White Collar is back, and we answer the question: where is Elizabeth Burke?
“Checkmate” picks up immediately from the midseason finale, with Mrs. Burke in the hands of now very familiar bad guy Matthew Keller (Ross McCall), who wants to exchange her for the hidden treasure. “You could’ve walked away,” Peter tells Neal angrily, and a recalcitrant Neal admits that “I should be paying for it, not Elizabeth.”
Yet when Neal brings Peter to the warehouse where the treasure was, he finds that Mozzie has moved all of it on his own. This means that in order to find Elizabeth, our dynamic duo has to locate Mozzie first – and do so in less than twelve hours.
Neal tells Peter that he chose not to leave New York because he has a life here, and believes that as Mozzie hasn’t caught a plane, he must also be having second thoughts. He is able to communicate with Mozzie via (what else?) carrier pigeon and bring him back into the fold. “We’ve been playing by Keller’s rules,” Peter tells them both. “Let’s change the game.”
And so the trio enlists the help of two of Mozzie’s old contacts, before meeting with Keller to make the exchange. The two ‘old friends’ just so happen to get arrested as our heroes and Keller sneak out the back. This leads Keller to propose that the four of them steal back the treasure, whether Peter likes it or not. A plan is hastily devised, while Neal hopes that the FBI will find Elizabeth before they actually have to break in to the warehouse where the treasure is.
As an FBI team led by Diana and Jones hits the streets and Elizabeth does her best to give them as many hints as possible to her location, our unlikely team borrows some Army uniforms and a National Guard truck. Peter is able to get the truck into the warehouse with the help of a cop he intimidates, but the plan hits a big snag when the place is crawling with cops. Neal and Keller end up posing as NYPD, convincing the boys in blue to help them load the treasure onto the truck. Keller’s ready to strangle a suspicious sergeant, but the guy’s life is saved when Neal has Peter pretend to be a DA’s aide to convince the man everything is kosher. Unsurprisingly, Keller turns on Neal the moment the treasure is loaded into the truck.
Elizabeth breaks out of the room where she’s being held, and the guy with her is quickly shot as Diana and Jones arrive on the scene. She phones her husband and tells him to go get Neal, who wakes up in the back of the truck and gets himself into a fight with Keller. Peter saves Neal from being beaten, then gets in a few good shots himself before Neal shoots Keller. It makes him realize that he needs to put Keller away for good, even if that means offering a full confession for his own crimes.
The next morning, our two battered heroes meet in the FBI conference room, where Neal repeats to Peter his desire to confess. Before he can start talking, though, Peter plays him a tape of Keller’s interrogation, in which the bad guy takes sole responsibility (or in his eyes, credit) for everything. He looks like a hero to the Russians, but it does get Neal off the hook. Problem semi-solved, but Neal’s gesture isn’t lost on Peter.
At that moment, Peter tells Neal that he’s got a probation hearing to discuss the remainder of his sentence being commuted. In other words, Neal could be a free man in three months (also probably known as the end of the season). This gives us another question to mull over just as we finished answering one. And so we go on…
“Checkmate” is an interesting episode not necessarily because of the action, but because of the interplay between the characters and what it tells us about each of them. I love the early scenes where it’s just Peter and Neal, because while I love almost all the secondary characters that we’ve had added over three seasons, to me the heart of the show is those two people. It’s nice to see just them for a little while.
Later scenes between Neal and Keller show us that while they have a history together, in the present day they’re vastly different people – and that in turn clues us in to how Neal really is different from the man we met at the beginning of the series. And Elizabeth alone is a treat; I appreciate seeing her as the resourceful spouse of an FBI agent, and not the damsel in distress. Everything these characters do shows us a little bit more about who they are, and that’s a nice refresher course two and a half seasons in.
For me, Keller has about run his course as a villain (and I still maintain they should have let Ross McCall keep his own accent instead of making him use a slightly ridiculous Boston one). A little bit of his smarminess goes a long way, and I also don’t want to see the same antagonist one too many times. Let’s hope he stays in Russia.
I’ll admit that the first half of White Collar‘s third season didn’t always measure up for me; I felt like it had lost something. With episodes like “Checkmate,” I’m hopeful that the magic is on its way back.