Wednesday, December 2, 2009

White Collar 1.05: "All In"

“Could be a sunburnt superhero.”


I was enjoying this episode of White Collar a little more than usual. The directing was better than many of the post-pilot episodes, and subsequently the visuals were more interesting. Then it drifted off into story beats we’ve hit in just about every episode so far and amped up the drama from intriguing to overwrought, and it lost me again. We didn’t really learn much that we didn’t already know, and once again, Neal saved the day with ease.

“All In” vaguely reminded me of the Pushing Daisies episode “Dim Sum, Lose Some” because both dealt with Chinese culture in the United States and gambling, but “All In” lacked much of the charm of Pushing Daisies. Sure, Neal is charming, but overall, an episode of Pushing Daisies is a much more satisfying experience. You never quite knew just what you were going to get. White Collar, even with a fairly unique premise, has managed to become somewhat formulaic. We know that three things happen in every episode: (1.) Neal’s loyalty will be questioned, (2) Neal will save the day, and (3) we’ll get at least a bite-sized bit of info about Kate, usually by Neal almost, but not quite, compromising his parole. This week, we got all three of those things.

The FBI office is abuzz when Peter and Neal arrive to start their workday. Agent Costa, who was undercover trying to get information about a Chinese mob boss, has gone missing. Neal is brought in on the case because Lao, the mob boss in question, is looking to launder some money, and one of Neal’s old aliases specializes in doing just that. Neal is going to take on his alias again and go to a game of Pai Gow, basically Chinese poker with dominoes, where Lao likes to set up his deals. One redeeming aspect of this episode was the somewhat funny scene where Mozzie tries to teach Neal about Pai Gow by making him watch a movie with extremely low production values that features the game. It’s funny to see Neal squirm, because he usually keeps his cool. The cheesy, predictable punch line of June joining Mozzie in his love of the really bad movie almost robbed the scene of any value, but not quite.

Neal does exactly what he’s supposed to do at the game to send the proper message to Lao, but seeing as it’s early in the episode, it can’t just be that simple. Somebody has called the NYPD about the game, and Neal’s FBI back-up can’t do anything to stop the immanent raid. This is serious stuff, because it wouldn’t be that far of a leap for Lao’s henchmen to believe Neal was behind the raid. Neal does indeed have guns turned on him (both from Lao’s men and the NYPD), but he manages to pull off one of his trademark escapes. He’s about to be re-captured by Lao’s henchmen when a mysterious Asian woman from the Pai Gow game says Lao has instructed her to handle the situation.

The woman, Mei Lin, keeps Neal in a hotel room over night, and in the morning, she reveals she’s actually an Interpol agent. She tells Neal that she called the NYPD. Interpol is trying to get to Lao’s boss, and to do that, they need Lao to stay in business for now. She wants Neal to essentially throw his mission. And of course, she uses the perfect sweetener for the deal- she claims to have information about Kate. And of course, Neal goes for it. As well as we know “Kate loves the classics,” we know that Neal goes stupid whenever somebody mentions Kate (with the exception of the time when he actually faced Kate face to face and didn’t give her what she wanted- can we have that Neal back, please?).

Neal shows up at the FBI office the next day, and we have no idea which side he’s playing for. Either way, he’s playing it cool as usual. Peter then does an ingenious bit of work that makes me believe for once that he really is a guy who could capture Neal Caffrey…twice. The team heads to a place where they believe Mei Lin works, and Peter goes to question the women standing in front of the establishment. He plays the bumbling American, but in actuality, he’s recording what the women are saying in Chinese. The translation of the recording leads them to the Red Lantern warehouse.

At the warehouse, they find the body of Agent Costa. There is no time for mourning, though, because Lao’s men are there in force. Neal convinces Peter to hide instead of fight, and that tips Peter off that something is wrong. When the FBI team figures out that Mei Lin is Interpol, it doesn’t take long for Peter to put it all together- she bribed Neal with promises about Kate. Peter gives Neal a reality check- Lao has no boss. Mei Lin was lying. Somehow, Mei Lin’s organization will get more funding if Lao is arrested on Asian soil. I’m not quite sure how that works, but there you go.

Peter wants Neal to get Lao to transfer his dirty money over to an FBI account, and Mei Lin wants Neal to do the same, but with her own account. The tension rises as we wonder which side Neal is going to choose. Of course Mei Lin has to slip in there again that she knows some important info about Kate. Predictably, Neal again finds a solution that makes everybody happy. Neal gives Lao Mei Lin’s account number, but that’s not the end of his scheming for the night. He asks to continue the Pai Gow game, and he wagers his watch. The watch is actually a GPS transmitter and bug. Mei Lin got the money, and the FBI got enough information to put Lao away. Mei Lin sort of makes good on her end of the bargain. She tells Neal that the man with the ring who is holding Kate captive is with the FBI.

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