The Family Plot Thickens: White Collar 4.03 ‘Diminishing Returns’ Recap and Review
White Collar packed a walloping revelation into the final scene of last night’s episode, but the rest of the hour was as enjoyable and satisfying as always. In ‘Diminishing Returns,’ the gang is reunited in New York after the two-part season opener that followed fugitives Neal and Mozzie to remote Cape Verde Island, and things seem to be back to normal. Our favorite con artist Neal is once again in handcuffs at the start of the episode, but he and his FBI captor/rescuer Peter Burke both seem relieved and happy as they tell each other, “We’re going home.” Back in NYC, Neal seems more troubled as he remembers the events of Cape Verde; but then he shaves the beard, dons the suit, and flashes a sincerely brilliant white smile at his reflection, and all seems right again. It’s clear from Matt Bomer’s thoughtful, wordless performance that Neal feels he is truly where he belongs.
Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) is in unexpectedly high spirits when Neal returns to work. The good news is he found Neal and returned him to his old position as an FBI consultant; the bad news is that Peter has been reassigned out of the White Collar Crime division as a result of his unauthorized trip to track down Neal. Neal is dismayed, and blames himself for Peter losing his job; but Peter takes full responsibility and is obviously happy to have Neal back. Peter’s excited about re-opening an old case, but his good mood is quashed when supervisor Reese Hughes (James Rebhorne) tells him his new assignment: Peter will be working in The Cave, the FBI’s vast evidence warehouse. Hughes informs Peter that Jones and Diana will be supervising Caffrey. He recommends that Peter do everything he can to stay out of trouble, and tells him that everyone wants him back as soon as possible.
“Work the Cave. Keep your head down,” Hughes tells Peter, which turns out to be harder than it sounds after Peter meets Agent Patterson, his nightmare of a boss at the overwhelmingly large and boring evidence warehouse. Patterson (Friday Night Lights’ Brett Cullen) turns out to be a bureaucratic, stick-up-the-butt tyrant who threatens Peter with a bad performance review if he clocks in a single minute late. When Neal thoughtfully brings Peter lunch on his first day, Patterson tells him sourly, “No convicted felons in my evidence locker!” and snidely suggests they use the picnic area for their meal. The “picnic area” turns out to be a bleak concrete rooftop surrounded by barbed wire, which Neal likens to a familiar prison yard. Peter protests the comparison: “You can’t get French take-out in a prison yard,” he says, smiling.
During the meal Peter reminds Neal of the promise Neal gave to tell him about his past. Neal’s father, as he has already told Peter, was a cop, and Ellen Parker was his partner. But Neal now tells Peter what he didn’t know … Neal’s dad was a corrupt cop and his partner Ellen turned him in. Neal isn’t sure what crime his father committed, but further discussion is cut off when stuffy Agent Patterson insists that Peter return to work early.
When he returns to the FBI offices, Neal makes quick work of solving the assignments given to him by Diana and Jones and asks to work on the case that Peter had wanted to re-open before being banished to The Cave. The case turns out to be a financial heist that takes place every five years (long enough for the statute of limitations to expire), and is due to happen again soon. Five years earlier Peter had gone undercover as a bank employee with a shady past to try to find the thief, but the only clue he ever found was the thief’s expensive brand of Turkish tobacco. Neal now tells Peter that the traces of that tobacco have been found in a recently stolen water delivery truck, and Diane has the truck delivered (of course!) to the FBI evidence warehouse.
Neal and Peter, working together sneakily and efficiently as always, determine the truck thief is about 5′ 9″ (from the driver’s seat position) and a lefty (from how a knot was tied), and a bit of cross-matching of the bank employees from Peter’s previous undercover work turns up a match: David Cook, whom Peter remembers as a highly competitive guy who worked out at the same gym every day. Neal takes Peter to the gym to engineer a meeting with Cook. Peter engages Cook in a high-stakes game of squash while Neal picks the lock on Cook’s locker and searches his gym bag, finding a box of the incriminating Turkish tobacco … and a phone with some very interesting video footage, shot from a camera hidden in an office water cooler.
Neal and Peter, using clues from the footage that Neal viewed (along with some help from Peter’s wife Elizabeth), manage to figure out exactly where the heist will take place: an exclusive downtown diamond shop. But when Neal rushes to the shop he finds it has already been robbed, and he missed Cook by only twenty minutes. Peter is despondent, knowing that it will be five more years before Cook pulls another job.
Neal returns to his apartment to find many empty wine bottles, and Mozzie (Willie Garson), who is in the middle of playing cards with a bunch of Mongolians. Mozzie is back! Another happy reunion! (For Neal and Mozzie, anyway … the Mongolians are apparently losing money in a big way.) Together Neal and Mozzie concoct a plan to help Peter catch Cook.
Although he missed the actual theft, Neal uses his underworld contacts to find Cook’s fence, and then sets Peter up as a rival diamond dealer with a plan to undercut Cook when he tries to sell the heist diamonds. Neal is totally in his element as he coaches Peter on how to re-direct the fence’s attention to the only real diamonds Peter will be carrying (which Neal has borrowed from his wealthy landlady June). Peter’s ploy works, and Cook shows up at his fence to try to talk her out of buying Peter’s diamonds instead of his; when he pulls out the diamonds he wants to sell, the FBI swoops in for the arrest. Peter then rushes off to work, and cringes to see he is two minutes late, expecting a tongue-lashing from Patterson. Amazingly, it turns out all Peter’s evidence cataloging was completed the night before, and Patterson is (*gasp*) pleased! Peter accepts the compliment in wonderment, then notices a bald guy in glasses wearing an FBI jacket putting away the stacks of evidence … Mozzie to the rescue!
This would have been a perfect happy ending to the story, but wait – there’s more! In a totally unexpected turn of events, Neal tells Peter that he grew up under the care of Ellen Parker. Peter is confused. He knows that after she turned in Neal’s father, Ellen Parker was placed in the witness protection program with a new identity.
Realization dawns on Peter. “You grew up in witness protection,” he says, stunned. Neal reveals that he and his mother were also given new identities … since the age of three, he had lived under the name Danny Brooks, believing his dad had been a hero cop. When he turned eighteen, Ellen told him the truth about his father as well as his real name, and a devastated Neal ran away to start his life as a con man. He still doesn’t know what his father did; he suspects it was murder. Peter reminds him that Ellen Parker has not yet been given her new identity, and takes Neal to see her so he can have his questions answered. Ellen confirms that Neal’s father James was accused of murder in the shooting death of another cop, and his fingerprints were found on the gun. She was still not sure that he was guilty when he confessed to the crime. Neal is now deeply troubled. He needs to find out for certain if his father was guilty or not, and this season’s plot arc is summed up in his last line.
Neal tells Ellen and Peter, “I need to know who I am.” So do the viewers! Neal’s search for his true past is the perfect way for White Collar to add some depth to their lovable but fairly formulaic characters. Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay have done a wonderful job developing a warm and believable relationship between the two main characters over the past three seasons, and now it’s the writers’ turn to give them even more material to work with.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the season of White Collar, Tuesdays on USA, to see how they do it.