justin matchick debuts for pop-break…
For years, the USA Network has themselves on their roster of character driven dramas and comedies such as: Psych, Suits, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, Covert Affairs, and more. Had this been any other decade, this could have been one of the best line-ups in cable. But during what many might say is the best era of television ever, these shows all fall way short of the competition.
In an age where HBO, AMC, Showtime, and FX are delivering some of the best television shows of the past 25 years, USA has remained only moderately successful. The reason for the networks inability to climb ahead in the ranks can be found in the midseason finale of White Collar, when it was revealed that James Bennett (Treat Williams) is in fact Neal Caffery’s (Matt Bomer) biological father. This is a twist that came across as so obvious, so safe, that a moment that should feel like a kick in the stomach to the viewers felt more like a light tap. A recurring problem most USA shows have, White Collar took the obvious route when it could have gone in any other direction. As White Collar returns from its midseason break, it has the opportunity to redeem itself and raise the stakes after a disappointing cliffhanger. And luckily, it does to a certain degree.
“Family Business” picks up right where we left off in the midseason finale, with Neal confronting James about being his father. Right off the bat Neal wants to know why his family had to break up at such a young age, and why his father never tried to contact him before. With the help of some color-faded flashbacks, James explains that his time as an undercover cop working with the dangerous Dennis Flynn did not end well. The Flynn family had framed James for his supervisor’s murder once they didn’t need him anymore, sending him to prison and breaking apart Neal’s family. This revelation, along with Dennis Flynn Jr. kidnapping and torturing James last time, had me hoping that the Flynn family would turn out to be an overarching adversary for Neal and his father for the rest of the season.
For the rest of the episode, the father-son interactions of Neal and James are mostly on the periphery. There are threads of it that creep into the main plot, but only as subtle hints and gestures. This works in the episode’s favor, as we put aside the sentimentality and are treated to a very entertaining plotline about whiskey counterfeiting. It seems that Flynn Jr. is looking to bring his family back to the top of the crime world by restarting the bootlegging business that made them famous. Neal, luckily, is a master at creating knockoffs of popular whiskeys and decides he will use his skills to lure Flynn Jr. into revealing his illegal plans. We get some great scenes as Neal and his paranoid conspiracy theorist friend Moz (Willie Garson) get drunk as they sample their attempts to replicate the whiskey. Moz of course gets a few good lines in the episode as he’s brought in to recreate the bottles needed for the booze (“I haven’t blown glass since before they faked Reagan’s death!”), but seems pretty underutilized for most of the hour. In fact, there are some moments where I began to realize how much more interesting a show with Moz as the main character would be.
Throughout the episode Neal reveals how angry he is that his father had conned him in order to get closer to the evidence that could prove his innocence. Of course, being a con man himself, he shouldn’t be surprised that he takes after his dad. This theme of “like father, like son” runs throughout the episode, and we find that Neal and James have the same method of sneaking dry pot roast to a family dog while at dinner. The patriarchal connections don’t stop there, since Dennis Flynn Jr. takes more than just his first name from his late father. Both Flynn’s keep their murder weapons in old whiskey containers, Jr.’s being used to kill James’ old partner Ellen and Sr.’s being used to kill a cop. This proves to be Jr.’s undoing, as Neal and his FBI contact Peter (Tim DeKay) are able to catch Flynn Jr. and pin this crime and many more on him. The episode is unsurprisingly light on action, choosing to focus more on Neal’s cunning and ability to talk his way out of any tense situations with Flynn Jr.
At the end, we come to find out that Flynn Jr. has been murdered while being transported to prison. Someone didn’t want him to reveal any family secrets, especially about the murder James’ has been framed for. Suddenly James’ chances at returning to a normal life are over, and he must go on the run again. Before leaving Neal for the second time, James winds up revealing that there was more than enough evidence that could get him off the hook. However, while awaiting trial in prison he received a mysterious phone call threatening his family if anyone researched his case any further. After learning that his father stayed in prison to keep his family safe, Neal has a small reconciliation with his father, and is able to put that part of the past behind him. While we lost the chance of seeing Flynn Jr. come up as a recurring villain, this plotline is not over yet. Someone wants James to stay on the run, most likely the same person who called him in prison. With this loose end dangling ominously over Neal’s head, all signs are pointing to a heated conclusion to this plotline at season’s end. In the end, the episode managed to overcome the limp cliffhanger of the last episode and provide an interesting story on bootlegging, while still answering the necessary questions about Neal’s family.