White Collar: “Honor Among Thieves”
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White Collar: “Honor Among Thieves”

While this week's episode is titled “Honor Among Thieves,” that itself is a sleight of hand. The central con certainly addresses that old adage head-on—art-thief Abigail (Rebecca Mader) blackmails Neal with info on who killed Ellen, in exchange for help boosting a Pascal kinetic sculpture—but by runtime’s end, “Honor” is clearly more interested in the shaky trust between hesitant allies. In this case, not only Neal and Peter, but Neal and Diana as well.

Plenty of White Collar fans will be happy to see Marsha Thomason, aka Agent Barrigan, get a personal and procedural storyline. Thomason makes the most of it. Vulnerable amid troubles with her girlfriend Christie (a relationship arc that never really found much purpose), Diana is unwittingly attracted to Abigail. While on an undercover date with the suspect, she exposes genuine emotion as Neal, Peter and Jones listen in from the van, and later confides in Neal, only to feel betrayed when it seems he’d abetted Abigail’s heist. Poor Agent B. Thomason’s great here though, not playing her attraction to Abigail as a lurid novelty, and expressing professional and romantic conflict with sympathetic gloom. 

Of course, Collar doesn’t always excel at coloring deeper shades of soul. The transition from conveying Neal’s grief and contrition at Ellen’s funeral to expected on-the-job banter is an awkward one. On the whole, Ellen’s always felt more like a guardian angel than multi-dimensional character, and her fate was both sealed and a bit perfunctory to the season’s momentum. It does, however, give Neal motivation to pursue the truth about his father and the mysterious Sam—who apparently opts for the old pay-respects-and-run approach at former colleagues’ gravesides—by any means necessary. 

Once again, we’ll just have to accept Mozzie and Ellen’s delightful 10 minutes together gardening on the sidewalk as reason enough why Neal’s right-hand man would abandon his criminal principles and drop everything to aid “the suits.” One way or the other, he’s up for some high-concept dirty work, having concocted a means of blurring out his face for security cameras so he can be an effective decoy as Neal jacks the Pascal under Peter’s nose. He’s a generous con man, but also essential, balancing comic relief (e.g. his shrinking from Abigail after she threatens to “break your little fingers”), especially in an episode that occasionally strikes an uneven tone. 

It also helps that Mader is the lone guest star this time out. Collar is often as good as its cameo drop-ins, but just as frequently, cons can become overstuffed with the presence of too many new faces, and the season’s ongoing primary drama can get shoehorned into the bookends. Abigail is a worthy foe, and triangulates a very tense situation between Neal and Peter that tests their loyalties all over again, and forces both protagonists to wonder whether a person can really change. Even though it’s tempting to want Caffrey and Burke to continue their paranoia-free dynamic, watching them outmaneuver one another while Neal covertly sabotages Abigail’s ruse makes for awfully riveting spy games. 

What we do know is that Abigail’s behind bars, Neal’s lucky to have escaped the same fate, and both he and Peter are operating on the same U.S. Marshals intel regarding Ellen’s death—even if one doesn’t realize the other’s still playing Big Brother. Or, given the particularly familiar nature of their exchanges at episode’s end, perhaps Big Daddy is more apt. Oh, what’s a reforming con man in search of the truth behind his actual father to do?

Stray observations:

  • Neal sure would make a great salesman. What’s the function of that blackbox again, Mr. Caffrey?
  • I appreciated that Peter, Jones, and Neal didn’t react like giddy school boys when Diana and Abigail.
  • Elizabeth’s normally more of a problem-solver than a, “You’ll figure it out, hon” kind of wife, no?
  • Not a lot of superfluous happenings in this one, honestly. Where’s Hilarie Burton and her Earth Girls Are Easy attire when you need her?

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