It has been a few hours since the White Collar midseason finale aired, and my only coherent thought is, “Um, okay…”

Let’s get one thing straight: that’s not a compliment. That my feelings about this episode can be summed up as a sarcastic “Good for you, White Collar,” like patting a kindergartener on the head for an anatomically incorrect drawing of a dog, is not a good sign. That the final minute of “Countdown” made me scoff with laughter is an even worse one.

In a way, this review would be a lot easier to write if I had just flat-out hated the episode. If it had been terrible, then at least I’d have something to write about. In fact, I’m feeling a lot like I did last week: I don’t know how to feel, which is odd because this episode should have provided some resolution and allowed me to solidify some of my opinions about this half-season. Yet all “Countdown” did was postpone the inevitable. Eventually, the Nazi loot storyline will have to come to an end. But with Neal outsmarting Peter by a hair yet again, the storyline came back to square one. I feel as if the show has made no forward progress, even though we’ve spent a lot of time agonizing about the art.

Yes, there was that pesky cliffhanger (the one that made me scoff with laughter), and yes, there’s every chance that the show will use it as a springboard to go in an interesting new direction. But let’s be realistic here: does anyone seriously expect that this is the end for Elizabeth? Of course not. We know that she’ll be rescued, and thus the cliffhanger was nothing but a cheap shot for shock value, designed to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. (Plus, the weird, blurry, dreamlike style in which the final thirty seconds or so were shot and edited did nothing but contribute to my feeling of being emotionally manipulated.) That’s not to say that the fallout of Elizabeth’s kidnapping will definitely be uninteresting or ignored. I’d like to believe that White Collar’s writers are smart enough to let her capture affect the way she views the world and her husband’s job.

But remember, these are the same writers who want me to believe that Neal could leap from a tall building in Manhattan, deploy a parachute, and remain unnoticed. These are the same writers who made Keller hated by the criminal underworld, but also allowed him access to it so that he could obtain the resources necessary for committing his crimes. And on top that, they wrote Melissa as possibly America’s dumbest FBI agent. (Hey, that sounds like it could be a reality show!)

Look, I don’t mind a few plot holes here and there. They’re to be expected on pretty much any show. It’s just that White Collar is so brazen and unapologetic in its sloppiness that it sort of annoys me. Neal can’t just switch a painting with a forgery; he has to jump off a building in the process. Keller can’t just roam free in New York despite the fact that the authorities are searching for him; he also has to kidnap Elizabeth and have a recording of her phone conversation with Peter at the ready. And Melissa can’t just be a dumb FBI agent; Neal has to be able to fool her multiple times.

If the show were a lot less sloppy, it might be easier to forgive all the heavy-handedness in this episode. After the 729th time Mozzie presented Neal the choice he had – stay or go – I wanted to yell, “I get it! Neal’s conflicted!” I don’t constantly need to be reminded of it, just like I didn’t need Peter’s mentor constantly reminding him that criminals don’t change their nature.

Of course, we know that to be false, because we’ve seen Neal change over the course of two-and-a-half seasons. Neal’s work with the FBI is no longer just a means to an end; it’s his life now, and he enjoys living it. So, it’s fitting that he decides to stay of his own volition.

It’s also completely predictable, but for “meta” reasons. If Neal leaves town to go live on some tropical island, then the show is over. If Neal gets caught and thrown back in jail, then the show is also over. There are no real stakes. We know that Neal will get away with the crime but that he also won’t leave town.

And that’s what bothered me about this episode as a whole. There were no real stakes. The audience knew that Neal would succeed in replacing the Degas with a forgery. The audience knew that Neal would be able to fool Melissa, no matter how ridiculous and convoluted his explanations for his covers became. It was all so utterly predictable.

But the thing is: White Collar wants me to believe that there are stakes, that Neal can be caught at any moment, that Elizabeth is in grave mortal danger. However, I don’t believe that at all. That’s why I’m laughing about “Countdown.”

Hey, at least I’m laughing, right?

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