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White Collar - Uncontrolled Variables - Recap / Review and Episode Awards

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Previously - Woodford runs the Pink Panthers (still makes me giggle), Neal infiltrated them, so did Keller, and El is pregnant.

On a busy street, Neal and Mozzie debate the trustworthiness of Interpol while Mozzie carries a red and gold box. Moz: "Interpol is not to be trusted, Neal." Neal: "You say that about every institution - NASA, PETA, even NPR." Ha! If I remember right, he also doesn't trust the March of Dimes. They both agree Interpol is stupid for trusting Keller though and it's hard to argue with that. Neal looks for the silver lining. "The good news is that now we know what Keller's up to. We have leverage." Moz: "As does he. You do realize that mutually assured destruction still contains the word destruction, right?" Good point. Neal has no counterargument so he turns the conversation to Mozzie's gift for El. Hideous might be the best word for the doll inside. Neal: "If I poke its leg with a pin, does Peter feel it?" Bwah! Moz says it’s a sarubobo, a Japanese good luck amulet specifically for mothers-to-be. It's more likely to cause Japanese horror film nightmares, but to each their own. Moz also informs Neal that he's to be Elizabeth's doula, except she doesn't know it yet. Good luck with that one. A phone call from the Panthers interrupts and Mozzie's hurt that he can't go to the meeting but Neal assures him that when the time's right he'll bring Moz in. The Feds are more concerned with figuring out who Keller's handler is. They can't trace Keller's tracker because they turn it off whenever he is with the Panthers so Diana suggests they scout anyone near the meet location. Peter: "While you're meeting the Panthers, we'll say hi to whoever was dumb enough to let Keller out of prison." And how will they accomplish that? Why with those nifty product placed car features White Collar is practically synonymous with. Go Pro takes pictures of everyone in the area. All this practice and these ads still stick out laughably. Oh, White Collar.

Meanwhile Neal realizes they were duped by Keller. There's no Pink Panthers meeting. Instead he wants to talk because Woodford is partnering them up to get into a tech company's vault, copy the data, and leave without anyone knowing it's gone. While it sounds simple, it isn't. Keller suggests cozying up to a secretary named Amy, who is the only person besides the boss with access to the vault. Neal: "She smiles easily, makes eye contact. She's a good person." Keller: "That makes her an easy mark." Neal: "No, that means you don't have a shot." Very true. Keller screams thug. Neal wants to try another way, but Keller insists. Enter Chef Neal, who approaches her at a farmer's market. He helps her identify a kohlrabi, the only item in the whole place apparently not marked. I hadn't heard of it either, honey. Neal and Amy bond over a love for New York City as Peter and Diana look for Keller's handler, likely someone with a skinny tie and Bono glasses according to Diana. Peter: "I could pull off Bono glasses." Diana: "I would love to see you try." So would we all. Someone please make a manip of it. At last Peter spots his man and sits down next to him. "It's hard enough putting the bad guys in prison without the good guys letting them out." Luc Renaud, Keller's handler, calls Peter out on his hypocrisy and snarks about taking so long to find him. Peter wants to work together but Luc prefers to solo it. This is not going well. Luckily for Neal, Amy is far more impressed. Still their meeting stalls until Keller enters and comes on too strong so Neal can "rescue" her by pretending to be her boyfriend. Neal offers to walk her to her office. "It's just me and some jicama. You can trust me." Amy: "I mean apparently you are my boyfriend." Neal: "Well that's a first because I've never had a girlfriend whose name I didn't know." Score! Neal is in. He tries for a lunch date but she can't leave her job during the day. She counters with dinner and gives him her card. That won't allow him to scope the place out.

