When I was frantically marathoning the first few seasons of White Collar two summers ago, the question I wanted answered most was the mystery of Neal’s past and how he became the man he is today. Season four’s quest to unravel this mystery, however, simply hasn’t felt interesting enough for a complicated character like Neal Caffrey, unfortunately sparking a good amount of indifference on my part for most of the season so far.
But where the buildup to the reveal of Treat Williams as Neal’s father was a bit of a letdown, the possibility of where the story goes from here seems far more promising. This is mainly due to the emergence of Senator Terrence Pratt (Titus Welliver) as the show’s new big adversary. When dealing with a conspiracy in any narrative form, said conspiracy almost always goes straight to the top, and that’s what White Collar is working with here with Pratt, a former dirty police captain in James Bennett’s precinct who is now a powerful politician, the kind of guy who orders hits against his enemies as effortlessly as he shakes constituents’ hands. It’s a great idea to give the Bennett story some additional heft, but the biggest coup here by far is the casting of Welliver, who plays both the menace and charm of Pratt with equal reptilian ease.
In the aftermath of Neal’s father’s departure, Peter and Neal are working both angles of the conspiracy simultaneously, splitting time between their quests to reveal Pratt’s wrongdoings and figuring out the mystery of the evidence box key. When Pratt rises to the surface as the likely evildoer behind the conspiracy, the attempted takedown of Pratt is classic White Collar convoluted caper madness, starting with the fairly rote takeover of a barbershop in order to install surveillance technology on Pratt’s belongings and culminating in a fairly ridiculous scheme involving Neal posing as an architect and managing to get a developer sold on a billion-dollar building in less than five minutes. I mean, Bomer looked good in that suit, but it’s one of the more audacious lies the show has expected its audience to believe he could sell so easily.
The meat of this story, and where most everything works, is the casual ruthlessness of Pratt and his crony, developer Cole Edwards (Reed Diamond). Theirs is the typical sleazy-but-not-illegal relationship of big businessman and sympathetic politician on its face, with both serving each other’s interests. When Peter and Neal dig a bit deeper (because obviously it goes deeper), they discover a trail of paperwork covering up massive amounts of building fraud. Peter’s plan: Get Edwards arrested on fraud charges, get him to flip on Pratt, and take Pratt down for good.
While this is happening, Mozzie and Jones—in a fun little sidebar—are busy working together to get information from Mozzie’s “keymaster” on the evidence box key. Of course Mozzie has a key guy! Their team-up is a fairly standard game of cat and mouse as they work both with and against each other at the same time, especially as there’s no way Mozzie would work with a suit without keeping some information on the quiet. Neal goes along with Mozzie’s plan to keep the information quiet from Peter, but neither he nor Mozzie expect Jones to be wise enough to work the key angle with Peter on his own, completely separate from them.
Things get even trickier, though, when Pratt and Edwards get wise to Peter’s inquiry into their relationship and cut his brakes in retaliation, forcing him into a fairly severe car crash. This car crash causes Elizabeth to ask Neal to promise Peter will have nothing further to do with the conspiracy, and to force him to lie to Peter about everything he finds out about the key. This is where the cracks in their relationship start to show, where all the seeds of mistrust in the past are bound to affect how they handle this case going forward. Peter knows Neal is lying about the key because of his alliance with Jones, but Neal is only lying because of Elizabeth’s pleas to keep him safe. This isn’t like the ship full of stolen art; although Neal has a vested interest in finding what the key means on his own, until Elizabeth stepped in he was perfectly willing to completely share this experience with Peter. The question going forward is, will this division between the two feel dramatic or simply like a contrivance? For now, because of the emotional reasons Neal is lying, it feels pretty horrible for Peter to so easily believe the worst about Neal. But hey—it isn’t like he hasn’t been burned before.
As Neal and Peter are dooming themselves to a season of working the same mystery to the same ends at the same time (while not communicating with each other at all in the process), Pratt is making a clean getaway from any charges. Peter’s plan to bust Edwards—via the Neal-as-architect scam previously mentioned—goes south when Edwards refuses to turn on Pratt and Pratt ends up not only escaping any charges but taking credit for the takedown of Edwards with the press. This guy is an extremely promising antagonist, to say the least.
The episode ends with a one-on-one between Neal and Pratt, a preview of the battle to come. Pratt strikes the fist blow by using his power to get Reese fired, which only accomplishes the task of angering Peter and Neal more and making them more resolute in nailing him to the wall. Depending on whom Pratt maneuvers to get put in Reese's place, this might not be a very easy task.
- So the key is a map, and the clue is that the ridges match up with some part of the New York skyline. That seems vague! (Also, does anyone else think the keymaster’s riddles are kind of terrible?)
- What the heck is Barty exactly, besides seriously disturbing?
- “What if it unlocks nothing?” “Keys don’t have existential crises.”
- “I represent PANEO – People for the Awareness of Near-Earth Objects” Mozzie, always good under pressure. Well, almost always.