Pulling a magic trick requires distracting the audience. The magician must divert their attention with theatrics while he or she surreptitiously performs the trick without their knowledge. To some extent, the same idea applies to television “magic.” Cram enough awesome things – gunfights, explosions, car chases – into an episode and it’s easier for the audience to ignore little plot holes and slightly shaky character beats. Call me easily fooled, but that “trick” usually works on me. I’m a simple guy. I like crude jokes, scantily-clad women, and things that go boom. Give me some combination of all three and I’m as happy as a clam, minor plot holes be damned.

But, to further this analogy, what if while the magician recited, “Abracadabra, alakazam!” the little white rabbit escaped from under the magician’s table and hopped into the audience? It would be a lot harder to be fooled by the magician’s distraction. I feel similarly about “Under the Radar.” White Collar is always good at zippy, quick-witted banter. The show is quite funny, and the characters are quite likable and are played by talented actors. White Collar is also good at creating fun heists, break-ins, or cons. But as great as all of that was in “Under the Radar,” it couldn’t distract me from the giant mess of clichés, WTF moments, and questionable plotting that constituted the rest of the episode.

You’ve got to wonder what was going through the writers’ heads as they were penning the script for “Under the Radar.” At some point, showrunner Jeff Eastin must have thought: “Crap. We don’t know how to end the season. Let’s just blow shit up. Both literally and figuratively.” It didn’t work last season, and it didn’t work here.

But before I discuss the explosion, let’s backtrack a bit and take a look at how the rest of the episode brought us to the incredibly contrived final few minutes. It turned out that Alex’s connection to the antenna was that her grandfather worked on the sunken u-boat from which the antenna received transmissions. That’s a pretty strong reason to have Alex involved in the plot, but I don’t understand how Adler could have foreseen that she would have been of any use. How could Adler have predicted that Alex would know the code to a secret typewriter that would open the ship’s hatch?

With Alex’s involvement in the main plot squandered, it became clear that the real reason she returned was to create a love triangle with herself, Neal, and Sara. I’ve never bought in to the idea of a romance between Neal and Alex, and I don’t understand why they would be kissing each other after being rescued. It turned out that the kiss was just part of a stupid, clichéd scene in which Sara witnessed Neal and Alex locking lips. That’s lazy, predictable writing at its worst. After that, this poorly-paced episode ground to a halt for some uninteresting romantic-triangle-related nonsense. Alex told Neal that he should be with Sara, and Sara forgave Neal. If that triangle was going to be resolved in this episode, why introduce it in the first place, and in a season finale of all episodes? Season finales are supposed to be tense and exciting, not fraught with pointless romantic drama.

With the triangle nonsense out of the way, the episode then proceeded to the poorly-written mess that was its final few minutes, which culminated in a random twist that made me roll me eyes more than it actually surprised me. The warehouse in which Adler had ostensibly stored the u-boat’s loot exploded, and Peter, seeing a piece of a reproduction on which Neal was working, accused Neal of forging the loot and stealing it for himself.

Okay, everyone take a deep breath. I’m going to tear all of this to shreds. Neal Caffrey, a valuable asset to the FBI, was allowed to walk around without supervision or a bodyguard in an area where criminals who wanted him to be dead were believed to be operating. (Heck, why the hell was Neal there in the first place?) Then, the warehouse exploded, and a piece of a painting that Neal was reproducing just happened to fall at Peter’s feet. I don’t need to elaborate on how incredibly unlikely that is, but let’s just roll with it for now. What I didn’t understand was Peter’s reaction. He immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion. Hasn’t he learned that he can ultimately count on Neal? He also knows that Neal likes to reproduce artwork from time to time as a hobby. Why wouldn’t he consider the idea that what happened was a coincidence? Also, how could Neal have been forging the painting to replace it in the u-boat’s stash if he didn’t know the contents of the stash or even that the u-boat had a stash? How could Neal have even mustered the resources to reproduce everything in the stash? If Peter had bothered to think for just half a minute, he would have known that his accusations were way off-base. Moreover, the audience knows that whatever falling-out Peter and Neal just had, it will have to be resolved quickly next season. Otherwise, the show won’t work. Thus, creating a rift between them as a season finale cliffhanger was both stupid and cheap.

The episode ended with the revelation that somebody else had reproduced the u-boat’s loot and given Neal access to it. If this ends up pushing Neal back into conning, then I’m going to be severely disappointed. That would be tantamount to shitting all over the character development that Neal has undergone over the past two seasons, especially the second half of this one. He has already renounced the life of conning. What motivation does he have not to turn the loot over to the FBI and prove his innocence?

Overall, I wasn’t happy with “Under the Radar.” I can overlook plot holes. I often don’t even notice them. But when an entire episode is built on shaky foundations, I can’t ignore that fact. “Under the Radar” was saved from the trash heap by some sharp banter and good acting. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to carry an entire television show. Not a great capper to what has otherwise been a strong season.

Advertisements