White Collar – “Book of Hours”

WhiteCollarTitle

“Book of Hours”

November 6th, 2009

I don’t have a whole lot to say about White Collar at this point, but I think it’s important to continue to acknowledge that the show is proving an engaging Friday night distraction of sorts. There’s nothing complicated about its narrative structure, and more than any other USA show it has isolated its mythology to the opening/closing of each episode, but the show has remained entertaining despite not offering anything distinctly new and thus demonstrates its solid execution.

What I want to focus on briefly is less what makes “Book of Hours” particularly compelling, as it was largely a stock hour of USA Procedural content, and more the elements of this episode that are helping (independent of the pilot) to unexpectedly offer a few interesting shades to this universe.

Strangely enough, I want to start with Tiffani Thiessen, who has gotten a fair deal of flack for her role in the series. However, I think it’s important to note that last week’s second episode actually integrated her into the storyline pretty effectively, and this week we saw her in only two scenes that were both important to the episode’s narrative structure. And rather than seeming like a character shoe-horned into a particular interaction, she never felt like the scenes were distinctly about her. There was nothing elegant, perhaps, about her phone anger proving that women are capable of murder, but the show had Elizabeth in on the joke, confirming their suspicions were true. And outside of her convenient behaviour, the episode even gave her perhaps the scene’s funniest line, as she suggests that Neal ask her out on a date and insists far too quickly and vehemently that she will accept, much to Burke’s chagrin.

There’s nothing complex about it, and perhaps there is something silly about a detective’s wife participating in brainstorming sessions, but the whole show has an air of simplicity that makes it work. Neal uses the shell game to demonstrate what’s been happening is actually highly ineffective, a visual aid where one really wasn’t all that necessary, but it fit his character and the universe quite well. And, in this episode, Thiessen felt like she did as well, even when giving a fairly stock “Have some faith in Neal” speech to Burke as he prepares to go through with the plan that could allow Neal a chance to escape. She’s never going to be a true part of this series in the sense that she is part of every investigation, but so long as she is occasionally worked into the case where logical (and at least within plausibility as defined in this particular universe that is at least a bit more whimsical than our own) then I think this sort of supporting role is beneficial if not exactly breaking any new ground. There could be an argument made that a better actress could do more with the part, but as long as they’re not asking more than what’s here right now I find Thiessen to be pretty enjoyable overall.

The other major change in these two post-pilot episodes is that Natalie Morales, best known to us all as Wendy Watson, has moved in as the new Junior FBI Agent. Here, arguably, we saw why: Lauren, unlike Burke’s original partner of sorts, is attracted to Neal, and you can see those few glimpses of jealousy going on as Neal seduces the professor (who, real name or no, I’m going to call Cindiana Jones) in an effort to sniff out the location of the titular text. I don’t know entirely where I sit on this trade, to be honest with you, as Marsha Thomason’s character had a more unique dynamic with Cafferty (having a different sort of dance card than he was expecting) that could have offered some nice tension of a non-romantic nature. At the same time, though, my appreciation for Morales’ charming ways makes the tradeoff worth it, and the romantic element under the surface fits the show’s aesthetic (jaunty, harmless) perhaps a bit better. I’ll never argue against having Morales return to my TV screen, in the end, and I thought that her dynamic with Neal was nicely introduced more subtly than it could have been in these past two episodes.

It just goes to show you how much a show like this is micro-managed to the point of establishing a clean sense of identity. USA Network shows are all filled with elements and characters that, if they were different, the show itself would feel entirely different. And while there might be two characters out there that would completely upend this universe in these two roles (which are the only female roles on the series, after all), these two seem to be fitting in just fine, so long as the producers follow the current trajectory.

Cultural Observations

  • As for the plot itself, I thought it was well done: the integration of Moz into the case was really enjoyable, the tension between Neal and Cindiana was solid (Callie Thorne has now done the USA Trifecta of Burn Notice/Royal Pains/White Collar), and the tension about Neal potentially running wasn’t overplayed and even undercut when Burke’s mind went to Neal’s well-intended mind games (giving the book to the homeless man) before it went to Neal stealing the book outright.
  • The show is following Royal Pains more than Burn Notice with its mythology, isolating it to the beginning and end of each episode here. The bottle containing a map of the Subway system isn’t a terrible way to end the USA-mandated coda every show has, but I kind of wish they’d use one of those to be clever as opposed to ratcheting up tension gradually each week before finally having an episode that sees these two worlds cross streams.
  • Ratings have been good, so expect the show to grab a second season order at some point soon.
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