Episode Title: “At What Price”
Writers: Jeff Eastin and Joe Henderson
Director: Stefan Schwartz
Previously on “White Collar:”
“White Collar” returns with a season opener that suggests a major shift in Peter (Tim DeKay) and Neal’s (Matt Bomer) dangerously undefined relationship that could put the good friends and partners at odds with one another, yet again.
With Peter on the verge of being indicted for the murder of Senator Pratt, Neal is forced to make a deal with the man who bought him his freedom. Way back when, Neal helped Peter catch professional forger, Curtis Hagen a.k.a. “The Dutchman” (Mark Sheppard). Now up for an appeal, Hagen offers to get Peter off the hook in exchange for two million dollars in Welsh gold coins.
With the indictment hearing just days away and no other options (Neal doesn’t like Mozzie’s plan to airlift Peter out of prison), Neal makes a deal with the devil that puts him in a very tight spot, working with both Peter and Hagen at the same time.
In exchange for the coins, Hagen agrees to get the prosecutor to drop the charges if Neal can provide sufficient evidence proving Peter’s innocence. With a little help from Mozzie (Willie Garson), he creates a fake recording of James’ confessing to Pratt’s murder. Peter is cleared, but there’s still the matter of procuring the coins from a private vault. Neal and Mozzie employ a “backdraft” con in which Mozzie poses as a jumper atop a building causing the fire department to show up and evacuate the premises. Meanwhile, Neal, posing as a firefighter, breaks through a wall inside the building connected to the vault and steals the coins. It’s a brilliant plan, but like most “White Collar” heists, there’s a few hiccups to keep things interesting.
Mozzie takes on the persona of a crazed conspiracy theorist only to find the cop talking him off the ledge is just as convinced the Vatican is harboring evidence of alien life as he is. Neal manages to save Mozzie from going into psychiatric custody, but is forced to hand over the tank containing the coins to a lieutenant.
With the coins sitting inside a tank in the firehouse and Peter and his team investigating the heist, Neal and Mozzie are in their first big jam of the new season. Some quick thinking on the duo’s part at the fire station allows Neal to pass the coins to Mozzie while Peter, the chief and his nephew are distracted by a grease fire. But after four seasons of watching Neal slip in and out of trouble, Peter knows something is up.
And here’s where things get really interesting. Peter’s learned a thing or two watching Neal and Mozzie do what they do so well, which is why he suspects Neal’s ankle bracelet has been compromised when it shows Neal sitting in the same spot for four hours. He’s right of course, as we see Mozzie demo the signal looper he made for the bracelet, earlier in the episode. That and Neal’s sudden disappearance at the firehouse have Peter thinking something not right. And as proud as he may be of his friend, Neal (for getting James to confess to murder instead of attempting to break him out of jail. Wait until he finds out the truth.), he’s still a criminal. And with that in mind, Peter outfits him with a new ankle bracelet and informs him that after his promotion to ASAC goes through, Neal will have a new handler which a much more objective approach to working with a criminal.
To sum it all up, Peter is too close to Neal to keep working with him and stay out of jail. We know nothing will ever break these two up, perhaps until the series finale. But a temporary separation will definitely complicate things. Especially considering Neal’s arrangement with Hagen. After handing over the coins, Neal learns it’s him Hagen was after. He shows Neal damning footage of him breaking into the vault, which he threatens to turn over to the feds unless Neal ensures his upcoming appeal goes through.
It’s a tall order, considering Neal is going to have a newer, stricter baby sitter and an unhacked ankle bracelet to contend with, but a great way to start the new season. The show’s been touching on the divide between Neal and Peter more and more in the past couple of seasons. James’ betrayal, which landed Peter in jail, makes that divide impossible to ignore. He may love Neal like a son, but that makes it awfully hard to see him as the criminal he is. Now, what will Peter do to distance himself from Neal and what will Neal do to distance himself from….himself?