Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

White Collar: "As You Were"

Illustration for article titled White Collar: "As You Were"

Whereas last week’s “Taking Account” gathered inventory on the two sides to each integral White Collar role player, “As You Were” explores the subject of outright betrayal among its inner circle. Neal is awarded the gold star far as that’s concerned, managing to completely alienate Sara, criminally trespass on Peter’s property and even break the code of trust between he and Mozzie. But the real focus of tonight’s episode is Agent Jones, who finds himself nearly crossing an ethical line in order to protect an old friend who first turned against his government, and then wound up on the run from a corrupt, homicidal naval officer he’d been in business with (Brady Smith, as Commander Henry Van Horn, in one of the series’ less overacted token bad-guy turns).

Jones—or, as those close with Clinton apparently know him, “C.J.”—is at the center of the action before opening credits even roll. After getting a rare leave of duty from the stakeout van, he heads home to his basement apartment, sees it’s been broken into and encounters a masked man rummaging through his things. The two exchange blows and gun shots. We soon learn that the assailant was after a postcard Jones had received from an old Naval pal named Jimmy, who also happens to be married to C.J.’s ex, Isabel (you can probably take a guess as to Jones’ slight indiscretion from there). Neal looks underneath the stamp and discovers it’s imprinted with a minute data file (no, seriously) containing evidence about Van Horn’s massive international palladium-smuggling operation (not kidding), which Jimmy had been abetting until fearing for his life.

For the first 15 minutes or so, that’s about as confusing to watch as it comes across when annotated.  Its intricacy also underscores one of White Collar’s consistent storytelling paradoxes. Namely, how do you unravel a fascinating, absolutely plausible international scam inside the rubric of a fast-moving primetime show that could betray its own audience by flying too far over their heads? Viewers tune into for the chemistry between its leads and because, well, some of the shit they do is pretty neat. But when you have to wait halfway through an especially ambitious plot before Peter breaks it down with clear exposition, it can put a lot of extra pressure on the episode’s back end to deliver.

Fortunately, “As You Were,” as is usually the case, doesn’t fall short far as third acts are concerned. Neal being chased down the corridors of Naval headquarters while Van Horn stalks him with a laser-pointing bow and arrow was a bit ridiculous, and Van Horn’s “I’m gonna say some stuff instead of firing my weapon at your head point blank just long enough to get surrounded by G-Men armed to the teeth” was a particularly clichéd moment in an episode that had its share of trite situational dialogue (e.g. Jones’ “He was like a brother to me” about Jimmy and Jimmy’s “You can’t protect me. No one can!” decree before fleeing Peter). But it was also incredibly fun to watch, and gave Neal yet one more reason to consider whether perilous undercover work bested a lifetime of riches and camaraderie with Mozzie. (Nice bowtie, by the way, Mozz.)

Far as the season’s larger arc, Neal and Peter’s conclusive chat—occurring while Peter is in the FBI van and Neal has just broken into his home to track down the U-boat manifest, no less—was a convincing demonstration of how genuinely Peter wants to mentor his criminally inclined friend into a better life, and that Neal is starting to see the big picture more clearly. Still, watching these foes-turned-partners try and outmaneuver each other over several episodes, rather than simply rely on Peter’s storied pursuits of Neal as anecdotal heresy, has become White Collar’s main attraction. So, hopefully, they’ll continue their silent waltz just a little bit longer.

Stray Observations

  • Neal could have either been breaking into a safe or riding a Ducati with that outfit. Or opening for Adam Lambert.
  • It’s interesting that Peter still thinks there’s a chance Neal is innocent. It really is up to Neal in the end.
  • “Why would Jimmy make a bullet out of palladium?” “Werewolves.”
  • I believe that was a bottle of The Balvenie 12 Neal and Jones were drinking. Now, not for nothing, and Balvenie 12 is a fine single malt, but wouldn’t lifestyle snob Neal come a bit stronger than that? At least a Lagavulin, no?
  • I like when Peter actually gets to play boss once in a while, this time when he reprimands Jones. It’s good to establish his authority now and again.
  • Why is it in TV and movies that pictures of peoples friends and families are always strategically positioned for maximum, timely poignancy?