Skulking by the office, Keller joins Neal after she goes inside. They both take sole credit for getting this far but it was a team effort. If Keller wasn't so likely to kill, they'd make a good team. Neal disagrees. He calls watching Keller work "physically painful," and I am surprised by Keller's self-control in the midst of Neal's insults. I'd snark right back. Peter's call interrupts them so Neal and Keller join both handlers at Neal's place. Seriously, Neal has no privacy. Anyone and their cousin has free access to come and go as they please. Keller: "Good to see you again, Burky. How's your wife?" Oh no, you didn't. Are you insane? If I were Peter, I'd pistol whip him for that comment alone much less their history. No one kidnaps Elizabeth and gets away with it. Fortunately, Peter has better self-control than I do and the meeting continues. He again suggests teamwork but Luc counters, "Give me Neal and step aside." Neal: "Oh dream on, Inspector Clouseau." Bwah! Neal makes a Pink Panther joke like I've been doing in my head all season long. Peter is less amused and lays down the line. They're on American soil so either Luc plays nice or Peter dropkicks him back to France. I'm good with that. I'm also good with Diana and El bonding time, especially given Diana's reaction to Mozzie's gift. Diana: "I know it doesn't have eyes, but I swear it's staring at me." Ha! She tells El she's lucky to have a partner to raise her baby. El's not so sure because the FBI takes up all of Peter's time. It's a fair point, but Diana reassures her that Peter will make time for this baby. Diana: "Having a baby changes everything. Just try not to let it change what the two of you already have." Great advice.

The next morning Moz joins Neal after his shift at the building Neal needs to infiltrate. Neal: "How were your adventures in the janitorial nightshift?" Moz: "A stark reminder that I shouldn't touch doorknobs with my bare hands or tables or anything." Good plan. He opens a map of the layout and exposits that Amy has to open the vault since it takes fingerprint and iris scans. Neal: "I hate to say it but I think we need Keller for this." Moz: "Great. Afterwards I have a henhouse he can guard." Touché. Neal gives Moz the test run meal he painstakingly created, which is also his excuse to enter the building. It's not my thing but whatever Amy just microwaved doesn't look appealing either. Neal: "Since you can't leave your desk for lunch, I thought I'd bring lunch to you." Aww, that's a super sweet gesture…for someone about to rob her. She's duly impressed right until she sees Keller in a guard uniform. Neal unplugs the phone and plays into her paranoia. "You guys are a tech firm, right? It's not like you keep any valuables around." She checks out the vault and Mozzie slips in while Neal distracts her. Sadly, it doesn't matter. Inside is a computer older than me, complete with massive floppy disks. That won't fit on Mozzie's flash drive. Mozzie: "Hello 1970's. Looks like I brought a light saber to a knife fight. This is not good." No it isn't, but it is plenty smart. Hard to hack that way. Mozzie has no choice but to take the floppy disk with him, which makes no one happy. Luc: "What's a Mozzie?" Keller: "Oh it's Caffrey's soul mate." Ha! I like that description. He does seem more soul mate than anyone Neal has dated. They just get each other. Luc protests Mozzie's involvement but pretty much everyone and their brother shuts him up. Good. Mozzie joins them to say, "The only way to access the Exodus file is to go back to the future."

Which is going to be difficult. According to Diana and Jones, the floppy uses an outdated specialized system. It will be almost impossible to find a computer that can read it unless they go back to 1971. Jones: "Yeah the primordial ooze of magnetic storage." Diana: "It holds a whopping 80 kilobytes." Yikes! I am so glad to be in the golden age of cloud storage and flash drives. Peter flips out about the disk being stolen in the first place while Luc ponders why a tech firm is using such ancient equipment. Jones: "Cold War era tech, it's the new firewall." Basically it's less hackable and isn't susceptible to internet thieves. Jones claims that the same system is used by the Department of Defense for launch code storage. If it's true, that's pretty smart. Since Plan A is a bust, Luc suggests forcing Amy to put the floppy back into the vault but Neal protests. A lot. He doesn't want her to get hurt by their con. Peter agrees with Luc because if they don't return it Amy is still screwed. She'll be blamed for the theft. Compromising, Neal and Peter agree to a plan. Neal will invite her over to dinner and sometime during it, they will put the floppy in her purse. They better hope she's carrying a huge purse to put that thing in. It's the size of a vinyl record. Sadly it means Amy will know Neal conned her and he's not excited about that, although he does decide to make it the world's least interesting dinner date to soften the blow. I'm not sure someone as charming as Neal can actually pull off boring.

