Wednesday, November 4, 2009

White Collar 1.01: "Threads"

“Don’t dance in the office.”


It’s fashion week in New York City, and Neal is loving it. He doesn’t mind that the city is extra crowded and it’s difficult to get a cab as long as the reason for it is beautiful women. Peter, however, is just stressed because they’re about to be late to a witness interview. The interview might lead them to Ghovat, aka “The Ghost,” an Israeli counterfeiter. The witness is Tara, an aspiring model in town for fashion week. She was getting her coat, about to leave a party, when two men entered the room. As she hid from them, she heard heated arguing, then everything got quiet. She heard the man she now knows as Ghovat leave the room, and the other man was dead on the floor.

Neal, of course, has an answer to finding Ghovat that he thinks will result in having the most fun. He wants to throw a huge swanky party, given Ghovat’s history of showing up at such events. This sets up an example of my one big problem with White Collar. Why the heck does everybody trust Neal so implicitly? He manages, after not too much nagging, to get Peter and Peter’s boss to go along with the idea. I mean, he’s certainly charming, but it’s like he’s got the FBI wrapped around his little finger after only being there for a few weeks at most. I don’t buy it.

Since the party happens so early in the episode, it’s pretty obvious that it isn’t going to work out as planned. They don’t spot Ghovat and arrest him right there. Neal and Tara encounter Dmitri, a guy who wants to buy something Ghovat is selling. Using Agent Cruz, the replacement for Peter’s assistant from the pilot, as a distraction, Neal steals Dmitri’s phone to try and get to Ghovat. Ghovat sees it go down, however, so he does some phone switching of his own. He puts his phone in another guy’s pocket and hightails it out of there. Neal calls Ghovat’s phone, and the FBI team realizes too late that they’ve got the wrong guy. Ghovat is long gone.

Back at the FBI office, Tara is about to be put into protective custody. This adds new urgency to the situation, since Tara came to New York to be a model, not to be hidden away from criminals. There is hope, though, as Peter interrupts Tara and Neal’s conversation with interesting news. He’s had Agent Jones tailing Dmitri since the party, and Dmitri has gone to a photo shoot. The model is the woman who was with Ghovat at the party. I didn’t quite get this plot development. I guess we’re supposed to assume that after the party, the FBI combed through the surveillance footage and saw Ghovat and his date, because they certainly didn’t see him during the party.

Neal decides he should approach Dmitri in character to get more information. Because that worked out so well in the pilot when he got recognized by the art restorer/bond forger. It’s kind of amusing when he gets Peter to play his bodyguard, at least. I still don’t know why Peter lets Neal get away with so much, even if it is fun to watch. He’s kind of a pushover for an FBI agent.

Dmitri manages to scare Neal off (big surprise), but Jones’ tailing skills have come in handy once again. He’s followed Dmitri to a hotel, and Peter and the rest of the FBI team are on the case. Soon there’s word of an argument on the 50th floor, but by the time the FBI can get there, Dmitri is dead and Ghovat is long gone. It’s not all worthless, though. They find a couture dress with a hole where the security tag should be.

Interviewing the dress’ designer turns out to be useful. The designer admits that Ghovat kidnapped his son and threatened to kill the son if the designer didn’t use the dress to smuggle something into the country. Even better, the designer gave Ghovat a fake dress and still has the real one. After checking out the real dress, the FBI realizes that the dress, instead of a security tag, had a tag with the holographic code for the latest European currency seal.

Ghovat wants the real dress, and Neal thinks he can use that to bring Ghovat into his web. He parades around town in swanky places with Tara on his arm dressed in the original, real couture dress. It doesn’t take Ghovat long to notice. When Neal refuses Ghovat’s offer to purchase it, Ghovat ambushes Tara and her FBI handlers. With Tara as hostage, Ghovat directs Peter to bring the dress to him at an arranged meet up in a park.

During the climactic dress/hostage exchange and the planning leading up to it, a guilty Neal keeps trying to chime in and interrupt. He’s desperate to get Tara out of this horrible situation because it was his idea to parade her around in the dress in the first place. His contributions to the end game are a mixed bag. Some things, like getting all the FBI guys to call Ghovat’s cell phone over and over so Ghovat can’t dial the number to detonate the plastic explosive-laden belt fastened around Tara, worked well. It bought Peter time to get the belt off of Tara and frantically throw it to a safe distance. Other ideas, like directly confronting Ghovat, required a well-timed tackle from Agent Cruz to not end badly.

Some interesting, although still sort of superficial, character development also happened in this episode through two small sub-plots. First, while searching through an FBI warehouse for things to use to throw the big party, Peter and Elizabeth (who happens to be an event planner) find a really nice watch. Peter can’t just go and take the watch, so Elizabeth thinks it would be sweet to buy him a nice watch as a gift. The new watch just proves to be awkward, however, so Elizabeth gives Peter his old watch back the night before the big hostage exchange. She didn’t want him to be distracted. Second, Neal is convinced that there is some sort of encoded message from Kate in the video of their tearful prison goodbye. At Mozzie’s suggestion (yay for “Mozzie knows all” not being the solution to the case of the week, by the way), Neal strikes a deal with Peter. If they solve the case, Peter will let Neal see the tape. Neal’s hunch wasn’t wrong. Kate was tapping out “BOTTLE” in Morse code on her leg. The episode ends with a perplexed Neal staring at their old empty wine bottle, his one memento of Kate.

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