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Exit Through the Gift Shop: White Collar Episode 4.08 ‘Ancient History’ Recap and Review

By on September 6, 2012
White Collar ? Season 4

Neal Caffrey’s old friend and fellow art thief Alex Hunter (Gloria Votsis) was back in ‘Ancient History,’ this week’s episode of White Collar, as Neal helped the FBI infiltrate a museum theft ring while continuing his search for information on his father.

A good old fashioned museum heist starts off the show, with four culprits in animal masks getting nabbed by NYPD uniform cops before they can escape. As they are unmasked, we see three typical surly thugs … and then the smug face of Neal Caffrey, grinning like the cat who ate the canary (a look Matt Bomer has definitely perfected in four seasons of this show). The smile doesn’t last long, however, as Neal finds himself under arrest and unable to convince the officer in charge that he was working with the FBI. Neal is cuffed and placed in the back of the police cruiser, where he finds an origami flower: Alex Hunter’s calling card. Peter Burke arrives and, after arguing with the belligerent officer, manages to get Neal released. (Neal, of course, had already freed himself of the handcuffs by this time … oh, that Neal!)

Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) argues with the assistant police chief (Wayne Duvall) over Neal’s capture. (Photo by: Giovanni Rufino/USA Network)

Back at the office (after being mercilessly teased by Diana over being caught by local cops), Neal is unsurprised when the FBI agents report that Alex Hunter is likely back in town, although he doesn’t let on that he already knew. Hunter has just been released from a Greek prison, and Peter suspects she is the mastermind behind the Greek antiquities museum heist that Neal just helped to foil, as well as another upcoming job. Peter asks Neal to find out what Alex is up to.

After Neal leaves Diana and Peter have a discussion about Sam Phelps, Ellen Parker’s former colleague, whom Neal has been contacting to find out more about his father. Peter secretly photographed Sam during his and Neal’s last meeting, and asked Diana to find out what she could about him. The only information she has is his name (Samuel Phelps), and a meager credit history. In an uncharacteristically clunky piece of exposition, Peter tells Diana the backstory; that Sam is a former undercover cop who worked with Neal’s father (a crooked cop), and that Peter’s investigation of him is unknown both to Neal and to the FBI.

Mozzie, meanwhile, is terrified now that Alex Hunter is back. Since he and Neal made off with the treasures from the Nazi submarine that Alex had been searching for her whole life, Mozzie is fairly certain that Alex wants him dead; but Neal tells him he is overreacting. As they arrive at Neal’s apartment, Neal finds a mysterious package containing an old Betamax videotape, recorded for him thirty years earlier by Ellen Parker in the case of her death. Mozzie promises to bring a Beta player later so they can watch it. Neal, however, tells Mozzie he wants to watch the tape with Sam. Mozzie is hurt, and worried. He doesn’t trust Sam, and feels shut out by Neal, but Neal is firm in his decision.

Neal meets up with Alex, and they lie to each other in a sexy fashion (as per usual). Afterwards, Peter tells Neal the FBI has evidence that Alex may be working for someone else. Neal feels squeamish about setting Alex up to be caught, and proposes that they go after her boss instead. Peter cautiously agrees.

Mozzie stops by Peter’s house to tell him about the Betamax tape, confessing that he thinks Sam is dangerous. Peter tells him he has put together a file on Sam, but it’s “unofficial.” When Peter steps away, Mozzie sneaks a quick look in the file folder on the counter, which turns out to be the file on Alex; Mozzie then mistakenly sneaks into Alex Hunter’s hotel room while Neal is schmoozing with Alex in a nearby restaurant. Peter, watching the hotel from the surveillance van with Jones, goes ballistic, and runs to intercept Mozzie, who is now searching Alex’s suite (thinking that it’s Sam’s). In a fairly contrived scene, Peter looks the other way while Mozzie retrieves the information on Alex that he needs (but can’t obtain legally). And then – BIG SURPRISE! – Neal and Alex arrive back at the hotel before Peter and Mozzie can flee, trapping them in Alex’s spacious bathroom, giving us yet another fun opportunity to watch Tim DeKay and Willie Garson snipe at each other, which they do so well.