That night while Neal puts his plan in action, Peter invites Luc to his house where Mozzie works on the disc. El is not excited. El: "Oh, the man who let my kidnapper go free. Welcome." Ouch! Peter explains Moz's predilection for avoiding authority to Luc but all that matters is Mozzie nicknames him Le Suit. I am totally using this. He's also deeply offended when Luc tells him that he doesn't drink alcohol because he hates the taste. Mozzie: "Have you been scanned for a brain tumor?" Ha, but I'm with Le Suit this time. Peter gets Moz back on track and he explains the yard sale variety of parts he traded for. Moz warns that it will take a lot of time and wine to decode the system. Peter warns that Neal doesn't have a lot of time so wine must wait. After much hostility to Le Suit and impatience from Peter, Moz's first attempt is unsuccessful. Moz: "It's not like loading a dishwasher. It's more like making a seating arrangement for a wedding. Putting the right people together so that they might actually talk to each other." He makes an adjustment and viola, dot matrix printing. Yikes! Why not bring back dial-up too? Meanwhile at Neal's, Amy arrives and Neal seems increasingly nervous about breaking her heart so he discusses flounder versus sole and varieties of wine to bore her. Amy: "It's better to drink it than to talk about it." True! He successfully ditches her kiss but then teaches her how to cut leeks. Thankfully June enters when things are about to get very personal. She is Neal's backup plan to keep this date more casual. In a brilliant move, she helps continue the fish conversation while inviting herself to the meal. BWAH! Peter calls to update Neal but his crush on Amy gives Neal cold feet. Sadly there is no other alternative. He rejoins June and Amy, who girl talk and make plans for brunch. Then June makes a hasty exit. Hmm, traitor. She obviously has plans of her own.

So does Amy who says dinner can wait. I knew Neal couldn't have a date without sparks. He attempts to wax poetic about June's kindness but Amy kisses him and that's the end of platonic…until Amy's boss calls and tells her the disk has been stolen. Instant damper on the date. She tells Neal she's going to be fired and the whole thing puts the con game back into perspective. While it's fun to watch Neal, they rarely show the everyday people who get shafted in their attempts to take down the bad guys. I still feel bad for Pamela Smith from the episode Withdrawal because I am sure she got fired or at least written up after helping Neal when he tested the bank security. Still I'm not sure why they are pushing the consequences on Neal now unless it has something to do with his decision in the finale. Speaking of, it might take until the finale for this dot matrix printer to churn out 80 kilobytes of data. I can't believe we ever worked that slowly. When it finally finishes, Peter recognizes it as some kind of algorithm while Mozzie as always spouts his conspiracy theories. LeSuit: "You are a most peculiar man." Ha! Very true. Mozzie hands over the floppy, which Peter takes before LeSuit can. "My CI, my mission." LeSuit: "To you, it's a mission. To me, it's everything." There's definitely back story here but we aren't privy to, and I hope we learn it sooner rather than later. They both posture and Mozzie's had enough. Mozzie: "Two suits acting like suits is two suits too many. Oh and again, you're welcome." They never do properly thank him for his genius. I appreciate you, Moz. Neal calls to let Peter know about Amy's boss and Peter suggests they tell him the truth. LeSuit disagrees and while Peter is getting changed, he steals the disk back and gives it to Keller.

