I figured it out! White Collar isn't simply the story of a con man gone good. It's actually an examination of a friendship between two grown men, but the joke is that it's the sort of friendship the rest of us experienced in elementary school. Despite the decidedly grown-up plotlines related to art theft, FBI protocols, and tropical extradition laws, the subtext of almost every scene is involves Neal and Peter being Best Friends Times Infinity Blackout Forever Jinx U Owe Me a Coke Let's Hug We Are Besties!!!!!1 And this week's episode, "Gloves Off," not only explored what happens a person has TWO besties, it devolved into essentially a playground tussle over the matter!
Honestly, this childish dynamic makes tons of sense in the world of White Collar: Much like the FBI, friendships often entail several levels of security clearance depending on your place on the totem pole. Like, if your second-best friend tells you a secret, you can only share that secret with your first-best friend, as your first-best friend has the highest level of security clearance possible. But major conflicts arise when the second-best friend believes that he or she is actually your first-best friend: THEN what are the proper clearance levels of secrets disclosure? This conflict is bound to happen when you weight relationships like this, but often your two best friends will TEST their security clearances by forbidding you to disclose information to the other, which is always the first step toward a huge friendship meltdown. That's basically what "Gloves Off" was all about: Neal found himself caught between TWO parties who each demanded best-friend status, and it did NOT end well for anybody.
We began where last week's episode left off: Neal, in dressy-casual, popping in an old Betamax tape for an exposition viewing party at Peter's house. Though the video was recorded so long ago that Ellen looked like a different person entirely, the quality of the picture was darn-near HD. (Dang, maybe Beta shouldn't have lost the videotape format war?) Anyway, Young Ellen didn't say too much that we didn't already know: Neal's father had confessed to a crime he probably didn't commit, his department was filled to the brim with dirty cops, Young Ellen wanted to devote her life to keeping Neal safe, he should trust Sam, blah blah blah. Honestly, the lack of new intel was borderline annoying, but the important thing was, somewhere out there was a lockbox containing MORE information. So, you know, just another thing that needed to be tracked down—oh, and also they'd need THE KEY to the lockbox. So I guess TWO things to track down. After viewing the video, Peter told Neal he'd help him figure out this whole thing, but they each made the other swear that neither of them would involve anybody else—not Sam, not Diana, not Diana's ponytail—NOBODY. They even shook on it! That they didn't pinkie-swear was a big sign that betrayal was probably in the cards later.
Unfortunately a (perceived) betrayal arrived basically right away. After Sam dropped by Neal's place for an afternoon session of dancing around answers, Elizabeth popped in to bring Neal some homemade gelato (Elizabeth is the best). But because Neal didn't want Peter finding out that he'd been hanging out with his NBF Sam, he made Sam go hide in the bedroom and even went so far as to rattle his ice cube tray real loud every time Elizabeth mentioned something incriminating. Elizabeth ain't no dunce, so she immediately knew Neal had company. Minutes later, after a really long car commercial in which Elizabeth enjoyed her self-parking car, she ended up spotting Sam leaving Neal's and snapped a photo. Needless to say, Peter was totes butt-hurt about Neal cheating on him with Sam. Bestie drama!
This all led to the case of the week which involved insider trading between wealthy Wall Street jocks. "Jocks" isn't just a pejorative here—these guys were seriously sharing insider trading tips at secret boxing matches. Neal went undercover using one of his old Wall Street aliases and scored a job at the financial firm of the main suspect Eric Dunham (guest-star Victor Webster in a rare, fully clothed role), but when he attempted to feed the guy some "inside info" about some supposed sexual shenanigans at a coffee bean company, Dunham demanded to meet Neal's source. And that's how we got another delightful moment in which PETER had to go undercover also. Peter ended up being a terrific wealthy Wall Street jerk, but he was so steamed at Neal for continually overstepping his undercover boundaries that he himself entered into a Wall Street boxing match AGAINST Neal. And that's how THE shirtless beefcake boxing battle of 2012 came to fruition!
Needless to say, the boxing match between Peter and Neal was glorious, and not just because it followed a TRAINING MONTAGE. Because the closer this show gets to an '80s movie, the better it is, in my opinion. But yeah, originally the match was going to be choreographed so that Peter would win (an informal poll of the entire FBI white collar crimes division revealed that Peter was the more credible winner) and would be the one to receive Dunham's insider trading info. But just before the boxing match began Neal learned that Peter had confronted Sam personally ("Neal is MY bestie, Sam!" (paraphrasing)) and now Neal was SO MAD at Peter. So the boxing match took on this unpleasant edge wherein Neal was legit trying to knock Peter out and Peter looked all scared and sad, trying to explain between punches why he'd gone behind Neal's back. This bummer of a fight between two good friends was almost too upsetting to properly ogle them in their boxing shorts. ALMOST.
[I don't know why I did this.]
Anyway, Peter pretty convincingly knocked Neal out and moments later found himself on the receiving end of some HOT insider trading action. At this point Eric Dunham was arrested and taken away, but rather than feel the warm glow of a double-victory, Peter had a lingering sense of guilt over having sorta-betrayed his friend and also punched him out in public. He quickly tracked Neal down and they yelled at each other in the street about the semantics of their original agreement and about whether Neal is allowed to have a private life outside of their friendship and whatnot. THEN they learned that Sam's apartment had been ransacked, probably because of Peter's meddling ways. In a final, slightly devastating moment, Neal coldly informed Peter that he'd continue being an FBI ward of the state but that their friendship was effectively over 4-EVA. [Sadface emoji]
I made a crack last week about how this season has been solid if not particularly electrifying, but I think this episode was much closer to the electrifying side of things. The drama was fast and enjoyable and in the end felt serious enough as to be meaningful in the long run. I mean, honestly, how many times can these two besties have a friendship-threatening squabble and still reset to the norm? I'm guessing they'll be thick as thieves-and-FBI-agents again soon, but still. This friendship drama is getting intense!
Finally—and I HAD to point this out—this episode was directed by the one and only Renny Harlin! I'm a HUGE fan of his oeuvre, but especially of one of his earliest works, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. I mean, out of all the Freddy movies, Part 4 is at LEAST in the Top 3 (depending on how you feel about New Nightmare). The cockroach scene alone!
I really hope you enjoyed that.
Next Week: The midseason finale!
... Will Neal find that lockbox and/or key?
... Will Neal and Peter hug it out?
... Should Neal and Peter have a boxing rematch?
... What is better: Pistachio gelato or Elizabeth as a person?