If there’s one pattern that I’ve noticed in television, it’s that shows tend to follow up big, plot-line-resolving episodes with silly, disappointing ones. It’s practically a law of television, and “Upper West Side Story” was no exception to it. More details after the jump.
Ideally, White Collar would have a mythology that made sense plot-wise and that allowed the characters to stay true to whatever development they had experienced over the show’s run. By now, I’ve given up hope on that front. I’m fine with White Collar just working on a week-to-week, case-by-case basis. And it would, more or less, if it didn’t keep stepping on its own toes.
The show wants to string character beats throughout each episode, but it can’t do so without compromising the show’s sunny vibe (and by association, the USA Network’s “blue skies” aesthetic). So what results is a tonally jarring mess. Take the scene where Peter interrupting Neal’s class, for example. The thinly-veiled barbs flying back and forth between them came across as hokey and more lighthearted than was probably intended. (And all the while, I wanted to yell, “Peter, you might be compromising your cover, YOU FUCKING MORON.”) The problem is that Neal willfully hid a freakin’ treasure trove from the FBI. That’s serious business, and it should have consequences. However, despite what Peter might say, the show isn’t willing to explore those consequences. The show can claim to explore them all it wants, but talk is cheap, and it’s clear from this episode that White Collar is content to reduce the conflict between Peter and Neal to a silly verbal sparring session couched in a discussion of classic poetry.
But if White Collar just concentrated on having fun cases, it would work pretty well, as demonstrated by this week’s investigation into the embezzlement of funds from a private school’s endowment fund. Everybody loves seeing rich assholes get knocked down a peg, and as long as White Collar continues to make that happen, then watching it will bring at least some vague cathartic joy. Moreover, Peter’s and Neal’s alter egos were a lot of fun in this episode, especially when Diana got involved as Peter’s “mistress” (though I’m pretty sure we’ve seen that happen before. Correct me if I’m wrong.)
On the other hand, there was quite a bit of head-slamming stupidity in this episode. The subplot about Evan’s crush on Chloe was about as clichéd and predictable as TV can get, and I found myself wishing for most of the episode that Chloe would turn out to be the big villainess behind it all. Alas, that wasn’t the case, and instead, we were left with a huge, gaping plot hole: why the hell were Slater and Woods passing information about the accounts through Chloe’s calculus book? Wouldn’t it have been easier – not to mention far less risky – to simply pass the information to each other in hand? Why take the chance of exposing the scheme to the entire world through such a convoluted communication system? Were these idiots trying to get caught? No seriously, tell me, because this might be the hugest fucking plot hole I have ever seen in my entire life. I’m not kidding. It was that moronic.
So in the end, I guess that “Upper West Side Story” was just like any other episode of White Collar: a couple of fun cons; some witty dialogue; a few forced bits that were too cutesy for their own good; and a few moments so stupid that they made me wonder if the show was being written by a group of monkeys sitting at typewriters. Why am I still watching this show? Honestly, I have no idea. But it’s apparent to me now – I don’t know why it took me so long – that White Collar is pretty content with what it is right now. Discussing a hypothetical, better version of the show is futile, because it ain’t gonna happen, folks. So depending on how much time I have over the next few weeks, I might forgo reviewing the show. I’ve said almost all I can say about it. Heck, I don’t even think I want to say more about it. And that, to me, is the most disappointing thing of all.