Toutes les bonnes choses doivent arriver à une fin. That’s French for “All good things must come to an end” and it’s fitting considering the ending of the USA series White Collar after 6 seasons. There’ve been some ups and downs – in story and in overall execution of the series – but in the end nearly all the die-hard fans were left satisfied. I have many feels about the ending of the show, naturally, and it’s almost impossible to provide opinion without getting into some of the details as the episode unfolds.
I’m not going to make a deal over how I called it that Peter wasn’t in any true danger from Woodford, simply because images and trailers for the final episode already clearly showed Peter integrated with the gang. And it was this typically overly hyped frequent set up that had so many of us fearing for a disappointing ending. I’ll get to that more later, but let’s just say much of what we saw in this finale was to be predicted, but that didn’t mean we weren’t relieved they came to fruition. There are times when surprises are good (the ending of Breaking Bad) and times when they are ill-advised (the almost insulting end of Dexter). Thankfully TPTB decided that to send off this series in proper form, they better stick to formulae as best as they can.
So, yes, Peter fibs his way into Woodford’s trust and they devise their plan for how they’ll get the 500 million out of JFK and into their offsite warehouse via those pneumatic tubes they found and fixed. But back at June’s, we get the beginning of the sendoff, for the characters in the show and for the fans. This was fanservice at its most blatant and for the most part, it was welcome. I admit I’m a bit cautious of too much wink and nod, but I gave this show a hall pass since it was truly trying to tip the hat to long time viewers who wanted – and perhaps needed – as much closure as possible. In Neal’s loft, June and Mozzie are sipping drinks and listening to classic jazz records, and it’s without much prodding that June comments how much she loved the suit Neal is wearing and it was one of Byron’s favorites. She makes note of the quality of the fit and style, and reminisces about the time she met Neal in the thrift store (in the pilot). Let the call backs begin. When June leaves, Neal once again tells Mozzie to be patient and his part in the Pink Panthers job will be clear soon enough. But Neal also pulls out an old Queen of Hearts, the same “Lady” that he used when he fleeced Mozzie in three card Monty when they first met. See where this is going? And that’s not even counting the wistful, regretful looks we see flashing across Neal’s face in this episode. Again, any dedicated fan already sees the plot playing out in their head. Oh yeah, and there’s a not so hard to decipher scene of Neal in that empty storage container of his, shooting a bullet into the chest of a male mannequin (about his size and build). Maybe I’ve seen enough TV to know why he did it, but its part in the finale played out exactly as I expected.
Over at the Burkes’, Peter and El proudly inform Neal they’re having a baby boy (again, how is this not a set up for what is to come?) and as Peter bring them after dinner coffee, he comments about when he first found Neal at June’s drinking a fine Italian roast, the impression of “cappuccino in the clouds”, as the call backs roll on. One thing that didn’t go over too well for me though, is El taking Neal aside and telling him she trusts him to an extent, and therefor doesn’t really trust that he’ll keep Peter safe on the Panthers case. I get she’s worried about Peter and about having him around to raise their child, but if I were to do my own review of El through the seasons, the El from the first 2 seasons was much more forgiving and favoring of Neal than the later seasons. Sure, being kidnapped by Keller through her for a loop, but it seems like she’s had a slightly bitter grudge against Neal ever since. No call backs, here, kids. Just foreboding as Neal assures her he’ll stop at nothing to keep Peter and all his loved ones safe.
Neal and Keller inform Mozzie – to his sheer joy – that his role is to be their outside man as they divert the money during the heist, and siphon off a percentage of it for themselves. Peter, Neal, Keller and a panther member con their way into the storage area of JFK, but when Team Peter & Neal make quick work of the safe cracking, Keller gets riled at his panther partner and nearly loses it. This is part typical Keller, likely jealous of our Team working so well (and proudly) together, but it also helps remind the viewers that Keller is a mean, selfish thief who kills as needed. But the money gets loaded into the pneumatic tubes and Mozzie is good as gold in siphoning off a few minutes’ worth of funding (which ends up being about 30 million) in a very Mozzie moment of being showered in hundred dollar bills. I liked that touch. Back at JFK, the bust is on and Agents Clinton Jones and Diana Berrigan lead the Feds in the takedown of the Panthers, including boss Woodford. This means “arresting” Neal, Peter and Keller, to make it seem legit. But when Peter leaves the paddy wagon to supervise the cleanup effort, he returns to find both Neal and Keller gone. We know Keller had noted to Neal that he didn’t believe Peter would only pretend to process him as a criminal, and clearly Neal went along with Keller, letting him think Neal agreed that his freedom was also in question. And it’s no coincidence that Diana informs Peter that Neal’s tracker just went off in Wall Street. (Remember, Neal has been sans anklet for the entire Panther job). What else can it be other than Neal sending out the bat signal to Peter?
