Saturday, March 6, 2010

White Collar 1.11: "Bottlenecked"

“Sounds like checkmate to me”


“Bottlenecked” gave us a bit more of a look into Neal’s past and a bit more of the music box saga, although I didn’t find it as compelling as Alex’s initial introduction. Overall, it was an entertaining episode, but not one of the series’ more memorable entries. Peter got to be a bit devious and be successful at it, and Neal and Mozzie got played but came out winners in the end anyway. Come to think of it, that last bit might be more of a problem with the show than a good thing, but I’ll get to that later.

This was another episode where Neal’s backstory and the case of the week were woven together. The whole shebang starts off with Neal hanging in his apartment with Mozzie. Neal has received another post card from his mysterious anonymous chess opponent, but this time it’s different. This time it has no postmark, and it actually has a picture on the front- a picture of the Natural History Museum. As soon as Neal sees his opponent’s move, he knows his opponent’s identity. It’s his old rival, Keller.

Neal comes into the office early to read a case file on the recent heist at the Museum of Natural History. Peter, who also arrives early, is surprised to see Neal taking an interest in such a small time case. Neal’s just a little pissed at himself that he got caught. A man named Campos was arrested for the crime, but Peter picks up pretty quickly on the fact that Neal thinks somebody else was acting as puppet master. To Neal’s chagrin, Peter decides to help Neal with the investigation. Their first stop is to visit Campos, who is out on bail. That plan doesn’t go well, to say the least. They are approaching Campos’ house when a man is run over by a speeding car. It’s Campos. His wife’s screams as she looks on from the open front door of their house make for a chilling act break.

After looking over the list of things stolen from the museum, Neal has a pretty good inkling of what’s going on. He and Keller had thought up a challenge for themselves once- to forge a bottle of French wine that once belonged to Benjamin Franklin. It is said to be an impossible task. Word is that it’s in the hands of a private collector, but no one knows the collector’s identity. The stolen items all contained materials that could be used in the forgery. Neal has to fess up to Peter that he knows the identity of the puppet master. Neal’s theory is backed up when it is announced that the Franklin Bottle is going to be part of the annual wine auction at Weatherby’s.

The owner of Weatherby’s refuses to disclose the current owner of the bottle, but after Peter pretends that a Chinese restaurant menu is a warrant, he discloses the owner’s broker. Her name is Grace Quinn, and she runs a super upscale wine cellar. I like that Peter pulled this trick. It’s maybe a little morally questionable, but it’s nice to see Peter loosen up every now and again. Neal even comments about how he’s been a bad influence on Peter. Peter also manages to dig up some other interesting information. Keller used the Russian mob to bankroll a heist, and they want their money back. Forging the Franklin Bottle could be his get-rich-quick scheme to pay them off.

Keller left Neal a message in the wine cellar, which Neal discovered when he went to scope the place out, pretending to be a wine broker himself. The message leads Neal to a construction site, where Keller tells him that he wants to start up the Franklin Bottle challenge again. Keller even gives Neal an old bottle with which to start his forgery.

Neal manipulates Peter into actually giving permission to forge his own Franklin Bottle, and it’s pretty amusing to watch. He even convinces Peter to be part of the forging process. If Neal produces a forgery, too, the auction house is going to have to run tests on both bottles, and both should fail. This would expose Keller as a forger. The one ingredient Mozzie can’t come up with is a few shavings of wax that are close to the age of the Franklin Bottle. It’s Neal’s plan to get the wax shavings that involves Peter. Peter is going to play Neal’s client at an exclusive wine tasting at Gloria’s wine cellar. Peter’s a little reluctant at first, but Neal appeals to his sense of justice, saying that it’s about catching a killer.

A wine tasting isn’t exactly Peter’s comfort zone, but he performs admirably, sounding even more pretentious than Neal. Peter gets Neal into the wine vault where Neal can get some wax shavings, but the plan is interrupted by Keller. Keller is so obnoxious that Peter instantly understands why Neal can’t stand him. There’s an abrupt change in Peter’s attitude at this point that I don’t quite buy. Yeah, Keller is annoying, but Peter is nothing if not a man of principle, and as the plot takes more twists and turns, he keeps agreeing to the crazy things Neal wants to do because he can’t stand Keller.

At the auction, the owner of Weatherby’s doesn’t want to let Peter and Neal’s Franklin Bottle into the auction. Peter is one step ahead of him, though. He essentially blackmails the guy, saying that he knows Weatherby’s sold more of a certain rare type of wine than was produced. A cesium test (the test that makes it impossible to forge the Franklin Bottle, because it tests properties of the actual wine) is ordered. Peter and Neal are shocked by the results. Keller’s bottle is the real Franklin Bottle. Keller has created all this intrigue to artificially inflate the price.

Peter still watns to arrest Keller for something, and Neal tells him he can arrest him for trespassing on that construction site. This begins a rather unsuccessful sting of a parking garage, where the FBI finds Keller’s car, but Keller has escaped. Since Keller can’t be watching the auction if he’s running, Neal has Mozzie bid a million dollars on the Franklin Bottle, and it’s the winning bid. Meanwhile, the FBI has been following Keller’s movements using traffic cameras. Neal has a pretty good guess at where Keller is headed.

Keller is about to get into a helicopter with the Russians when Neal stops him. Since he didn’t have a million dollars, Weatherby’s is giving him one week to get the money together. Peter is also going to be launching a full blown investigation into the Bottle, which could take quite a long time. Bottom line is that it will be a while before Keller ever sees a dime from the sale, and the Russians are beyond antsy. Keller surrenders himself to the FBI rather than face the wrath of the Russian mob. Once again, Neal and Peter have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. I think the show would be more interesting if they failed once in a while. The episodes are becoming rather formulaic and somewhat predictable. It’s still worth watching for the character interaction, but not so much for the plotting.

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