Hands up: how many people were eagerly awaiting this week's White Collar?
Yep, me too.
And it certainly delivered on the comedy front, even if the actual plot was nothing new.
Elizabeth is setting up for an event, when in walks the very grumpy Andrew Stanzler (Richard Schiff, seeming like he's channeling Toby Ziegler from The West Wing). He leaves just as quickly, thankfully. El is soon approached by Stanzler's assistant Brooke, who asks her about her husband working for the FBI.
"How's the world's most interesting evil man?" Peter asks El when she comes home. El explains that Brooke believes Stanzler is working to engineer a blackout and profit off of it (not unlike the Law & Order season 18 episode "Darkness"), but she's too scared of him to come into the FBI office. She suggests that he visit Brooke at the museum and bring Neal because he's calming. I honestly can't argue with her.
On the street, Neal runs into Sara (Hilarie Burton), who's back from Argentina and believes she found the estate where Vincent Adler was hiding after he fled New York. She spoke to one of his staffers, who told her that Adler was obsessed with finding a German soldier named Gerhardt Wagner. Well, that's interesting...
That aside, Neal turns up at the museum, where Peter has not yet arrived. Peter is still driving, detoured by an accident (but he thinks he'll still be there four minutes early). He tells Neal to "do whatever you need to do" to keep Brooke calm and on the premises. Neal's idea is to pretend to be Peter. Elizabeth rolls with it, but Peter's reaction is reminding Neal that he's just committed a federal crime. Neal argues that he's earned Brooke's trust and he'd like not to wreck it by explaining he's just deceived her. This and a phone call from Elizabeth means leads Peter to inform his team that for the next hour, they're switching places "and never speak of this again." This does not mean he can't rib Neal every step of the way. And then Neal makes Peter get him coffee. Moment of win.
Brooke tells Neal that she believes Stanzler is looking for a burglar. Meanwhile, thanks to Diana, Peter finds out that Wagner's file is classified. The two of them put their heads together, and Peter decides that the "new" Neal can be what Stanzler is looking for. After all, it's not much different than the same play they've run a couple of times before.
Since this identity switch is now going to last a lot longer than an hour, Neal has to make his own FBI badge, leading Mozzie to say "the metamorphosis is complete, cockroach," just as Sara and Peter arrive with a movie. It shows Gerhardt Wagner working as a U-boat operator. Peter says he claimed to have access to top secret information, but was sent to a detention center and subsequently escaped. Neal believes that whatever information Wagner has, being a radio guy, it probably has to do with the fractal antenna. They just have to find who Wagner has become.
After this team meeting breaks up, Peter and Mozzie bicker while Neal and Sara get a little too close trying to make a suspicious guy following them. Said guy quickly splits. "Whoever he is," Neal tells her, "he knows you're working for us."
Now it's Peter's turn to try being Neal. He meets with Stanzler, who is unimpressed until Peter starts dissecting the museum, telling him how he'd rob the other man's private collection. That gets him in, and he tells the team that Stanzler needs a thief to steal a flash drive from a futures trader named Luntz that Stanzler is collaborating with to cause "temporary shortages" of energy. The drive contains a video of one of their meetings that could incriminate him. Neal tells Peter about Sara being followed, and Peter agrees it's worth being worried about, before asking Neal for help with his new occupation. Guess who Neal sends him to? Mozzie thinks Peter will be "a very difficult student," so much so that he brings in June to help.
Neal catches up with Sara in order to continue their search for Wagner. Neal gets to flash his new FBI badge, before being confronted with a whole lot of immigration records. This is not his idea of a good time, so he decides to poke at Sara and ask her why she cares. "I know what it's like to have a lot of questions," she says, talking about how her sister ran away at thirteen. Ponderous music starts playing as she adds that if they find Adler, maybe Neal can have some closure with Kate. I gather from the music that this is supposed to be an important moment between them, but it doesn't strike that chord with me.
The following morning, Neal tells Peter to "go out there and make me look good." Peter gets off to a solid start, easily planting a bug on Stanzler and getting his final instructions. Stanzler's Bentley (with Peter in the trunk) pulls up to Luntz's place, and while Stanzler meets with his co-conspirator, Peter breaks in through the basement. He overhears the two men plotting before he sneaks upstairs. With Neal in his ear, he starts looking for the flash drive, and finds the key to an in-wall safe, which is hiding behind a painting. Everything seems easy from there, until Diana overhears Stanzler reveal that they have an executive from East Coast Hydroelectric in their pocket, and that said exec will be meeting them at a party on Saturday. Peter gets the video copied off the flash drive and gives the original to Stanzler, only to be offered another job...on Saturday.
