When you have a series, like White Collar, in which five core characters are usually ‘the smartest person in the room,’ you really have a challenge to bring them all together without slighting someone. White Collar’s Jeff Eastin surmounts this situation by giving each of these characters slightly different areas of expertise.
In season two of the series, Eastin and his writers’ room took the mythology they’d build up in season one and cranked it up a notch, thus ensuring that FBI Special Agent Peter Burke [Tim DeKay] and his favorite consultant/con man/forger/etc., Neal Caffrey [Matt Bomer] faced growing challenges right from the season one cliffhanger that saw Neal’s one true love, Kate, die in an explosion just before they would have been able to fly away to a life together.
That mythology included a music box with a code; separate investigations into who kicked Kate and the potential of looming major score. In and around the ongoing mythology, Peter and Neal – ably abetted by insurance investigator Sara Ellis [Hilarie Burton], Neal’s mentor and closest friend, Mozzie [Willie Garson], Peter’s fellow agents Jones [Sharif Atkins] and Barrigan [Diana Thomason] and, on one occasion, Peter’s wife, Elizabeth [Tiffani Thiessen] – take on the brilliant mind behind several bank heists; a lawyer who turns adoption of foreign babies into an extortion racquet, and a dirty FBI agent who leaks the names of witnesses to the accused, among others…
Following the jump, my five favorite episodes and fifteen moments/reasons that White Collar, Season Two was so enjoyable.
Top Five Episodes:
5. Unfinished Business – Neal finds himself having to pretend to be a hitman hired to kill Sara.
4. Company Man –Peter goes undercover – as a CPA! Neal infiltrates the same company as a marketing whiz.
3. Point Blank – Peter and Diana link Fowler to the explosion that killed Kate; while Peter is telling Neal, Diana calls Peter to tell him the music box has been stolen. The final moments are the most dramatic, powerful mid-season cliffhanger in USA’s history of split season programming.
2. Burke’s Seven – Burke has been framed for attempted murder, so Peter Neal and a select crew go all Ocean’s 11 on a Nigerian prince who has a weakness for the ponies. Plus, Peter rides a horse [really well]; Mozzie builds a fractal, and we finally learn who’s behind Kate’s death.
1. Forging Bonds – a flashback episode in which we learn how Mozzie and Neal became the men they are today.
Honorable Mention: Under the Radar – the season finale might be a bit too far over the top to crack the top five, but it wraps up two seasons of carefully constructed mythology in a way that pays off with a most unusual cliffhanger that sets up a genuinely unique situation for season three.
Biggest blip in the Season:
What Happens in Burma – Peter and Neal are recruited by the American ambassador to the United Nations to find the person who stole a pigeon blood ruby from Burma – and the ruby – in order to exonerate his son of the crime. Diplomatic chaos ensues. Entertaining, but not up to the season’s snappy usual standard.
Fifteen Reasons White Collar, Season Two Rocks:
15. Mozzie’s Zen safe house, Tuesday [so-called because he’s usually in it Wednesdays]. [Prisoner’s Dilemma]
14. Peter and Neal must pretend to be each other! [Power Play]
13. The new theme music with its crunchy rock chords [reminding of Quatermass’ ‘Up on the Ground – or it just me?]
12. The music box plays a code that leads to a fractal? [Burke’s Seven]
11. Neal buckles a mean swash, a la Errol Flynn, swinging across a courtyard. [Point Blank]
10. The entire episode of Need to Know, in which Peter becomes a fixer for a crooked politician who thinks the FBI agent on his tail [Peter] is having an ongoing thing with a hooker; Mozzie references Babe; Neal notes that ‘politicians were the original con men.’
9. The running gags about Neal’s GPS tracking anklet – finding it around June’s dog’s neck, for example. [Countermeasures]
8. Mozzie’s stunning bad hairpieces in Forging Bonds.
7. Neal sings with June [Diahann Carroll] while Ford [Billy Dee Williams] tickles the ivories and Peter and Elizabeth look on in amazement. [Countermeasures]
6. Mozzie gets to be the hero but still doesn’t get the girl. [By the Book]
5. “…or I’ll start with your thumbs!’ Peter playing a Detroit Mobster in Copycat Caffrey.
4. Peter’s porn mustache [first seen in a photo in Need to Know].
3. Peter has to break out of a jail cell type cage while a contemporary of Neal’s pulls the same gag – only from a real jail. [Payback]
2. They shot Mozzie! Those bastards! [Point Blank]
1. Question: if you’re the world’s greatest con man, what do you do if the world’s greatest score falls into your lap? The world’s greatest non-violent cliffhanger? Quite possibly! [Under the Radar]
Photos by Robert Ascroft, David Giesbrecht and Will Hart/courtesy USA Network