White Collar: “Out of the Box”

While I find White Collar to be a decent diversion and continue to watch it each week, it’s failed to make the leap narratively. I’m sticking around because I think Matt Bomer’s got a lot of charm, I love Willy Garson, and I’m a long-time fan of Tim DeKay’s. ((Plus, I keep hoping Natalie Morales is going to get a bigger role.)) Story-wise, they aren’t treading ground that I haven’t seen on dozens of other shows over the years.

I just don’t care if Neal ever gets back with Kate. ((The fact that Alexandra Daddario is a blank as Kate doesn’t help the character’s cause. Why the hell is Neal smitten with such a non-entity?)) I’m not sure how much I care about Project Mentor and Fowler and I haven’t found him threatening in the least. Noah Emmerich is a fine actor who can certainly be an intimidating presence and he’s doing what he can with what he’s been given, but there’s just no heat there.

And of course I’m still stinging from the cheap feint over the mid-season cliffhanger.

I want this show to be more than it is and I think part of why I’m still watching is the hope that a little of Matt Nix will rub off on Jeff Eastin. I want Neal to do something truly bad to someone who deserves it. I want him to have a dark secret he must keep from Peter bigger than the uninteresting, plain vanilla machinations to steal the music box for Fowler. I want Peter’s threats to send Neal back to prison to be real, to feel like more than the equivalent of Ralph Kramden’s “to the moon, Alice.”

All of White Collar‘s sister shows have embraced the dark to some degree. Even the lightest of light weights, Royal Pains, has demonstrated a willingness to rough up its characters and challenge our assumptions about them. Not so with our mismatched buddies here. Peter is (mostly) a by-the-book guy who grudgingly lets Neal bend the rules a little bit. Neal is a thief with a heart of gold. Mozzie, who at least expresses great antipathy for suits, is nonetheless a pussycat. Where are their edges?

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised Fowler and the criminals-of-the-week aren’t very intimidating. With such toothless protagonists, it would be terribly unbalanced to have actual bad guys as the bad guys.

But there is still hope.

The season finale inches toward the edge of the abyss, keeping its light heart while letting Fowler be a touch more intimidating. Revelations about Mentor and its relationship to Neal add a little spice. And maybe this time, the final shot won’t be a cheap trick to be explained away with a wave of the hand. If the events of Tuesday’s finale hold, it’s just possible that I’ll be watching White Collar next year for more than the charm of its leads.

If you’re hopeful like me, go ahead and give the season finale a chance this Tuesday at 10/9C on USA.