We meet the new lady in Neal Caffrey’s life. Okay, that’s not technically the main theme of this episode, but let’s be honest, it’s the subject matter we’re most curious about. And how could it not be?
I must take this moment for disclosure: I’m very much in the Neal and Sara Ellis camp. I’ll try not to let it cloud my judgment. And like I noted on twitter, I can tolerate a new love interest in Neal’s life, but I don’t have to like her. I will be giving Bridget Regan’s Rebecca Lowe as much benefit of the doubt as I can to have her win my heart along with Neal’s (I feel like a potential Mother-in-law!), but you can’t give me last season’s Empire State Building “proposal” and expect me to forget all those feels. I’m looking at you, Jeff Eastin.
[SPOILER heavy – proceed with caution]
Our new handler, Agent David Siegel, asks Neal’s advice on a place to live in Manhattan, and in the process Neal finds out Siegel is a man of hidden wealth. Neal can barely contain his excitement and it’s clear that Neal has a newfound respect for Siegel, if only because Siegel kept that fact so well hidden. I’m really liking this Agent Siegel bloke. I’ve always maintained that he’s a good Agent and he’ll do right by both ASAC Peter Burke and Neal, so getting some backstory in this organic setting of apartment hunting played out nicely.
Peter brings Neal into his office and tells him Hagen is out of prison, let go because some evidence was damaged and his lawyer took advantage of that. We know it’s the same evidence Neal destroyed last episode, so we also know Hagen’s plan – whatever it is – is working well for him. There’s a nice moment when Peter tells Neal it reminds him how far they’ve come since Hagen as their first case. Neal’s got a point when he corrects Peter that it’s only he, the Fed, who has really moved on and grown. To Peter’s credit he praises Neal for his shift from an incarcerated Conman into a valuable asset of the FBI. Although I know Peter is speaking the truth, from the heart, it actually proved Neal right, that Peter has moved on without him. After all, this isn’t the first time he’s told Neal he’s an asset to the Feds, so Neal’s status in that regard hasn’t really changed much from the early days. Only the modifier has changed. Although Neal takes it graciously, he also points out that Hagen is free, and he’s not.
And to prove that point, Neal gets a text to meet Hagen at a museum, and it’s not to chat about the weather. Hagen tells Neal he needs him to steal a book, the Moscone Codex, which is on loan to the museum from an anonymous donor who mandates it never be opened. Well, technically Hagen only needs Chapter 13. Since Neal has a tracking anklet, any thievery on his part would lead him right back to prison, so Hagen advises he find a clever means of getting the book. Although it was an offhanded comment during their discussion, I was intrigued when Neal noted that prison hadn’t changed him at all. For some that might ring of lingering depravity, but for Neal, it merely confirms that even before we met him in the pilot, he was clever, smart and had a good heart. So, yes, why would prison change him?
And now we get to Rebecca, a rare books scholar assisting at the museum who is curating the Codex. Rebecca is introduced as bookish (look, she has glasses!) and also secretly hot (look, she has amazing legs!) and sort of shy and awkward (look, she stammers a bit!) so of course she’s just what you’d expect from a rare books aficionado. Yes, I know, it’s TV and she’s got to be ridiculously hot for Neal Caffrey to take a second look at her, let alone hook up with her down the road. I’m not saying I don’t entirely dislike her; I’m just hoping time will tell that there’s more to her than a stereotype. For an introduction, I can’t see what the attraction would be to Neal after he manipulates her here, other than one of sympathy. (And bless him, that’s at least enough to get me through to the next episode.) She confirms to Neal that the book cannot be touched, but that she’d give anything to see inside of it herself.
Peter picks up Neal and takes him to the office where he gathers the entire team in honor of promoting Agent Clinton Jones to Acting Supervisory Special Agent (SSA). Yay Jones! Well-deserved and very pleased the writers had this promotion in this episode. It reverberates nicely with the earlier discussion between Neal and Peter, as now Jones is also moving on, while Neal still has his anklet. I really like how they’ve positioned Peter this season. They gave him his promotion and it’s really showing clearly that the new lines of command have been drawn. We get talk of his great seats to the Yankees games, he gets a car and driver, and we know there are other perks as well, not to mention he probably has more meetings and more administrative tasks. All this really does make us feel once-removed from Peter, as we see this episode staunchly from Neal’s point of view.
