A White Collar Community
USA (ended 2014)

I don't know about you, but I had some very mixed feelings about this latest episode of White Collar. Overall, I enjoyed it. But there were several indications for where this season will go, and some of them I'm not excited about at all.

First of all, it seems like this season the writers really want to move back to the old days, when Neal was working directly against the FBI. And by working against the FBI I don't mean having his own agenda, which is something he's always had and should always have. Last season he was determined to solve the mystery behind his father's shady past, and take down Senator Pratt once he was identified as the man behind everything. He was going to do this with or without the FBI or Peter's help, and with or without their blessing. But even though at times he lied to the FBI and broke the law, he never really worked against him.

However, this season the opposite is very much true. In this latest episode he sabotaged the people he works with on no less than two separate instances. The first was a continuation of his unwanted association with the Dutchman, and the second was a necessary effort to save his good friend Mozzie/Theodore from going to jail for a very long time. As far as I can recall, this is the first time that such double adversarial action has been conducted by the show's protagonist. Even when he was doing his best to undermine the FBI for his own purposes, Neal didn't jeopardize the case of the week, in additional to whatever end-of-episode-season-arc-thing he was doing. And yet, four and a bit seasons into the show, where he believes in what he does at the FBI and is friends with everyone, he has never been more of an enemy against the White Collar taskforce. In one episode he dismantled two of their cases, one of them very major indeed.

Let's look at the Dutchman thing first. I doubt that many of us were surprised when Neal went through with the Dutchman's request to destroy the evidence against him. After all, it's clear that the Dutchman is here to stay for the season, and is all but wearing a T-shirt that says "This is my Big Bad shirt." Now, I for one found this whole thing to be troubling. First of all, it's almost like the writers of the show read my article a week ago, or at least the bit where I said I wanted to see Caffrey really enjoy being a thief, if he is going to be one (which obviously he is, only the circumstances are in question). Because this episode he seemed to really enjoy both the planning stages and the execution of his evidence room break-in. He and Theodore (Do you mind if I call Mozzie Theodore? I know we all know him as Mozzie and it's weird hearing him with a different name, but we happen to share a name now, and I'm proud that suddenly two people on this show are representing) had a bit of fun banter during Neal's dance sessions, and Neal seemed genuinely excited and pleased when Theodore showed him the device he'd made to ruin the evidence. Now, considering the fact that I wrote that article two days before the episode aired, I'm sure that I was the inspiration for this joy. But...does it really make sense that Caffry seemed so happy during the planning and execution of this break-in? And do we really want to see him happy during such activities?

I can see how Caffrey pulling off any job must be thrilling. The adrenaline and excitement that comes from almost getting caught yet still pulling off the job must be palpable. But still, he's doing something that he doesn't want to do. He's destroying evidence that would continue to ensure that an enemy of his stays in jail. I mean, I like chocolate mousse. I really do. I enjoy everything about the activity of eating chocolate mousse. But if for some strange reason I had to each a particular bowl of mousse, and I knew that by eating this bowl I was hurting my friends and quite likely myself down the line, I wouldn't enjoy it. And you'd expect that Caffrey similarly wouldn't enjoy furthering the Dutchman's plans all that much. And while we get enjoyment out of seeing him pull of heists (though understandably not as much as he does), I for one didn't get as much enjoyment out of the latest end-of-episode-break-in, and not just because that hallway had the worst surveillance system ever.

It's not just the fact that Caffrey is getting enjoyment out of these unpleasant deeds. There's also the over-handed foreshadowing of it all, with it being painfully clear that from the beginning Neal has been scooting further and further into bed with the Dutchman. I discussed in my last article how obvious it seemed that the Dutchman was playing Neal, and how there wasn't that good of a reason for Neal to just go along with the Dutchman's plan without even asking for proof that the Assistant DA was in his pocket. And this week I felt similar frustration at how Neal just went along with the Dutchman's request, without even discussing when Neal will get all copies of the video of him back. It's like he isn't trying, and is lazily digging an ever growing hole for himself without even bothering to try to climb out of it once in a while.

And it certainly doesn't help that the premiere was called "At What Cost" and this episode was called "Out of the Frying Pan." It's like the writers are stepping in at the beginning of each episode to say "Yeah, Neal's going to make a deal with the Dutchman and it won't turn out to be a onetime thing, if you know what we're saying" or "Yeah, destroying the evidence against the Dutchman isn't going to be the last thing that Neal does for him. Like, he's going to be blackmailed into doing other jobs for the Dutchman. And these jobs aren't entirely legal, if you know what we're saying." And then at the end of this episode they popped back in to say "Yeah, right there when Neal says that he thinks it's just the beginning, that means that he'll be pulling off a number of illegal things for the Dutchman for a good part of this season, if you know what we're saying." Is it just me, or is this the first time that we've gotten such blatant and over-the-top foreshadowing of what's going to happen down the line in a season? Imagine if in the pilot of the series Neal said: "You know Mozz, I wouldn't be surprised if someone in law enforcement were behind Kate's disappearance. Like, someone the FBI or even the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice." Or if in the premiere of last season Neal said: "You know Mozz, I wouldn't be surprised if I met my dad this season, I mean, year."

