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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

White Collar – “In the Red”

“You must not think I have an honest bone.”

Peter and Neal discuss the mother they just arrested.

If you want to look extra condescending, you have to give big eyes.

You have to be happy White Collar came around when it did rather than a few years ago when the country was gripped by No Limit Hold ‘Em television (later remarked by several as the end of a varied game weekly poker night). You couldn’t flip a channel without seeing some poor schlub taking his cards too seriously, wearing Blu-Blockers and iPod earbuds to hide his tells, or some minor celebrity shuffling his or her chips for charity. I would imagine with the weight media outlets were throwing behind the game, we would see confidence man Neal Caffrey slumped behind a card table far more than we do now. And it’s just not where he belongs.

Clearly, that place is finding excuses to take his shirt off for visitors.

The stuff with Not-Dead Kate is starting to come to a simmer (though a lukewarm one if that’s possible) and we get an interesting nuance in the idea of criminality in the White Collar gaze. Apparently the “heart of gold” status extends further than just to prostitutes in the Old West.

The title “In the Red” could mean two things in the context of this episode. First, it refers to the poker debt a crooked adoption lawyer (played by John Larroquette returning somewhere closer to “weasly” on his acting spectrum and slightly underutilized for a man of his talent) owes to the mob. But it’s the Chechen mob (as in formerly part of the USSR) so the title is also a veiled Cold War reference, especially when they use the mobsters to nail Donovan the Lawyer.

How does the FBI get the Chechens to play ball? Peter tries to threaten their illegal gambling ring. He offers them a deal to look the other way. They don’t budge. But then Peter brings up that Donovan is using Chechen children as pawns in his scams. And that just about tears it.

Though our mob boss is probably into really bad stuff, he himself never holds a gun (that I can recall) even if his muscle does. In this episode, he’s into extortion, illegal gambling, and probably racketeering (except no one really knows what that is) but this is all within the gray area of criminality. Notice he never directly threatens anyone. This means he operates, maybe not on the same level, but closer on the spectrum of criminality to Mozzie and Neal. Which is why he’s allowed to have a heart. Peter using the mobster’s Chechen heritage melts the criminal’s barriers of antagonism in order to tackle the true antagonist in this episode: the guy putting price tags on children and bilking couples out of thousands of dollars.

Also of note: when are they going to run into a criminal that isn’t an incredible actor? I mean, the actors playing the criminals are fine and all but the criminals as actors (the characters pretending in an FBI sting) are outstanding, never breaking, never nervous, never seeming forced at all. When are they going to flip a mob boss that is unable to convincingly portray himself under federal scrutiny? Or are they just going to leave that up to Jones and Diana to muddle through being a couple in this episode (again, not the fault of the actors — the characters’ failing)?

Outside of the Kate stuff, everything else is pretty straightforward in this episode. There is a poker scene where Neal beats Donovan with a King-high spade flush that acts as a catalyst for Donovan’s demise but everything else is run-of-the-mill with not enough Peter and a blip of Elizabeth to keep Tiffani Thiessen in the credits. I did see a some photos this week featuring Kelly Kapowski on set so at least we have that to look forward to soon.

So the Kate thing starts with the Sara thing since Neal involved her by sending the FAA package to her place (a bit of light fraud). After Mozzie lifts the tape from Sara’s place, it appears that Hilarie Burton is bringing a little One Tree Hill ridiculousness with her as she owns and administers her own polygraph in order to prove Neal broke into her house again. He fools it (natch) but can’t escape the search warrant she’s able to achieve (on what evidence?). As he’s being arrested, Peter comes to the rescue and works his heart-melting magic on Sara since he knows whatever is on that tape has something about Kate. Apparently she drops the charges (because I imagine breaking and entering + theft is a violation of Neal’s legally-shaky work program) and later goes to Neal in order to give him what are Kate’s last words.

How she finds the tape in the first place (well, how the investigators find it) is only because Neal delays listening to it. It’s never really clear if this is because he’s trying to move on or it’s too hard for him to hear it (or maybe he’s like me and doesn’t really believe she’s dead) but clearly they want you to believe it’s a mixture. While he obviously still has Kate on his mind, things are starting to heat up with him and Sara, especially at the end of the episode after he answers the door shirtless. Clearly they want you to feel like this thing is going somewhere, for you to fall in love with a Sara/Neal coupledom, just so they can dash it across the rocks by season’s end.

They’re parceling out this Kate thing so slowly. First it was the music box. Then is was the mystery man that was supposed to meet Fowler. Then it was the black box tape. Then how are they going to get the black box tape? Now how are they going to get it out of Sara’s apartment? Now how are they going to understand what is actually said on the tape? It’s starting to feel less like a compelling mystery and more like they’re dragging it out. But, as I’ve said before, the Kate thing isn’t why we’re coming back to watch. It’s all about Neal seducing women and catching the bad guy. Whether that bad guy is the seasonal arc villain or not is irrelevant.

Also: Mozzie was a child of foster care. Figured I’d wedge that into this review with as much inspiration as they wedged it into the episode.

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