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From One Prison to Another: An Advance Look at the Second Season of USA's White Collar

USA's slick and stylish crime procedural White Collar returns tonight with an installment that points towards a new direction for the agents of the White Collar Crimes Division of the Manhattan branch of the FBI... and for charismatic consultant Neal Caffrey (Matthew Bomer), the reformed thief/forger at the heart of the series.

One of the strengths of White Collar has been the unerring chemistry between series leads Bomer and Tim DeKay, who plays Neal's partner/handler/jailer Peter Burke, the "suit." Despite the circumstances that Neal finds himself in when the second season begins with tonight's season opener ("Withdrawal"), that relationship remains exceedingly strong.

Which is a good thing as there are some new challenges facing Neal and Peter, most notably the mystery surrounding the death of Neal's lost love Kate and the whereabouts of that all-important amber music box, the latter of which might just surprise you. But for the moment, the dynamic duo have their hands full in the season opener with a series of bank heists and a master criminal who might just be slippery enough to evade the unorthodox methods employed by Neal and Peter... and an oily politician running a straw donor scam in the second episode.

And then there's the matter of OPR and the shifty Agent Fowler, who was willing to draw his firearm on Marsha Thomason's Diana in order to prevent her from learning about a meeting going down last season. A meeting that--SPOILER!--thanks to a judicious time jump is actually going down in the second episode back ("Need to Know") rather than later in the season.

It's in this respect that creator Jeff Eastin and his team have done a phenomenal job at balancing the procedural elements of White Collar--the capers or cases of the week--with the overarching mythology involving the doomed romance between Neal and Kate, the music box, Fowler and OPR, and some new elements that creep their way into the second season.

While I was less than pleased with the performance given by Alexandra Daddario as Neal's ex-girlfriend Kate Moreau, her death at the end of the first season has given Neal Caffrey an additional patina of loss and tragedy which, while they don't rob him of his trademark throwback style, give him some layering to his character. While in Season One, he was trying to find Kate and expose a conspiracy, her death in the season finale (and his near-death) have forced Neal into an even more pro-active position. He's now a man on a quest of vengeance, filled with a desire to right the wrongs perpetrated against him while donning an off-kilter fedora and killer Devore suit.

Which isn't to say that the season opener is a downer, because it's absolutely not. Look for some fantastically funny exchanges between Peter and Willie Garson's Mozzie as the two form an awkward rapport that's based more on old spy movie stereotypes than any real friendship. I'm chuffed that the writers are bringing Mozzie further into the center of the series, rather than leave him drifting in and out of the shadows on the periphery. His involvement here creates not only humor but an unpredictable vibe that's infectious... and lets the always sensational Garson do his thing more often.

Meanwhile, I'm thrilled that Marsha Thomason is back as Special Agent Diana Lancing, here back as a series regular after returning for the final few episodes of the freshman season. Thomason adds a nice bit of grit to the already well-tuned machine that is White Collar, bringing a smoky-voiced sensuality and hard-edged charm to the proceedings. While Natalie Morales' Lauren Cruz filled the role of junior agent, I think it will be interesting to see Peter work with someone he shares a past with as well as a deep, unwavering trust.

Ultimately, the start of second season of White Collar proves that the first season of the g-men and grifters drama was no mere fluke, offering a charming and fun weekly escape that's equal parts chasing crooks and looking cool and a throwback to such classic capers as To Catch a Thief. Throw in a love interest for Neal who is just as engaging and mercurial as he is and tighten the weekly crime plots into slightly more taut puzzles and you have the makings of a pitch-perfect series. So steal yourself an hour every Tuesday evening and be sure to tune in all summer long.

Season Two of White Collar begins tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on USA.


Marissa said…
The weekly mysteries and capers are definitely not the strength of this series (they are usually pretty thin and predictable) but I can't get enough of Neal and Peter!
Summer said…
I agree with Marissa. Neal and Peter's banter and true caring are the heart of this show. The plots are passable, but rarely unique.

My favorites from S1 were where the whole process felt more like another "Thomas Crown Affair" and they had to stretch to get things done for a heist: the one where they had to "create" the vintage bottle of wine, when they finally stole the music box, and where the gal in the painting was the culprit were really strong eps.
Tempest said…
Can't wait for tonight's episdoe. (Fortunately, Leverage has helped tide me over.) Love this show -- for all the reasons you mention.

As for the upcoming season -- More Mozzie? Woo Hoo! More Diana? Woo Hoo! (But why, oh why, couldn't they let her keep her very cool accent? I guess the Brits can't be FBI?) Now, can we get Sharif Atkins upgraded to series regular? Would also love a little more Diahann Carroll. Here's hoping we get more references to Byron . . . Thanks for the advance look, Jace.
Anonymous said…
BTW, it's Diana Barrigan, not Lancing. They had to change her surname after the pilot. Otherwise, great review!

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