Neal and Keller, now dressed in dapper dubs, appear in the tunnels with Mozzie, but before they each leave with their bag of millions, Keller makes a play with his knife for all the money. Only Mozzie seems surprised, and Neal keeps his well laid plans on track by brandishing a gun on Keller and having Moz leave with their 2 bags. With Moz gone, Neal makes the first of many moves that leave him with no means of turning back: He tussles with Keller and gets “shot” in the chest. Keller seems more shocked than I’d expect, but he recovers composure quickly enough as Neal falls to his back and “blood” seeps through his shirt. And yes, the quotes are on purpose, because we know, as viewers, that this is the plan and things are going as expected. Even down to Keller realizing Neal’s anklet is calling in the cavalry and hightailing it out with the bag, leaving Neal to presumably die. Peter finds Keller on the crowded streets and gives chase. He faces off with Keller long enough for Keller to let Peter know it may not be too late for him to say good bye to Neal, and the grab a bystander as a hostage in an attempt to flee. But in what is to me the truly only surprising moment of the episode, Peter’s realization that Keller has shot Neal – perhaps fatally – spurs him to shoot Keller, point blank in the forehead. We always knew Peter had it in him, but to see his fierceness in the light of knowing he may lose Neal – to Keller of all people – was startling and real.
What comes next is really something people should watch for themselves. If you love the characters and how Peter and Neal have just been their perfect Yin and Yang to each other, the bromance of the decade, then it’s hard to describe the feels. Peter finds Neal as he’s being taken into the ambulance, ashen and weak, and when Neal tells Peter that he was the only one who saw there was good in him, and that Peter is his best friend, many of us got a little something in both our eyes. And in the next scene when Peter and Moz are in the morgue, viewing Neal’s still form on the cold table, Moz’s breakdown is heartbreaking. It’s true, we all just assumed no matter what, Neal would get out of everything, that he was a cat with untold amount of lives. And even if you knew it was all part of Neal’s plan, it was so hard to watch poor Moz give in to his despair. And when shortly after Peter collects Neal’s belongings from the hospital, he holds the anklet as tears form in his eyes, quietly telling Neal that’s he’s finally free. As bad as it was for Moz to be crushed, knowing that Peter feels entirely responsible for Neal’s death made his emotional moment painful to watch. I know many fans who were actually angry with Neal for putting Peter through this. And I’m one of them!
A year passes and Peter is about to head home from the office to El, as he seems to be doing like clockwork these days. Jones is moving up in the White Collar division, and Diana is off to DC again. But Peter is still haunted by his hat wielding partner in crime-solving, and he sees Neal in reflections and flash backs. (For the record, I’m still mad at Neal here!). But back home, Peter finds Moz – who took him up on his offer to visit the family when they finally reconnected after these 12 months have passed – and El entertaining their baby boy, Neal. Yes, that happened. But again, as predictable as it is, it was welcome because of that predictability. Now was not the time for the show to throw us curveballs when all we want is to find equilibrium. And as Moz departs and Peter finds an unmarked bottle of Bordeaux on his stoop, Neal’s plan comes full circle. (NB: What kind of Fed opens an unmarked bottle of wine he finds on his doorstep and drinks it with his wife/mother of child, without having it tested? He’s a Fed who put many criminals behind bars, and this could easily have been their last drink!)
Peter finally gets a hint of a clue, and retrieves his box of Neal’s items, and finds again the key from the storage container. Visiting the container, which is now the opposite of empty, Peter puts the pieces together in record time: The mannequin with the bullet wound, the empty bullet casings, the red liquid, charts of the human body, research on the possible non deadly uses of tetrododoxin (slows the heart rate to almost nothing), and a recent newspaper noting that the Louvre in Paris just upgraded their security through a private contractor. As it dawns on Peter that this all means that Neal played the biggest con in his life, the smile on his face is fantastic. It’s the same “Peter is ready, willing and able to catch Neal” we’ve seen many times before. And just before he leaves the container, he spies The Lady, that Queen of Hearts that Moz clearly left their to validate what Peter now knows. Neal is alive and in Paris, no question. As we all breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing Peter can now unburden himself of Neal’s death, we cut to Neal, dapper as always, tipping his fedora onto his head, in the only way Neal knows how: Caffrey style. Fin, indeed.
Overall, a few bumps on the road this final episode, but there were enough fond call backs, and just enough play-throughs of set-ups, that I was happy with it. Neal may not be working side by side with Peter and the Feds as a contractor, but it’s almost more satisfying knowing he’s just keeping on being Neal, our conman with the heart of gold.