White Collar: When Work IS Play
We've all been there: It's the last week of summer vacation. Or perhaps the final leg of a trip abroad. Heck, it could even be the waning hours of a Sunday afternoon. But there often comes a time when we've had enough relaxation and we're actually excited to get back to work. It's a particularly cruel trick our brains play on us, but we all have limits of how much downtime we're willing to put up with before longing for hard work. Now that White Collar has brought the whole gang back to their Manhattan-set status quo, it's clear everyone is rarin' to get back to their jobs. "Diminishing Returns" was essentially an essay on all the different ways a character would WANT to work hard. From Neal's evident relief at being back on the straight-and-narrow, Peter wanting to escape the drudgery of his "day job," to even Mozzie throwing himself into unpleasant busywork just because, there was a certain joy in how stoked everyone seemed to be back in the saddle. It gave an otherwise slight 'n breezy episode an incredibly charming hook: What if your job was the thing that made you happiest?
"Diminishing Returns" began with ceremony: First a quick montage of Manhattan daily life—a far cry from Cape Verde's tropical lackadaisy—and then Neal's ceremonial shaving of his vacation beard and donning of his first dark suit of the season. We could tell by his beaming smile that he wasn't too sad to be back working for The Man. Speaking of The Man, this episode marked the first day in which Peter had to report to his new role at the FBI: Evidence room grunt.
In a cavernous warehouse known as The Cave, Peter not only had to deal with a total jerk of a boss (the kind of dude who shows up a minute before closing time to make sure you don't leave early), but he had to do menial jobs completely un-befitting someone of Peter's resume. I'm not gonna lie, this whole storyline made the FBI look super bad. I mean, sure, Peter had broken some rules, but shouldn't his boss have just put an angry note in his file and let him resume his high-powered investigation work? I don't know, it just seemed like a waste having someone like Peter organizing thousands of busted cell phones. Call me crazy.
Meanwhile it appeared Neal was being afforded a heightened level of freedom and leeway around the office, to the extent that he was mostly just walking around looking for stuff to do. After instantly solving a few petty fraud cases, Diana and Jones tasked him with a case Peter had been working on for decades: A jewel thief who only makes a big hit every five years in order to evade statutes of limitations. When Neal consulted with Peter down in The Cave, it was immediately clear Peter would've given anything to help, up to and including working for free on his own time. That's how much Peter missed his old gig. Even Elizabeth seemed eager to getting back to being Special Wife Consultant to the FBI: When Neal interrupted their early evening wine and snuggle party, Elizabeth didn't care at all and started immediately grilling Neal for case details. She is the best.
After a fun sequence in which Peter demonstrated just how much you can learn about a suspect from the position of their car seat, Peter and Neal were able to target a guy who'd been a primary suspect in the past: Some rich d-bag who played squash at one of those country clubs where your locker has a brass place with your name on it. Next thing we knew, Peter was going undercover as a similar type of d-bag, the kind who makes $5K squash wagers.
One thing I liked about this episode was that it didn't follow the typical procedural formula. You know, like (1) Suspect identified, (2) Going undercover, (3) Suspect was a false alarm, (4) Second suspect identified, (5) Twist/false alarm, (6) Real villain was the witness from the first scene, etc. No, in "Diminishing Returns," once our heroes had fingered a suspect, he was definitely the correct criminal and so the rest of the episode had to do with nailing him. No twists or shocking reveals, just procedural work.
And this episode had some of the most fun procedural work in recent memory. For my money, White Collar really comes alive when Neal gets professorial with his con-man tactics. So for example, in this episode Peter intended to take diamonds (some fake, some real) to the thief's diamond dealer in order to send the thief into a jealous rage. But in order to carry the scam off, Peter had to use power of suggestion over the dealer to get her to only examine the three REAL diamonds. So Neal gave him a crash course in how to do that: To get her to pick out the blue diamond, Peter had to constantly finger his blue tie and also use words that rhymed with "blue." When it was the yellow diamond's turn, Peter pointed at it with his thumb, like, "Hey, thumbs up to this diamond." And with pink we were back to the rhyming thing. But yeah I loved learning about the inner workings of a master manipulator, so to me this was all way more interesting than the actual jewel thievery plotline. I would not be mad if White Collar wanted to produce bottle episodes where Neal just talked to the camera for an hour and revealed con man tricks. You know? In close-up mostly.
Oh, and you probably won't be shocked to know this, but Mozzie showed up! Continuing the theme of how much he missed his job, he explained to Neal that he grew bored hanging out in paradise by himself, particularly because Neal had always been his biggest front. We already knew that Mozzie can't resist a good scheme, and that's what makes his character so great: He'd legit leave a vacation early to secretly do all of Peter's busywork in the Cave. Mozzie <3s schemes so much, even when they don't benefit him in the slightest.
So after Peter and Neal successfully nabbed the thief (and in time for Peter to get back to his grunt work!), Peter earned a bit of respect from his jerk-boss and a ton of outrage in the viewer for having to be cooped up in that warehouse all day when he could be going undercover or whatever. (Isn't it fun when Peter goes undercover? He's turning into Neal basically!)
Neal wound down his day with a pleasant conversation with Ellen. Between this and and an earlier conversation with Peter, we learned a bit more about Neal's upbringing. He'd grown up in witness protection under an assumed name after Ellen—then a police officer—arrested Neal's police officer dad for admitting to murdering another officer. It was clear that Neal's dad was still in prison for that crime, but because of Neal's newfound interest in his father plus Ellen's reluctance to verify that Neal's father actually HAD been guilty, I think we can expect Neal to investigate and/or exonerate his father in the near future. But who knows! This is definitely the kind of plotline where characters already know most of the answers but WE will only hear about it in dribbles and drabbles during the last thirty seconds of each episode. So it's best to probably be patient here.
In all, "Diminishing Returns" was a pleasing return to form and a fun bit of escapism. I wish *I* had a job I looked forward to! Haha just kidding MY busywork involves taking screengrabs of Matt Bomer's face. So...
Hey look here they are!
... Are you going to try out Neal's power of suggestion tricks on your loved ones?
... What do you think Neal's dad looks like?
... Does YOUR country club locker have a brass name plaque on it?
... Can somebody please bring me some French take-out?
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