Not long ago, a friend and I were chatting about USA Network’s pleasantly bizarre rise as a source of quality television. Before this year, my overall impression of USA was a hodge-podge of childhood memories like late-night Tales From The Dark Side binges, Cartoon Express, and B-movies hosted by Gilbert Gottfried. They were a rerun channel, good for a laugh but not exactly the cream of the crop.
I don’t think I even remember when they snuck Monk in on us. All I know is that one day I came in to work and people were talking about Psych and Burn Notice and I had to double check I hadn’t woken up in some strange parallel universe.
(The jury, for the record, is still out on this.)
When I began to hear murmurs among my friends about White Collar, I shrugged it off. The premise – Peter’s an FBI agent. Neal’s a convicted con artist. They fight crime! – felt a little thin. It wasn’t until this past April when the show’s writers pulled a genuinely hilarious April Fools prank and shared it on Twitter that I caved and started watching.
And then I couldn’t stop watching. I think I mainlined the entire first season in under a week. I sent exhausted e-mails to friends who laughed at me for being so unable to sleep after the mid-season
cliffhanger that I had to stay up past 2 o’clock in the morning so I could watch the next episode.
I’m telling you this, gentle reader, so that you can understand how deep this particular rabbit hole goes in my house. I might have referred to Monday night as “White Collar Eve.” It’s a sickness.
So, what did I think about “Withdrawal,” the first episode of White Collar‘s second season?
Generally speaking, the White Collar team knocked this one out of the park. The pace was snappy, and fans get a lot of treats in the first five minutes as Neal and Peter get back in the saddle. There’s a little bit more exposition than feels natural, including a conversation between Peter and Mozzie in which Mozzie’s gets used as a mouthpiece for the writers to bring us up to speed. Overall, though, I think most of that is for the benefit of people who’ve never seen the first season. People are more likely to watch when they know what’s happening, and the whole doesn’t suffer much for those slightly-off notes.
The week’s mystery plot was entertaining – the FBI testing banks after a spate of robberies gives us an excuse to enjoy Neal’s improbable talents for infiltration, fast talk, and quick change – and while the mystery of the week trope might be a little bit cliché, it’s enough a part of White Collar‘s formula that the writers are careful to give it has implications in the larger scheme of things. Peter’s job (and thus Neal’s arrangement) is tenuous after the events of last season – there’s nothing like an exploding airplane and official intrigue to up the ante – and Tim Matheson is deliciously unlikable in his guest role as Edward Walker. One can only hope he was kinder on the set while he was directing.
Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay maintain amazing on-screen chemistry, and Peter and Neal’s unorthodox relationship shines in “Withdrawal.” They’re intimate, they’re witty, and they work together brilliantly. They’re also keeping secrets from one another, which adds another layer of tension. Mozzie’s progression from being solely Neal’s man underground to someone Peter interacts with continues more or less seamlessly. I was delighted to see June again, and El. It was good to see Agent Diana Lancing as well, though I’m only cautiously optimistic with where I think that’s going. In the past Diana’s role has seemed to involve simply appearing with information and then fading into the background. By the end of “Withdrawal,” I couldn’t decide whether that’s likely to change or not.
Which brings me to…
I’m going to be indelicate and declare “Withdrawal” a sausage fest. It’s a brilliantly executed, well-paced, exciting sausage fest with a Venture Bros. reference in it, but even with Diana along for the ride, and the women who were part of the week’s mystery plot, it’s a whole lot of guys doing stuff with guys.
Women, when they appear in this episode, are either one-off characters who exist to advance the plot (e.g. working bank security, being a pretty assistant, etc.) or appear only briefly to support Neal and Peter. It looks like Diana may be more important over the course of this season, but in “Withdrawal” she’s mostly reprising her role as Smart Lady Who Knows Stuff.
This is a hell of a departure overall form season one which, while imperfect (White Collar scores low on the Bechdel Test generally), was at least pretty good about including El as a character in her own right a fair bit of the time, and included competent women on screen in minor roles with reasonable frequency.
One thing I’m not sure whether I can decide is clever of faily is how frequently the writers play to Matt Bomer’s looks. In “Withdrawal,” it gets played to comic effect (he’s suave and good looking enough to keep Walker’s assistant interested while Mozzie steals her phone and copies her SIM card, but once he flashes his anklet and talks about prison it’s all over), but watching women go stupid in the face of Neal’s big eyes and square jaw can get old fast. On the other hand, it’s not a bad subversion of the usual trope where it’s women who use sex appeal in order to socially engineer the situation, so I’m undecided. Then again, fans aren’t exactly racing to slut-shame Neal and declare that Matt Bomer is a terrible actor every time he lays on the sexy…
White Collar is a lot of fun and worth the hour a week to watch. It’s well-written, well-acted, and every time I see Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay in costume I desperately want to win the lottery so I can hire a personal trainer and a tailor. Jeff Eastin and his team make good television and I enjoyed the hell out of “Withdrawal.” I just wish the gender balance was a little more balanced, with more opportunities for women characters to be significant in their own right, and hope that things open up a little more as season two progresses.