Deja vu is the theme of this week's White Collar, and it works - though perhaps not as well as it could have.
When the FBI starts tracking another wily con artist, Scott Rivers (Hutch Dano), everything feels a little familiar - but that's the point. For the characters, and for the audience, it's impossible not to hold the mirror up and draw parallels between Scott's present and Neal's past. Things get complicated when there's an attempt on Scott's life early on, making him equal parts criminal and victim. It's a great concept for an episode, one rife with opportunities for character development and introspection. While the episode fulfills the premise, it doesn't take those ideas as far as they could go.
By the episode's halfway point, Scott is in Neal's apartment, asking for his help in getting a guy named Carlisle off his back. Understanding Scott's precarious position, Neal, Sara and Mozzie hatch a plan to help him return what he stole from Carlisle - who can in turn be arrested for the fact that he swiped said goods from their rightful owner in the first place. It sounds more impressive than it is; the plot is pretty easy to follow. I wouldn't mind that so much if we'd had more character moments to balance it out, but there's more humor than exploration to be had. "Scott Free" is more of a fun ride - a cautionary tale with a smile, plus the dangling thread of Sara discovering Neal's new identity.
There are some things that don't stick, though. I'm still not warming up to the Neal/Sara romance, despite the inclusion of an opening that I gather is supposed to show how cute they are together. (The only thing I took away from that is how awesome Tim DeKay is when Peter gets to rib Neal about it.) And there's something missing in the character of Scott; I know that he's supposed to be young and out of his depth, but Dano comes off more like a kid playing at being a con artist, rather than an up-and-comer. Just a touch more weight in his personality would have done wonders.
Despite the flaws, however, "Scott Free" is a superior episode to last week's heavy-handed "Veiled Threat." Joe Henderson's script makes good use of the underrated Marsha Thomason as Diana Barrigan; now if only Sharif Atkins could get the same treatment! It also finds a relevance for the character of Sara; this is the first episode where I've felt she worked as a regular character. Henderson knows how to write for all the characters of White Collar, making sure that all of them get their due, and as a writer, I can say that's no easy feat.
A definite rebound from last week, "Scott Free" shows promise for season three of White Collar. In fact, it's sort of a microcosm for the season itself: will the promise lead somewhere, or will it remain untapped potential? Only time will tell.