WHITE COLLAR – 'Pilot'
Writer/Creator - Jeff Eastin – Director – Bronwen Hughes
1 hour – FBI Procedural – 2009 - USA
“Neal's smart. You know how much I like smart.”
A storyline – Set up of team and solving the case of the 'Dutchman' forger.
B storyline – Where is Kate ?
C storyline – What to get Elizabeth for wedding anniversary ?
ACT 1 – Neal Caffrey escapes from prison with only 3 months of a 4 year sentence to serve. Peter Burke, the F.B.I. Agent who caught him is taken off another case ( the Dutchman forger ) to help find him. He quickly tracks a dejected Neal down to his ex wife's apartment. She has disappeared. ( Set up of B storyline ) Facing a further four year sentence for this Neal bargains with Peter to help find the Dutchman in return for his release. Peter says no. ( Set up of A storyline )
Set up of a situation that needs to change for both characters. Kate's leaving is the catalyst that upsets the stasis for both men. Solution offered but refused.
ACT 2 - Peter sees that Neal is the thing he needs on the team, but his sense of what is right gives him doubt. His wife convinces him to believe Neal's motivation. Neal is released into his custody. He checks him into a run down motel. Unhappy with this situation, Neal goes to a thrift shop for clothes and meets June, a wealthy widow who takes to him and offers him lodging in her house. Peter is incredulous. They have a lead on the Dutchman, a rare book importer has been stopped at the airport with a load of Spanish books. But before they can question him properly he is killed.
False victory. They have the answers, but are thwarted in understanding it.
ACT 3 - Neal uses his skills to discern what might be going on. They visit the museum where they see a Spanish War bond. Neal deduces it is a fake. They are going to try and print and then redeem a whole load of them. Peter's wife calls as it is late, he apologises, she is fine with it. Peter tells Neal he doesn't know what to get her for their anniversary. ( Set up of C storyline ) Neal meet Mozzie who identifies the forger's work. Neal takes Peter to a church where the forger is working. The forger sees them and they are nearly rumbled. The forger is spooked and Peter tells Neal they have to close the case within a week or Neal will go back to jail. Mozzie is determined that won't happen, tells Neal he has found Kate. But Neal thinks she is in danger.
All seems lost. Their actions have escalated the events to another level, more is at stake now.
ACT 4 – Peter tells Neal to forget Kate. Mozzie locates the forger's warehouse where they are printing bonds, But Peter can't enter without a warrant. Neal reads a law book and sees a way around it. He breaks his restraining order and gets the forger to lock him up in the warehouse. Alerted, Peter and the team track him, and now have a legal reason to enter the warehouse to arrest Neal. They, of course, seize the fake bonds and arrest the forger. Neal and Peter have their first success as a team. (Resolution of A storyline).
Act 5 – Peter gives Elizabeth tickets to the Caribbean as an anniversary present. (Resolution of B storyline). Neal has been made an official part of the team. Neal makes up his mind to find Kate despite everything. (Resolution of C storyline).
There are two main characters, The FBI Agent PETER BURKE and the Criminal NEAL CAFFREY. They have a history. Neal is a highly intelligent fraudster and Peter was the only Agent clever enough to catch him. They validate each other, a perfect match, like all TV double acts.
We meet Neal in a series of rapid close ups hurriedly shaving. The flash of orange jumpsuit tells us he is a prisoner. The nervous reactions to slamming doors tells us he is doing something he shouldn't. He has our interest. He is handsome, which inclines us away from hardened thug. He changes into the Guard uniform hidden in the cistern and walks, with literal bare-faced cheek, out of the prison in front of all the guards. The other Cons register this, but no one speaks up. They are on his side, which connects us to his actions. The prison is a place of hard manual labour, which he walks away from, cool and unnerved. Once outside, after a small moment of jeopardy, on screen graphics list his crimes, all non violent, 'safe' crimes.. We relax. He smiles, hot wires a truck and, to the soundtrack of “Hold on, I'm coming” he quickly trades up from haggling the cost of a second hand raincoat ( a bright yellow coat we wonder at until it's purpose is revealed ) to driving a Rolls Royce across Brooklyn Bridge. From the tight shots at the start to the expanse of New York at the end the sense is of freedom, which aligns us to him. The tone is set. Light and clever. We are being asked to enjoy his skill, intelligence and nerve.
