White Collar: "Forging Bonds"
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White Collar: "Forging Bonds"

As promised subsequent to last week’s “Burke’s Seven” review, I want to briefly address White Collar’s leading man, Matt Bomer before diving into “Forging Bonds” (which is, mercifully, less of a dead-giveaway title, although still giddy with Easter Egged double-meanings). My assessment of “Seven” and the show in general was almost entirely supportive, but a number of readers took umbrage with the first half of a parenthetical observation that was part of a larger train of thought, specifically, my apparently odious suggestion that Bomer “remains a minor acting liability.”

I’m aware that most of the outrage was likely directed from viewers who tune in every Tuesday to ogle and generally behold the hunk-tastic actor. And as I elaborated on in our encouragingly passionate “Seven” reader comments, that’s absolutely understandable and was clearly a huge factor in his initial casting. (To wit: The USA Twitter army was plastering social media today with “Bonds” teasers of a certain shirtless FBI consultant, and it wasn’t Mozzie.)

So, now that we’re past trying to establish my general point of view on Collar while packing in specific episode critique, I can be a bit clearer. Bomer, as I intimated in the second portion of my lightning-rod parenthetical, has a wonderful knack for playing down his looks and exuding a theatrical lightness. But when his dialogue steers from esoteric scheming and romantic charm into WB-worthy banter with Peter, his readings can translate as the awkward recitation of a nerdier writer’s lines.

The irony is, he’d out-act the entire ensemble of almost any current soapy cable drama, but on Collar, he’s doing time alongside small-screen vets such as Tim DeKay (in nearly every scene no less) and recurring heavyweight guest stars, including Noah Emmerich and James Rebhorn. Hell, even DeKay’s TV wife, Tiffani Thiessen, and the emerging series villain, Andrew McCarthy, have decades of cumulative experience on poor Bomer. It’s a credit to just how well put-together White Collar is, top to bottom, that I can afford the luxury of nitpicking its star’s performance.

As if its writers were aware that Bomer needed to flex his range, “Bonds” was a real showcase for Matthew, who took one huge step toward imbuing Neal Caffrey with more identifiably human motivation and in the process helped a precariously ambitious 44 minutes from careening into desperate gimmickry.

At long last, perhaps upon realizing the show was a bona fide hit and needed to move its key storylines forward, Caffrey, Burke, and the entire regular cast of characters had their intertwining backstories revealed via flashback. This, visually, amounted to Neal sporting foppish, virginal hair; Mozzie fashioning a ridiculous alt-rock toupee and double-wide flavor savor; and, most inexplicably, a quickly dispensed-of pederast mustache violating Peter’ upper lip.

It was hard not to be excited for the origin-story premise, and it was impressive that—a la “Burke’s Seven”—they didn’t have to step outside the show’s inner sanctum to develop a B-story con, thus cleverly allowing “Bonds” to package twice as much exposition, all the better to fully unburden itself of outstanding mystery. And who better to help provide cause for revealing all while advancing the series than McCarthy? The lithe-looking former staple of John Hughes’ cadre plays Vincent Adler, Caffrey’s one-time mentor, his former mark (hence the interior con plot), and the presumed captor/murderer of Kate. Adler is also the fugitive engineer of a massive Ponzi Scheme, of which Neal and Kate were eventually victims, a ripped-from-headines, Law & Order-style twist that feels suspiciously thrown together, although its just untimely enough to be ironclad. 

Maybe I’m splitting hairs again, but while I dug seeing Kate (resurrected by the cherubically beautiful Alexandra Daddario) get some real airtime, I’m not sure the script took its time, after all this time, selling she and Caffrey's courtship or offering much about their separation beyond what we already inferred. As for McCarthy, we have yet to see the last, and hopefully best, of him. And who knows? He might transform into a memorable sociopath in the way Jonny Lee Miller upped his menace toward Dexter’s season five climax. In “Bonds,” however, someone forgot to remind the well-aged Irishman that he can stop hamming it up. So far, his Adler is a Mr. Burns-ian stereotype of corporate elitism, voiced by McCarthy as a melodramatic snob with no slobs to squash.

Apart from those question marks and misgivings—the “OK, we get it”-ness of Jones and Diana’s flashed-back beginnings felt like watching every last employee in an office scurry for a company photo—“Bonds” delivered the goods. It’s a huge relief to feel all caught up with these characters. Bomer did a more than serviceable job showing different sides to Caffrey, the writers managed to wiggle out of a real narrative traffic jam (just barely), and the final scenes were driven by action more than words, portending an exciting final push to season’s end and a hard-fought clean slate for the next one.

Stray observations:

  • Am I alone in feeling like Peter and Neal’s tete-a-tete over drinks was a bit too whimsical, given how it dredged up constant allusions to Neal’ dead girlfriend?
  • “It’s a fractal, a mathematical curiosity.” McCarthy delivered that line as if he just came off stage in Dracula.
  • I believe that outdoor bench scene was in Madison Square Park (and the “First Unity” bank was actually the nearby Chase branch) in Manhattan. Which conjured fond memories of taking breaks from an awful job I had in 2006 to go there and fall asleep for two hours. I guess it wasn’t that awful.
  • Alex. Meh.
  • Up next on USA, Matthew Bomer, his wife-beater, and his muscles in A Streetcar Named Ford Taurus.
  • If the flashbacks took place eight years ago, whoever styled Mozzie knows that it was 2003, not 1993, right?
  • Two-fold for whoever took an extra quantum leap to 1973 and slapped Peter with that ridiculous mouth beaver.
  • Was that a weird lesbian joke when Maria suggested tailing her girlfriend and everyone, briefly, nervously, seemed to misconstrue her?
  • “He is the man who made me who I am.” Let’s assume that one got repeated for all the folks whose final minute got cut off by DVR last week.
  • “We have an obligation to assault the commonplace?” A sly little metaphor for the show’s m.o. perhaps? It’s getting there.

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