It’s here. The final 6 episodes of USA networks’ White Collar are airing and we have only 6 episodes to find out which life Conman Extraordinaire, Neal Caffrey, will choose: A life of crime on the run, or one as a free man working with the FBI. I’m sure there are other possibilities out there, but for long time fans of the show, these have ever been Neal’s only options. We know from interviews and articles being released this week that some people will be surprised by the outcome of the finale, and others not. I want to trust TPTB (which this time include actors Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer contributing story guidance) to provide the closure many of us want, and (fervently hope?) that they don’t displace our loyalty and throw us a curveball. But that will be for the next few episodes to reveal; first we have to tackle the premiere.
Considering it took only 10 minutes in the Season 5 premier for us to see Agent Peter Burke freed from prison — and knowing we only have 6 very quick episodes to close out the entire series — it makes sense we find out within minutes who kidnapped Neal and why. It ends up another top flight thief, Jim Boothe (the helicopter pilot who left Rachel Turner high and dry last season), wants to show the infamous Pink Panthers he’s up to their snuff and needs Neal to get that hope diamond they found. See, the Panthers are the best of the best in white collar crime, and you gotta prove yourself worthy to be a coveted member, which Boothe wants. Neal does his sweet talking thing and manages to convince Boothe they can work together, because Neal’s ultimate goal, of course, is to leave the FBI and his leash and to be free to, well, con and thieve again. And Neal says this convincingly enough that we almost start to believe him, too. Since we’re not sure how much time has passed since Neal was abducted (it felt like only hours) I don’t know how Neal was able to guess that Peter and the FBI would be there right then (a logic jump I’m willing to fly with, cuz my fangirl heart assumes Peter and Neal can finish each other’s thoughts now, too). And to Peter’s credit, he doesn’t waste time arguing with the delightful Mozzie and agrees to view this as the abduction of Neal that it is and allows Moz to work with the FBI to solve it. Not gonna lie to you, Peter and Moz work SO WELL together. But if they’d tried this even last season, it would have felt contrived or trite. It worked so well this time because Peter was clearly lonely without El (she having moved to DC to work on her career) and Moz was lonely without Neal. They were each able to (mostly) set aside their grievances to focus on the job of rescuing Neal. The scene in Peter’s kitchen when Moz delivers him dinner was exceptional and will stand out to me as a moment that exemplifies the true spirit of White Collar and why these characters mean so much to us.
It’s no surprise the FBI haul out Rachel on a hunch she’d know who abducted Neal. When Peter beseeches her to help them – to help Neal – because of her love for Neal, and because they both know they would do anything for him, I think all the fans gave little fist pumps. It’s something we all knew, but it helps to hear it from one of the characters directly. Thanks to a name from Rachel and insider help from Moz, they quickly find Neal’s recent whereabouts (and this includes the assist by one of the most improbable hints from Neal to Peter ever) and eventually Neal. Peter lets Neal play out his scheme with Boothe — to break into the Panther’s leader’s office to show how good Booth is — and handily arrests Boothe when done. In a well- played twist, however, Neal ends up being the one to break into Panther leader Alan Woodford’s place and prove to him that it’s Neal who is most worthy of the Panther status.
And because we can’t leave this as just the crime of the week (final season, remember!) we get two driving plot arcs to propel us: First, we have Neal telling Peter that now that he’s in, he can deliver the Panthers to the FBI (super big win for them) but only if Neal gets a fully notarized, no loopholes or strings attached, signed deal from the top of Feds saying he is truly a free man if he does. Second, El comes back from DC in a surprise visit to tell Peter she’s pregnant (don’t worry, it’s his!). Fans might be upset that for all this time Peter and El (and doggy Satchmo!) have been the perfect example of the happy, childless couple, only now to fall victim to a disingenuous plot twist. After all, there’s a large portion of the populace that doesn’t think having kids is the end game in life and is fine without them. My initial reaction was to be upset, but the more I thought about it, the more it kind of makes sense. The Burkes have essentially adopted Neal as their surrogate adult son for 5 years, so maybe before they had him in their life they would have been fine with the status quo. But seeing their capacity for patience, understanding and, yes, love where Neal is concerned, it’s not a big leap to think they could perhaps see being actual parents as a new experience they’re ready for. Granted, they didn’t plan for the pregnancy but unless we find out there was a problem with birth control, can we at least assume they didn’t plan to never have kids?
Writer Joe Henderson certainly gave us some things to ponder this episode. We know Neal was screwed by the FBI last season, when he was so close to legit freedom he could taste it, so it rings true that even after Peter honestly agrees they should get that signed agreement, Neal confides to Moz that it’s not necessarily all he’s after. Neal has always been the con with the goldest heart, and when genuine freedom might finally be his, will he be foolish enough to risk it by being too eager for more, whatever that might be? And speaking of hearts of gold, there was one last empathetic push to see the humanity in Rachel. Bridget Regan toned down her bitter ferocity to bring a quiet introversion to Rachel but when she meets with Neal one last time, he thankfully still sees her for the killer she is. And I disagreed vocally (to my TV) when she professed to Neal that for people like them, it’s either prison or early death, no other option. Neal seemed to take that in and weigh it, but all I could think was, no, Rachel killed many people – innocent people – while Neal has never (knowingly!) killed anyone. She’s a killer, he’s not. That’s a huge difference in the eyes of the law and the viewers. Neal very much has other options, and that’s why we want this series to end with one of them.
I wish Matt Bomer had more screen time in this episode, but he made very good use of what time he did have. With the work Bomer has done in movies over the filming break, it’s no surprise he decided to dig a little deeper into Neal to affect a slightly edgier, tenser man – one who sees the writing on the wall and knows he has to pick a path and walk it. And finally, a standing ovation for Willie Garson: He brought out the absolute best of Mozzie for this one, and it shows. He has Mozzie’s endearing quirks – his distrust of the Feds, his penchant for technicalities, etc. – in full force but never forced; his relationship with Peter was gently nudged to the next level; and is his loyalty to BFF Neal is unwavering. In 5 seasons of unexpected and sometimes jarring character turns in the other leads, Mozzie has kept a slow, steady trend of growth while remaining true to himself the entire time. Let’s just hope TPTB remain true to the heart of White Collar as we countdown to the end.
White Collar airs Thursdays at 9/8c on USA Network.