The long-awaited, much-talked-about flashback episode of White Collar finally hits our screens tomorrow night, and it's one to remember if only because it answers most, if not all, the questions about how the characters as we know them came to be. How did Neal meet Mozzie? How did he fall for Kate? How did Peter end up on Neal's case? How did he finally catch him the first time? Most importantly, who the heck is Vincent Adler? All those questions will be answered in forty-odd minutes tomorrow night at 10 PM on USA.
After coming across a photo of Neal with Adler, Peter pays his partner a late-night visit to find out what he knows about the financial wizard, who disappeared seven years ago and swindled a billion dollars on the way out. When Neal admits that Adler is "the man who made me who I am today," Peter tells him to start talking, offering him full immunity as long as he comes clean about everything. That's our window into the past, which begins with a much younger Neal arriving in New York eight years ago, and Peter still working at a desk in the FBI bullpen - with that egregious Magnum, P.I. mustache.
To say much more would be spoiling, but the episode really does cover all the bases. You'll find out how Neal meets Mozzie, and in turn how Mozzie introduces Neal to Adler. It's through Adler that Neal meets Kate, and you'll see them fall in love. There's even the first appearance of Alex Hunter (Gloria Votsis), and her past connection to Neal will be explained as well. The episode takes us up to and through Adler's vanishing act, and makes it very clear how the man left his mark on the Neal Caffrey that we love so much. Although we know now that he's the man responsible for everything we've seen unfold, it's also impossible to forget that without Adler, Neal wouldn't be the person he is today either. While it's primarily Neal's story, you'll also see a fair amount of Peter's history, including how his team came to be, including the arrivals of Diana and Jones. By episode's end, you'll know all the important things that went on before the pilot, and that makes what's going to happen in the rest of this season even more poignant.
The guest performances here are hit and miss. I'm a longtime Andrew McCarthy fan, and thought that he was absolutely wonderful as Vincent Adler; I admit that I'm not really used to him playing the bad guy (except for an early episode of Law & Order: SVU and one really bad movie), but that works in his favor here as we see how he impressed and molded a much more naive Neal. By episode's end, though, you'll also believe that he's cunning and cruel enough to have orchestrated the conspiracy as we know it, and understand why he's doing it.
What doesn't work for me is the return of Kate (Alexandra Daddario), which feels like too little, too late. Though what we learn here makes her a little more sympathetic, she came off in season one as playing Neal as much as she was being played, and no amount of past romance can redeem her. When Alex arrives, she ends up in a predictable place that wasn't necessary in my opinion. As much as Neal is close to perfect, I'd love it if the women in his life were more well-defined on their own, so as to engage with their stories more and not simply how they relate to him. This episode doesn't help either of them in that department.
That said, however, the crux of this episode is Neal and Peter in a room with one another. Remove the flashbacks and it's essentially a stage play - two great actors in conversation with each other, verbal point and counterpoint, showing as much as they're being shown. While these parts of the episode basically serve to bookend and explain the backstory, they're a reminder of the fact that White Collar's true strength is the chemistry between Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay. In this episode, as everything comes out, you get the sense that Neal and Peter's relationship has evolved to that point where they can be two friends having drinks together and talking...albeit about things which are highly illegal. It's good to have all the answers we've been waiting for, but it's even better because it enhances our appreciation for the two of them as we know them today.
"Forging Bonds" airs tomorrow night at 10 PM ET/PT on USA.
For more White Collar, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.