Tuesday, January 26, 2010

White Collar 1.07: "Hard Sell"

“You could sell light switches to the Amish.”


The first White Collar episode of the new year closes some old mysteries and opens some new ones, all while Neal has to solve a case to (once again) keep from being sent back to prison. Some things were solved in a way that was a bit too “bright and shiny” for my taste, but I don’t generally expect shows on USA to go to the dark place, except for the occasional episode of “In Plain Sight.” Overall, “Hard Sell” was a decent but not especially stand-out episode.

The case of the week comes from an FBI agent out of Dallas who has been tracking a group who has been running a “boiler room.” This basically means that they call people and try to get them to invest in a cheap stock to drive up the price. Then they sell their own stock, and the other people who invested are out a lot of money. The FBI already has an informant embedded in the boiler room, but because the informant is a woman, she doesn’t get much access to information. The place is pretty much an all-guys club (and a rather ridiculous one at that).

Peter thinks Neal (naturally) would be the ideal candidate for a second mole within the organization, because he can hustle with the best of them. The FBI is a little wary of Neal’s criminal record. Peter explains that Neal’s most recent prison escape exploits were all because of Kate, saying there’s “something special about Kate.” This was kind of tedious exposition and a time when I wish the writer would have followed the first rule of any creative writing class: show, don’t tell. This is a problem I have with Kate in general. We’ve been told how crazy Neal is over her, but we have yet to see why. Every time we’ve seen Kate, she hasn’t exactly done anything to either endear herself or seem at all interesting.

Neal himself is fairly agitated throughout the episode, which is understandable considering he is under the impression that Peter is the infamous “Man With the Ring” who is holding Kate “hostage” (I use the term loosely, since she seems to get around pretty well in spite of her situation). He does what Peter tells him to do, but he makes snide comments about Peter whenever he sees an opportunity. Peter definitely notices that something is up. Neal feels that his suspicions are confirmed when he is at Peter’s house and sees a picture of Peter wearing the ring. Peter explains to Neal that the ring is actually a pin he received for 10 years of service to the FBI, and most people who get the pin (and there are many) get it made into a ring. Neal remains somewhat suspicious, and Mozzie doesn’t help the situation, suggesting Neal run away rather than take the new case.

Neal makes a good first impression when he shows up at the boiler room looking for a job, mostly thanks to Peter. His would-be boss doesn’t do a traditional job interview. He sets up a call to see if Neal can convince some hapless person to buy the latest cheap stock (which happens to be for a dummy company set up by the FBI). The FBI takes control of the call so that Neal is actually talking to Peter, not some poor sap in Cleveland like he was supposed to. Peter gives Neal a little bit of a run for his money (I guess that makes it a little more realistic-sounding), but ultimately Neal makes the sale and gets the job.

The boiler room is really more like a frat house than anything else- and a really lame frat house, at that. Women are relegated to taking down “client” information after the guys make the sale. The guys do plenty of socializing (I wouldn’t exactly call it “partying”) while off the clock at what looks like a posh cigar club. Neal’s boss brings him to the club to meet Avery, the “man behind the curtain.” It’s quickly apparent that Avery is in a heated dispute with his business partner. Neal’s boss explains that the business partner isn’t happy that Avery is running the current boiler room scam all on his own.

Agent Cruz suggests a plan for taking the boiler room down. The FBI should have somebody pretend to be the CEO of the fake pharmaceutical company whose stock is being sold in the boiler room scam. Neal, being snarky, suggests Peter because he looks trustworthy but also like he could be bought. Peter is not at all thrilled with Neal’s comment, but he agrees to the plan. He basically blackmails Avery, saying he’ll go to the authorities if Avery doesn’t agree to give him a share of the boiler room profit.

Both Neal and Peter are invited to a weekend shindig at Avery’s waterfront estate. The whole thing continues the really lame frat theme. For these guys, their idea of a good time is standing around and…skeet shooting. They all seriously look like they need to hop on over to the yacht club. The guys keep egging Neal on to shoot something, and eventually he relents, shooting perfectly. I’m wondering why so many TV characters these days feel that they have to say that they don’t like guns but know how to use them. I mean, I, unlike one Colonel John Casey, don’t love guns, but I’ve definitely heard a variant of this line on several shows, including Chuck and White Collar, and it seems like it’s just going out of its way to be politically correct.

Getting away from the boys with their guns, Avery and Peter talk business…in Avery’s state-of-the-art comic book preservation room. The room has quite the extreme fire suppression system. If a fire is detected, all the oxygen is sucked out of the room. Later, back at the shooting range by the water, Peter and Neal notice goons pushing the female informant into the house. Clearly Avery is suspicious of her. Peter has a desperate play to save the informant, and he needs Neal’s help. After a bit of resistance, Neal agrees. Peter tells Avery that Neal is a spy for Avery’s unhappy business partner. He convinces Avery that the right course of action isn’t to kill Neal, but flip him and have him spy on the business partner instead.

The plan is for Neal to tell the business partner that the stock is going to be dumped a week later than it actually is. Peter thinks the whole thing will be most effective if Neal plays each of the business partners against each other, so Neal tells the business partner about the plan. Obviously, he’s not pleased. Neal and Peter didn’t realize just how not pleased he would be, though. He shows up at the “dumped the stock” celebration to confront Avery. This of course leads to both business partners realizing that Neal isn’t who he says he is. By that time Neal is already in the comic book room, where he and Peter suspect Avery’s ledger is kept. Peter sees trouble coming and runs to the comic book room to warn Neal.

The warning comes too late. Peter and Neal are trapped in the comic book room when they set off the fire suppression system to avoid being shot by Avery. Before the party, Neal had been given a mini-breather with five minutes worth of air in case of this type of emergency. They hadn’t anticipated that both he and Peter would be stuck in the vault, though. Attempting to trust Peter again, Neal gives Peter the mini-breather and starts frantically looking for the fire suppression system kill switch. He finds it just before he passes out from lack of oxygen. Peter draws his gun and hits the switch. FBI back-up arrives just in time.

Peter rewards Neal’s show of trust by deciding to reveal the full truth about his meeting with Kate. It turns out that he met with Kate to tell her to stop bothering Neal, not for any nefarious purpose. This was kind of disappointing to me. Now, I didn’t wholeheartedly support going the “Peter is really evil!” route, because that would mess up the extremely fun character interaction between Peter and Neal. I wonder, however, if it was really necessary to go so overboard on the “look how GREAT Peter is” bit. Kate actually told Peter what the Man With the Ring (now pretty positively known to be Fowler) wants. Neal purportedly stole an amber music box back in the day, and that’s Kate’s price. The only problem is, Neal never really actually stole the music box- he just didn’t correct people when they thought he did.

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