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White Collar - 4.03 - Diminishing Returns - Recap / Review

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To get people in the mood I guess, we open to a montage of Neal shirtless - present day Neal at a mirror, past tense Neal running on the beach. We flash back to the "going home" line and a shave and a suit later, he's ready for work. Neal smiles at himself in the mirror and I get a curious desire to poll fans about whether they like Neal better scruffy or clean shaven. Peter joins Neal on his walk to the office and I can't shake the image of a big brother walking his little brother to school on the first day. It's heartwarming. Neal's leg is better. Peter's career is not. He's about to find where he'll be reassigned. Neal acknowledges how unfair the situation is to Peter, but Peter says it's only temporary. He is unhappy with the timing though because he has a case he wanted to re-open. Neal says he'll look into it but Peter says it's complicated. Peter thinks he's going to organized crime or vice, but it's much, much worse. He's stuck at the evidence warehouse because he can't go anywhere near active cases until Justice finishes their review. Poor Peter, you got majorly screwed. Neal will be under Jones and Diana's supervision until Peter's back. Hughes warns Peter to keep his nose clean so he can return quickly. Apparently there are some head honchos in the FBI who are not thrilled with Peter and are looking for a reason to dismiss him. Peter: "Evidence. How bad can it be?" Oh Peter, you just doomed yourself. And me.

Peter enters the world's least interesting Sam's, a warehouse of never-ending boxes stacked on more boxes. His new boss, Agent Patterson, comes to greet him and I realize not just Peter is getting punished. I am too. To say this boss is a jerk is an understatement. More like he's a man who feels powerful by breaking other people and making them feel inferior. A stickler for the rules, he tells Peter he's late, makes him clock in and out, and gives him the "I've got my eye on you" speech. Apparently Patterson must write daily reports to the review board on Peter's activity. Peter might as well be wearing an anklet now. At least he takes this all better than I would. His first job is to catalog sim cards from stolen cell phones by Friday - an entire flat worth. Patterson: "Welcome to the cave Burke." Neal drops with lunch, but Peter says he's too busy with 2,000 more cell phones. Patterson interrupts to kick Neal out so Peter and Neal head to the picnic area. Neal: "The sun's shining, fresh air, barbed wire. It all kind of reminds me of.." Peter: "Don't say it." Neal: "The yard." Peter says it's not jail but it sure feels like it to Neal and me. Not making waves will get Peter out faster and for me it can't be fast enough. Peter reminds Neal that he owes Peter the truth about his history. Neal confesses that his dad was a corrupt cop and Ellen arrested him. Since we already know all this, I am incredibly irritated when Patterson interrupts again to have Peter clean up spilled ink cartridges. Grrr! My nerves are already grated. Don't you dare keep me from learning about Neal's past - the story line I am most excited about this season. Peter: "To be continued. Sunshine needs me." Neal and I both snark as Peter heads back inside.

Neal also goes back to work for an unpleased Diana and Jones. He realizes his charm is not going to skate with them and I'm glad. Neal shouldn't get away with this scot-free while Peter is punished. Neal wants to re-open Peter's case and since he already finished 2 assignments that morning (busy beaver), they agree. Neal: "Look, it's my fault Peter's been re-assigned. I know that. The least I can do is to try to help solve something that matters to him." Agreed. 3 boxes of files later, Neal's after a criminal 20 years in the making. In the conference room, Neal recaps the case to Diana and Jones who already know the score so it's definitely for our benefit. The thief commits a robbery every 5 years to avoid being prosecuted for multiple thefts . Now I'm calling foul. If the statue of limitations for theft is only 5 years, shouldn't Neal's capers now be unprosecutable? All of his crimes took place before he went to jail. He was in jail for 4 years, ran, but didn't steal anything before Peter caught him again. He then spent over 2 years as Peter's CI, also without a theft. That's more than 5 years folks. If this thief can't be tried for a theft worth millions of dollars from 5 years ago, why can Kramer hold the Raphael theft over Neal's head? This is going to bug me from here on out. OK back to the recap. The thief also leaves behind Turkish Harmony tobacco at each crime scene, which seems like a stupid thing to do for a criminal that's obviously working the system. Peter went undercover as Peter Morris after the bank robbery, so Neal goes to ask him about it.

