White Collar: On The Run In The Sun!

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When White Collar (USA Network, Tuesdays, 9/8C) returns tonight, Neal Caffrey is living the high life in paradise and Special Agent Peter Burke is hovering somewhere near the doghouse. Then things get complicated.

The fourth season premiere of White Collar opens an unspecified amount of time following the events of the third season finale. Neal (Matt Bomer) and Mozzie (Willie Garson) have settled into palatial digs on the island of Costa Verde, protected from prying eyes by jovial Henry Dobbs (Gregg Henry), a facilitator of anonymity for a price ($25,000 a month).

He’s also set his sights on local café owner Maya (Mia Maestro) – who seems to be the only woman on the island who isn’t interested.

Back in New York, Burke (Tim DeKay) is on tenuous ground already, when Agent Kyle Collins (Mekhi Phifer) arrives on the scene. Collins is an arrogant, mean person who has been set on Caffrey’s tail by the Department of Justice. By mean, I mean that he has a tendency to bring back his targets (as Peter puts it) ‘alive or otherwise.’

Unlike Peter, Collins has an in with WITSEC, which brings Ellen Parker (Judith Ivey) back into the mix – which leads to clues that should pinpoint Neal’s location. Unfortunately, Collins is not above using legal, but highly unethical means to find out what Peter might know.

Written by series creator Jeff Eastin, Wanted is one of the series’ best episodes because it doesn’t follow the pattern we expect. There is no scam, and the tension comes from the race between Peter and Collins to find Neal. The climax is unexpected and leaves us on a huge cliffhanger.

Because there’s no scam, and not a lot of serious action/stuntwork, the tension comes from Eastin’s development of the character of Collins and the way that he does not mesh into the White Collar world. It’s the knowledge that this guy is completely ruthless – and he’s allegedly on the side of the angels – that causes the episode’s tension.

Director Paul Holahan doesn’t force action where there is none, but uses some slick editing to highlight performances in a way that makes the stakes and the danger clear. When there is action, he doesn’t overdo flashy cuts but tends to hold a shot and let the action develop in the frame.

Wanted is a smart, entertaining departure from the expected and gives White Collar a fresh perspective and a new energy. Adding Phifer and Ivey to the mix brings up everyone’s game – this episode may feature one of DeKay’s two or three best performances over the series, and Bomer and Garson are right there with him.

The ep doesn’t give as much screen time to Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), but she adds that extra level of grounding to the proceedings and continues to make us understand how the Burke marriage can be such a good one.

Things get even more interesting (as in ‘may you live in interesting times’) in the season’s second ep, Most Wanted – But if I told you, I’d have to go into hiding…

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Photo by Javier Pesquera/Courtesy of USA Network