We then meet Peter in the middle of a crime operation. We see a bank vault being painstakingly opened by an safe cracker. An activity we associate with villains is being used by the good guys. This again draws out interest, and sets up the idea of the good guys using less than legal means. Every lock that slips is a victory for the assembled team. But there is a twist. The safe has been booby trapped, and only Name realises, but not before the safe blows and the evidence is destroyed. Peter rescues the safe cracker, and then berates his team. We learn that they are all Harvard graduates, and yet the bad guys they are chasing have proved cleverer than them. The team isn't quite good enough, which frustrates him. This scene sets up both the lack that Peter needs to fill to succeed ( someone as clever as the bad guys ) and the crime they will solve this episode ( the forger ).
The episode also introduces five secondary regular characters.
ELIZABETH, Peter's wife, who offers advice and love, who understands her husband's commitment to his job and whose response to the traditional forgotten evening dinner she has prepared is to joke with the dog as it eats it instead. There is no hint of marital conflict here. The show's tone is lighter than that. She helps Peter see the wood for the trees.
DIANA, Peter's probie. Not present at the safe cracking debacle, entering only at the end of the scene and therefore not included in the 'failure' of Peter's team. Smart and to the point, Peter has time for her, listens to what she has to say, which is useful because in this episode she is mostly there to give exposition. ( Diana doesn't appear in the rest of the series, is replaced by the character LAUREN CRUZ, but returns as a regular from season 2 onwards )
The wealthy widow JUNE, who welcomes Neal into her home as a house guest because he reminds her of her late husband when he was younger. Nobody's fool, sees the world for what it is.
MOZZIE, Neal's best friend, fellow aesthete, and white collar criminal, his link with the larger criminal world, Mozzie acts as a sort of prophylatic, so Neal doesn't have to actually connect with criminals for information. This reemphasises the light tone of the show.
CLINTON., another FBI agent in Peter's team. Here again used mainly for exposition, and to not be as smart as Neal.
And KATE, Neal's absent wife, who, by necessity, remains a mystery in this episode.
All the characters are untiled by the core theme of family and love. Peter and Elizabeth love each other deeply. Elizabeth jokes that his team and work are like an extended family, and her argument that Neal acted from love is what sways Peter to take him on. Neal is willing to risk four more years in prison to keep his wife from leaving. June misses her deceased husband and welcomes Neal into her family. There are no dark undertones here, this is all bright, sharp and fun.
The Pilot clearly sets up that each episode will deal with this ying/yang duo catching White Collar criminals using Peter's ability and position within the Law, and Neal's intelligence and willingness to bend the rules to get what he wants. With an over arcing storyline of finding Kate. But it is for the relationship between the two leads that we will keep watching.
A good pilot will still find room for A, B and C storylines, despite the extra burden of setting up series premise. I think this show manages it all with great skill. That the B and C storylines are a further black/white reflection of the main characters and their relationships with their respective wives gives the pilot a rounded unity.
The ankle restrain Neal has to wear, and the 2 mile boundary imposed on him in the set up become the mean by which they catch the Forger in the end. Neal tests the boundary three times ( rule of three ) First he leaves the hotel and moves in with June – a small distance, then he breaks the boundary by going to Peter's house – a bigger distance, then he uses it as a means of getting Peter legal access to the Forger's warehouse – the biggest distance of all that breaks his parole and alerts the F.B.I. to his whereabouts. So what is initially set up as one of the rules of the story world turns out to be the solution to the problem.