White Collar has to walk a fine line. If a case-of-the-week is too simple, then viewers will lose interest. If a case-of-the-week is too complex, then viewers won’t be able to follow what’s happening. Last night’s episode ended up more on the complex side of things. More thoughts (and spoilers) after the jump.

The case in “Copycat Caffrey,” as initially presented, seemed simple enough. A man steals a piece of art, hires someone to make forgeries, and then sells the forgeries on the black market. The investigation led Peter’s team to a criminology class at a university, where a professor conspired with students to coordinate heists. (How they figured out that the professor was involved was never explained.) Neal had to gain their trust and get them to participate in a theft in order to catch them. Pretty straightforward, no?

But there was another plotline. Alex (remember her?) was back in town, and she was in trouble. A criminal was trying to sell her out to someone who had put a price on her head. (The reasons weren’t clearly explained, but the music box was said to be a part of it.) So Neal, being the good friend that he is, attempted to kill two birds with one stone by getting the FBI to arrest the criminal who was threatening Alex in the act of having one of his drops interrupted by the eager criminology students who wanted to pull a heist. Then Neal swept in, taking the stolen goods to a locker, but the professor had managed to cut a hole behind the locker and take the goods for himself. Say what?

That was where this episode lost me. In trying to craft an interesting case, the writers added too many complications and double-crosses for me to follow what was going on. Furthermore, it was all resolved in one convenient scene where Alex pretended to be interested in buying the stolen merchandise from the professor. The case was over too abruptly, and that was jarring.

But while the case faltered, most of the rest of the episode was top-notch. Neal was in fine form, proud that students were studying (and replicating) his past crimes. It could have been annoying, but Matt Bomer infuses Neal with such charm and wit that I can’t help but cheer for him. While Peter took a backseat for most of the episode, he also got a chance to shine when he pretended to be a Detroit mob boss with Mozzie’s help. There were lots of lighthearted, humorous bits throughout, and the cast gels so well that they can sell even the silliest sounding conversations. Gloria Votsis played better off Willie Garson and Bomer than in her previous appearances. She’s making Alex a much more interesting character than Kate ever was. I still don’t understand why the writers feel it necessary to hint at a romantic past between Alex and Neal, but I’m willing to overlook it because it occupies so little screentime.

I’m still not sold on this music box storyline; I don’t think that it’s adding very much to the show right now. When Neal was searching for Kate, there was an emotional component to the underlying story arc. Right now, I’m finding it difficult to care about a stupid, ugly box. The fact that Alex gave Neal the piece of the box that Diana and Peter realized was missing was just another silly event that I’m going to forget about by next week’s episode.

Overall, “Copycat Caffrey” was a solid episode. It wasn’t as strong as the first two episodes of the season, but the show can’t knock it out of the park every week. I hope that next week’s case isn’t so convoluted.

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