Season Premiere: White Collar – “Withdrawal”


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.

Cultural Observations

  • 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.


Filed under White Collar

5 responses to “Season Premiere: White Collar – “Withdrawal”

  1. That’s the only reason I think people would come back to this series: it’s charming. Couldn’t care less about what happened to Kate; I liked Alex better anyway. I want to know what’s inside the box slash why is it so precious but I can wait on that. I’m here to watch Bomer grift/pick-up/send-a-giggle conveniently-important beautiful women and watch everyone interact with each other. The cast has a pretty decent chemistry and history is only going to improve the connections between the suits and swindlers (and Elizabeth).

    One of the issues I had with the episode (that I forgot to mention in my review) is the “tell” aspect of the pressure Peter is under. They did that last season when Diana asked what would happen if Fowler got the box, like it was the key component to Fowler’s weather machine. Here, we see Peter at a hearing in the beginning and a meeting we don’t hear in the middle. From that, and what we’re outright told, we’re supposed to gather that Peter, despite his case-a-week solving rate, 93% to his own admission, is on the brink of being fired. I think that needed more support because I wasn’t buying it. But maybe that’s what it was supposed to feel like, like Peter is worrying too much. Like we’re Neal and we know everything is in hand. I doubt it though.

    • skittledog

      I bought it, given how the stuff at the airstrip would look to an inquiry board. I think it didn’t get much support within the episode because Peter is purposely keeping some of that side of things from Neal, and Neal’s blithe unconcern would sit very badly with the audience if we truly felt one false step would wreck it all.

  2. garik16

    You can’t deny one thing….in ANY episode of a USA Show (Burn Notice, White Collar, and Covert Affairs now) that Tim Matheson has played a part or directed, the show has played up its most successful elements.

    They really should get him his own show…he’s terrific.

  3. skittledog

    As I understand it, the green screen was because Tiffani Thiessen is pregnant and couldn’t fly to NY to film with the rest of the cast. I guess they were trying too hard to make her scene incontrovertibly in New York and thus picked a well-known location which they then unfortunately didn’t have the CGI to deal with. It really was quite painful, and I wish they’d just gone for a generic indoor cafe scene instead. But ah well. I believe TT’s role in the show is also going to be minimal for the first half of the season at least due to this, which is a shame, but I guess this is not a show on which the HIMYM ‘giant handbag’ school of pregnancy cover-ups would work. I hope they use her absence to allow the Peter/Neal/Mozzie trio to get some good screentime and character work (as they did here) rather than giving El’s screentime to the story of the week.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this episode a lot. White Collar is definitely one of my guilty pleasures, but I won’t be ashamed of it whilst Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer continue to make it such a sheer joy to watch.

    The TWoP board theory on Diana, incidentally, is that she is working with Peter, that he is fully aware she has the box and that they took their own opportunity to keep OPR from taking it away. I’m going with that until we get more information, because it feels probable and because I too prefer the FBI gang vibe with Diana to with Lauren (also love Natalie Morales, but they never figured out how to write her character).

  4. Mel

    Is Morales out for the whole season? I was disappointed to watch the ep this morning and find Diana was back, not because I don’t like her, but because I do like Morales and was hoping for some character development for her this season.

    Matthew Bomer withdrawal is DEFINITELY a condition I suffer from

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