Mozzie and Neal come up with a con that will have another thief – one Mozzie dislikes greatly – steal a painting from the museum even as Neal steals the Codex. It will come down to precision timing: Mozzie will turn off the museum alarms at 5:50pm, so Neal has only 10 minutes to get in and get the Codex pages switched out before their patsy, Zev, arrives at 6:00pm to steal the painting. Then Neal and Siegel can arrest him. For Neal to get into the museum, he has to steal Rebecca’s card key. I like that Neal is still in manipulate mode at the point, and focusing on the con at hand.
Siegel arrives to meet with Neal for their stakeout. Kole’s Siegel is surprisingly easy to like. He’s got the honesty of a young Peter, and enough integrity to leave his family fortunes (well, to get disinherited, as we find out) because he’s more concerned with upholding the law than rolling in wealth. At the designated time, Neal convinces Siegel to leave the car to follow a suspicious guy (Mozzie, of course) who has circled the museum twice. Siegel leaves, but is replaced quickly by Peter, which means Neal’s 10 minutes are quickly dwindling. Neal tells Peter he can’t keep sneaking in one last stakeout, one last takedown, etc. and that this isn’t his life anymore, that Peter wanted to go (to move on) and that he should. It definitely hits Peter in the gut, and he does leave which was the intent, but there’s a ring of truth to it that Neal himself apparently didn’t realize until after the words left his mouth.
The heist goes off, but not without a hitch. Neal and Zev both get their prizes, but get stuck in the museum during their respective thefts, with security gates dropped. Neal is able to cut wires to get out, and it was nice how they showed that in his rush he removed his gloves to do so. For regular watchers of the show, this was an obvious goof up on his part (I was going to tweet “tsk, tsk, Neal, mind the gloves!” but was filling my glass of pinot at the time) and was just one of his mistakes peppered throughout.
When they bring Rebecca into the offices to question her – after all, Neal did use her badge to get in – I love how writer Joe Henderson worked the scene for Neal. I thought for sure Neal would have some excuse for not going in the room, not getting seen by Rebecca, but by making it clear he was working with the FBI, Neal actually had the perfect reason to be in there: If she knows he’s with the FBI, she’d never think that he was the one who took her badge. We all trust the Feds, right? But Peter pulls Neal aside and says he’s taking over the case, since it was his fault the stakeout was botched. We now have 2 more mistakes we can attribute to Neal: An innocent woman is being questioned by the Feds, and Peter blames himself for being a distraction and messing things up.
Mozzie gives Neal good advice, which is to have Neal solve the case with Peter and find Zev. In the process, Neal realizes he took his gloves off while escaping the museum and left himself open to discovery. But they do get Zev and their case is closed. Siegel proves he really does see things as they are, and comments to Neal that they both know Neal could break the anklet and escape any time, if he really wanted to. It’s what we’ve all known, and it’s a comment that calls back to the season premiere, where Neal tells Peter it feels strange without the anklet on. It’s the people, and not the legal process, keeping Neal from wanting to break his leash and run.
Agent Siegel has followed Neal to his meeting with Hagen, which isn’t surprising as he’s been checking Neal’s anklet regularly. There’s a brief scene with Neal at the museum, where he speaks to Rebecca, who has been fired. She’s been blamed for the break in since it was her card key that was stolen and used. This is another mistake by Neal, since he knows it’s the result of his handy work. Now the sympathy kicks in, which I again presume gives an excuse to have Rebecca back for the season.
We return with Neal to a somber White Collar office, as Peter takes him to a crime scene: Agent Siegel has been apparently mugged and murdered, right near where Neal met with Hagen. This final scene gutted me and took me by surprise. Dammit, Neal! (Sorry, someone had to say it, just out of habit). I wasn’t kidding when I said I liked Agent Siegel, and I did forget that Warren Kole was only in the show for a few episodes. Oddly, this is probably the first character death on the show that I’m truly unhappy about; I’m going to miss that character and the massive potential there. And yes, it’s another guilt that Neal will bear, adding to his list from this episode.
The show makers certainly know how to title their episodes, if you haven’t noticed. We all assumed the “One Last Stakeout” applied to Peter and Neal. Little did any of us know, it also meant it was the last for Agent Siegel. Touché, show, touché.