There were two major problems with “Payback”: 1) There was a lot of clunky dialogue. 2) It asked you to accept the notion that the FBI and the prison system could be grossly incompetent. I can forgive the former; not every television show can always have Terriers-level dialogue.1 But to be alright with the latter problem requires suspension of disbelief to an extent that I’m not willing to give.

Dialogue hasn’t always been White Collar’s strong suit. The writers certainly know how to write banter between Peter and Neal, but when other characters get involved, the words coming out of their mouths can verge on cheesy. For example, the conversation between Elizabeth and Neal at the FBI felt clumsy and largely unnecessary.

But the bigger problem with this episode was the plotting and how it showcased the ineffectiveness of law enforcement. How could the prison guards be stupid enough to let Keller and Lang coordinate an escape? Why was Keller allowed to walk around the prison talking to anybody he pleased with a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone? Why didn’t the FBI just stop the transfer and force Keller to stay at the minimum-security prison but with increased supervision? Why did nobody ask Neal for a license plate or even a description of the van in which Peter was kidnapped? Usually, I don’t even notice plot holes, and when I do, I can forgive them, but this episode was just so shakily constructed and reliant on FBI and prison-guard stupidity that I’m unwilling to let any of this go. If the FBI is this moronic, I’m surprised that they manage to catch any criminals. White Collar never asks its audience to step out of reality, but this kind of plotting really strains believability.

However, it would be disingenuous for me to imply that this episode was all bad. In fact, it was far superior to “Forging Bonds.” Despite its shaky construction, the case was tense and exciting. There was also a lot of fun around the edges. Mozzie is always good for a couple of laughs, and the more Jones on my television screen, the happier I am. I also enjoyed watching Neal talk Peter through a MacGyver-esque jailbreak.

Altogether, “Payback” was a fun but very flawed episode of White Collar. Better luck next time, I guess.

 

1 But as evidenced by the idiotic Katie-cheats-on-Britt plot of the second half of the series, almost any show can have Terriers-level storylines.

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