Keller heads to Amy's place at the same time Neal walks her back home. It's a recipe for disaster. On the sidewalk, Neal plays all sympathetic about her plight and she still falls for it although by this time most people would be suspicious. As Neal and she say goodnight, Keller breaks in and Peter calls Neal to warn him. Too late, Amy catches Keller with the disk and he in turn pulls out a knife. Neal arrives just in time stop him from gutting her. It's all hero stuff except Keller spills the beans on their partnership. Uh oh. Keller: "He's a con man, okay? You've been conned, but don't feel special alright. You're not his first victim. He's done this to people all over the world. Right kid?" Don't sugarcoat it, Keller. What a douche. Neal admits the truth but there's no way he's going to let Keller kill Amy. Therein lies the biggest difference between them and what makes their contentious relationship so intriguing. Neal outthinks the situation. He tells Amy to confess that she alone took the disc, which she of course balks at. However Neal talks her through how to leverage the disk theft into a promotion, basically blackmailing her way to the top in exchange for the Pink Panthers not killing her. Only Neal can spin theft into doing the company a favor by exposing its weaknesses. At first, it looks like she's going to follow Neal's plan. She even dresses more cutthroat for the meeting instead of the sweet waif look she's been sporting so far. However when Amy leaves the meeting she tells Neal she quit. Then she straight up smacks him. Good for her. Amy: "I don't use and manipulate people to get what I want. I'm not like you. Thank you for making me realize I don't belong in this city." Ouch! I think the way she looks at Neal hurts him more than the slap. He deserves it and he knows it.

Back at the FBI, Jones and Diana explain the algorithm to Peter. It's a random generator that arbitrarily decides what packages get sent to which airports and on what flights. Basically something big is being shipped but the Panthers can't steal it because no one knows where it's being shipped to and when. Jones: "No one knows who's flying or where until the algorithm chooses…and without planning, it's almost an impossible heist." They need the algorithm to find a specific package. Or person. We really don't know yet. Again smart move by this security company. Through the conference room window, Peter sees LeSuit and I have a feeling a not so comfortable conversation awaits. Peter summons him to his office to confront him, but LeSuit plays dumb about why he's angry. He has a definite "ends justify the means" attitude, even when Peter points out that Keller almost killed Amy. Peter: "My CI is the only reason you and I aren't both mall cops right now." LeSuit: "Does it matter anymore?" Um, YES!!! Of course it does. Peter: "I will not risk an innocent life." LeSuit: "And I will do whatever's necessary to bring down the Panthers." It feels like they killed someone he loved to be honest and I'm hoping the real story is compelling because this guy is a complete douche. If he doesn't become sympathetic soon, he's the first one I'm rooting for the Panthers to take out. Basically Luc tells Peter he's going to do whatever he wants with or without Peter's help. Peter: "How about I arrest you right now for interfering with an FBI investigation? Interpol said you didn't exist. We have places we can put you where you don't." Yikes! Peter isn't playing anymore. He's a little scary, truth be told.

Neal and Mozzie aren't happy either - Neal with the Amy debacle and Mozzie with LeSuit. Neal: "I never should have put Amy in harm's way." Moz: "Oh you mean Keller's way." Neal: "Even worse." Moz: "There is no worse except maybe Luc. He has me seriously reconsidering my Francophilia." Neal bright sides that at least they know where LeSuit stands. Moz: "He's a Frenchman who doesn't drink wine. He's capable of anything." Ha! Neal muses about how this is not the life he wanted. He doesn't want to hurt people. Mozzie sympathizes but it is the cost of conning, something Neal has grown less comfortable with the longer he's been with the FBI. Moz quotes WC Fields. "You can't cheat an honest man." But that's not true and Neal cites Amy as a good example of that. He screwed her future up, but Mozzie is right too. He did give her a future by protecting her from Keller. It's a good philosophical debate. El has one too. When Peter comes home, she is all dressed up to go out. Peter: "You look hot." Yes, she does. She says she wants spontaneity, but the conversation really shows she wants reassurance that Peter won't let his job get in the way of raising their baby. El: "I know you do important work but being a father is important too." Peter: "I spent years dreaming of being a dad and I don't want to miss one second of it. I am going to love watching you be a mom." Awww, he couldn't have said anything more perfect. El: "We're going to be great parents. Let's just not lose this. Us." He promises they never will and they decide to be really late to dinner. This is why the Burkes are my favorite married couple on TV. They communicate openly and obviously love each other first and foremost instead of cutting each other down. It's a great example of what marriage can be in a sea of Hollywood's spotlight of adultery and bitterness. It's rare when TV provides a good role model for us all.

