The case of the week on White Collar sees Neal and Peter approached about potential embezzlement at upper-crust Manhattan Prep. The lead suspect is Andy Woods (Dylan Baker, who’s played a bad guy so often we should just assume he’s the villain every time he shows up), who’s in charge of the school’s endowment and may have cartel ties. To check him out, our dynamic duo goes undercover, which leads to plenty of entertaining shenanigans.
Just minutes after their arrival, Neal gets mistaken for a substitute teacher, but rolls with it when he sees that Woods’ daughter Chloe (Elizabeth Gillies) is in the poetry class he’s expected to teach. The result is reminiscent of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, minus climbing on the furniture. (Which makes Peter’s later reference to the film all the funnier.) It’s an effortless character, but we can still see hints of Neal Caffrey. When he says “Tragic romance – I know it well,” we know all the pain that’s in that statement without Matt Bomer having to lose that glimmer in his eye.
Meanwhile, Peter gets to know Woods, under the pretense of bringing Peter Jr. to the school. When he realizes the guy has checked him out, he’s forced to concoct a bogus story about having an affair. As if that’s not uncomfortable enough for him, he resorts to pulling the fire alarm in order to see what the school’s headmaster has placed in Chloe’s locker: a quarterly financial report dated for the upcoming week. When Chloe’s crush on Neal leads her to invite him over for home tutoring, and Peter and his girlfriend (alias Diana) get invited to dinner, it’s a perfect opening for the investigation.
At dinner, Diana stages a fight with Peter to distract Woods’ ever-present bodyguard, while Neal slips out after trying to do a little matchmaking between Chloe and her classmate Evan. The latter part doesn’t work so well. When she butt-dials her father, it gets Neal and Evan thrown out of the house, but not before Neal is able to get some important info off Woods’ office computer.
The next day, Woods threatens Evan with expulsion, so Evan lets slip that he has “very powerful friends,” blowing Peter’s cover without meaning to. As Peter is being interrogated, Neal uses Chloe’s tendency for butt-dialing to his advantage, pulling Woods out of the room so that he can come to Peter’s rescue, even if it’s with a birdhouse. Woods gets arrested, with Diana telling him “your girlfriend’s cooking sucks.” Oh, and Evan might just have a shot with Chloe. Most importantly, Peter decides not to tell the FBI about Neal’s involvement with the treasure, giving Neal the benefit of the doubt – and a shot at freedom.
There have been plenty of stories about wrongdoings at schools; the Monk episode featuring a pre-White Collar Andrew McCarthy comes to mind, for example. What made that installment work was that McCarthy’s character oozed an uncomfortable charisma. We knew he was evil, but he was also just a little bit endearing. This episode of White Collar has the same quality, except for that it’s genuine. Neal’s charm and his playful relationship with Peter serve this particular story perfectly. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. After last week’s “where is Elizabeth Burke?” drama, it’s nice to have an episode that’s more on the comedic side. After all, one of White Collar’s great qualities has always been its ability to balance both genres, much like real life.
This is not a “whodunit” – we know the guilty parties within the first few minutes. It’s not a plot-driven piece. No, this is an episode that builds on the qualities and quirks of our characters. For example, it’s nice to see Peter and Neal show concern about Elizabeth’s well-being. She’s not suddenly back to normal after having been kidnapped. And a Say Anything reference from Mozzie? How awesome is that? This is an episode that reminds me why I fell in love with White Collar, and should put a smile on anyone’s face.