In the penultimate episode of Season 3 of White Collar, Neal (Matt Bomer) and Mozzie (Willie Garson) get scouted to help out Gordon Taylor, an elusive contract con man moved into New York City for his next job and always hires local. He never gets caught and all the men on his jobs get paid, handsomely. The target, Yankee Stadium, and more specifically, a piece of Yankee history, a home run ball hit by The Babe. But Neal has to be careful as his commutation hearing is coming up so he can’t do anything that could end up as ammunition used against him.
But this is White Collar, where everything auspiciously comes together to move the story along. The cons run sexy and smooth and no matter how great of a con man they target, in this case, Taylor, they never seems to be enough chatter amongst thieves that Neal is a C.I. for the White Collar Division of the FBI. Seriously, don’t criminals talk in prison? But honestly, why let that ruin our love for the show?
Against his wishes, Mozzie agreed to go undercover with Neal, but you could tell he had some serious inner conflict. Mozzie respected Taylor and reveled the opportunity to work with him on a job, so it pained him to contribute to his capture. Neal on the other hand saw this as another job to build his case for freedom, and it wasn’t a case of breaking the code between con men, as it was Neal seeing the finish line.
Much to my dismay, the art of forgery was not on center stage (I really do love watching those montages of criminals at work), aside from doctoring a baseball, but there was a very telling game of pool. Similar to poker and chess, one’s body can speak as loud as one’s mouth. Taylor was a great observer of non-verbal communication, and he used this skill, and perhaps Mozzie understood this to tip Taylor off in the dugout suite. My only problem with it is that it should have been a big clue to Taylor that Neal won with a trick shot. Even Taylor can be charmed.
While the boys went to… um, “burke,” back at the offices, Agent Kramer’s (Beau Bridges) crack team was on the manhunt for someone who may or may not be around anymore. They found coded letters to Kate but when Neal joined Peter’s (Tim DeKay) team, he was driven to reunite with Kate and break away. Her murder and the work he’s done for White Collar has softened his position. Perhaps that’s all what Kramer has to go on. We all know that Neal spent a majority of this season not only seeing the light but walking towards it for the first time. Kramer believes that Neal’s charm has put a spell on everyone, including Peter. As an outsider, he may have a point. He knows how to make nice with everyone to earn that trust so that he can get the space to do whatever he pleases. Clinton (Sharif Atkins) and Diana (Marsha Thomason) are going to follow Peter’s lead, so it really does come down to what Peter decides to do.
So will Sara’s (Hilarie Burton) deposition really help Neal or hurt him? Kramer is looking for just enough evidence to keep the anklet on. So it all comes down to that Rafael painting, and if Kramer can prove he still has it, then he has a case. There’s still a spark between Neal and Sara too, and Peter’s right, her constant involvement could only help Neal if he truly wants to go straight for good.
For the most part, Neal was on good behavior. He did accept the check from Taylor, and showed interest in whatever other job he had in the future. Was that the fellow crook working or the guy working for White Collar?
Neal: Still think I’m a thief?
Taylor: Fish don’t do well out of water.
Is Neal the crook still here? I actually do, but at the same time we can see that he isn’t a bad guy. The friendships he built with Peter, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) and others are genuine, and tracking down Peter’s rookie card, and bringing him to Yankee stadium was something a friend would recognize to do. How did Neal arrange for it? I’m sure a check for $160,000 helped out.
Neal: I have my ways.
For Neal and Mozzie, running cons has been their lifestyle and like a bad habit, bad diet, or some other vice, what White Collar does well is show that it’s a continuous, daily struggle to suppress those urges, to turn down offers when the reputation as a top con man precedes all of the other qualities he offers. I think there’s still that con man in Neal that believes as long as no one is in danger of getting harmed or killed, and the operation is airtight, he’s willing to gamble and play both sides. That may drive some viewers mad, but I think it’s a much more honest approach at portraying a criminal of Neal’s stature under these same circumstances and given these types of opportunities. The U-Boat scandal was a big step for Neal, but that doesn’t mean he’s given up on his crooked ways for good.
Gordon Taylor’s methods and an offer to join him, maybe Mozzie, (maybe Alex?!) in a caper in France in a couple of months is another, tempting offer. It’s got the wheels spinning and a check for $160,000 sure beats the allowance that Neal gets from the U.S. Government. Just remember, like any other addiction, all it takes is for one con to go right to fall off that wagon.
There’s a wonderful subplot in “Stealing Home” about Peter’s past as a baseball player who worked in the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system as a big league closing pitcher before he blew out his rotator cuff. Peter’s mantra has always been to turn negatives into positives and realized that his past was his past, and that it’s best to live in the moment and within his means. Can Neal do the same? Can Neal Swing for the fences and believe anything is possible?
Neal: Some of the things we’ve done are pretty hard to forget.
• “Stealing Home” was Tim DeKay’s directorial debut and chose a subject that was close to his heart, baseball, and did a terrific job capturing some different shots of Yankee Stadium and the city, coordinating complex scenes like the heist while capturing some very poignant conversations between Neal and Sara, Peter and Neal, Peter and Diana, and the pool game. It would have been easy for creator Jeff Eastin to give him a stand-alone episode that focused on one of the side characters but this was a classic, multi-layered episode and did a fine job.
• It often goes understated but whenever Peter tells a story from the past, it feels so genuine. His fond memory of him drinking root beer and his father drinking ale as they took in the Yankees on TV comes off so real. That’s either a testament to the writers, Mark Goffman, Jim Campolongo, and DeKay.
• One also had to respect Peter sticking up for baseball history in comparing DiMaggio to Pollack. How often do art snobs and sports geeks disagree? A lot when it comes to what’s more important in the context of culture, yet if they were open to each other’s interests, they’d find out they have more in common than they think.
• Lord Byron and June (Diahann Carroll) assisted Neal out with an antique pool stick to use to play Taylor.
June: Every great con man has to master the game of pool.
Neal: I was nine years old.
• Neal’s khaki suit was… not his best wardrobe choice. Maybe that’s one thing Lord Byron looked better in than Neal.
• Seeing six guys roll out of a place in sharp suits and strutting is a little suspicious. We’ve all seen Reservoir Dogs, we know what’s up.
• I find it a bit hard to believe that there wasn’t a security camera already on the Babe Ruth ball display to see if someone made the switch.
• Who else caught that Neal walked into a morning afterglow of the Burke’s post-coitus breakfast.
Peter: Elizabeth, you’re a tigress! Neal, you’re early. Grab some breakfast?
Neal: Not hungry any more.
• Peter’s conversation with Jones in the surveillance van about walk out music had me in stitches. I never pegged Peter Burke to walk out to a Kool Moe Dee. I had the cassette (yes I said cassette) tape of that album, so I couldn’t help but laugh along with Jones. To my surprise, they played the song at the end as the closing song, and they got Kool Moe Dee to come in and change the song to “I go to Burke,” – a cute ending to say the least and another “cool” feather in Peter’s cap.
As Peter said, enjoy the moment because next week’s season 3 finale of White Collar does not look like it will be a fun hearing for Neal. Tune in Tuesday on USA at 10pm ET/PT for “Judgement Day”. Neal is carrying a poster tube and Peter asks him, “Do I want to know what’s in that?” Could it be… the Rafael?