White Collar was a favorite of mine in its first season and parts of the second, but I have to admit that by the end of season two, the shine had started to come off the show for me. As a result, I became very interested in what season three would be - would the show win me back or would we break up?
The third-season premiere starts off in an awkward but not entirely unexpected place, with Neal and Mozzie trying to make a quick escape from Peter and Diana. Four days earlier, Neal's being polygraphed regarding the events of the second-season finale. (I've been polygraphed; this is not fun.) Much to Peter's annoyance, he maintains that he's innocent. Even his new girlfriend Sara doesn't believe him (and for someone he's kissing, it's odd to hear her refer to him by his last name). We all know Neal's telling the truth, so who's the real culprit? Mozzie, who switched Neal's art for the art on the submarine to achieve a "best and final score."
Despite the discomfort, Peter briefs Neal on David Lawrence (Neil Jackson), who's got $60 million the Bureau would like back. Lawrence knows Neal as Gary Rydell, and wants Gary's help in moving the money out of the country. Their first meeting involves fencing, which, as a former swordfighting champion, makes me happy inside. Neal sells Lawrence on an elaborate plan to get him and his money onto a boat. There's a visually interesting scene where Lawrence literally makes it rain money as he reveals that it was hiding in the air ducts of his place. At the same time, Mozzie is plotting a simultaneous escape via plane, which gets derailed when he realizes that a piece of one of Neal's paintings survived the fire and Elizabeth is having it tested at a local gallery. He and Neal quickly decide to change out the swatch while they can - with the help of June's granddaughter Cindy (Denise Vasi).
As is usual for White Collar, the writers pull both plots together at the last minute: when Lawrence spots Jones, Neal has to convince him that the plan isn't blown (and also not to kill Jones). His backup plan is to bring Lawrence to the airfield. That's how we get back to Mozzie and Neal trying to get away from Peter and Diana - but now that we have the context, that moment feels entirely different. Lawrence is eventually captured, but more importantly, our heroes don't end the episode copacetic. Peter still suspects Neal, and Mozzie and Neal are considering a second escape. Things are not okay, and they might not be for awhile.
I'm okay with that. It's interesting if unnerving to see Peter and Neal so at odds with each other when we've become used to them working on the same side. As disconcerting as it is, it allows Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer to play notes that they wouldn't normally, which brings more depth to their relationship. These two get better and better every episode. The hour also brings back a truth that might have been forgotten over the last two years - no matter how charming he is, or how much good he does, Neal is still a con artist. Given that so many fans have come to really love him, there's a certain amount of courage in reminding us that there's something dishonest about Neal.
In that respect, the season premiere feels almost like more of a character study than anything else to me. It's not a huge affair, and I like it that way. I'm not trying to solve a "whodunit" and I'm not looking for a plot twist - I'm focusing on what the events are telling me about the main characters. It's not the most thrilling White Collar episode, but "On Guard" is entertaining nonetheless, because these are people I've come to know well and always want to know more about. So far, so good for season three. I think I'll stick around awhile longer.