Neal Caffrey is anklet-less and on the run from the FBI, hiding out off the coast of Western Africa, in the archipelago of Cape Verde. Caffrey’s new chin scruff and beach linens would leave him otherwise unrecognizable if not for his chapeau, a tropical strawed take on the fedoras of big city Neal. He clearly misses New York. In fact, he explicitly says so many times. He even manages to woo a young woman with that being the bulk of all that he reveals about himself. (To be fair, we were only privy to four out of the twenty questions, which may have taken a more nuanced and sincere direction after five-ish. Yeah, let’s believe that.) Same ole Neal or same old usage of beautiful women to convey easily what Neal represents — beauty, intrigue, and palpable charisma. Same ole White Collar.
Back in New York, Peter Burke misses his best friend. He doesn’t admit it but it’s clear that he and his wife can’t function without Mozzie. So the two of them have been secretly conducting their own investigation into the whereabouts of Neal and Mozzie. It doesn’t take long for Peter to track down Neal. It’s pretty much what he does. It’s what he’s always done.
But in the fourth season premiere, the monkey wrench in this time tested system of structured adventure appears to be Mekhi Motherfucking Pfifer as the new DOJ agent in town, also searching for Neal Caffrey with the sort of blood lust that seems ubiquitous in White Collar antagonists. Mekhi was last seen on last season’s Psych, also on USA Network, and his television guest appearances are always fun. Throughout this episode he utilizes both the sinister grin and the pained grimace to express every emotion a seasoned agent hunting down a fugitive in foreign lands might need. He really just wants to complete tasks, very goal oriented, and takes pleasure in the small victories. Early in the episode he asserts that Peter will help him find Neal and because it’s Mekhi, this doesn’t just come off as an empty threat. Soon enough, he smiles and his promise comes to fruition and the episode ends with an ellipsis solidifying Mekhi’s gun toting, Neal chasing, place in this early arc of season four.
It’s always uncomfortable when White Collar strays from the procedural formula. We all know it’ll happen, particularly surrounding finales and premieres, and the series has proven several times that it has to ability to return to the solid ground of weekly buddy cop-esque proceduraling. But there may be something to be said about Neal’s sentiment that we can never go back, not to New York, not to the anklet, not to Peter’s house for coffee and brainstorming sessions discussing how to catch the crook of the moment. With a show as reliable as White Collar has been for the past three or so years, it may be crucial for viewers to understand that, in the grand scheme of things, everything changes. So much so that it’s even unclear if that simple fact can stay the same. There lies the unease in White Collar‘s genuinely entertaining return. There’s comfort in the return to normalcy, but if Mekhi chases Neal for thirteen episodes (à la a reverse U.S. Marshals or Enemy of the State) in various exotic locales with various women and various stylish hats, all while Mozzie and Peter go to work for Hector at the papaya stand (there’s always money in the papaya stand), it’s unclear if that’s even a bad thing. It’s unclear if that’s even really a new thing. Same ole White Collar?