Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Who Can You Trust?

One of the really enjoyable television programs of the past eight weeks has been the new USA network series, White Collar.

It's fresh, snappy, charming -- and there is great buddy chemistry between the leads, slick, handsome con-man Neal, played by Matt Bomer, and witty but by-the-book FBI agent, Peter, played by Tim DeKay.

Since it began in October, I looked forward every week to my dose of White Collar and I was not looking forward to it being on hiatus for the next 6 weeks until its return in the 3rd week of January.

Now I'm not so sure.

Now I'm just annoyed with it. Everything was fine up until the last scene when,

* * * * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * * *

after they'd solved the current case with a bit of a question left over about the new FBI guy on the block, Neal got his phone call from Kate.

It wasn't a surprise that he got a phone call from Kate. He periodically gets them just when things seem to be going well and the writer wants to shake things up a bit.

But this time it's followed by Kate herself coming into a room where Peter, wearing the same stupid pinky ring on his hand as the mysterious guy in the photo we've seen of Kate, is waiting for her.

A twist. But not at all a satisfying twist for several reasons:
  • we've had no indication that Peter is playing a deep game of pitting one person against another and it isn't even hinted at in his character as we've come to know him. Peter is the straight guy. And while I'll certainly buy that he has hidden depths (he's the one who in an earlier episode used a voice recorder very cleverly after all), I won't buy this. It feels far too much like Alias did when they were doing 'twists for twists' sake' and losing their credibility with their audience at the same time.
  • The 'twist' undermines the whole setup of the earlier seven weeks, because as a viewer I felt as if I'd been set up for a cheap shot. It made me distrust the premise (which is pure escapism anyway, which is fine, but then don't mess around with it).
  • a good twist is one that you don't see coming but which, on further reflection, delights you because you can see the groundwork was there to make it believable and yet surprising. Nothing about this twist was believable. It flew in the face of everything we've been led to believe about Peter's character. It's a betrayal of the character because it isn't built on what we've seen so far and if the writer says it is, then he didn't convey it well enough in earlier episodes.
So I'm frankly disappointed, left with a bad taste in my mouth, and feel exactly the way I did when Alias betrayed my trust.

I stopped watching because I felt uncomfortable in the world being created -- it wasn't a world I wanted to buy into any longer.

Right now I'm teetering on that edge with White Collar, which is not a good thing. Alias had a couple of good seasons behind it before it went south. White Collar doesn't have near the claim on my loyalty.

And if I were Tim DeKay I'd be seriously annoyed because I can't believe he knew about this twist in earlier episodes. If he had, he's a good enough actor that he'd have played it differently, given us a hint of what was to come, allowed us a measure of knowledge that Peter was playing a deeper game. The writer sold him out with that twist.

I don't usually wax poetic about why television shows disappoint me. But I write characters, and if there's one thing I understand, it's when motivation isn't there to underpin behavior. That means you have to go back to the drawing board and make sure it does. And if you can't rewrite previous episodes to make that happen (which for obvious reasons on TV you can't), then you have to work with the characters you've already created, with the motivations you have already given them, and you have to be true to that.

If you don't, you sell your audience out and your characters down the river.

Peter and Neal are a great team. Or maybe they were -- for seven and nine-tenths episodes.

All I know is I feel betrayed, and the writer has dug himself a big deep hole to get out of with his characters and his story intact. I can see several ways he might redeem himself, but I don't know if any of them will really be satisfactory -- and I don't have a lot of patience left to see if he can do it.

Sad, really.

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Blogger Lacey Devlin said...

I admit I didn't read past the spoiler alert once I realised I hadn't seen that episode yet lol! But I love White Collar too so I really won't be happy if it all goes wrong. There will be rioting in the streets!

08 December, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

When you see it, Lacey, let me know what you think. I was soooo annoyed! A little rioting in the streets wouldn't come amiss, believe me. As writers, we ought to protest flagrant mucking about with character motivation! And this is flagrant. And annoying. Perhaps I mentioned that.

08 December, 2009  

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