White Collar Season Finale

This post contains spoilers for Season 2 of White Collar, particularly its season finale. Read if you dare.

White Collar is another one of those shows that ranges from good to excellent on a per-episode basis, but which has a terrible, hastily-improvised arc stapled onto it. The real appeal of the series is the character interaction and development, and the plot stuff is usually short enough that you can tune it out.

This is not the case, however, with the season finale, which spends its time both advancing the story arc and setting back the character arcs by more than a season. So you can see why I wouldn’t like it.

The story of Season 2 was the transition of Neal from a caged criminal to a straight arrow. The show’s premise is that Neal is a charismatic con man who agrees to work for the FBI (specifically the agent who caught him, Peter Burke) in lieu of jail time. In Season 1, you got the impression that Neal was merely biding his time, waiting for the FBI to relax its guard long enough that he could escape and find his girlfriend Kate. The relationship between he and Peter ranged from untrusting to downright adversarial.

Kate is killed during the finale of Season 1, though, and Season 2 sees Neal begin to develop in his own right. He gradually begins helping people not because Peter has him on a leash, but because he enjoys doing it. He feels fulfilled doing it, likes himself better doing it. And despite Peter’s frequent jibes to the contrary, he and Neal develop a close bond and a good rapport as they hunt for Vincent Adler, Neal’s former mentor and the mastermind behind Kate’s death. In one of the last episodes before the finale, one of Neal’s old criminal acquaintances tells him he’s acting like a lawman now, and Neal straightens up and smiles, rather pleased.

The finale of Season 2 undoes all that in less than twenty seconds. Peter uncharacteristically accuses Neal of arranging things so that he could steal for himself the massive amount of swag Adler’s spent the last two seasons hunting for, and refuses to listen to Neal’s protestations of innocence. (To his credit, Matt Bomer sounds just as confused and betrayed in this scene as the audience likely was.) The final shot of the season — Neal standing alone in a warehouse surrounded by the aforementioned swag, then grinning devilishly — would have been a lot more effective if the audience didn’t know for a fact that he wasn’t responsible. (Neal receives an anonymous tip telling him where the swag is in the scene before, and I’ll bet you anything you like that the writers have no idea who this tipster is or what his motives are.) So now we’re going to have another season of Peter and Neal working at odds and learning to trust each other, and you know? If I wanted to watch that again, Season 1’s right there. It’s like they didn’t like the gradual, natural shift away from the odd couple dynamic that the show had been pitched on, so they simply wrote it out. How infuriating!

The rest of the episode was pretty terrible too. My eyes nearly rolled out of my head when I saw that the goal of Adler’s scheming and machinations was SECRET NAZI GOLD. The inclusion of Alex as a major player was contrived beyond my wildest imaginings, the result no doubt of someone not wanting to stretch the casting budget. And it’s borderline offensive for them to write in a love triangle for Neal not a season after killing off the love of his life.

I really get the impression that the writers could feel the series’ ongoing mysteries begin to slip away from them, X-Files-style, so they wrote this episode to clear everything up. The problem is that all the solutions seem so clumsy and arbitrary, which is what happens when you make everything up as you go along.

This series has only a small margin of error remaining, I feel. If Season 3 doesn’t present anything interesting, I’m going to drop it — as I said, I don’t have any interest in watching them rehash Season 1. And all of this could have been avoided if they’d simply resisted the temptation to include an ongoing plot arc — or at least if they’d known where that arc was going to end when they started it.


1 Response to “White Collar Season Finale”

  1. 1 JM March 9, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Thank god someone else feels as I do. All the reviews I’ve been reading are about how “great” the season finale was, when in fact I thought it was terrible. White Collar is one of my favorite shows, but it seems like they have tried to cram too much into the last few episodes. Instead of actually playing everything out in time, like they should have, that rushed it, and it’s left feeling lacking.

    It seems like Neal has almost completely moved past Kate, and any animosity towards Adler, who should be his archrival, felt way too contrived.

    I get that this is “the world’s greatest treaure”, but Adler is already a billionaire, so why the need to come out of hiding. Seems like too much risk, which does end in death.

    The fight scene between Peter and Neal was also ridiculous. Why didn’t Peter pick up the piece of the painting, and question Neal, instead of just accusing. And why wouldn’t Neal ask him why he thought that? Why would whoever actually switched the treasure even need to use Neal’s paintings?

    Also, when Neal visits the treasure in the last scene, he is wearing his tracker, which Peter is sure to check after he already suspects him.

    Finally, I love the show, and the characters, but I wish they would just fire the writers, and hire new ones. It honestly feels like somewhat of a wasted season, which is a shame, because it had so much potential. I’m hoping next season gets a lot better.

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