Sadly Neal doesn't find himself in as good of company. He plays chess by himself in the park when Keller joins him. Neal: "Don't sit. It's more challenging playing against myself." Ouch! Keller takes it in stride but Neal isn't done. Apparently he called Keller to ream him about Amy. "Breaking into her apartment, going for your knife - that was a very fat line you crossed." Keller shows no remorse, of course. They discuss mutually assured destruction again, but Neal isn't bending. He threatens to tell the Panthers everything if Keller tries it again. Keller: "Collateral damage is a con man's byproduct, Caffrey." Neal says he isn't like Keller, but Keller disagrees. "So you've got it all figured out? Take down the Panthers, we get our freedom, and then what? Live happily ever after?" Neal: "Yeah something like that." Who's wearing rose colored glasses now, Neal? He can't be that naïve and Keller drives the point home. Even from behind bars, the Panthers will hunt them and they won't stop until they're both dead. Keller: "Until then, guess who they go after? People closest to you and they may get hurt, Caffrey. They may get hurt so bad that you'll wish that they found you. So you enjoy this freedom you're working so hard to get because when you're footloose and fancy free, those people that you love so much are on death row." Keller calls checkmate and walks away, leaving a visibly shaken Neal. He didn't think about how his freedom would affect others and now he needs a new game plan. My bet is he plans to fake his own death. I hope not but there doesn't seem to be much of a choice at this point.

The final season continues to move at a brisk pace and while I think the first 2 episodes were better, this is likely the turning point for Neal and probably sets up the "shocking" finale. The best part of the episode was watching Keller as a foil for Neal. If Neal were slightly less charming and a lot more rough around the edges, if he hadn't picked up gentlemanly traits from Adler or had a good heart at his core, he would be Keller. To see them work together emphasizes that point. Where Neal schmoozes a kindhearted woman, Keller goes for bullying. Where Neal wants to avoid collateral damage, Keller wants the most efficient play no matter who gets hurt. While Keller is a realist about their situation, Neal is dreaming of happily ever after. A similar dichotomy comes with Peter and LeSuit. I am sure LeSuit has a personal reason for wanting the Panthers busted, but his methods are just as ruthless as Keller's. Unlike Pete, he's not so much into bending the rules sometimes as he is into smashing them altogether to get what he wants. No wonder this guy didn't hesitate to use a sociopath like Keller. He may be one too. All in all, I liked almost everything about this episode. I have no idea what the purpose of the gift or Diana's visit to El was and I don't know where El's new anxiety comes from, but otherwise it was a compelling episode. Only 3 more episodes left. I hope that the foreshadowing of Neal playing dead isn't where this is heading but either way, I'm enjoying the ride.

Grade: B

Best Reason to Watch - Keller vs. Neal
Best Nickname - Mozzie calls the Interpol handler, Le Suit
Best Plan - the tech company keeps their data on ancient floppies so it can't be hacked / Neal uses June as an Amy diversion
Biggest Foreshadowing - Keller tells Neal that taking down the Panthers puts everyone he loves in danger
Best Return - June is always a plus
Most Uncomfortable Meeting - Peter and Le Suit joined by Neal and Keller
Creepiest Gift Ever - Moz gives El a sarubobo
Most Admirable - Amy, who doesn't blackmail herself to the top
Biggest Product Placement - BMW's Go Pro features
Most Fortunate - Keller because if I were Peter, I’d have pistol whipped him for that Elizabeth comment
Most Gentlemanly - Neal fights to keep Amy out of it and tells her how to keep her job
Biggest Ouch - Keller rats Neal out to Amy
Best Quotes -
1. Moz: "You do realize that mutually assured destruction still contains the word destruction, right?"
2. Mozzie: "Two suits acting like suits is two suits too many."

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About the Author - Dahne
One part teacher librarian - one part avid TV fan, Dahne is a contributing writer for SpoilerTV, where she recaps, reviews, and creates polls for Sleepy Hollow, White Collar, Grimm, Teen Wolf, and others. She's addicted to Twitter, live tweets a multitude of shows each week, and co-hosts the Sleepy Hollow "Headless" and Teen Wolf "Welcome to Beacon Hills" podcasts for Southgate Media Group. Currently she writes a Last Week in TV column for her blog and SpoilerTV. ~ "I speak TV."
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