A curious thing happened while I was watching last night’s White Collar. You see, I’d been put off by a couple of things that had happened at the start of the episode, both instances of really sloppy editing. The first involved splicing in a take where Mozzie’s voice had strangely jumped an octave higher. The second involved Frank Deluca, Jr.’s entrance into Mozzie’s showroom. What should have been a grand, dramatic entrance was instead cut down to half a second, as if the Detroit mob boss had magically appeared out of nowhere to announce, “Hey, you don’t know who the fuck I am, but shit’s about to get ugly.” Say whaaaaaat?

The problem is that first impressions can have a lasting impact. From that point on, I started making a mental checklist of everything that irked me about the episode: all the plot holes, contrivances, inconsistencies, and instances of bad editing. The list was very long. It’s considerably shorter now that I’ve had a night’s sleep to forget some of them, but one point remains clear: if you think too hard about this show, it doesn’t make an iota of sense.

That’s not a major sin on a show with a tone that is, for lack of a better word, cartoonish. I’ll accept all sorts of nonsense when I’m watching Pushing Daisies or Breaking In. But White Collar isn’t that kind of show. It’s not a fantasy show about a guy who can bring people back from the dead. It’s not a sitcom about a firm that tests people’s security. It’s a semi-serious procedural about an FBI agent and a former conman who catch forgers, thieves, and fraudsters.

Last night, White Collar tried to have its cake and eat it too. Perhaps aware that the flimsy plotting wouldn’t hold up, the episode sometimes opted for a cartoonish tone. However, it didn’t fully commit to that tone. There were scenes, like Elizabeth’s conversation with Mozzie or Mozzie warning Neal that his friendship with Peter would have to end, that felt too “real” as compared to the wackier stuff like the flashbacks or Mozzie pulling a “Ferris Bueller.” What resulted was a mess of conflicting tones surrounding a case that was somehow both flimsy and confusing.

I’ve already mentioned a couple of examples of tonal inconsistency in this episode, but I’ll talk about a couple of others. The first was Al Sapienza’s performance as Frank Deluca, Jr. For starters, it wasn’t good. At all. But more importantly – and this might be director Dennie Gordon’s fault – Sapienza was playing a cartoon villain on a show with semi-realistic (if somewhat eccentric) characters. Sapienza’s hammy, scenery-chewing performance as Deluca just didn’t fit into the show’s world. The second example of tonal inconsistency was the flashbacks to Mozzie’s youth. They were clearly supposed to be a semi-serious origin story for Mozzie, but they were undercut by the sheer number of jokes. Some of them hit that sweet spot of both funniness and poignancy – like Mozzie commenting that he called himself the “Dentist of Detroit” because a dentist was the scariest thing that his twelve-year-old self could think of – which is what I imagine the episode was going for. But too many jokes and scenes that seemed as if they had been stolen from The Simpsons made the flashbacks seem cartoonish, as if they didn’t fit with the rest of the episode. In fact, because of the fuzzy picture effect and “flashback-style” colour palette, they felt like a subjective retelling of events, rather than something to be taken at face value. The show already established a visual style for its flashbacks back in season 2’s “Forging Bonds” (i.e. the exact same as anything that took place in the present day), so I’m not sure if I’m supposed to interpret these flashbacks differently.

Moreover, the flashbacks felt as if they were aiming to engender the audience’s instinctive reaction of sympathy to childhood stories, and as such, they didn’t feel earned in the slightest. That’s not to suggest that TV shows should have to jump through hoops to get any sort of emotional response from their audience, but any exploration of Mozzie’s past has never really been set up or hinted at. Thus, the episode had to work doubly hard to make me care about Mozzie’s past, by employing the cliché of a Father Figure™ who raised Mozzie in an Orphanage™, and trying to do that while also attempting to make me laugh is a tough feat to pull off. White Collar didn’t succeed.

But those tonal problems were miniscule compared to the flimsiness of this week’s case. It was so flimsy that it failed to hold my interest. My attention kept waning, and by about midway through, I lost track of who was trying to weasel whom out of money. I might have been compelled to pay closer attention if the case had made a lick of sense, but instead, I found myself irritated with its plethora of WTF-worthy moments:

  • Why would Jeffreys come all the way to New York City? Couldn’t he just phone Mozzie? It’s not as if criminals like Deluca can easily get wiretaps.
  • How was a phone call proof that the guy in the black sedan (i.e. Peter) was the Dentist? How could Deluca be so stupid as to believe that Neal was talking to the guy in the black sedan on the phone? The car had tinted windows; Deluca wouldn’t have even been able to see inside!
  • Why didn’t O’Leary suspect that Neal was trying to set him up when he saw that Neal just happened to be standing there after the feds had left?
  • If people were being scanned with metal detectors at the betting site, how was Deluca able to bring a gun onto the premises? (Fanwank: he knew that O’Leary was being set up, so the FBI let him bring his weapon.)
  • Why was O’Leary convinced to bet everything when Neal was “fired?” If he had been making small bets up until then, why would Neal’s apparent dismissal cause him to change his betting habits? Presumably, he had already made $20 000. Why would he risk losing it all?

A case with that many plot holes is just unacceptable for a semi-serious procedural like White Collar. I’ve been able to gloss over such problems in the past when the show at least had a coherent tone and wasn’t trying to appeal to my instinctual emotions, but last night, for the first time, I found that I didn’t want to like the episode. In fact, unfair as it may be, any time I chuckled or a cracked a smile, I was irritated with myself for finding enjoyment in something that was so poorly constructed. (And I haven’t even gotten into the myriad editing mistakes. Yikes!) Maybe I’m being excessively harsh because this episode didn’t measure up in any way to last season’s excellent Mozzie-centric installment, “By the Book.” In any case, “Dentist of Detroit” probably wasn’t the worst episode of White Collar. But it was definitely the sloppiest.

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