Meanwhile Peter is packing up to go home but Patterson makes him wait a full minute before his shift is officially over. It's awkward and unproductive and he's simply being a jerk with an ego problem. Neal asks about Peter's day. Peter: "It's a thrilling tale of a man's battle with carpal tunnel syndrome." Neal makes a big production of needing his help on the case, deferring to Peter's expertise. Peter exposits his role but says nothing concrete came from it. Peter: "I didn't get any takers or find any suspects. It's pretty thin." Neal: "Runway model thin, but we might be able to get her a sandwich." Ha! They found a water delivery truck theft with the same tobacco at the scene. Diana had it delivered to the warehouse so Peter could examine it without breaking protocol. He says they don't have the keys so Neal Macgyver's a way in with a wooden slat, coat hanger, and a metal disc. (Neal apparently keeps plastic gloves in his coat pocket for the emergency break-in.) They deduce that the man is shorter than 5' 11" from the seat and left handed from the way he tied a knot. Neal goes to get a suspect list. Peter goes home to a very sympathetic wife. El: "Do they know how many criminals you've taken off the street?" Peter: "I think it's the one I left on the street that's the problem." Their smooch is interrupted by Neal, who has good news. El: "Hey enough chit chat. Who is it?" I adore Elizabeth and her no nonsense way. The suspect is David Cook, a former bank teller. Neal wants Peter's thoughts on the water delivery truck but he says it's not his case. Neal counters that it's Peter that lead to the suspect in the first place and picks Peter's brain on how to catch him. Neal does an excellent job of making sure Peter feels like the team leader still. It's heartwarming. Peter complies. Cook is a super competitive control freak who went to the gym daily.

The next day Neal calls Peter with an update. Hughes approved the surveillance and Cook plays squash weekly. Neal claims in 10 years Cook traded up from baseball to squash. Peter: "I like the guy even less now. Nobody trades up from baseball." Ha! Patterson plays Little Lord Dictator to bust Peter for making a private call. Annoying schmuck! He needs to go now. Later Peter waits for his phone to ring and El calls him on it. "Yes, you're off duty but you still have a badge." El tells him to go join the case. "You're an FBI agent, Peter Burke. Go get your job back." She is the most amazing, supportive wife on TV. I love scenes with the Burkes together. Peter heads to the surveillance van. As Neal texts Peter, he walks in and asks what's going on. Neal: "Just a convict and a FBI agent watching TV." Bwah! They tap into the health club's security and see Cook protecting his bag. Neal suggests Peter go undercover as Peter Morris again to approach Cook in the club. Neal: "What? You were busted for larceny. We're about to bust him for larceny. You two have a lot to talk about." Lots of great lines in this episode. Peter asks what he should talk about. Neal: "You could ask him if he's stolen any water delivery trucks lately?" Yeah…maybe not. Plan B is to challenge Cook to a squash game. Peter is rusty but it sure beats Plan A. Peter: "It's been awhile since I played squash." Neal: "Well I hear it's like riding a bike." Peter: "From who?" Neal: "I'm sure that someone said that once." Ladies and gentleman, we have classic Peter and Neal banter. Welcome back White Collar! After squelching Peter's final objection by purchasing ridiculously overpriced sweats at the club's shop, Plan B is a go.

Neal wants to join the club because it has exercise benefits. Peter: "So does flight from prosecution. Good cardio." Bwah! Watching Cook's impressive squash skills, Neal gives Peter tips on how to best rile him. It's a game of one-uppence. Neal breaks into Cook's locker while Cook challenges Peter to a game with a $5,000 wager. That may be hard to explain to Elizabeth. Luckily Neal finds Cook's unprotected cell phone complete with hidden water cooler camera. He's watching a diamond shop with it. Neal's still looking for info when Cook pulls a muscle and heads to the locker room for an ice pack. Peter signals Neal to back off and he manages to get the lock back on and slip out but he still has Cook's phone. Peter and Neal do that silent conversation thing where they tell each other what they need through head nods and gestures. It's fun to see them so in sync. Neal tosses the phone to Peter who tosses it in the bag while Cook is looking in his locker. Whew, that was close. Cook calls rematch and Peter claims, "Believe me, once I start something I always like to see it through." Back in the van Neal exposits the diamond shop to Peter who questions their game of "hot potato." By sketching the floor plan, Neal wants to narrow down possible targets. Peter and Diana go back to his house to check out which shops have water delivery service. Jones and Neal are at the office when Jones finds out Cook slipped surveillance. Diana crosses off one shop on the list and Neal crosses off three. Why? Both: "Ring shopping's not really my thing." Bwah! Elizabeth crosses off one too and they've got their target. I love when the whole team works together. Alas they arrive too late. Cook's already pulled off the heist.

Neal heads home after a disappointing day only to find his ice wines drained, his balcony invaded, and….Mozzie's back!!! I missed you sir even though it's only been 28 minutes. Neal missed him too. Aawww! Neal mentions Moz's clean shaven look and realizes, "You've retired from retirement." Mozzie: "Good partnerships are hard to find." Again, aaww! It's impossible to pick my favorite pairing tonight. It's all spot-on goodness. Neal asks about his new buddies and Moz tosses it off as just people he met along the way. He's currently winning the game they are playing although he has no idea what it is. Bwah! Classic Mozzie. After the game is over and the guests go home, Neal and Moz talk about the treasure (safely hidden) and Peter (not so good). Moz correctly surmises that "he returned from our balmy tropics to much harsher weather." Neal fills him in on Peter's cell phone duty. Moz: "Endless cages filled with contraband." Neal : "It's not as nice as it sounds." Ha! Peter's nightmare is Mozzie's potential treasure. Neal explains about getting Peter's job back and fills Moz in on the case. Cook has gone underground but Moz can find his fence. Neal: "It's good to have you back." Now that's an understatement.

