Episode Title: "Empire City"
Writers: Channing Powell and Daniel Shattuck
Director: Tim DeKay
Previously on "White Collar:"
"White Collar" is very much a New York based show, but "Empire City" might just be the most NYC-centric episode to date. Tapping into Harlem’s jazz scene while investigating a case involving fenced taxicab medallions, Neal (Matt Bomer) and Peter (Tim DeKay) relied on a little help from hack "hack" Mozzie (Willie Garson), former jazz crooner June (Diahann Carroll) and undercover cigar girl, Diana (Marsha Thomason). And like any good jazz tune, there was plenty of improv on everyone’s part.
While out picking up fares in hopes of a few hot tips (we’re talking intel here, not money) Mozzie spots another taxi using his tag. His reckless pursuit of the impostor gets Mozzie arrested and brings a medallion-fencing scheme to the FBI’s attention.
After all the intrigue surrounding the "skyline key" Ellen left behind for Neal, the idea of Peter and company taking on a taxi fraud case felt like a letdown, at first. But "Empire City" quickly comes into its own when the boys learn the identity of the fraudster, Angelo Wells, part owner of Harlem’s famous "Cotton Club."
Though the real life "Cotton Club" is no more, in the "White Collar" universe Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) frequented the club when she first arrived in New York and now the jazz hotspot is set to reopen, thanks to brother owners, Angelo and Delmond Wells (Hey, it’s former MTV VJ Bill Bellamy, reunited with his "Fastlane" co-star, Tiffani Thiessen).
Angelo could care less for the jazz scene and prefers hot merchandise to cool jazz. However his brother, Delmond’s heart is in the music, but unfortunately he’s become mixed up in his brother’s illegal dealings. Problem is, the team actually begins to like Delmond after getting to know him, and thus the objective shifts to catching the "bad seed" Angelo and keeping Delmond a free man.
In one of "White Collar’s" crazier counterfeit science experiments, Neal crafts a "melting medallion" to switch out with the real one kept in the club’s safe. With a little help from Diana, working undercover at the club as a cigar girl and June booked as the headlining act at the grand reopening, Neal is able to make the swap, but not without a few close calls.
"White Collar" loves to heighten the suspense with the possibility that Neal will get caught with his hand in the cookie jar and there are plenty of those moments in this episode, as he and the rest of the team infiltrate the club to set up Angelo with the bogus medallion. The team worried about having to bust "good guy" Delmond, in the end Angelo voluntarily takes the fall for what he did, leaving Delmond to continue running the famous club.
But the title "Empire City" doesn't just refer to the historic jazz club and New York’s iconic taxicabs. Both Neal and Peter believe Ellen’s mysterious key is modeled after a certain section of the city skyline. And once again, both men pinpoint the location, a pier in Queens Neal used to frequent, at exactly the same time. Peter told Elizabeth he merely wants to keep up with Neal and monitor his movements, but we know Peter can’t help himself when it comes to protecting Neal. Elizabeth convinced Neal to lie about the key, but as Peter tells her in this episode, Neal doesn’t lie (or at least not without noble reason). In the meantime, it’s fun watching these two work the same case from very different points of view.
The Tim DeKay-directed "Empire City" not only utilizes "White Collar’s" New York City setting, but also two fan favorite supporting characters, Diana and Mozzie. And it's a real treat to see Diahann Carroll, an accomplished singer, showcase her superb vocals while the team orchestrates the bust.
As eager as I am to see where the "key to Neal’s past" takes things, "Empire City" is a fantastic detour into New York City culture and history. And we do learn a wee bit more about the key, which directs both Neal and Peter to one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Empire State Building. If these two aren’t careful, they could be walking into their own personal tourist trap.