White Collar, “What Happens in Burma”

After the first two episodes of season 2.5 focused on the major narratives, White Collar fell comfortably back into its procedural charms with “What Happens in Burma.” And unlike most series where I’d rather spend time discussing the overall threads, I find myself enjoying episodes like this one much more. I don’t have an overt problem with the series’ attempts at mythology or world-building, but usually that means more angst from Neal and that’s just not as fun. It’s nice to go that direction, but I prefer fun, tricky Neal.

“What Happens in Burma” has one of the worst teaser loglines ever: “Peter and Neal must travel to Burma in order to prove the innocence of the son of an American diplomat.” While the second half of that statement is true, the team never, ever leaves New York City in this episode and although that’s certainly a bit disappointing, it’s probably for the best. I’d rather be lied to by the network’s promotions department then watch a moderately budgeted cable series try to fake a foreign locale that’s rarely presented on television.

In any event, this was a fun episode with a well-executed plot. The cases always work better when there is some sort of alias, costume or minor gimmick in play and I think they used everything in the chamber for “What Happens in Burma”: Neal uses a few aliases, Diana goes undercover as a sexy model, Mozzie and Neal literally make a ruby and Jones gets to wear a cool scarf! Good episode for everyone. The villains of the episode could have easily fallen into stereotype territory, but for the most part, “Burma” avoids that. The embassy folks are moderately evil and only because they’re trying to cover their own ass for what is actually happening in their home country; there isn’t any sort of exotic mustache twirling or anything like that, so much appreciated there.

Moreover, this series has gotten really good at setting up and paying off little moments within individual episodes. Early on here Peter complains about the embassy people’s inability to pay for their parking tickets because they have diplomatic immunity and by the time the episode ends, that’s a big part of the solution to Peter and Neal’s problems. It’s a small little beat, but in a series with unlimited charm and charisma, it’s fully worth it. Similar to that, Peter’s general hatred towards diplomats is one of those random character traits that not only adds a bit of depth to a character but also serves as a possible avenue for more stories in the future.

The beats with the diplomat and his long-lost son were well-played without a whole lot of histrionics or melodrama and that’s always appreciated. I think there perhaps could have been more clarification about the various political and social upheavals that the captured son was involved in because it became a bit murky there at the end, but that’s such a small part of the episode that it doesn’t really matter.

More importantly, the tension between the father and the son gave the episode the opportunity to continue to dive through Neal’s past, an area we still haven’t been too often. I love that Peter presents his honest-to-goodness caring as professional curiosity and also appreciate that Neal respects Peter enough that by the end of the case he was willing to tell the truth about his dirty cop of a father. There’s a moment in the second half of the episode where Neal says he has to illegally help the diplomat to get the son back and he knows that if it were Peter’s son or Neal’s son, Peter would do the right (read: illegal) thing. Though it’s a really quick moment, it totally proves that Neal knows that Peter cares a lot about him and even though his father was kind of a dud, he’s found something of a surrogate in Special Agent Burke. In general, I’d prefer that we learn more about the pasts of the characters in this way instead of doing full-blown flashback episodes like last week’s sort of-messy effort, but I understand the overall appeal.

There’s nothing original found within “What Happens in Burma,” but it’s a well-paced, well-acted episode of a series that is now so obviously confident in its storytelling techniques. This is just a fun hour of television.

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