I’ve had my eye on this episode of White Collar for a little while; not for any particular reason, but because I thought I’d be the first indicator of how good season 2.5 really will be. The writers had plenty of time to cook up a good midseason premiere, and could use the framework of the show so far to set up the flashback episode, but there are no such advantages this week. White Collar doesn’t miss a step, however, just as lively as ever.
Neal and Peter are visiting the UN, talking about their international travel histories (Neal: “I tried to get you to go to France.” Peter: “No, you fled to France.”) while waiting to meet with someone from the State Department. His name is Adam Wilson, he’s the Undersecretary for Asian Affairs, and he wants to bring them the case of Christopher Harlow, an American student currently in prison in Burma, accused of gem smuggling. Oh, and he’s played by Cotter Smith, who’s always going to be the rogue spy from ABC’s Spy Game to me. Wilson’s heard that the real smuggler has the Mandalay Ruby somewhere in Manhattan, and wants our boys’ help to find the real culprit and get it back.
Peter and Neal go to meet with the Burmese ambassador, who turns over a DVD of Christopher’s alleged confession and tells them that they have a week before the poor guy is sentenced. He’s also pretty much gloating without blatantly gloating. Neal is not impressed. Peter hates the phrase “diplomatic immunity.” Both of them are very willing to find the real perpetrator and get the chance to say “I told you so.” It also takes them about thirty seconds to figure out that Christopher is Adam Wilson’s son. International incident and daddy issues. Double whammy.
In the resulting conversation about their past, we’re reminded that Peter’s father was a bricklayer, and Neal tells Peter that his own father was a cop. This makes Peter’s mouth fall open. Mozzie is a foster child, and really doesn’t care about his father, but their chat points out to us that Neal was fudging to Peter.
Neal reunites with Peter after a change of clothes, so the two of them can meet a suspicious fence named Randy under the auspice of getting their hands on something rare to gift Neal’s fake wife. The two of them are easily able to identify the Mandalay Ruby set in one of his necklaces, and after flashing his badge, Peter begins to interrogate him about who sold it to him. (Neal: “You just burned a perfectly good alias.” Peter: “And you named me after my dog.” Neal: “Touche.”) With the information they gain, they decide to set up a sting operation (in the form of a fashion show) to draw out the real smuggler.
The female fanbase gets another opportunity to ogle Matt Bomer as Neal and Mozzie set to making their own synthetic ruby in a warehouse. Mozzie says he hasn’t had this much fun “since I tripped Noam Chomsky.” Hey, if I got to play with a blowtorch, I’d probably be saying the exact same thing. Several hours later, we have one fake gem, which ends up around Diana’s neck as she plays the part of runway model the following night. She does her job perfectly, drawing the attention of our bad guy, a man named Collins who didn’t get the memo that white suits don’t look good on anyone not named Harland Sanders. Neal intercepts him and proposes a business deal, but all he gets is a gun aimed at him. Thankfully, Jones, Peter and Diana all arrive to back him up, with Diana arresting Collins for “attempted murder of an FBI agent.” Guess that means Neal is officially one of the team now.
Cornered, the bad guy gives a complete statement regarding the gem theft, but denies knowing Christopher Harlow. This leads our guys to have another conversation with his father. Neal is particularly annoyed with Wilson, but he’s interrupted from giving him lip by the need for a meeting with the Burmese ambassador. In front of the ambassador, Collins changes his tune and fingers Christopher, keeping the innocent student behind bars and keeping himself from being held on his attempted murder charge. We’re back to square one, but not for long.
Neal continues to drop hints about his parentage, allowing Peter to find out that his father died when he was two, but his mother told him that he died as a hero in the line of duty.
Diana shows Neal and Peter raw footage that was cut from the video they were given earlier; it shows them Christopher trying to convey a message. He’s directing them to his girlfriend Maggie, who’s got a nose ring and has just found her apartment broken into. Her hard drive was stolen, but she has a backup. She tells everyone that Christopher was doing a documentary, and shows them footage where he’s talking about a rebel group that he was about to visit. Peter deduces that his involvement with them is why the Burmese government is pinning the ruby theft on him. More footage shows Chris at the site of a very well documented missile attack, and not off committing theft. The cherry on top is that Jones has recovered ATM camera footage that shows just who broke into Maggie’s apartment: a diplomatic vehicle arrived outside around the same time. When they confront the ambassador, he gives them the cold shoulder, and may as well have given them the middle finger.
Neal gets a cryptic message from Adam Wilson, and goes to meet him alone. Wilson talks about how he blames himself for his son’s predicament, and says that he needs Neal to break into the Burmese HQ and steal back Maggie’s missing hard drive before the foreign officials make off with it. At the same time, the lightbulb goes off over Peter’s head and he realizes that Wilson brought the case to them in order to use Neal’s talents for himself.
Though Mozzie warns Neal that he’s at risk of starting an international incident, Neal is undeterred, plotting to make good use of a smoke bomb to get the Burmese courier to dump the contents of her diplomatic pouch onto American soil so he can swipe the hard drive back legally. Unfortunately, Mozzie manages to set the smoke bomb off right there, just as Peter invites himself in. He confronts Neal about meeting with Wilson. “Nothing gives him, or you, or anyone the right to go around the law,” he protests, but Neal has his emotional stake in the problem and points out that Peter would do the same thing were it his child or even Neal’s in the same situation. Fully aware that he could end up in a foreign prison, he decides to proceed with the plan.
He meets the Burmese courier under the pretense of turning the ruby over to her. Peter arrives, not to stop him, but to keep him from getting arrested. What’s his hook? Parking tickets. He stalls long enough for Neal’s plan to work. They recover the hard drive, promising the ambassador that whoever stole it will be dealt with. After the smoke clears (pun intended), Wilson gets a formal apology from the new Burmese ambassador, just before he and Maggie are reunited with Christopher. He thanks Neal and Peter for their “unconventional” help in saving his son.
Perhaps moved by the moment, Neal confides in Peter that he was definitely fudging: his father was a dirty cop, and he’s not his father’s son. That actually makes a whole lot of things make sense. Yet when Peter asks about his mom, he clams up again.
The subject matter of “What Happens In Burma” reminds me of one of my favorite movies, 1998’s Return to Paradise, which is itself a remake of a French film called Force Majeure. Thankfully, it is not depressing and gut-wrenching like that movie. It’s actually quite clever; while the reveal that Christopher is Wilson’s son is not that much of a surprise, it’s fun to see our heroes try to navigate the thorny and infuriating waters of politics. It’s a world that’s not far removed from white-collar crime; people are equally as charming and duplicitous on both sides. Watching Neal and Peter out of their element and having to approach the situation through different channels than they normally would is pretty fun, and full of their always quotable dialogue. The plot also allows the show to make use of Diana’s diplomatic background, which in turn gives Marsha Thomason a chance to do a little more this week. Most importantly, it proves that Season 2.5 of White Collar should hold up just as well as the first half of Season 2.
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