July 13th, 2010
I would posit that it is impossible to truly suffer from White Collar withdrawal – while I will not begrudge those who love the series more than I, I don’t think that the show is substantial enough for its overall package to be considered something to which one could become addicted and suffer from symptoms of televisual withdrawl (I am, however, aware that “Matt Bomer withdrawal” is likely a fairly common condition).
However, “Withdrawal” focuses on the parts of the show which I think have it on the verge of becoming an addictive substance, albeit more for those who have a particular appetite for this sort of procedural fare. The series still struggles to pull together its serialized storylines, as the premiere would have been better off without the tease at episode’s end which throw numerous character relationships into peril, but the central case and the way in which it was solved had enough charm to make the episode feel like a more welcome return than I had imagined.
I may not be jumping for joy that it has returned to my television specifically, but I’m pleased that it has returned in a form which makes for some nice summer escapism which is starting to build enough of a history to become something more.
What makes “Withdrawal” work is that Peter and Neal are coming into this relationship wanting it to work: Peter likes working with Neal, Neal prefers working with Peter to being in jail, and the show is just more pleasant as a result. I think a lot of it has to do with Kate now playing her role from beyond the grave (I had actually forgotten she had died over the break, so as morbid as it sounds her death was a pleasant surprised in the “Previously On” segment), as what was once a threat of Neal going back on the run has become a threat of Neal losing himself in his own grief and doing something he’ll regret in principle, and not just something which would land him back in jail or back within a life of crime. Peter is looking out for Neal because he’s worried about him, not because he’s worried about his job: yes, there’s a subtext of the fact that the white collar crime unit is on very thin ice at the moment which makes it seem like Peter still has elements of self-interest in their relationship, but the meetings with Moz were a nice way to capture his level of concern, and his willingness to follow up on the Fowler investigation shows that he’s as dedicated as Neal to discovering who blew up that plane.
That part of the show is working, which helped the week’s case (a villainous and bravado-plagued art thief named “The Architect”) stand out from the crowd: because Peter and Neal were working together so nicely (which the show attempted to convince us wasn’t the case with their “Two Months Later” chyron and Neal’s security test, but which didn’t fool me for a second), the case was about good guys vs. bad guys, everything clearly labeled from the beginning. Without the subterfuge, the story played out like a really compelling battle, with a nice balance of tension (the fake heist, for example) and levity (Neal’s ploy with the assistant, and then his exit strategy of “telling the truth”) which showed off the series’ best assets. Tim Matheson (who pulled double duty, both writing and directing this one) was strong as the villain of the piece, and the reveal with the bank security manager being in on the heist was a simple but effective twist which earned the extended length episode its climax/denouement structure in the final act.
Now, I think the serialized side of things was less successful: that the MacGuffin has remained the same from last season (the Music Box) is a little bit disappointing, and what continuity it offers isn’t worth the sense that we’ve been there before. Also, while I’m very pleased to see Marsha Thomason step back into the series, the fact that her character has possession of the box is one of those twists which the show introduces without any sense of foreshadowing or explanation, which was the precise problem I had with the mid-season cliffhanger last year. The show clearly wants us to presume she is evil, and yet I don’t think she’d be back as a series regular if she was on the wrong side of this situation, and so I have to presume that she’s playing the long game here – either way, I actually quite liked where the FBI gang was sitting within this episode, so to know that this huge point of conflict is also part of the season is a bit disappointing. Sure, I want the show to grow and evolve some more as well, but that consistency would be a great place to build from, and this seems like a highly unstable element to introduce at this stage in the game (especially when Thomason’s character is given no further characterization beyond what we learned upon her return last season, so she’s wholly defined by this violation of trust).
And yet, on the whole, the premiere works: Bomer and DeKay continue to have strong chemistry, the cases continue to hold some promise when executed properly, and there was even some nice visual work from Matheson in the vault (where turning off the lights was less part of the distraction, and more an excuse to have fun with shadows). As an hour of USA programming, it was a successful reintroduction to these characters and their current struggles: it’s not necessarily the best jumping-off point for the season’s overarching storyline, putting us over the cliff a bit too quickly for my tastes, but I’m certainly along for the ride so long as it remains charming first and foremost.
- I have seen some hideous green screen in my day, but that scene at Rockefeller Center was a nightmare: I get that they couldn’t actually film there, but they lingered on the terrible green screen work for so long that it completely took me out of the scene. I don’t know why they couldn’t have filmed it at another location, and have to presume there was some hiccup which necessitated such a terrible aesthetic result.
- I’m a bit disappointed that Tim Matheson guest starred in tonight’s episode, even though he was very good – it further confirms (I think that Garret Dillahunt was the first, but there may have been more before that) that Burn Notice and White Collar don’t exist in the same universe, which is going to make the eventual crossovers that USA will turn to down the road even more problematic.
- Not shocked to see that Natalie Morales’ character has been quite easily forgotten – I half expected she would end up in cahoots with Fowler last year so that it would give her something to do, so to see them give a similar story to Thomason isn’t a huge shocker. I certainly miss Morales more than I miss her character, that’s for sure.