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In the Frame: An Advance Review of the Fall Finale of USA's "White Collar"

I've fallen for the charms of USA's crime procedural White Collar, although I have to admit that I'm usually more enamored of the winning chemistry between series leads Matthew Bomer and Tim DeKay than the cases of the week, which tend to be predictable and a bit flat.

The fall finale of White Collar ("Free Fall"), which airs Friday night on USA, was perhaps my favorite episode of the procedural series since the sensational pilot, which introduced the very unlikely partnership between master thief Neal Caffrey (Bomer) and Peter Burke (DeKay), the dogged FBI agent who had managed to catch Neal not once but twice.

This week's episode of White Collar will definitely put that partnership to the test when Neal is suspected of orchestrating an elaborate jewel heist from Manhattan's most exclusive boutique. Will the duo be able to trust one another long enough to clear Neal's name? Who is putting him in the frame? And how does all of this connect to Neal's missing girlfriend, the mysterious Kate? Well, that would be telling.

The mystery itself is one of the most interesting and suspenseful ones on the season so far. As I mentioned earlier, the series' strengths lie in the rapport between Bomer and DeKay but also in the snappy banter between the two and the slick stylishness of the art direction, which calls to mind not only the vintage suiting Neal Caffrey prefers (along with a rakishly tilted fedora) but also the coolness of It Takes a Thief and The Persuaders, perhaps. There's a nice visual aspect to the series that was unexpected from its initial premise and the producers have wisely played up the throwback aspect of Caffrey's personality; he's a 1960s peacock stuck in a modern world, a Sy Devore suit in the era of Banana Republic.

But the mysteries themselves haven't been quite as original or as dramatic as they need to be; the solution is often the most obvious one and apparent from within five minutes of Peter's briefing to Neal and the FBI agents. So I was intrigued that this week's mystery would involve not only the framing of Neal Caffrey for a job that seems custom-picked for the old Neal but also dovetail quite nicely with the Kate storyline, following last week's reveal that the ringed man holding Kate works within the FBI.

"Free Fall" plays to the series' strengths then, allowing both Neal and Peter to embark on separate investigations to clear Neal's name (or in Peter's case, perhaps to confirm his worst suspicions about his partner) and demonstrating the canny moves of both men as they chase their quarry, even as both of them are themselves being followed by the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility. Neal in particular gets a chance to shine as he engineers a plan so devilishly complicated that it's a joy to watch it unfold.

There's also an extremely bizarre (and almost surreal) twist at the end of the episode that had me scratching my head. I won't reveal it here but I will say that I'm intrigued to see whether the writers will be able to pay this off in any meaningful and logical way. It's perhaps both very interesting and very odd.

All in all, Friday night's season finale brings the fun and froth and combines it with the wittiness and charm of the very best of White Collar. I can't wait to see just what happens next.

White Collar's fall finale airs Friday evening at 10 pm ET/PT on USA.


Asta said…
I've fallen hard for White Collar. It's a show that fills me with joy each week, thanks in large part to the fabulous chemistry of the two leads. But they are also surrounded by a very nice group of supporting players.

I do wish the plots were stronger, but perhaps the fall finale is evidence all aspects of the series are finally coming together. It's rare that a new series has a perfect first season so I've been more than willing to enjoy White Collar's many successes and hand wave it's weaker points.

I've been looking forward to 'Free Fall' since last week's mini cliffhanger and now you've made the wait until Friday even more unbearable. ;) While I am very interested to know what part Kate may have played in Neal's arrest and subsequent time working for the FBI (I suspect that while Kate had nothing to do with Peter's initial arrest of Neal, in the interim, Peter has learned of whatever she's been up to and it's why he has so strongly urged Neal to move on), what I'm most curious about is what happens to Neal and Peter's partnership/friendship. Peter telling Neal last week he considers him a partner and Neal embarrassing that notion was a huge moment for both men.

There's also an extremely bizarre (and almost surreal) twist at the end of the episode that had me scratching my head. I won't reveal it here but I will say that I'm intrigued to see whether the writers will be able to pay this off in any meaningful and logical way. It's perhaps both very interesting and very odd.

I understand you don't wish to give too much away here, but can you say if the moment was shown in the promo? Because there is a clip shown in which Neal appears to be speaking to someone off camera and his demeanor and wording struck me as odd.
Unknown said…
I know what you mean about the mysteries-of-the-week feeling flat. There's something tedious and derivative about them. However, the chemistry between Caffrey and Burke (and even Burke's wife, Tiffani Thiessen) makes it a fun ride anyway.

Although I love Willie Garson, I could do without the obvious-plot-crutch of the friend-with-connections. It'd be nice if the writers came up with a more clever way to avoid passport scenes.

But I'll keep watching. USA does a good job with these somewhat-formulaic-but-attractive series.
Calvin B. said…
I couldn't agree with you more about the strong characters and weak plotting. Your positive review and confidence in the finale gives me hope that maybe they can pull off more complex and interesting story lines. I'm looking forward to seeing it and hope that next season they can push the show to its full potential.
darrenrenee said…
I was astonished at the ending. It led to me to literally say,"What the f***?" I'm also looking forward to January 19 because I want to see how this going to turn out and how the writers are going to explain what happened to Kate and the reason for the snatching. But when you look at it, the clues were right there between Peter and Kate. When Kate is first leaving Neal, Peter knew exactly what she said. Again, I reiterate, I was just in a shock.

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