The team reviews the video and puts all the pieces together. "With someone at the power plant able to flip the switch, they'll be able to escalate their plan," Peter says, summing everything up in one sentence for them and for us. Thankfully, he also picked up Stanzler's dry cleaning and put a hidden video camera in it. The only awkward part is that both Neal and Peter have to appear at this party, pretending that they don't know each other. While Neal mingles with Elizabeth, Peter is pulled away by Stanzler and asked to "babysit" Luntz. Immediately, he knows something more is up. He's proven right moments later, as Luntz tells him that he doesn't want any part of the deal - but refers to him by the name of the ECH exec.
Peter realizes that Stanzler is planning to double-cross them both, just as another blackout is imminent. He calls the team in the van and springs them into action just minutes before the lights go out and the museum ends up in lockdown. Neal takes off in pursuit of Stanzler, with the help of several generic FBI agents, just as the other man arrives with a gun and starts shooting. Thankfully, Diana gets the backup generator turned on moments later, allowing Peter to get the drop on Stanzler.
After all that, Peter is happy to have his own life back, but appreciates the journey he's just taken. "Being Neal Caffrey has its charms, and I do look good in black," he admits, before swiping Neal's fake FBI badge and reconnecting with his wife. Neal watches them for a moment, then shows up to visit Sara and Mozzie. As they sit in another blackout, the moment that's been telegraphed with a sledgehammer happens: Neal and Sara start pawing at each other. Well, if we needed any doubt about Neal being over Kate, we have that now. And poor Mozzie gets an eyeful of do not want.
At least he found Wagner. He became Michael Hunter, and though he's dead, he does have a granddaughter. That granddaughter? Alex Hunter. Yes, that Alex Hunter, who's being stalked by Adler's mystery dude. Needless to say, she and Neal have a lot of catching up to do. (And I wonder what she'll think when she finds out Neal's now cuddling up to Sara? Because of course she will find out.)
First things first: this episode was just as funny as I expected it to be from the previews. That's all down to the continually effortless banter and timing of Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay. These two have a rhythm and chemistry together that can't be duplicated, and having them switch places for an episode was pure genius; both actors carried it off very well, down to the characters' ability to continue to poke fun at one another along the way. The two of them haven't given a bad performance yet, and I don't think they ever will.
I only wish that there had been a stronger plot to go along with the gimmick. While "Power Play" isn't a bad episode, it didn't keep me guessing the way that other White Collar episodes have; I knew from the moment Richard Schiff walked on screen that he was the bad guy. Speaking of Schiff, I loved his work on The West Wing and Civic Duty and even his cameo on Burn Notice, but it seemed like he was playing the same role he'd played before: permanently cantankerous. And while the two shows weren't exactly alike, the episode did remind me enough of that Law & Order episode that I had it figured out by the first act. That's never encouraging from a viewer standpoint.
And I've already registered my displeasure toward the Neal/Sara subplot. The closing scene here seems to prove what we speculated when Hilarie Burton was made a series regular for next season: a love story is here, like it or not. At least, it certainly doesn't debunk that theory. Rather than repeat myself ad nauseum on that issue, I'll just say that expecting that Neal would pursue Sara, I would've liked to have seen a more subtle (and classier, IMHO) approach to it rather than the two of them spontaneously mauling each other. I expected a kiss (especially given that Neal had to see Peter and Elizabeth's obvious affection for one another right before and we know he's lacking that in his own life), but I think it would have been a lot more interesting and rewarding, especially since we know she's not going anywhere and we therefore have time, to stop it there and then later on, if we must, see them fan those sparks and develop a relationship. We see enough mauling on every other show. At least on TV, it seems that once two characters have feelings for one another, they're in bed almost right afterward - and call me an old-fashioned romantic if you must, but to me, that's just not interesting.
All in all, not the spectacular episode I was hoping for. But we had fun, didn't we? And am I excited for next week? Oh, you betcha. So this one might not be perfect, but I'll take it.
For more White Collar, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.