White Collar is back to finish out its second season, and it picks up almost right where it left off. After being shot at close range in the midseason finale, Mozzie is rushed to the hospital, with Neal by his bedside once he's out of surgery (following the fastest montage ever). The TV cynic in me knew long ago that he wasn't about to be killed off, but it's still nice to get that addressed immediately, so the audience gets an answer and the story can move forward. After all, imagine what's going on in Neal's head. He's spent the first half of the season upset over Kate's murder, and now his best friend is shot by the same people. He wondered if he was to blame before; what is he thinking now? If it were me, I'd be set to explode.
Thankfully, Neal has Peter to keep him in line. "He's in a medically induced coma," Peter tells him, adding that while there's nothing he can do at the hospital, "There's something you can do out there."
Back at the FBI office, Peter hands Neal the file on Julian Larsson (The Dresden Files' Paul Blackthorne), the man we know shot Mozzie. He adds that according to Garrett Fowler, Larsson is the right-hand man to whomever is behind the entire conspiracy surrounding Kate's death, the music box, et cetera. Peter knows that Larsson will be trying to get out of town, and asks Neal how he stayed ahead of him all those years ago.
"Aliases," Neal replies. "I had several."
"I kept burning them," Peter retorted.
"And I kept making new ones," Neal says, the lightbulb going on above his head - literally, you can see that look of sudden realization in Matt Bomer's eyes. Aware that Larsson doesn't forge his own ID's, he knows that if they burn all of the man's aliases, he'll be stuck. Peter does him one better, and suggests that they force him into using an alias that they create. With that in mind, while Peter burns every single alias he can find, Neal reaches out to the forger community, convening a meeting. He tells them to give Larsson the best ID that they can, under the name Justin Springer. They're skeptical at first, but when he reveals Larsson is the man who shot Mozzie, they agree to play ball.
Later in the day, Neal's asleep by Mozzie's bedside when his friend finally comes to. He tells Moz that the bullet barely missed his heart, but at least he's not dead. "It's worse," Mozzie protests. "I'm in the system." Yet when he checks his hospital ID bracelet, he realizes that he was admitted under a fake name - Ivan Bliminse, or "Invisible Man." Unfortunately, he can't identify Larsson as the man that shot him.
Peter is still hard at work in his office with his "World's Greatest FBI Agent" mug when Neal calls to update him on Mozzie's condition. Peter tells Neal that Diana has burned the last of Larsson's aliases. As they finish their brief conversation, Neal walks down an alley, with Larsson on his heels. He spots Neal's fedora lying on the ground, but when he goes for it, Neal throws him up against the wall, demanding answers. Larsson quickly turns the tables, offering Neal "the man behind the curtain" if he helps him escape the city. Neal balks, and Larsson walks away telling him that he'll never know who's responsible. Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Blackthorne, one of TV's best bad guys. Anyone else remember how great he was as Stephen Saunders on 24?
Neal goes to Peter's house, telling Peter and Elizabeth about his encounter with Larsson. "This time, we do it your way," he tells a surprised Peter.
The next morning, Peter informs Neal that the FBI will not pay for his combat training, and that the world is safer if Neal is deficient in at least one skill set. When they get to his office, he's miffed that his mug is missing, but that quickly slips his mind as Diana tells them that Larsson used the Springer alias to book an international flight. This leads the FBI team to raid his place, arrest him for murder, and start searching for evidence. Peter doesn't like the look of one plant, and instructs Jones to search it; underneath it is the gun that may have shot Mozzie.
Speaking of Mozzie, he's freaking out. "I betrayed everything I believe in," he insists, revealing to Neal that he was the one who told Peter that Neal was pursuing Fowler. Neal says that if Mozzie hadn't, he may have killed Fowler, and he knows now that Fowler didn't kill Kate. He asks Mozzie about the coded equation that he deduced from the music box, but Mozzie hasn't figured it out - yet.
At the FBI, Peter is trying to squeeze Larsson for information when Hughes pulls him away, both of them momentarily joined by Department of Justice Agent Rowe. Rowe tells Peter that the only print on the gun is one inside the slide - and it was Peter's. He puts Peter on immediate leave. To add insult to injury, Hughes adds that they can't hold Larsson and everyone is forced to watch as the bad guy walks out smugly. "Larsson destroyed me," Peter admits to a stunned Neal and Diana.
This leads Peter and Neal to reconvene at Peter's house. "How the hell did Larsson plant my print?" Peter wants to know. "Where the hell did Larsson get my fingerprints?" Neal tells him that he'd need a clean print off a hard surface, and Peter realizes that's why his mug is missing - and that if Larsson went into Peter's office to get his mug, he'd be on security camera. Jones and Diana review the tapes, and see a guy trying way too hard to look like Neal as he swipes the mug in question. Jones is able figure out that the mystery man was on Peter's computer as well by the monitor glow.
