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

White Collar: “Identity Crisis”

Illustration for article titled White Collar: “Identity Crisis”

This would probably rank as season four’s most frustrating episode. “Identity Crisis” is an apt enough title, and not just for summing up Mozzie’s internal struggles. The first 10 minutes are a surreal glimpse into Mozz’s imagination, as he narrates his accidental plunge into espionage and nearly takes yet another bullet from a mysterious gunman (the reference to his season two assailing is one of many callbacks that show consideration of detail and continuity from writer Channing Powell). But the ensuing runtime, which ropes in Peter and Neal in a manhunt for Mozzie’s would-be shooter while unwrapping a centuries-old mystery involving Revolutionary War spies, feels completely disjointed from the loopy Scooby-Doo opening. (Save for a second, much more crudely dramatized flashback later on that doesn’t help illustrate what may have become unclear amid a fairly dense whodunit-cum-American history fun-house script.)

For the sake of not making this any more confusing, here’s the basic gist: Mozzie and June apparently go on outings to storage auctions and connive their way into prime goods. On this occasion, Mozzie stumbles into a space with a cryptic journal and set of keys that lead him to a fancy house on Central Park West, and accidentally smack in the middle of a disgraced college professor’s sociopathic hunt for evidence of the Revolutionary spy who once resided there as well as, ultimately, the flag George Washington carried across the Delaware. This also happens to stir up Mozzie’s underlying obsession with conspiracies as a coping mechanism for dealing with having been orphaned. Peter and Neal consequently find themselves coddling Mozz, tricking a suspected killer, and decoding a circa-18th-century coordinates system to zero in on a priceless item of American lore.

What, that didn’t streamline things? Unlike our crime-fighting trio (or, as Mozz distinguishes himself in one of several Charlie Brown moments of slumping disillusionment, a “crime-finder”), Powell and the White Collar staff aren’t miracle workers, and “Identity Crisis” bites off a Herculean storytelling burden. So much so that Neal’s ongoing search for Sam and the story behind his father’s setup gets mostly put on hold in deference to all this business concerning post-Colonial subterfuge and gun-toting academics. That’s too bad, because the previous couple of weeks rallied significant viewer enthusiasm for Neal’s private journey. “Honor Among Thieves” in particular balanced ample screen time for a supporting player (Diana) and still kept its eye on the ball. Perhaps on White Collar, it’s just not possible to develop all these tertiary characters over a couple months while keeping Neal front and center and staying true to its procedural formula. It certainly doesn’t help when they have to dedicate precious half-minutes to corny Ford product placements. (Sorry WC scribes, this one was a real buzzkill.)

In that vein, Elizabeth continues to feel more like a token reminder of Peter’s relatable life outside the office than a facilitator or co-conspirator. That’s honestly neither here nor there as it affects this episode or most of the season, but it’s a bit distracting and suggestive of how busy the series has gotten.

For all its stated flaws, “Identity Crisis” gets a lot of mileage out of a unique, entertaining start. And as is always the case when White Collar isn’t running on all cylinders, Tim DeKay elevates everyone around him with subtle comedic glances and a willingness to play the role of gently exasperated sideman as required. When Peter inevitably gets swept up in Mozzie’s theories, his giddiness is infectious, largely because he was never a bully naysayer in the first place. Peter, as Fox Mulder might surmise, wants to believe. As does Mozzie, who, it turns out, might not have been that off-base. Makes you wonder if Neal’s onto something with Sam and Ellen too.

Stray observations:

  • Jones’ Thomas Jefferson comeback was surprising and awesome.
  • Oh, so that’s what a camera obscura is.
  • I love Willie Garson and almost every character he plays, including Mozz, but oy, the puppy-dog orphan-boy tears were hard to watch.
  • This comes up a lot, but it really is asking a lot to buy Matt Bomer as a steely criminal mastermind in these undercover ops.
  • What’s better than a sexy librarian? A sexy spy-brarian!
  • Hey, brarian is almost an anagram for brain. Blerg.
  • There’s horrible shots, and then there’s horrible shots. There is absolutely no way Mozzie and Tempest should be alive.
  • Collar is still the best on TV, especially in New York, at location scouting.
  • Speaking of which, the show films on-set in Long Island City, Queens, which happens to be a mecca of self-storage spaces. The more you know.