Neal calls Peter with a plan and stresses that only Peter can catch him or the plan won't work. Peter waffles but Neal's plan is for off the clock hours. He gets Peter on board by reminding him that if they don't get Cook now, they'll have to wait another 5 years. Peter heads to Neal's place to hear how Mozzie, aka Neal's street contact, found the fence. Peter: "Hmm, do I know any of these reliable street contacts?' Neal: "You probably prefer not to." Good point. Neal suggests Peter make a play for the fence's business which will cause Cook to fast track his own deal with her. When Cook arrives with the diamonds, Peter arrests both Cook and Rina the fence hopefully resulting in Peter getting his old job back. Bonus- it can all happen before Peter needs to be at the warehouse. June, although sadly not on screen, pitches in too. She supplies 3 real colored diamonds and Neal adds 2 fake clear diamonds. Peter fears Rina won't be fooled but Neal trains him in the art of manipulation so that Rina concentrates on the real gems first. Cook should be there before she gets to the fakes. Peter has Rina call Cook to vouch for him, starting the rivalry. Once he is on his way, Peter leads Rina to check out the blue diamond through fiddling with his blue handkerchief and tie. The canary gets a thumbs up and the pink is all about rhyming words - think, drink, etc. I really hope people are not as easy to manipulate as this appears. It's kind of scary. Cook breaks in right on time and Peter escalates the competition until Cook flashes his score. The FBI heads in but Peter looks at his watch and disappears. They arrest Cook but can't find Peter. Sadly Patterson can and he's quick to point out that Peter is 2 minutes late. However he is willing to overlook it since the cell phones are finished ahead of deadline. Peter is surprised to see them all categorized…until he sees Mozzie walking out of the warehouse in an FBI jacket. Ha! I do love Mozzie.

I love Peter and Neal picnic conversations too and we join them as Peter explains why he walked away. Peter is glad to have closure, but I don't buy that it was either closure or his old job. I, like Neal, think he can have both but the point is moot as we begin a more interesting topic - Neal's past. Neal explains that Ellen was like a mother to him since his mom couldn't deal with his dad's betrayal. Peter pieces together that Neal was in Witness Protection. This shocked me because I never considered that but I admit it makes a whole lot of sense. Bang up job writers! This is better than anything I imagined. Neal entered Witness Protection in St. Louis when he was 3 after his dad admitted to murder. I would bet good money that his dad was framed. Neal says he never found out who his dad murdered but that's implausible, mostly because although he was Danny Brooks all his life Ellen told him his real name was Neal and his mom's maiden name was Caffrey. (Finally the origin of Neal's name.) He's one Google search away from the newspaper accounts and I find it hard to believe he didn't pursue it. Neal says he wanted to be like his hero cop dad as a kid and he guesses he did. Peter: "No you didn't. You're not a killer." Neal: "No…no but I'm a criminal." At 18, Neal Caffrey was born. He left without getting the facts and now he wants to know. Peter encourages him to talk to Ellen. I love that and Neal does.

Ellen and Neal are on his balcony but she's reticent to tell him the whole story, saying some things are better staying closed. Still Neal has to know and she begins. His father's name was James. A fellow officer requested backup from Ellen in a meeting with James. When Ellen showed up the officer was dead and James' prints were on the gun. He said he was innocent and Ellen investigated but as soon as she found something, James confessed and they were all whisked off to St. Louis. Neal: "Ellen I need to understand who he was. You said there were lines my father would never cross but he did. I need to know who I am." You don't have to watch cop shows to know he was blackmailed into confessing. My guess is he confessed to keep his wife and son alive. Finding out his dad went to jail to save him should rock Neal's preconceived world. I'm also betting Neal's dad is still alive.

While this episode was less packed than the first too, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It laid the framework for the rest of the season and I loved hearing about Neal's past. I only wish Ellen could stick around longer. She's awesome. Besides the back story, I thought there were nice parallels here. In the first two episodes, we clearly see how much Neal means to Peter. In this one we see Neal not only hellbent to get Peter's job back but also conscious of making sure Peter feels needed and still in charge as much as he can. He purposely keeps asking Peter for his opinion in order to make clear that he still reports to Peter no matter what the FBI says. I thought that was a nice touch. As always Elizabeth and Mozzie rocked every scene they were in and I am particularly fond of Mozzie doing Peter's job. Again it's a clear sign of respect and an effort to get Peter back to where he belongs. My biggest issue with this episode was the 5 year statute of limitations inconsistency and it still really bugs me in my third rewatch. I hope it get explained at sometime because I do not get it. I also agree with others who say the case was less challenging than most. This actually bothers me less because the focus was Peter and Neal's relationship instead of the case this time. A more complex case would have taken away from that dynamic and I think would have ultimately hurt the episode. All in all, I think this season has started out really strong and I look forward to seeing where Neal's dad fits into everything.

Screencap by Midnight Road

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