Episode Title: 'Pulling Strings'
Writer: 'Anton Cropper'
Director: Channing Powell
Peter (Tim DeKay) prepares to take off for Elizabeth's birthday weekend by having Neal (Matt Bomer) work the case of a missing Stradivarius violin with his ex-girlfriend, Sara (Hilarie Burton). With his commutation hearing coming up, Peter suggests Neal use the case to make a good impression.
A reluctant Neal meets with Sara, who says that she suspects her boss, Brian McKenzie stole the violin after a recent trip to China. Back at the office, Agent Kramer (Beau Bridges) arrives to go over Neal's files before the hearing.
Sara and Neal search Brian's apartment where Neal discovers that the two had a romantic relationship. Their bickering is soon interrupted when Brian (Bailey Chase) unexpectedly returns home. Neal hides, but not before finding a video tape stashed inside a secret drawer in a globe. Surprised to find Sara in his apartment, Brian confronts her about ditching him in Beijing. Sara tells him she wants to get back together and Brian invites her to the symphony that night.
Neal and Diana (Marsha Thomason) attend the concert where they meet up with Brian and Sara. Neal and Brian have a tense exchange as the lights go down. Elsewhere, Peter becomes increasingly uncomfortable with Elizabeth's in-laws. He reaches out to Neal and asks him to send Mozzie (Willie Garson) over to run interference.
Jones (Sharif Atkins) looks at the footage from the tape that Neal took from the apartment and finds an image of a woman handing the violin to a man, backstage. He calls Neal with the info and he and Diana race to the room from the video. There, they find the concert hall's resident instrument expert, Morrie, dead.
Diana questions the girl from the video, who admits to taking the violin, only to play it in the concert. When she accidentally damaged it, she gave it to Morrie to repair. The team is perplexed as to why Brian would leave the violin behind after killing Morrie. However, things become clear when they learn of a stolen high-tech carbon polymer out of China that looks like a violin string.
Brian goes back to Morrie's room to look for the string when Sara arrives, wearing a bug. She shows Brian the string and suggests they become partners. He realizes that Sara is lying to him and threatens to kill her. Neal and Diana race into the room and place Brian under arrest. Outside of the concert hall, Sara tells Neal he should call her sometime.
Over at the Burke's, after his original gift is botched, Peter gives Elizabeth her birthday present. Meanwhile at the FBI office, Agent Kramer questions Diana about Peter and the team covering up for Neal.
"Pulling Strings" was an apt title for this episode as the FBI pulled the strings with Neal's personal and professional life, as well as his possible future freedom.
And it is indeed coming down to the wire for Neal, who if granted his freedom, will have to make some big life decisions. Pressure from unrepentant con man, Mozzie isn't going to help. But that may not even matter if Agent Kramer uncovers Peter's cover-up for Neal.
Guest stars Beau Bridges and Tom Skerritt were put to good use as the no-nonsense Agent Kramer and Elizabeth's asocial psychiatrist Dad, respectively. The Burkes' B-storylines sometimes feel a bit schmaltzy and pointless but this one was fun and I'm not gonna lie, Peter's present to Elizabeth almost made me tear-up a tiny bit. It was still schmaltzy as hell, though.
It was also great to have Sara back in the picture, thrown together on a case with Neal. These two have a really fun dynamic and Sara's great at exposing Neal's vulnerability in a way only an ex-girlfriend can. The tension between these two is also a nice counterbalance to the Peter/Elizabeth Hallmark card relationship.
As for the case of the missing Stradivarius, I enjoy "White Collar" most when Neal's blue blood taste comes into play. Though the idea of Sara's boss/ex-boyfriend smuggling a high tech polymer into the country through a priceless violin is a bit wild, even for "White Collar," but the hour was entertaining enough to want to play along.
The real intrigue in this episode is the question of Neal's future. "White Collar" takes so many liberties with its subject matter that I'm glad to see Peter and the team's blind eye to Neal's crimes called into question. Of course, we know all will be well that end's well here, but getting to that end promises to be a fun ride.
Crave Onine Rating: 8.5 out of 10.