the only one who gets to live in luxury?” and just plain chuckle at his chicken-shit cowering from Alex and concerns about “supplemental hiding” of his U-boat haul. 

Matthew Bomer fans will be happy to read that the man at last played a range of emotions with effective subtlety and, when needed, assertiveness. His righteous anger with Peter and Mozzie for their meddling and conspiring is deserved on paper, and Bomer makes it come off the screen when he chews them out after the aforementioned bungled bust. Perhaps that’s why Neal’s suddenly failing to wash up after decoy wine stains and getting nabbed at every turn by an overeager NYPD—he’s distracted by all the middling business of friendships that non-con men have to negotiate on a daily basis. Maybe. 

The best part of a fascinatingly flawed 44 minutes is, debatably, the sudden interference of New York’s finest, who are an unwitting pawn in Alex’s scheme to best Neal and recover some criminal dignity, not to mention nab invaluable goods. Tim DeKay is always aces, and he let the well-intentioned ignoramus parading around as an Assistant Chief have his small victory until it really cost the FBI something meaningful, then dismissed him with a callous “I’m done with you” as they attempted to recover Alex and her captured treasure. 

“Ancient History” was as close to an Emmy-worthy episode as White Collar has produced, with a dual takeaway: the tantalizing, as-yet-unseen mystery piece of recorded evidence in the story of Neal’s father, in addition to a psychological profile of choice, ownership, allegiances, and consequence with several key players involved. Horoscope shenanigans and lapses in beauracratic common sense aside, this was lock-stock-and-barrel TV befitting of the Rockford comparison. Not everything on this show might seem real or relatable to all audiences, but sometimes, like tonight, it’s spectacular.

Stray observations:

  • As a former longtime Greenpoint resident, I take offense to Mozzie’s concern about washing up there, despite the East River’s reputation.
  • I mean, it wouldn’t be so bad to live in a world where you and your friends steal each other’s treasures, faux-rob museums and solve personal and professional crises, right?
  • Mozzie on why his Micronesian Rai Stone needs to live in Peter and Elizabeth’s backyard and not, say, in Micronesia: “Thatched huttery has certain limitations.”
  • Alex and Neal have a great rapport. It really is too bad the show can’t get her back on the regular. Also, she’s kinda foxy.
  • Mozzie, to Peter, still thinking he’s in Sam Phelps’ hotel room as he handles a brassiere: “Well, he’s curious.”
  • Peter, deservedly, to Mozzie: “Someday, I’m gonna strangle you.”
  • Can we always have Peter and Mozzie capers?
  • How did the writers resist a joke about Neal being literally caught “red-handed”? 
  • Mozzie, to Neal as the two sit down with the tape: “Ready to see what Ellen wanted to show you when you were 3 years old?” Yes, we are Mozzie. Yes we are.
  • And because I love you, and don’t want you to go without something to watch till next week, I present  “The Oracle Wore a Cashmere Suit.”
Filed Under: TV, White Collar

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