Now, for all I know the writers are being really clever and the Dutchman thing is just a lead-in to a bigger and less predictable threat, but I doubt it. You see, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert on blackmail, but I know a few things. The only way for this age-old practice to work well is if the blackmailee either thinks that at some point they'll be free of their arrangement, or if the things they're doing aren't that detrimental to their lively-hood. If neither of these things are the case, then the blackmailee feels oppressively trapped and will eventually strike out at the blackmailer more often than not. And the Dutchman's blackmailing scheme falls very much into the latter category. He's in for the long haul, and he isn't going away anytime soon.

Yet, Neal hasn't tried to change this in any way. The Neal I've been watching for the last several years would have at least looked into stealing that footage. They didn't even have the briefest exchanges between Theodore and Neal where it was established that they couldn't steal back the footage because the Dutchman was keeping it with several unknown associates, just so that the writers could keep that possibility off the table. But it's still on the table, and still hasn't been addressed. And it doesn't help that Neal only seems to completely wise up to what's going on at the very ends of episodes, and not during said episodes.

After watching the first two episodes of this season, I find that it's not the fact that Neal is becoming increasingly subservient to the Dutchman that irritates me, it's that this has been obvious from the start, and that Neal seems utterly blind to his surroundings until it's too late. I would be feeling a whole lot better with this Dutchman situation if, for instance, Neal had been approached by someone else in the first episode. Let's say some dude in a suit approached Neal, said he had the Assistant DA in his pocket, and said that if Neal stole some coins for him he'd let Peter off without having to go to trial. Theodore and Neal check up on this guy, and he indeed seems to be a simple fence with no past of murder or anything too terrible. So Neal does the job, and Peter gets release. But then the guy comes to him, hands him a phone, and says "someone wants to talk to you." And from there the Dutchman's involvement is revealed and the blackmail scheme takes hold.

You see, if that, or something like it, had happened then I would be a lot more fine with where the season is now. Sure, I wouldn't be overjoyed with Neal's situation, but it would be understandable that he got there. There's nothing worse than when an audience watches a protagonist slowly and blindly walk into a trap they could have seen, and continue to allow the trap to close more firmly over them, without even trying to escape. When this happens, it will unfortunately seem like the protagonist deserves whatever consequences and punishments come his/her way. All the writers need to do to avoid this is make it at least seem like the protagonist did everything they reasonably could to avoid such a predicament, or that if they made mistakes there was no way that they could know where they would lead.

Now, so far this article has been fairly negative, and I regret that. I enjoy White Collar, I really do. It's just that if Neal is going to continue undermining the FBI, then I'd like it to be done for a "good cause." Which is funny, because that's exactly what happened in this episode. Neal had to sabotage a case that his team was working on because little did they know that the target was Theodore. And we can all get behind Neal subverting the trust that he's built with Peter and friends for more than four seasons, in order to keep his best criminal friend out of jail (it also helps that said friend is extremely lovable).

You see, I absolutely loved this episode, with the minor exception of the Dutchman evidence scenes. Everything about the Teddy Waters case clicked so well, from Neal maintaining the trust of those around him while doing everything to stop them, to Diana discovering that Mozzie was Teddy Waters but keeping his secret because he helped deliver her baby. There were genuine twists and turns (I'm guessing most of us felt something was up when Neal insisted on going into the warehouse alone, but when they first arrived at the warehouse I had no idea that Theodore would be inside), and for a bit there it was actually open-ended as to what would happen.

In fact, I liked this episode so much that I would have preferred it were the actual premiere. It seems fairly clear that a good part about this season is going to be Theodore learning who his parents are, or learning something about his past. After all, this episode we not only learned what his real name is, but he also told us everything he knows about his past. So now that we know just as much about his origins as Theodore himself, any additional information learned will be a journey shared by both him and us. I don't know about you, but I'm far more interested/excited in Theodore learning about his past, than I am in learning where the current season arc is going, which is nowhere good. We know where the Dutchman thing is going; it's been painfully spelled out for us. And honestly, we've been there before. I'd rather see Neal fighting for a cause that he believes in, and solving the mystery of Theodore's past is exactly the kind of cause he should get behind. Again, we don't know where it's going. I mean, the writers have even set it up so that Theodore Waters may not even be Mozzie's real name (after all, he said that was the only baby born at the time that wasn't claimed, but who's to say he actually went through the system in the first place?).

Anyway, this episode has made this season look like a mixed bad so far. I both do and don't like where it's going. But enough of what I think. What about you? Yeah, you, the people who actually bothered to read this thing. And I'm also talking to you, the people who just skipped to the end because you just couldn't be bothered. Either way, what's your take on this? Do you like where Season 5 of White Collar is going? Are you excited about the latest "development" of the Dutchman arc? Or are you as frustrated as I am? Also, which would you prefer be the long-term season arc: the Dutchman thing or learning more about Theodore's past? Let me know in the comments. Regardless, we'll all learn in less than a week whether or not Neal will be able to break free from the Dutchman's shackles by the end of the next episode (Let's be honest: he's not. And I doubt he'll try that hard.).

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