There were stretches during “Countermeasures” where my brain was saying, “Me no follow plot entirely. Me must be stupid or tired or have stopped paying enough attention just long enough to get duped like this episode’s murder-thievery suspect Jonas Ganz, who was played by Joe Sikora, who looked so familiar because he was last seen as pivotal fall guy (and Margaret’s husband) Hans Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire.”
But during its perfectly bow-tied final 10 minutes, it occurred to me that unknotting exactly how Caffrey wound up accomplice to a money-printing scheme with Billy Dee Williams and Hans Schroeder was less important than a theme from last week’s “What Happens In Burma” coming more nimbly to the foreground: What will Neal’s future hold once that ankle bracelet is permanently unclasped (nice detail having Peter briefly acknowledge it for once tonight), at which point all that handy philosophy he’s acquired during his cons takes on more of a personal, existential significance?
At the risk of evaluating “Countermeasures” in reverse storyboard order (or, as I like to think of it, as one might devour a Hebrew Siddurenu), I thought Neal’s surveying of Peter and Mozzie—who are at this point clearly defined as his two closest friends—about his impending life crossroads was intimate and believable, and it all makes me think there was more being conveyed in recent episode title “Forging Bonds” than I gave it credit for. After all, White Collar has always thrived on the idea of unlocking clues and secrets within self-referencing mazes of hidden meanings, even down to the sponsored interactive games on its website.
It also confirmed my notion that revealing Neal’s family history last week was less to open a can of nano-plotting worms than mature Peter’s relationship to him as confidant. And while many of you felt, understandably, that the surrogate-daddy chemistry was a bit too obvious, you have to agree it’s more realistic for the elder straight-man to serve as a paternal mentor, whereas Mozzie can be the age-appropriate peer and occasional devil on the shoulder.
However you deconstruct it, Caffrey is quickly becoming more of a well-rounded character study, and hopefully, Matt Bomer can at long last use this part to show he’s ready for the A-list. Of course, he fortified his theatrical chops thanks to a dinner-party duet with his intermittently present den mother June (Diahann Caroll), who along with Peter’s staggeringly understanding wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen, back from the maternity leave green-screen ghetto), shared some uncharacteristically hefty screen time. Can someone say, “Tuesday night is ladies night at the Collar Mansion?”
This is where we first learn that Billy Dee Williams, playing an old friend and scam-running pal of June’s late husband Byron, is back in her life to steal a Benjamins-printing template and go for that obligatory “final score” with his prison cellmate Ganz. Unfortunately, Williams handled clichés like “final score” and “old habits…” with all the subtlety of a guy who spent years getting paid to insinuate being drunk on malt liquor made you smoother with the opposite sex. (In general, the supporting and guest star players tonight were less than stellar.)
We did at least get treated to some gorgeous and previously unseen set-design glimpses inside June’s apartment. From the coffee-table-level perspectives of her antique bedroom furnishings to the lengthy, regal shot of Neal coming back down her centuries-old wood staircase, those five minutes managed to leave me more envious of other people's good fortune than any of Neal’s designer suits and one-night stands.
Then, of course, we have the fractal antenna, which Mozzie reminds us, vis a vis Neal, he is busy trying to rebuild. Which is more or less the bulk of a suddenly svelte-looking Mozzie’s utility in moving the storyline of “Countermeasures” forward. But there was something telling about Neal’s sullen look and Mozzie’s can’t-help-it grin after they split a con-men proverb about never dying but seeing their smiles fade away like it was a white-collar-criminal's fortune cookie.
Since Collar’s mid-season return, its writers have sucked us right into the ongoing music-box saga, only to pull all the way back for an origin episode, treat us to a couple of interior cons that also created openings for establishing sustainable character depth, and, finally, place us on the precipice of both narrative closure and continued dramatic growth. And even if I, or any of you, don’t always grasp each minute stakeout twist without Google and rewinding our DVRs, that’s a worthy payoff if this show turns out to have tricked us into following more than just a stylish, chirpy, odd-couple procedural.
- I love when they turn something as clichéd as Billy Dee flipping Neal the coin into an actual integral plot detail.
- Judging by the hi-def TVs Peter and his team use in their conference-room breakdowns, Dexter’s Miami Metro homicide unit really needs to step it up from push-pins and white boards.
- I never wanted a walk-in closet until tonight.
- Billy Dee might be entering his Fat Elvis stage.
- “Good old days” should be retired by all teleplays, alongside referencing someone’s dad as “my old man.”
- I do my best to suspend disbelief with this show, but it’s very disorienting when shots are filmed literally outside the door of my old building, which is still only four blocks from my current residence. (The Astral in Brooklyn. It’s Google-able and an interesting choice, because like their other location shots, it is filled with history.)
- Caffrey’s word-association skills have nothing on Phil Dunphy’s.
- Much as I love the new contemplative direction of the show, I wouldn't mind the usually reliable handful of actually clever one-liners (the Carlito's Way didn't do it for me, in the teaser promo or the episode itself).
- White Collar programming-interruption alert: The next episode, besides guest-starring the always-insane Adam Goldberg, will air Feb. 22, meaning you have two full weeks to consider all the deep, inner implications of this suddenly higher-aspiring series. Or to decide that I'm full of it.