White Collar’s writers must have been thinking of Valentine’s Day when they penned last night’s episode, which featured the romantic lives of our regular characters contrasted with the story of a starry-eyed young couple on a crime spree. If last week’s episode was lighter than the several previous to it, “Shoot the Moon” was practically weightless, with a plot as fluffy and sweet as cotton candy (and approximately as substantial).
Hilarie Burton is back as Sara Ellis, the on-again-off-again girlfriend of Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer). Sara has hired Neal to provide security for an event that her company is insuring, which showcases a priceless perfume that belonged to Marie Antoinette. Neal spares no charisma in the opening scene with Sara, an extended flirt session that ends with a wonderfully titillating kiss and dip, leading us to understand that the two are “on” again … or close to it, anyway. (Neal is at least classy enough to use the French term “amis amant” instead of “friends with benefits.”) Matt Bomer is absolutely stunning when he turns on the charm like this, but the one thing I found distracting during the amorous banter was how skinny Sara looked … when Neal mentioned cooking her a late dinner, I almost yelled at the screen “Yes, please! Or at least give her some pie!”
Meanwhile, Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) is planning to whisk his lovely wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) away for a long overdue romantic weekend escape. At Elizabeth’s urging, they stop by the perfume event on their way out of town, where Peter reiterates to Neal that he’s to be disturbed “only if someone dies.” When the Burkes’ pet sitter cancels at the last minute, Neal volunteers to watch their dog Satchmo at his place. The Burkes depart, and Neal heads off with Sara to check out the security for the exhibit … but just then a young man and woman wearing masks rush in with a gun to steal Marie Antoinette’s priceless perfume! (For some reason, neither Neal nor Sara calls the police while watching this happen from the remote security camera room.) As the young couple flees the scene, however, they find their car is blocked in, and the nearest available car is – you guessed it, Peter’s. (Well, it’s Tuesday, so one or the other of the Burkes must be getting kidnapped.)
Peter and El, who by now deserve an award for Unluckiest Couple Ever, are forced into their car at gunpoint and driven away by the thieving duo to their evil lair, an absurdly well-outfitted abandoned substation complete with a fully stocked kitchen and attractive Pottery Barn décor. Our young lovers turn out to be Nate “Oz” Osbourne (Jackson Rathbone), a recently escaped convict, and his girlfriend Penny Chase (Jessica McNamee). Oz and Penny waffle back and forth between syrupy lovey-dovey talk and scary gun-waving aggression as they interact with their kidnap victims, who, even for two people with previous kidnap experience, seem ridiculously calm and accepting of the situation. Elizabeth strikes up some girl talk with Penny, shares her clothes with her, and eventually talks Oz into untying her hands so she can help him cook dinner. Um, sure, Lady-I-just-kidnapped. Here, have this nine-inch long carving knife. Over wine and the dinner that Elizabeth helps to prepare, the Burkes and our young thieves share some lovely conversation and plenty of romantic stories. You can almost imagine them all moving in together, until Peter messes it up with an attempt to get at the gun in his suitcase, and the Burkes are tied up as hostages once again. D’oh!
While picking up Satchmo at Peter’s house, Neal and Mozzie discover something significant … Ellen’s old tax records, which reveal a company within the Empire State Building where she might have hidden the evidence box that may prove Neal’s father’s innocence. What Mozzie and Neal don’t realize is that Peter left the folder there on purpose, hoping they would find it. (Sneaky Peter!)
Back at the FBI, Agents Jones and Berrigan (and DEAR GOD, what the HECK is up with Diana’s hair?!) organize the search for Oz and Penny, because catching armed robbers is what the White Collar Division is for, I guess. They also finally figure out that Peter and El have been snatched by the armed couple.
Penny and Oz, it turns out, wrote hundreds of love letters to each other while Oz was imprisoned, and the FBI agents now pore over the letters for clues. In a letter just before his escape, Oz promised Penny he would “give her the moon,” which Neal, with near-clairvoyant deductive skills, figures out means that he’s planning to steal a moon rock. With amazing (dare I say contrived?) luck, there is only one moon rock in New York City, at a science museum … and that’s exactly where Oz and Penny are headed, with Peter and El again along at gunpoint. Neal and Sara call the FBI, and rush to the museum (but of course Neil and Sara get there before the FBI). Neal, with his usual brilliance, steals the moon rock first, and then convinces Oz to let Peter go in exchange for the rock. Elizabeth manages to get away from Penny on her own, but she and Peter fret about their new best friends and worry that the youngsters are planning to go out in a hail of gunfire like Bonnie and Clyde. They run to intercept them, and Peter talks Oz into surrendering with a schmaltzy speech about what love is (awww, twue wuv!).
As silly as this story was (and oh my, it was), there were moments that made it worthwhile, including most of the scenes with Peter and Elizabeth together. DeKay and Thiessen’s snarky banter is hilarious, and they’re completely convincing as a long-married couple. Mozzie barely appeared, but Willie Garson still managed to steal the scene when Neal and Mozzie were alone in the Burkes’ house, as he urged Neal to plant a hidden mini-camera, and expressed his disgust at the box of wine in the fridge. And Hilarie Burton was very appealing as Sara, who admitted to Neal that she was about to be promoted to the London office, which means even their “amis amant” arrangement is soon to end. (Poor sad Neal!) Still, the best thing about White Collar is the relationship between Neal and Peter, and this episode had almost none of it. I look forward to next week’s “The Original,” when the boys are back together and the evidence box plot takes center stage once again.
White Collar airs Tuesday at 10 PM ET/PT on USA.