Neal Holds the Key: White Collar “Brass Tacks” Review
Peter and Neal’s investigation into a corrupt politician turned out to be more dangerous than they had anticipated; and Neal uncovered an important piece of evidence that may help him finally track down the men who framed his father and destroyed his family in last night’s intriguing but basically unfinished episode of White Collar.
Titus Welliver guest stars as the politician who Peter suspects was responsible for the murder of Dennis Flynn Jr. (the Irish mobster who killed Ellen, the former police partner of Neal’s father), at the end of last week’s “Family Business.” Welliver, the consummate bad guy, is delightfully slimy as Senator Pratt, a former DC police officer who apparently ordered Flynn’s death to cover up his own involvement in the high level conspiracy that ruined Neal’s dad’s career and led to Ellen’s murder. During the senator’s visit to NYC, Peter and Neal plant bugs and cameras in his phone and briefcase to track his movements. Peter’s supervisor Reese Hughes (James Rebhorne) authorizes the investigation into Pratt, but he cautions Peter to be careful; Pratt is a powerful and dangerous man. Peter’s wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) overhears his conversation with Hughes, and she is understandably worried that Pratt will try to hurt Peter.
Meanwhile, the mysterious locket that Ellen said held the key to the evidence she had discovered against the corrupt police officers has finally been delivered to Neal, and it’s a puzzle in itself: A unique two-piece key that looks like no other. Neal enlists Mozzie’s help to find what the key opens, giving Willie Garson a chance to shine with his usual hilarious portrayal of the paranoid and kooky (but always effective) Mozzie. Peter, trying to be cautious, insists that Mozzie must work with Agent Jones (Sharif Atkins), despite Neal’s understatement that Moz “doesn’t play well with others.” Jones (whom Mozzie derisively refers to as “This muscled excess baggage” is tasked with holding onto the key, and keeping up as Mozzie uses his colorful underworld connections to trace the key’s origins. Peter Scolari appears as Zimmer, AKA “The Keymaster,” Mozzie’s wonderfully eccentric acquaintance whose price for identifying the key is the solution to a riddle. (No, really!)
The bugs and cameras placed on Pratt’s belongings eventually reveal a secret meeting between Pratt and one of his largest campaign donors, rich developer Cole Edwards (Reed Diamond). Peter suspects Edwards may be embezzling money somehow to pay kickbacks to the senator, but more evidence is needed to prove any wrongdoing. It’s apparent that Pratt is paying attention as Peter digs deeper, however … while driving back to the FBI with more evidence against Edwards, Peter finds himself with no brakes in his car. Unable to stop at a red light, he collides with a police car and is sent, unconscious, to the hospital. Elizabeth is distraught, and is worried that Peter will be killed if he continues to go after Pratt. She asks Neal to continue the investigation without Peter, and to lie to Peter if necessary. (Oh sure, THAT will certainly turn out well.)
Edwards, we discover, has been substituting cheaper building materials without the appropriate accounting and is pocketing the difference. As part of an FBI sting, Neal poses as a promising architect who plans to build a historic skyscraper bearing Edwards’ name. It’s always fun to see Matt Bomer inhabiting yet another con man persona, and he’s completely convincing as the brash young architect (looking even more dashing than usual in a gorgeous sky blue blazer). Edwards, with his giant ego, is unable to resist Neal’s bogus over-the-top building design (worthy of Donald Trump), and makes plans to go ahead with its construction.
Mozzie eventually solves Zimmer’s riddle … The Keymaster wants Mozzie’s “son” – Barty, the infamous fake baby that contains as many gadgets and gizmos as a Swiss Army knife. True friend that he is, Mozzie sacrifices Barty to get the background on the key; but he palms the key, substituting a fake, and hides it from Jones. Jones gets the information, though (after first interrupting as Zimmer uses Barty’s corkscrew hand to open a bottle of wine), and tells Peter about it when he visits him in the hospital. Peter is upset that Neal is apparently working with Mozzie behind his back, and asks Neal about the key; Neal, following Elizabeth’s request, lies. After Neal leaves, Peter is incensed, and hurt that Neal lied to him … but we know it’s because Elizabeth asked him to! Oh, the drama! (It’s a little hard to buy that Elizabeth would allow Peter to get so mad at Neal when this is all her fault, but I’m willing to put that aside for now.)
Edwards is caught when, as expected, he tries to substitute cheaper materials. Hughes tries to offer Edwards immunity against the fraud charges in exchange for testimony against Pratt, but the plan backfires. Edwards won’t talk, counting on Pratt to reward him for his loyalty. Pratt, unfortunately, turns out to be as powerful as Hughes feared, and uses his influence with the Attorney General to force Hughes to retire. Peter is devastated, and vows to bring Pratt down.
James Rebhorne is wonderful as the stoic Hughes in his touching farewell scene at the FBI office. He urges Peter to keep after Pratt, saying “If anyone can get the bastard, it’s you.” And in an uncharacteristically warm exchange with Neal, he says “You’re a real son of a bitch, Neal. But you’re the best damn son of a bitch I’ve ever seen,” and adds as he leaves, “Take care of Peter.”
The final scenes of the episode are cleverly juxtaposed, showing Mozzie and Neal discovering the secret of Ellen’s key at the same time as Jones and Peter. The key is actually a tiny version of a skyline which should point to a location, if they can identify the buildings. Neal and Mozzie have no idea that Peter has the same information, though, and Peter’s not about to tell Neal anything since he’s feeling so distrustful about Neal lying to him. (News Flash: Peter, it’s your wife’s fault!)
“Brass Tacks” laid the groundwork for an intricate plot and featured many of the great character moments that we love, but ultimately it felt more like the first half a two-parter than a complete story. Still, it hooked me … I’ll definitely be tuning in next week to find out where the riddle key leads our heroes next.
Don’t miss White Collar, Tuesdays at 10 PM ET/PT on USA.