This season of White Collar seems to be operating on two separate levels. The first comes from a show with appealing characters who banter charmingly and wittily with each other, and it’s a joy to watch. The second comes from a detective show with so much stupidity and so little believability that it makes The Killing look like a masterpiece of mystery storytelling.

White Collar is lucky to have the kind of cast that it has. The show hasn’t assembled a team of the best actors on the planet, but their chemistry really elevates the material that they’re given. They have amusing conversations, they spout snappy dialogue as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, and they give the show the breezy feel for which the USA Network aims with all its programming. “Scott Free” was the perfect showcase for how well the cast members play off each other. The episode shined any time more than two characters shared the screen. I could easily spend half this review listing little moments and jokes that I enjoyed.

But I won’t, because I’m frustrated with how poorly constructed this week’s case was. This might have been the stupidest case ever featured on White Collar. It had the potential to be interesting, but it was sunk by a list of contrivances so egregious that the writers would probably hang their heads in shame if they were shown that list. This episode seemed hellbent on making the FBI look like a bunch of idiots. They barely did an iota of detective work; they were thwarted by Scott at every turn, and any progress they made in the case was handed to them on a silver platter.

I wouldn’t have minded seeing Scott outwit the FBI if he had done anything brilliant. But he didn’t. He got by on sheer luck. The decoy that he planted in his apartment was ridiculous, and not just because Roombas turn themselves off after a while. (Let’s fanwank that he hacked the vacuum cleaner.) Why would Scott want the FBI to believe that he was at home? I get that he was cocky, but relying on the FBI being too stupid to use thermal imaging sounds like a bad idea. And the fact that his cockiness extended to making a montage of photos of his thefts made him seem so sloppy that the Neal Caffrey comparisons fell flat.

The montage happened to contain a photo of a bejeweled bustier stolen from a guy named Carlisle, who had procured the item illegally himself. Meanwhile, the FBI found one of Scott’s anonymous donation cards – and really, nobody tried to track the donations back to any accounts? – stating that he was making a pledge to an organ donor charity…which must mean that Scott was about to steal a motorcycle! (Elizabeth has to be useful in every episode somehow, right?) And not just any motorcycle…the most expensive motorcycle in the city! (Because that’s not another big leap in logic. And this really expensive beast costs $120 K, which isn’t an astonishingly low price for the most expensive motorcycle in New York City.)

Oh, you think the contrivances are over? Sorry, we’re just getting started. The motorcycle’s owner put it on display at a party. Carlisle sent a woman to assassinate Scott at that party. (Because Carlisle magically knows where Scott is at all times. And killing Scott would make the bustier vanish into thin air.) Seeing that the woman had slipped something into Scott’s martini, Neal slapped the drink out of his hand. In the ensuing confusion, Scott escaped on the motorcycle with the keys he had cleverly pilfered using a specially trained monkey. Wait, there was no monkey? Crap. Let’s just call that a plot hole then.

What I want to know is: what the hell was Scott’s plan? Was he going to create a diversion and then escape on the motorcycle? The fact that he didn’t create the diversion himself made it seem like once again, he lucked out because of the FBI’s incompetence. And compounding the FBI’s incompetence was the fact that they didn’t even pursue Scott. They had a freakin’ FBI van, for <random deity>’s sake! Heck, they didn’t even call it in to the NYPD: “Hey, you might want to keep a lookout for a guy on the most expensive motorcycle in the city. Just sayin’.”

But wait, the best of the idiocy is yet to come. The job that Neal, Scott, and Sara pulled at Carlisle’s office started off promisingly, even if the fact that Sara actually wore the bustier screamed, “Hey, Hilarie Burton is here just to look pretty and make out with Matt Bomer. Thank you, male viewers, for continuing to watch our show.” I actually liked seeing Scott and Neal work together to crack the safe. But when Carlisle arrived back at the office with Peter – coincidentally, just on time to make Neal and Co.’s caper hinge on a down-to-the-wire, do-or-die moment – and Peter found the safe open, containing the bustier, I had to roll my eyes. Doesn’t the FBI do anything without having evidence placed in its lap? Then followed possibly the most egregious bit of stupidity so far this season. After pulling the caper off successfully, Neal went on a spiel about how Scott should turn himself in. Peter arrived, Neal turned his head, and poof! Scott was gone. Vanished. Into thin air. Just like that. Nope, Peter and Neal didn’t frantically run around trying to find him. Nope, Peter didn’t send agents to scan the area and find Scott. He had disappeared. Just. Like. That. *bangs head against wall*

There was another aspect of this case that bugged me, and it wasn’t just the poor plotting. While I liked the actor who played Scott – IMDb tells me that his name is Hutch Dano – I thought that the Neal/Scott comparison was too on the nose. Scott robs from the rich? *gasp* So did Neal! Scott got cocky? *gasp* So did Neal! Scott has the opportunity to turn himself in? *gasp* So did Neal! As for that cutesy trick where the characters were talking about the case but their dialogue could equally apply to Neal’s situation, someone needs to take that cliché out back and swing an axe at its neck.

On some level, I have to appreciate that White Collar’s writers made an effort to tie this case into the larger mythology. But mostly, I’m just irritated with this season’s Nazi loot storyline for reasons that I’ve outlined in previous reviews. In the past, on this show, Peter used to try to get Neal to play by the rules, and Neal used to try to get Peter to bend them. But they were both working toward a common goal, just from different angles. Now, what Neal’s doing is obviously wrong, and what Peter’s doing is obviously right. The fact that Neal is considering throwing his current life away for a score doesn’t make him seem tortured or conflicted; it just makes him seem like a jerk. And Peter doesn’t come off all that well either, now that his lectures to Neal seem like nothing but moralizing.

With the mythology a total bust and the cases being about as sturdy as a popsicle stick bridge, the only thing left holding the show together is the cast, their chemistry, and their witty dialogue. That’s a lot of icing and not a lot of cake. In fact, I think I’ve spent 1000+ words complaining about the lack of cake. I barely have the energy to get one last nitpick in, which is that Mozzie (a.k.a. Bob) wouldn’t be allowed to wear glasses in a passport photo. And I didn’t spend any energy trying to fanwank in order to fill the plot holes. Imagine if I’d tried. I’d have passed out by now. The show still has its inherent charms, and I continue to enjoy the way that the characters play off each other. I just wish that the cast and their chemistry could be transplanted to a show with much better plotting.

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