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Not "On the Fence" about White Collar

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Written by : published Thursday 4th August 2011

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     With White Collar's summer run set to end next week, the USA series continues its fairly serial arc with "On the Fence," the penultimate installment. Matthew Keller (Ross McCall), Neal's (Matt Bomer) former evil partner, comes back to New York, intent on getting the missing Nazi treasure that he is sure Neal has. Keller is convinced by a spending spree Neal went on, though unknown to Keller, that was with a criminal's money, not Neal's own. This is not a good time for Keller, and NEal and Peter (Tim DeKay) are in the middle of a case against Raquel LaRoque (Eliza Dushku, Dollhouse, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), artifact smuggler. All of this causes Mozzie (Willie Garson) to sell a piece of the Nazi treasure, unfortunately one on Peter's list, to order a hit on Keller, who escapes anyway. Now Neal and Mozzie face possible exposure.

     There's a lot going on in this episode. Normally, it would be easy to complain that the case of the week interrupts the much more interesting arcs about Keller, Nazi treasure, Sara (Hilarie Burton) and Neal's relationship issues, and Peter's investigation into the stolen art. But with Dushku, viewers have no grievance, as she delivers her customary grippingly fun performance. Dushku takes what little screen time she gets, and spits out a fantastic, memorable performance. Then her character gets drawn into larger arcs, making her more valuable to the story. Her subsequent arrest, but Neal keeping her stolen item safe for her, opens the door for her return. Plus, with Neal newly single, she steals a steamy kiss right in the FBI office. Wonderful all around.

     Of course, it's hard to root for Neal and Raquel to get too close when Sara is still nearby. Burton's recent upgrade to main character this season means she and Neal cannot be forever over yet. Her doubts about their relationship are not without foundation, but surely, she is figuring out just who Neal is by "On the Fence." At the beginning of this episode, the couple is done. But after talking to Mozzie, Sara knows Neal's feelings for her are real. And she knows Neal has the treasure, but isn't selling it, even when he could be. She is going to realize that Neal doesn't want to leave her or Peter or being a good guy behind. This sets up a reconnection for them, though it may be too late in the summer run for a happy ending by next week.

     A nagging question is whether Neal will choose Peter or Mozzie. It's definitely about the people and the life they represent, not the legality of the choices, that is dogging Neal. As far as Mozzie is concerned, Neal has made his decision, and that's to stay with Peter. Keeping the manifest a secret is a severe betrayal against Mozzie, and the criminal is not happy about Neal's actions. Will this mean the end of their partnership? Might it lead to Peter and Neal hunting down Mozzie? That would be an incredible twist, as long as there is some believable way to keep Mozzie in the fold. The series would be sorely lacking something without Garson's brilliant, surprisingly nuanced, performance.

     "On the Fence" is the first episode in a while where Neal seems to have one over on Peter. After Mozzie steals the art, dragging Neal into a dangerous act that he doesn't want, Neal is watching his back. Peter suspects Neal and Mozzie, and while hoping he's wrong, is keeping a close eye on their activities. This puts Peter in a position of power over his partner, who is playing defense. But in "On the Fence," Neal not only gets to play the Raquel case his way, he also takes the offensive when trying to trap Keller. His decision to keep the manifest a secret gives him renewed confidence, and lets him take control in that area as well. As such, Neal is back in a grand way, rather than hiding scared.

     White Collar's summer season ends next Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on USA.

     If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter!

     

Article first published as TV Review: White Collar - "On the Fence" on Blogcritics.

About the author JeromeWetzelTV

JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome Wetzel is a huge fan of stories, in both books and television. He writes TV reviews and fiction. He currently posts articles for TheTVKing, Seat42F, and BlogCritics, as well as his own personal blog, as well as writing fiction. His website is www.jeromewetzel.com Follow him on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV

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