After reviewing multiple episodes of an offbeat drama like White Collar, it begins to develop an interior rating system. By this crossroads in our season two journey together, I think we can agree that an A for Neal and Peter’s FBI investigations is weighted very differently against a similarly graded Sopranos than Collar’s own recent marks. (In this case, a B+ and B- for “Burke’s Seven” and “Forging Bonds,” respectively, and in my humble assessments.) While I understand that by any measure, USA’s signature original series rarely achieves cinematic altitudes, chapters like tonight’s “What Happens in Burma” make a case for why it's typically far from shallow.
In fact, even this week’s title managed to avoid outright squirrel bait in favor of some clever duplicity, burrowing a reference to foreign diplomatic immunity inside the world’s most famously overused, Ashton Kutcher-approved tourism slogan. And on the whole, “Burma” returned to what Collar does best—Neal , Peter, and Mozzie (and to some extent, Diana and Jones) staking out and outwitting cadres of snooty black-market con artists—after last week’s overheated flashback kitsch-position. Concurrently, it did still offer unexpected revelations, by way of learning about Neal’s crooked-cop father. This explained his motivation throughout much of “Burma” but mostly helped substantiate the familial bond developing between he and Peter.
As for the new role players and loose ends detailed in “Forging Bonds,” Andrew McCarthy fans will have to hold their breaths a bit longer for his return as Neal’s arch-nemesis/mentor Vincent Adler. (What, you thought he’d sign on for that steady an arc? The guy’s probably still angling for another post-Kingdom Hospital series lead.) Instead, we got a meaty storyline involving a U.S. diplomat whose lefty-documentarian son is being framed and imprisoned by the Burmese government for stealing a priceless ruby.
This leads to classic Collar setups, diligently researched screenwriting, and previously vaulted Caffrey aliases being taken out of storage, like George Donnelly, family man and gem collector. The sequence in which Donnelly/Neal and Peter shake down a weasel-y jewel peddler in particular was staged with the kind of fluid double-talk and creative set design that made the bulk of season one so addictive.
A subsequent sting requiring Diana to model fake ruby neck wear atop a bizarre underground catwalk that resembled Taken's hooker-auction climax didn’t fare quite so well. More easy, kid-glove quips ensued at the expense of her sexual orientation (either dignify that character with a romantic interest or let it go), and when Neal’s suspect pulled a gun on him in the basement, he was almost too cool under pressure. Granted, his assailant resembled Donny Osmond with frosted tips and Sonny Crockett threads, and our protagonist has gotten a little more comfortable around gunplay and a little more trusting of his fellow agents. But he’s also not a superhero, and sometimes, it actually makes Caffrey more endearing when we see him squirm.
The episode quickly bounced back, however, with a nimbly shoehorned third act that showed off our two primary characters at their best: Neal coloring outside the lines of jurisdiction to right an injustice (and, as we now know, his father's transgressions), Peter demonstrating his intuition as a high-level agent by sniffing out his reckless wingman’s intentions, and the two of them working together as both efficient would-be partners and surrogate father and son. Aw.
- Marsha Thomason’s reading of Diana’s line, “The children of diplomats are trained to send messages if they’re in trouble,” not only sounded like a British actress doing a really flat American accent but seemed a bit teacher's pet-ish given that said diplomat dad was in the room right next to them.
- I love when Peter gets all awestruck around Neal’s coolness like a schoolgirl.
- Apparently it was in Bomer’s contract for this half-season that he needlessly de-shirt once a week.
- “It’s PLA-BEE-IN.”
- That whole scene of them cutting down the fake ruby was totally obscured for me by the fact that Bomer looked like he was playing Ben Stiller’s stunt double in Zoolander’s coal-mining scene.
- Jones’ scarf was the best cable-drama accessory since Franklin’s silk pajamas in True Blood.
- Whatever hip-hop song was playing during the modeling scene was rough. This show’s better off sticking to its own theme music.
- “He’s doing a documentary about the democracy of the region.” It should be democratizing, right?
- I enjoyed the detail of authentic NYC parking tickets.
- “Did she wear hats?” Best closing line in show’s history.
- Next week: Billy Dee!