It's a busy day for Neal Caffrey. First, he meets with Mozzie to check on the progress of their fractal antenna. Mozzie says using the phrase "good work" implies he has a job. I start laughing, and I'm still snickering by the time Neal returns back home, looking for June, and walks into Ford (Billy Dee Williams), an "old friend" of hers who's just moved back to Manhattan. He is naturally suspicious (oh, Matt Bomer, how I love you and your facial expressions) and starts asking questions, having no idea that when he uses the phrase "partners in crime," he's totally right. Worried, he goes to Diana, asking her to run a print analysis on the guy.
Peter and Elizabeth are bringing Satchmo back from the vet, after the dog has swallowed one of Peter's handcuff keys due to his obsession with shiny objects. (Him, and several people I know.) Peter is not thrilled to get a phone call from Diana, telling him that he needs to see the results of the print analysis. It turns out that Ford is really a murder suspect named Jonas, and he's been in and out of correctional facilities for "the last decade or so." At least, that's what Peter thinks, but Neal sees the picture in the file and points out that Ford is not a white guy. So who is he, and why does he have someone else's fingerprints?
Well, Jones has an answer. Ford is Jonas's former cellmate, and a known associate of June's late husband, Byron. Peter wants to know what Ford and Jonas are up to. He dispatches Diana for a little surveillance, while Neal gets back to his place to find June looking for a photo album. "You two go way back," Neal says, as she flips through plenty of older photographs of herself and her husband with their old friend. Neal still has that vaguely unimpressed look on his face. The moment she leaves, he sneaks into one heck of a walk-in closet and begins searching through Byron's suits, recovering an old, faded receipt.
There's no time to think on what it might mean, however, as Ford has turned up and wants to make a friend. While Neal doesn't deny that he understands where Ford is coming from, that doesn't mean he has to like the guy. Ford invites Neal to join himself and June for dinner that evening, and tells Neal that he's looking for a second chance. "I was worried you were looking for something else," Neal admits, and shakes his hand, but we know he's not going to drop the subject. He takes the recovered receipt to Mozzie, then gets a phone call from Peter, who says that Jonas looks to be pulling together a crew ("not for rowing"). Peter wants to have Jonas hauled into the office, but Neal invites Peter and Elizabeth to dinner instead. Peter says no, but Elizabeth is happy to oblige. (The look on Tim DeKay's face is also priceless.)
Dinner is, of course, awkward (but at least there's pie). The highlight of the whole scene (and the episode) is that we get to hear Diahann Carroll and Matt Bomer sing while Billy Dee Williams does some amazing fake piano. Seriously, if there were any plausible reason for a musical episode of White Collar, I'd get behind that. We also learn that Peter is a terrific dancer, not that he volunteers that information himself.
Just then, Mozzie calls, telling Neal that the receipt is from a furniture store for the coffee table that's in Byron's study. There's also an additional charge for labor and modification. Moz is a bit miffed that he didn't get invited to the party, though. Neal doesn't placate him, just goes to poke at the coffee table. He pulls Peter upstairs to show him what's inside: a secret compartment containing a printing plate for hundred-dollar bills. However, by the time he gets Peter there, the plate is gone and so is Ford.
Ticked off, Neal calls a meeting with Peter and Mozzie, explaining to us that the plate is for a 1991 hundred, which is easier to duplicate since it doesn't have many of today's security features. He tells Peter he needs "reading material" from the U.S. Treasury, and we cut to him at the FBI office, looking like it's Christmas morning as he checks out the original plate while being watched by "the Men in Black Bobsled Team." All giddiness aside, Diana informs him that they caught Ford visiting Jonas and have brought him in for questioning. Ford tells them that Byron stole the plate from him and "was protecting me from myself." Furthermore, he says that he came back to keep Jonas from going to June's himself and getting the plate (ostensibly by getting it for him). No one quite believes him.
Peter has a plan, however: send both Ford and Neal undercover to catch Jonas with his hand in the cookie jar. That's how the two of them end up in an abandoned restaurant. Neal easily passes the initiation test, and all seems well until Ford opens his mouth and lets Jonas know that they know a little too much. Smooth, Lando. Reallly smooth. Neal saves his behind by taking the blame himself, and keeps both of them from ending up with new holes in their heads, but Ford gets grounded. It's all on Neal now.