Peter texts Neal to meet him in the bathroom (priceless). Neal looks at the information in the envelope Mozzie found, and realizes that Alex is planning another Greek antiquities theft. Peter collects a piece of the envelope to trace the DNA of its sender, and he and Mozzie flee while Neal goes back to pump Alex for more information. Unfortunately (and conveniently, for the plot) Alex realizes that Neal was searching her place, and tells him to leave.

Afterwards (in another oddly contrived scene that this episode seems full of), Peter and Mozzie confront Neal about the videotape, telling him they think Sam is dangerous, which gives Neal the opportunity to get angry and confrontational, telling them to stay out of it.

The FBI tracks down Alex’s employer: Greece’s General Secretary for Culture and Tourism, who is on a mission to recover Greek antiquities from museums around the world. It turns out Secretary Spiteri released Alex from prison on the condition that she steal the Greek art pieces for him. Neal convinces Alex to work with him and the FBI to set up Spiteri – if Spiteri is captured, Alex can go free.

Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), impersonating Banksy (Photo by: Giovanni Rufino/USA Network)

Neal and Alex then stage the most entertaining con of the episode, where Neal dons a hoodie and shades, buys some spray paint, and shows up at the targeted elegant Hillerman museum posing as “a prominent contemporary artist.” With Mozzie’s help to intercept the inevitable call to the artist’s agent, Alex convinces the flustered museum curator that Neal is actually internationally famous street artist Banksy (without ever saying his name … Alex whispers that he can be expected to “exit through the gift shop”). The curator hurriedly gives them full access to the Greek antiquities exhibit for the “artist” to perform his magic, where the two then disable the alarms on all the displays and gather up the pieces. And during it all, Neal quickly creates an impressive Greek-themed Banksy wall art piece.

“You know, this plan would have would have worked even if you hadn’t painted anything,” Alex tells him dryly.

“It’s only fair … we’re cleaning them out!” Neal replies. “And how often do you have the opportunity to add a piece to the Hillerman’s permanent collection?”

Neal and Alex quickly load a waiting van with the stolen antiquities, but the police arrive, reportedly responding to a silent alarm; Alex escapes, and Neal is captured by the same unpleasant NYPD officer from before. Peter springs Neal out of police custody (again), and they try to figure out what happened. Neal is sure Alex disabled the alarm – but suddenly Peter and Neal both realize Alex’s plan, which was to make sure the pieces ended up in police evidence storage. Before they can act, Diana tells them that Alex has already escaped from the police evidence facility, driving the van with the loot from both heists. (What a pro!)

As Peter and Neal race to intercept Alex’s meeting with Spiteri, we get yet another annoying contrived scene, this one an intrusive piece of product placement. In a completely unnecessary piece of dialog much like last week’s exchange about massaging seats, Peter now shows Neal the wonders of his Ford sedan and its fabulous horoscope app! (As a side note, the Toyota Prius conversations inserted into Bones and Warehouse 13 are almost, but not quite, as artificial. I’m thinking of starting a drinking game – take a shot whenever an obvious sponsored product is overtly mentioned on a cable network show.)

The FBI and the police reach the stolen van, but Alex and the art are gone. Spiteri, however, is captured, set up by Alex. Neal goes home and finds Alex in his apartment. He is hurt at having been played, but he lets her escape. As Alex leaves, she tells him that he owed her the treasure, but now they’re even.

In the final scene, Mozzie procures the promised Betamax player to view the tape that Ellen left for Neal. In a touching scene for the three characters, Neal tells Peter and Mozzie that he wants them to watch the tape with him, rather than Sam, saying, “You gotta pick who you can trust, right?” The three sit down to watch, and the tape starts as the scene fades to black.

‘Ancient History’ did a competent job of advancing White Collar’s season-long story arc, but the episode itself seemed hastily scripted, with some noticeably awkward scenes and dialogue that didn’t quite ring true. Still, it ended on a cliffhanger that makes us anxious to tune in next week (even without the previews showing shirtless Neal Caffrey and Peter Burke going at each other in a boxing ring – OH, MY!).

Don’t miss ‘Gloves Off,’ the next episode of White Collar, Tuesday September 11 on USA.