There’s a part of me that wants to hug White Collar for realizing that it can ditch the case-of-the-week format now and then to focus on its mythology. There’s another part of me that wants to smack White Collar upside the head for screwing it up. I enjoyed some bits of “Forging Bonds,” but overall, this flashback episode was the weakest installment of White Collar’s otherwise strong second season.

Here’s a question: what did we learn in “Forging Bonds” that we didn’t already know or couldn’t have deduced by ourselves? Not much. We got to see how all the major players – Neal, Mozzie, Peter, Alex, Kate, Elizabeth, Diana, Jones – got involved in the story, but other than that, this episode more or less told us what we already knew. “Forging Bonds” was content to indulge in every flashback cliché possible. Hero meets sidekick in a wacky situation. Check. Torrid but brief love affair with a blank, uninteresting love interest. Check. Terrifying1 and manipulative mentor-turned-villain. Check. We’ve seen all of this before. In fact, I’ve seen this exact same episode of television before, not too long ago: “Christopher Chance,” Human Target’s S1 finale.2

It seemed as if there was too much story to tell to fit it all into an hour, and as a result, things were rushed. Neal and Kate3 went from friends to lovers in a matter of minutes. It took way too little time for Neal to gain Adler’s trust. We never saw the progression of Peter’s investigation. I felt as if there was no time to fill in the details, and as a result, everything was painted with the broadest strokes possible, which is why we were left with an episode that contained no surprises, just clichés. Some of the included plot points weren’t even important. Honestly, I could have done without Alex’s involvement in the story, which didn’t add much.

My other major complaint with this episode is that it didn’t feel important for the development of Neal’s character. As we have been told repeatedly, Adler is the man who made Neal who he is. But we never saw that. Mozzie and Kate exerted more of an influence on Neal. Mozzie got Neal to expand his horizons, and Kate got Neal to soften up. Adler…um…gave Neal nice suits. At the start of the flashback, Neal was already a charming man with a long criminal background, skilled in the art of forgery. That more or less describes Neal at the start of the series.

There were some little bits of “Forging Bonds” that I enjoyed. White Collar is great at small jokes, and I got a kick out of Peter’s mustache and “James Bonds.” Also, while the dialogue in the present-day scenes at Neal’s apartment was clunky, Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer really sold it. They play so well off each other that I could watch them reading a restaurant menu together. But in the end, all that is just gravy, and without the mashed potatoes to support it, I felt a little empty after watching “Forging Bonds.”4


1 I use the word “terrifying” ironically, of course.

2 To make an apples-and-oranges comparison, “Christopher Chance” was a much better episode of television than “Forging Bonds,” and that’s not just because it aired first.

3 I’d make a comment about the weakness of Alexandra Daddario’s performance, but I’m sure that she’s getting enough hate elsewhere on the Web.

4 That is quite possibly the worst metaphor ever. I deserve to have my blogging license revoked.