That night, Peter and Neal discuss the situation at the FBI office, as Peter says they'll keep Neal's tracker off for the time being. Peter also thinks Ford is a cautionary tale for his partner. "You can either be a con or a man, you can't be both," he says. Then Neal has a lightbulb moment: the original booking slip for the forger they've replaced has two colors of ink on it, suggesting that he'd already mixed the dye by the time he was snagged. They now know that Jonas's next move is to steal the paper stock he needs for the job.
It's easy to find his thug, and from where that guy is, they deduce where the crew will try and hit. Yet it's not very long before Diana informs him that Ford has slipped away again, just as things are about to go nuts. With red flags everywhere, Peter makes a phone call to find out that the paper stock is in transit. His second, unsettled phone call is to Neal, but he gets Mozzie: Jonas has already turned up and literally yanked Neal from the house to help with the team's assault on the armored truck carrying the paper. "This isn't what I do," Neal protests, but he doesn't exactly have a choice. With a whole lot of guns in play, he helps Jonas's crew pull off the robbery. When they get back, Ford is there waiting for them, and Jonas puts the two of them to work at gunpoint. (The man has no social skills whatsoever.) Welcome to a nice montage of counterfeiting in a room with hideous zebra-print wallpaper.
At June's, Peter and Mozzie are conversing themselves, with Peter realizing that Ford let information about the job slip in order to get someone else to pull it for him. The two go through the photo album and deduce that the operation is being housed in the old Lenox Lounge building. Sirens wail outside as Ford does a neat little switch of suitcases. Neal catches this, and switches them back while Ford's back is turned. He is not happy that Ford put June's life at risk to get paid. You can almost feel him smirk as everything falls into place. Diana introduces Jonas's head to the hood of a cruiser, while he tells Ford, "Unlike you, I've got a partner I can trust." Oh, snap.
While Peter and an FBI team close in, Neal gives Ford a chance to turn sides, just as he once did. Ford, however, doesn't bite. Neal is saddened at that, but Peter reminds him that, as Byron figured out, "There's no such thing as a final score - only the next one. Unless you figure that out, you're going to lose in the end." And lose Ford does, as he finds out that Neal switched the briefcases and left him with nothing. At least June seems to take the situation on the chin, admitting that she always knew who Ford was, but that she let him in because she wanted to remember what she and her late husband had. "Maybe I wanted to go dancing again," she says, and I can't help but sniffle a little as Neal offers her a dance.
"You ever think about how all this is gonna end?" he asks Mozzie later on, while revealing that the printing plate is back inside Byron's table. Okay, so he's not entirely reformed. Then again, we wouldn't want him to be.
This episode is a vast improvement over last week's; while I enjoyed last week, this episode has a snap and a pop to it that "What Happens In Burma" didn't. I attribute that to three things: the presence of an outstanding guest star in Billy Dee Williams, who is perfect for the part of Ford, more of the ever-lovely Diahann Carroll, and an equally outstanding performance by Matt Bomer. What we get this week is a conflict between two con men, and it brings out the best in both actors as they match wits and skill sets. Matt does an excellent job of bringing us along with him for the ride; I couldn't help but smile at how protective Neal was of June, and smirk when he proved to Ford that he wasn't about to be the older man's patsy. Matt has a great gift when it comes to making us feel what Neal feels, and it worked very well in this episode.
And while Neal might not think so, the presence of Ford does give him (and us) a look into the man he could have been if not for his interactions with Peter. It's food for thought, both for his character and for the audience. Character is the heart of any show for me, and so the plots I love the most are the ones that allow us to learn more about our main characters, and allow them to learn things about themselves. This episode was definitely an eye-opener when it came to the character of Neal Caffrey, and that was no surprise. This week, we were treated to great work from an up-and-coming star alongside two living legends, and so of course this episode wasn't going to disappoint! I have only one regret: that we have to wait two weeks for the next episode.
On my way out the door, a little roundup: in case you missed it earlier, there was plenty of White Collar news today: Tiffani Thiessen was kind enough to drop by for an interview, and it was reported that Hilarie Burton will be a series regular come season three. It's been a busy Tuesday!
For more White Collar, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.