[SPOILER heavy – proceed with caution]
Hmmm. This one is a thinker. On one hand, I want to be grandly dismissive and say that as a whole, for a season finale, not a lot happened leading up to the end of the episode. On the other hand, the ending did knock me out of my malaise and quicken my heartbeat for a minute. And as season enders go, the lack of a Season 6 pickup announced by USA Network is leaving a lot of fans wondering about not just the fate of Neal, but of the show itself.
The episode played out fairly steadily, if not languorously. Peter and Neal find out how Rachel escaped prison (her homage to Neal’s breakout in the pilot, natch) but also discover that she’s given them a deadly countdown to get the diamond: She knocked Mozzie out in Neal’s apartment and poisoned him, and calls to let Neal know they’d only get the antidote once she gets the diamond. Oh, and Mozzie has only about 6 hours to live. Since Mozzie was able to break the code in the last episode, they use the info as navigational coordinates and locate the diamond’s resting place in Fort Totten, Queens. They do some “National Treasure” type sleuthing among the fort’s buildings, and after Mozzie collapses and is sent to the hospital, Neal and Peter finally locate the diamond. (Bonus points to the music editor for giving us my favorite jazzy “Neal doing his thing” music for both he and Peter as they get the diamond.) During all this, Diana and Jones have found where Rachel got her poison and are close to identifying what it is. So ends about the first half of the episode.
Some things that contribute to that “hmm” I began with: We assume Neal never made it home that night, since Mozzie left his voice mail at 4:00am, and when June calls Neal, it’s clearly a bright, full morning already. She says she heard a noise, so we assume it was Mozzie moving around after coming to, since Rachel surely wouldn’t have stayed hours after taking Mozzie down, right? So, either continuity missed out on the timing, or perhaps Rachel was closer to the apartment than we imagined and really did leave after sunrise. Minor point, but awkward. Another “hmm” point: At the Fort, since Neal himself commented to Mozzie that he addressed Peter as “Peter” instead of “Suit” we are led to believe Mozzie’s condition is worsening quickly, and it does. But when Neal accuses Peter of using Mozzie to get Rachel – the implication that Peter is disregarding Mozzie’s deterioration – it felt mean spirited and out of character. Perhaps writers Jim Campolongo and Nick Thiel wanted us to really feel Neal’s desperate concern for his BFF, but snapping at Peter – who wanted to take Mozzie to the hospital back at June’s – seems disingenuous.
As the action continues, Rachel shows up at the Fort, gun in hand, ready to take the diamond off Neal and Peter, informing them that she’d give them the antidote for Mozzie only after she was out of the city. But as it happens, Diana and Jones have identified the poison and Mozzie’s already recovering in the hospital, while Neal’s done his usual sleight of hand and swapped the diamond for a piece of brick, which is what he gives Rachel, much to her fury. One of the few pet peeves I’ve had with the show over the years is Neal’s placement in real danger while the Feds get their act together. For all the times Peter’s said that Neal’s his responsibility, he certainly doesn’t seem to worry much about him as long as he’s the one sending Neal into the situation at hand. Sorry, I may digress, but some day Peter’s going to either get Neal a vest that fits under those bespoke threads or have him carry a gun whether he likes it or not. (Mini rant over). After Rachel’s getaway allies in a helicopter skip out on the mess, Rachel realizes she has no way off the fort/cliff. She tosses her gun into the waters below, signifying her feeling of defeat and realizing she wouldn’t harm Neal, when she obviously can’t use him as leverage for the diamond any longer. I would have loved to have seen her dive off the cliff, though, perhaps to live on in infamy, as many a villain is wont to do.
So, Mozzie’s fine, Rachel is once again in custody and the Burke’s are prepping to head to DC. All is right in the world, yes? Well, not quite. Peter being Peter (again? finally?), he’s contacted DC to see about Neal’s request for early release from his sentence, especially in light of Neal helping to capture Rachel and recover the diamond. And things look good; Neal might be a free man in a matter of days! But, this being White Collar (again? finally?), Neal’s initial elation is deflated when Peter has to tell him DC nixed the idea. Why? Well, funny enough, for the same reason Agent Phillip Kramer wanted to whisk Neal off to DC back in Season 3: He’s too damn good at helping the Feds bust white collar criminals. They can’t afford to let him go. So, yeah, this doesn’t sit well with Neal, who’s already had existential discussions with Mozzie about traveling the world and discovering what lies beneath his skin when he takes the Con out of the Man. This also doesn’t sit well with Peter who knows from experience that an unhappy, spurned Neal can be a wily, unlawful Neal in a heartbeat. And he’s got a point. We’ve seen many times when Neal takes a stand and tries to flex his wings only to be denied his desire, he lashes out in his own way, usually by giving in to the self-fulfilling prophecy of figuring if he isn’t deemed worthy, he won’t bother being worthy (once a con, always a con, etc.). This manifests in him deciding to take on an imminent con or heist that Mozzie has lined up, and it propels the overall theme of the show where Neal then gets into trouble and Peter has to bend the rules to keep him out of prison. Don’t get me wrong, as the genetics of the show, I’m all signed up for it, but I was really not looking forward to that being all that takes us into the next season, or into the sunset if the show isn’t renewed. The writers know we want more than that!
And if that wasn’t enough to keep things open-ended, we have the Burke’s imminent divergence. When Peter tells Elizabeth that he doesn’t think he can stomach the bureaucracy of DC – where they shoot down the dreams of young con-men wanting early release – and would rather stay in the field and in the White Collar division in NY, she makes it clear that she’s still going to DC to take her new job at the National Gallery. I would say this was unexpected, but with the random discord within the Burke marriage this season, it’s not really. What does bother me, though, is the overall implication that this is where their relationship has to go. In any other drama, I could maybe see this as a source of character growth, but on White Collar, the Burke relationship was canon and to be honest, didn’t need any tinkering in the angst department. El’s vacillation between “I support you” and “I don’t approve” in regards to Peter, Neal, or Peter and Neal, has bugged me all season. In fan terms, it blows the Peter/El/Neal dynamic out the window, but it might also herald a short term run of Peter and Neal, going buddy cop movie all over the place (which I wouldn’t complain about, to be honest). But this also bears noting that at this point, Peter’s likely nailed the coffin in his career. He’s declining a promotion that he accepted after much hand wringing in the first place, on the sole grounds that his CI needs guidance. In the real world outside of teevee, it’s unlikely DC would ask for him again. If it’s what Peter wants – and it sounds like it is – then that’s fine, but obviously El has eyes on moving up the ladder.
But, that’s still not a season cliffhanger. So, imagine my surprise when Neal approaches a bench to address a suspicious man who started following him after a visit to the hospital, only to be suddenly kidnapped and hauled away in a van. Director Russell Lee Fine gives us a nicely visceral experience of the bag going over Neal’s head and his struggle to keep his footing as he’s hustled away. Okay, yes, Neal’s been kidnapped before, but in those situations we always had the framework of the case du jour, or at least of an immediate need to keep the story moving along as a scene changer. In this situation, we have had no indication at all who this new guy is or why he’s taking Neal, where he might go with him, etc. In my estimate, Neal will have been taken because some big mob-like kingpin wants to “borrow” him for his nefarious plans, and that could prove very interesting depending on the players and the plan.
Where does that leave us? With El moving to DC, Peter will be on his own, and this right when he undoubtedly finds Neal is missing (anklet tossed and all). If we get our season 6, I really like the note we’re starting with. If we don’t get a season 6, then fan fiction writers everywhere will have to write us a happy ending to this saga. Lucky for us, they likely will anyway.