White Collar continued its strong second season with another great episode. “Unfinished Business” proved that the show can put a fresh spin on things without sacrificing what makes it so appealing. More details after the jump.

The case involved a set of stolen Japanese bonds. An insurance representative (a euphemism for “white collar bounty hunter”) named Sara Ellis (played by Hilarie Burton) was assigned to retrieve them with the FBI’s help. Believing the man behind the theft to be using a courier named Mr. Black, Neal was asked to assume Mr. Black’s identity. However, it turned out that Mr. Black was a hitman assigned to kill Sara. This resulted in an hilarious yet tense confrontation between Neal and Sara in her bedroom where both of them had their guns drawn on each other. Following that, in order to preserve Neal’s cover as Mr. Black, Sara had to fake her death and was forced to live inside the FBI building.

It was nice to see Neal butt heads with someone. The thinly-veiled insults flying back and forth between Neal and Sara provided some great moments for Matt Bomer and Burton. Tim DeKay played Peter’s mediator role well, never intervening in such a way that made it seem as if he were dealing with children. Hinging an episode on a guest star is often a risky proposition, but Burton had enough chemistry with the rest of the cast to make it work.

White Collar kept it fresh this week by forcing the characters out of their comfort zones. Murder and violence are far from Neal’s area of expertise. Neal’s fish-out-of-water experience was nicely paralleled by Sara adjusting to the situation of people wanting her dead. However, it was nice that Peter and Mozzie were on hand to keep things grounded. In the ongoing subplot about Kate’s disappearance and the music box, Mozzie helped Neal in Neal’s attempts to secure a copy of the flight recordings for the plane on which Kate died. Though they were ultimately unsuccessful, it was nice to see that Mozzie cares a great deal about Neal.

Diana and Jones played a reduced role this week due to Sara taking up a lot of screen time. I hope to see them more involved in the cases in the coming weeks. I also can’t wait until the back half of the season, when Elizabeth will more than a green-screen presence. It’s too bad that Tiffani Thiessen’s pregnancy prevented her from flying to New York to film.

Overall, this was probably the best episode of the season yet. White Collar has really come out swinging in its sophomore season, shedding some of the attributes that made it frustrating throughout some of its freshman season and making the cases more compelling.

Finally, I should comment about the underlying White Collar mythology involving Kate, the music box, and the mysterious photo collage. This is the only major gripe that I have with the show at the moment: I feel as if the show is jerking me around with this stuff. The show keeps asking questions and isn’t giving any answers. I have limited patience for this sort of stuff, and it’s wearing thin. Luckily, the rest of the show is top-notch. As long as the cast keeps giving great performances, I’ll probably keep tuning in.

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