These reviews have always evaluated White Collar against itself. And like any show, USA’s hit caper serial goes through cycles of storytelling. Viewed as a whole, seasons can be put in context quicker and appreciated for their scope. Conversely, over the slow haul of two-to-three months, certain episodes labor and build momentum while others benefit from its thrust. As a result, weekly reviewing can become a task both rewarding in its critical discretion and limited in its presumptuousness.
This applies as much to, say, Breaking Bad as White Collar. The only difference is, any nitpicked ebbs throughout 13 weeks of AMC’s rightly lauded crime drama still hardly tarnish its near-perfect sheen. And on a good week, that particular franchise is maybe the best ever of its kind. White Collar, in its finest hours, is the smartest, funniest, and most stylish representative of a limited genre. It’s neither aspired to nor achieved the lofty, Emmy-adored heights of Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones et al. The one major downside of that position is its comparative low points can feel inessential and derail viewer interest from ongoing storylines.
Cases in point: the busy placeholder “Most Wanted” and last week’s enjoyable, if transitional, “Diminishing Returns.” But as if on cue, and definitely per White Collar’s chartable progress, “Parting Shots” is like a newly fired slingshot, with all sorts of pent-up humor, suspense, and overall good fun careening off its pages. It’s the best episode since “Wanted,” and the first one to comfortably step out of the stolen treasure’s shadow.
One immediate sign that we’re turning our attention elsewhere is the reappearance of Hilarie Burton as Sara, who’s recruited Peter and Neal’s assistance investigating possible insurance fraud. (Although, unfortunately, not with her blinding, oddly contoured wardrobe of Grace Jones’ old cocktail dresses.) As often happens in New York, a wealthy older man named Grant Covington died suspiciously in a scuba accident, leaving millions to his hot young wife, Sophie (Smallville’s Laura Vandervoort). Throw in Grant’s lecherous business partner Wilson (A Gifted Man/Law & Order: Special Victims Unit regular Peter Hermann), armadas of concerned paparazzi, a failed attempt to kidnap Sophie, and one rogue private investigator (none other than Mr. Three O’Clock High himself, Casey Siemaszko) leering around the edges, and you’ve got a case that’s not only easy to keep up with, but full of James Bond-ian double-crossings and [Insert purring tone.] sexy, sexy danger.
It really can’t be said enough how much of a boost White Collar gets from its caliber of guest players. Last week, Michael Weston helped salvage a borderline B-plot as a flustered jewel thief, and in “Parting Shots,” Hermann and Siemaszko gamely eat their screentime as two equally skuzzy ends of the Manhattan-lowlife spectrum. Meanwhile, James Rebhorn—who always delivers an authoritative presence, kind of like a poor-man’s James Cromwell—gets his most significant action as Agent Hughes, even jumping into the stakeout van with Jones. Turns out, Reese hates the van, which provides a funny recurring gag and finally gives him more than one dimension.
We do get diverted away from the Covington mess for a couple of scenes with Ellen and Mozzie (the latter of whom takes to Ellen with almost creepy delight), though most of “Parting Shots” commits to staging action scenes and little mini-cons, like the cleverly edited memorial-cum-kidnapping sequence early on and Neal’s subsequent wooing of Sophie as a means of protecting her from Wilson. This also means less superfluous, expository dialogue and more witty asides. Mozzie, as usual, scored the one-two punch with his Bob Saget comeback to Ellen and dubbing of Neal as “Mr. Cheekbones” (which, incidentally, Neal does not enjoy).
Yes, the show manages to weasel out of Peter’s supposed probation with barely a pause, despite his literal and figurative line-crossing at Agent Patterson’s expense, not to mention he and Reese’s collusion in breaching protocol. And, okay, Ellen’s “Rosebud” moment on the ambulance gurney is a bit hokey, and possibly endangers her chances of speedy recovery (hate when movies and TV shows do that). One can even argue that the FBI pursuing Sara’s missing sister could be a huge waste of episodic time. But the premise of Neal unraveling police corruption and clearing his father’s name is a juicy one, and “Parting Shots” is entertaining, charismatic, and precise from the get-go. Now, the singular unknown is whether White Collar keeps its foot on the gas or risks some share of its audience getting off the bus.
- Man, between this, Louie, and Damages, Siemaszko’s really having a moment again, huh?
- What’s with Neal always delivering Peter fancy lunches? I want a fancy lunch.
- New York is beautiful in the fall (unless that was spring, but either way).
- I’d rather not “tap” Peter “like a geyser,” thank you very much.
- I don’t like singling people out, but Vandervoort was a bit of a slouch, huh? Not sure why 20-something actresses are always cast to play women with 40-something sophistication.
- Peter’s “arms in the evidence room” explanation was so stupid I had to laugh.
- Sophie’s not into murder, money, or Maler. What does she have against things that start with “m?”
- Did Peter essentially give Patterson the hand?
- Wise, and moreover, foreshadowing words from Reese: “Careful Peter. I don’t want you to wake up one day and not recognize yourself.”
- I wish Anna Chlumsky didn’t jump ship to Veep. I miss her.