White Collar: “Unfinished Business” Recap & Review
As of last year, Hilarie Burton joined the cast of White Collar, appearing as a recurring guest star in season two, and now a regular in season 3. Here is a recap and review of her first episode, “Unfinished Business”.
RECAP: An insurance investigator, Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton), comes to the FBI with a case from Sterling Bosch Insurance Company. She meets with Peter (Tim Dekay) and Neal (Matt Bomer), and since her pay is based on recovery, she is extra enthusiastic that the stolen Japanese bearer bonds be found. Since Sara was one of those who testified against Neal at his trial, he is nowhere near the realm of excited to be seeing her again. A man walks out of the high dollar restaurant they are standing in front of, when Sara whacks him with her police baton and rides off in his car, which was stolen from one of her clients. In his own time, Neal goes with Mozzie (Willie Garson) to the sight of last season finale’s plane explosion, and in a spur of the moment con, tells the FAA worker that he is employed by Sterling Bosch and wants the cockpit voice recording sent to his office, handing him Sara’s card.
Peter, back at the FBI, sends Neal undercover as Mr. Black, who they believe is the currier for the bonds. Having been picked up by Mr. Black’s arranged driver and brought to an apartment building, Neal is provided with a gun and learns that he is supposed to kill someone. Neal breaks into the correct apartment and begins edging forward. The resident rises, holding a firearm, and is revealed to be none other than Sara Ellis. Peter calls Sara just in time to prevent her from shooting Neal, convincing her that he was not there to kill her out of revenge. Sara, wanting to catch the villain at any cost, suggests that they fake her death, and is escorted to the FBI building, where she takes up residence in the conference room.
In an all-nighter, Peter and Sara discover the case is actually about stolen inheritance. The man who hired Mr. Black, Steve Price, murdered Edgar Halbridge and has been masquerading as him to receive a large sum of money. Scheming Neal comes up with a plan to kill two birds with one stone: bring Sara back from the dead to get Price to confess to murder and theft of the bonds, and allow the postal service to release Sara’s mail. After the FBI seizes Price, Neal offers to drive Sara home, stopping for her mail on the way. While at her apartment, the real Mr. Black comes in to complete his job. Peter once again saves Sara from being shot. In the end, Neal is not able to retrieve his package, gazing upon it with a upset expression as he leaves Sara’s apartment.
REVIEW: This episode marks the first of Hilarie Burton’s appearances on White Collar. As her character, Sara Ellis, is introduced, the audience cannot help but be intrigued by her. In a grand cinematic entrance, she struts up to Peter and Neal accompanied by electric background music in a slightly slowed down but not overly dramatic sequence. Immediately thereafter, she engages in rapid-fire banter with Neal. Though it is not evident from this episode if they will become romantically entangled, it is, nevertheless, apparent that they work well together onscreen. There is an instant chemistry between these two, more of a game of wits than romance. She is a smart, driven, beautiful character with an amazing wardrobe; practically Neal’s female counterpart.
Honestly, this is to date my favorite episode of White Collar. It is fun, interesting, contains twists and turns, humor, sass, charm, and heart. Sara reintroduces a lost dynamic of the show, after Neal no longer has a woman in his life. Seeing him flirt and vie for her attention, or lack thereof, brings back his natural charm, which was seemingly lost after last season’s finale. For her to get so much screen time as a guest appearance did not distract in any way from the main cast. Due to her intelligence and stand against crime, her quick quips and well-rounded personality, she is a natural fit with the rest of the characters.
There is a rooftop date scene between Neal and Sara, after Neal realizes he needs to win her over if he ever hopes of retrieving the FAA package. Watching Sara reflects on her faked death, upset that the world keeps spinning the same without her in it, was heartbreaking. A woman who at first appears to be a strong, unshakable force is broken down and lonely. It additionally shows Neal’s softer, caring side when he asks about her family and sends off an expression that he relates to her. The same can be said later, when Peter’s wife, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), tells him to talk to Sara like a person instead of an agent. Finding Sara upset that all her company sent to the funeral home was carnations, comparable to weeds, Peter gives her advice to live a little and not work so hard. This brought out a caring, almost paternal side to Peter and showed another layer peeled back from Sara’s facade.
There were several little things that made this episode further enjoyable. Sara constantly reminding Neal about that Rafael he allegedly stole prompts him to buy her a print of the painting. This story line brings about one of my favorite lines from the series, said by Sara to Neal: “Everything you say to me can and will be used to nail your ass to the wall.” Additionally, the fortune cookies that Sara and Neal eat while on their rooftop date provided a wonderful capstone to this episode. Sara’s says, “Excitement and intrigue follow you”, while Neal’s says, “You make delicious soups”. In the ending scene, they bring back this dialogue in an exchange showing their relationship has shifted from bitterness to the beginnings of cordiality. It goes as follows:
Neal: Excitement and intrigue.
Sara: Follow me wherever I go.
Neal: That’s probably true for the both of us.
Sara: Yeah, I look forward to trying that soup.
Neal and Sara have so much history that having her appear in only one episode would have been a letdown. With the above being the ending line that Sara says to Neal, it leaves her storyline open for a return appearance. Luckily, it was not long after, coming in the following episode, “In the Red”.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars