“Deadline” marked somewhat of a return to form for White Collar. On the strength of a compelling case, the episode rose out of the mediocrity that has plagued the series since last season’s “Payback.”

This week’s episode was all about Agent Diana Barrigan. Up until now, we’ve learned precious little about her, aside from the fact that she’s a lesbian and is therefore immune to Neal Caffrey’s charms. Unfortunately, we didn’t come away from this episode knowing much about her that we didn’t already know, but we still got a nice showcase for a character who is often underused. Free from having to struggle with a fake American accent for most of this episode, Marsha Thomason delivered her best performance of the series, jumping back and forth between determination and exasperation with ease, and nailing the tonal transitions between levity and tension.

The case was relatively straightforward, but detailed enough to hold my interest. I appreciated that it found a somewhat novel reason for a pharmaceutical company cover-up – a bad batch of drugs – rather than the usual reason of an inherent defect in the drug causing deleterious side effects. More importantly, though, the case provided the opportunity for a lot of fun scenes, like the one where Peter impersonated an FDA agent. And as usual, White Collar’s trademark brand of lighthearted, low-key humour was present throughout the proceedings.

There were, however, a few flaws with the episode. As adept as White Collar’s writers can be at scripting witty banter (especially between Peter and Neal), they often fall short at writing other kinds of dialogue. Diana’s kiss-off line about being overqualified for the job might have caused my irises to roll back into my eye sockets. I also didn’t like all the lame clichés that were employed, including Diana starting to think of her undercover work as her real job and Helen’s entire character arc (if you can call it that), from treating Diana like dirt to owing her a debt of gratitude. Finally, the scene where Helen met her source under a bridge was so badly directed that it made me wonder why anyone would have handed the director a camera in the first place. The camera angles were so wonky that it almost looked as if the source ran after the gunman. (Speaking of that scene, it also bugged me that Diana didn’t arrange for a tail to follow her to the meeting location, so that backup could have rescued the source and/or apprehended the gunman. But I might be nitpicking here.)

But overall, I still thought this was a pretty fun (if a little flimsy) episode of White Collar. It was nowhere near the level of the first half of last season, but “Deadline” displayed the kind of fun, easy groove that makes this show light, escapist fare. And if that’s all that this show ever wants to be, then I might be a little disappointed because I can see a lot of potential in this series, but on the whole, I’m fine.

What I’m not fine with, however, is the continuing plot line about Mozzie and Neal’s attempt to hide the stolen Nazi loot. Lest I sound like a broken record, I’ll refrain from commenting about how this storyline is totally at odds with Neal’s character development throughout last season. But oh Lord, the plotting beggars belief! How does having a partial manifest of the ship’s contents prove that Neal and Mozzie stole anything? Even if the stolen items surface elsewhere, wouldn’t Mozzie be smart enough to cover his tracks so that the chain of sales doesn’t point back to him? And for [insert your favourite deity here]’s sake: why would Peter be dumb enough to hand Diana a suspicious briefcase in plain view of Neal?

These small points aside, though, “Deadline” was quite good. White Collar has never been able to handle its mythology convincingly, and if that had been a major turn-off for me, then I would have jumped ship a long time ago. Altogether, “Deadline” wasn’t the best or the worst of White Collar, but it indicates that the show might be getting back on track.

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