White Collar left us with a bang - literally, as Mozzie was shot by a man named Julian Larsson (The Dresden Files' Paul Blackthorne). As we resume the show's second season, the normally cool Neal Caffrey is still running hot, knowing the two most important people in his life were targeted by the same conspiracy. Having finally caught Garrett Fowler (Noah Emmerich), he sets his sights on Larsson - and what could be just another "let's move on to the next page of our mythology" episode is an impressive midseason premiere.
Mozzie's fate is handled deftly within the opening minutes; not only does that answer the audience's burning question, but it also rightly moves the focus onto Neal and how he reacts to the situation. He's spent the first half of season two on emotional tilt following the murder of his not exactly honest love Kate Moreau, a conflict which is compounded by what happens to Mozzie. The two people he was closest to (before the series began, at least) have come to harm from the same source, which makes Neal both further determined to bring down the responsible parties, and once again questioning if he's somehow the cause of their peril. It's that emotional complexity which makes Neal so much fun to watch, and Matt Bomer makes portraying it look easy. While he plays Neal still with that effortless charm at his disposal, we never forget that he's also got a weight on his shoulders.
Thankfully, Neal has Peter to balance him out and for him to lean on., and Tim DeKay is just as good as Bomer. Peter is equally determined to bring in Larsson, and between the two of them, they come up with a plan that almost works. I say almost because Larsson ingeniously manages to frame Peter for evidence tampering, getting him suspended from the FBI and forcing the two of them to think outside the box in order to collar him. Given the title of the episode, you can guess where this is going - they round up everyone they can turn to, including Peter's wife Elizabeth and insurance investigator Sara (guest star Hilarie Burton, ironically finally fitting in her last credited appearance), to clear Peter's name and ensure Larsson gets what he deserves. You'd think that with seven protagonists to juggle, this might get out of hand, but as usual the writing team ensures everyone gets involved and nothing gets convoluted. Not only is the idea a welcome re-introduction to all of our players, but it's an entertaining caper that doesn't end the way you'd expect it to. It's classic White Collar: an episode that lets the chemistry between Bomer and Tim DeKay lead a script that is fun without being frivolous.
One of the aspects I admire most about this series is how it always moves forward each element every week, and the second half of season two is no exception. While we get an answer about Mozzie's fate, we see Neal's character develop a little more, and we get a fun plot of the week, we also have forward movement when it comes to the show's mythology. Like Fowler before him, Larsson is not at the top of the food chain, and by episode's end Neal knows who the gunman answers to. Without spoiling, I'll say it's an excellent choice: rather than extend the plot into perpetuity by making it just another middleman, the identity of this person not only makes perfect sense with what we already know, but could be the final mastermind. I've argued before that White Collar could exist without the need for an ongoing mythology, and this feels to me like the perfect time to wrap up the conspiracy, give Neal some closure, and give the audience a great payoff. Only time will tell if it actually happens that way, of course, but this episode sets everything in line perfectly.
"Burke's Seven" is a wonderful return for White Collar, as it works on so many levels - as a case of the week, as a refresher course for the audience, and as a burst of forward momentum for the show's ongoing storylines. It only reminds me of how underrated this show is. Catch it for yourself a week from tonight on USA.