Peter visits Neal at home, handing him pictures from the security camera footage, and telling him that he keeps a secret key logger on his computer. "Larsson logged in and erased something from his own file," Peter replies. What's missing is a specific name - Frederick Bilal, a prince who enjoys horse racing and expensive yachts. He then calls in a favor to help them get into the highly private yacht club where Bilal's boat is docked. The favor is in the form of Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton), who's able to get them inside since her company ensures a number of yachts. Peter's next move? Befriend Bilal at the bar over his interest in the horses, and see what he might know.
While he makes nice, Neal starts looking around of his own accord; he and Sara pose as a rich married couple and approach the captain of Bilal's yacht. While Sara distracts her, Neal gets his hands on the logbook, and spots one of Larsson's aliases - Brian Blitek - among the names there. Once Peter returns and Sara leaves, Neal tells Peter that it's clear Larsson and Bilal are smuggling something. He convinces Peter to let them do things his way, telling him they'll need to form a crew. It's pretty obvious who that's going to be.
Peter finally tells Jones what's going on with the conspiracy, and Neal explains everything to Sara, in order to bring them both into the loop. (We finally get another use of Jones' first name while we're at it!) Elizabeth visits Mozzie in the hospital and slyly talks him out of retirement.
At Neal's place, he asks Sara why she agreed to help them, and she says, "You're fun to work with." She then explains that she has voice modulation equipment that, if he sticks to a certain group of words, can convert his voice to Larsson's. They decide to use it to prank call Peter, but alas, we don't get to see that.
The entire group - Peter, Neal, Jones, Diana, Mozzie, and Sara - convenes at the Burke house to outline the plan. They want to catch Bilal on his regular walk, spook him into contacting Larsson, and then have Neal impersonate Larsson so they can reroute delivery of whatever's being smuggled. This involves use of a cell phone scrambler, forcing Bilal to use a nearby pay phone that Jones will tamper with to reroute the call to them, so they can catch Bilal red-handed and turn him. Diana approaches Bilal and gives him her best FBI agent spiel. While she's doing that, however, some other genius picks up the pay phone, trying to call his girlfriend. Neither Peter nor Neal can get him off the phone, so Elizabeth has to intervene. Eventually, however, Bilal takes the bait and Neal convinces him to drop the merchandise at a new location - the same place he met the forgers earlier.
When Bilal and his men arrive with the goods, they're quickly arrested. Neal and Peter open the crate to discover it's full of Nazi china. They get Bilal to call Larsson and claim he's being hounded by Peter, which gets Larsson to agree to a meeting.
Meanwhile, Sara tells Agent Rowe that one of her clients is being harassed by Peter. This is, of course, merely a ploy to get the DOJ agent to come with her so he can witness that it is most definitely not Peter.
Larsson meets Bilal, telling him that he has latex fingerprints for Peter, and just as the two are plotting to do something incriminating with them, everyone storms in to bust them both. Agent Rowe takes the latex fingerprints into evidence, and Larsson gets arrested. Unfortunately, though, he quickly escapes from his handcuffs and steals Rowe's gun. With no other options, Peter borrows a mounted policeman's horse and takes off in pursuit; it's not long before he catches up with Larsson, tackling him to the ground. A brief fight ensues, but Peter quickly puts him down in front of a captive audience. With his name soon to be cleared, he officially disbands the crew.
Surprisingly, Sara agrees to follow the Nazi china to its next destination, Argentina. This is a perfect way for her to exit the series, and to be honest, never having been fond of her, I'm glad that she's leaving. She served her purpose and isn't overstaying her welcome. Still, it also leaves the door open should that plot point become of later relevance.
When Neal calls Mozzie to tell him the good news, Moz has some of his own: he's built the equation from the music box. It is, in fact, a fractal. Neal knows where he's seen one of them before. "I know who's behind everything," he says. The guy's name is Vincent Adler, and Neal calls him "the man who made me who I am today." No, that's not ominous at all.
I really like "Burke's Seven," and the primary reason is because it succeeds on so many levels. Premieres, midseason or otherwise, have to be so many things. They have to come back with a bang, starting the next part of the story while not forgetting anything that's come before. This episode continues to advance the mythology by sending our heroes after Larsson, but the pursuit and capture also stands well on its own as a full-fledged adventure. We get to see all of our major characters, so if you're a casual viewer or not quite familiar, you get a nice refresher course of who's who and what role they play. It's an episode that functions well for both White Collar newbies and returning fans, for those interested in the mythology and those who prefer the case of the week. That's a lot to juggle, and I'm proud to say that the show succeeds in doing so. One of the things that I've always loved about White Collar is that every episode makes sure to cover all the elements of the series, and this installment does that, bringing the series back in spades.
For more White Collar, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.