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The Hot Box: Thoughts on the Season Finale of USA's "White Collar"

With my head spinning after this week's episode of Lost on Tuesday night, I didn't get a chance to watch White Collar's fantastic first season finale until last night.

It was definitely worth the wait.

The season finale of White Collar ("Out of the Box"), written by Jeff Eastin and directed by Kevin Bray, offered further pressure to the already strained central relationships within the series, pushing both Neal (Matthew Bomer) and Peter (Tim DeKay) to make some hard choices, as Neal pursued the music box and his always-just-out-of-reach true love Kate and Peter sought to bring down the shady OPR Agent Garrett Fowler (Noah Emmerich) and stop Neal from making a disastrous decision.

Plus, it featured the long-awaited return of Marsha Thomason's Agent Diana Lancing, who I've missed terribly since she disappeared after the White Collar pilot. (No worries, Diana fans, she's sticking around for Season Two.)

So what did I think of the season finale? Let's discuss.

I have to give Eastin credit for offering a cliffhanger ending that throws some of the series' main conceits into the air, so to speak. Throughout the first season, Neal's main mission--while ostensibly working with Peter and the FBI's White Collar Crimes Division--has been to find a way to find Kate (Alexandra Daddario) and be reunited with his one true love. It's a quest that has at times splintered his friendship with his partner Peter and taken him up against Fowler, multiple criminals, and the Italian consulate.

But for all of Neal's shadowy behavior and criminality, his pursuit hasn't been fame or fortune, but rather something far simpler and yet more complicated: love. Given this fact, we've been able to excuse some behavior (and Peter has as well, to a certain extent) from Neal that would be unacceptable in other situations, given his past as a forger and thief. But the fact that his prize this time around was Kate made his journey far more worthy than if he was attempting to acquire, say, a packet of Caravaggio paintings.

Throughout the episode, Mozzie (Willie Garson) and Peter kept throwing around the two-part ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times" and "May you find what you are looking for." Neal does find what he was looking for: he does manage, thanks to some help from Mozz and Alex (Gloria Votsis) to track down the amber music box that Fowler wants in exchange for Kate's freedom. And he seemingly does engineer an escape route for himself and Kate, one that's legal, thanks to some OPR deal-brokering from Fowler's higher-ups.

But even Neal knows that the deal is bent in some way. He makes a point of saying goodbye to everyone but Peter, knowing that Peter is the one person who can convince him not to flee with Kate but to stay and "make a difference." Which to me (along with the phone call he made to Tiffani Thiessen's Elizabeth) proves that he's having some major second thoughts about the Faustian pact he made with Fowler and with his relationship with Kate.

Will he get on the plane? Will he stay with Peter? What happens now that he's gotten his heart's desire? Can someone like him really settle down, buy a house, have a kid, join the PTA, as Mozzie jokingly suggests? Or is his true nature as an adventurer too hard-wired into his soul?

The choice is made a lot easier by the episode's climactic cliffhanger, one in which the plane, with Kate aboard, explodes just as Neal is about to head over and fly away to freedom. Does Kate survive? Did OPR and Fowler double-cross Neal and decide to kill him and Kate now that he provided them with the music box? Just who is pulling everyone's strings? And why? The answers to those questions will have to wait until White Collar's second season, which returns to USA this summer.

Despite the fact that I haven't been a fan of Alexandra Daddario as Kate (I haven't felt any spark between her and Bomer's Neal whatsoever), I do wish that Neal and Kate had had the chance to have one final scene together before the explosion that seemingly took Kate's life and shattered Neal's quest forever. Given that she's been the main goal throughout the final season, I think the pain could have cut a little deeper if they had one last conversation before she got on the plane and Neal had that scene with Peter where he returned his consultant's "badge." The effect would have been even more dramatic than just having Kate peer out through the plane's window and would have given Neal the false satisfaction of gotten the girl and the happy ending.

That said, I do hope that Kate IS dead. I've not found Daddario's Kate all that compelling of a character and that feeling is enhanced by the arrival of Gloria Votsis' Alex, who has a mischievous sensuality about her that's enticing and she and Bomer have some major chemistry going on between them. Alex, to me, is a far more interesting and intriguing character than Kate ever was and I hope that she sticks around for the second season, especially if Kate did burst into flames.

Though, if I'm being honest, there's no way in hell I would have left Alex alone with the music box as Neal did, even if just to take a second to let Mozzi into the anteroom at the Italian consulate. It's that lack of trust that makes Alex such a compelling character, yet also made Neal look a little too easily misled by her.

I'm also really excited to see how Thomason's Diana shakes things up within the team. I loved having her investigate Fowler and OPR in this week's episode, even if her IT excuse to Fowler's goon was a little too flimsy. Still, nice scene with Fowler and Peter in the parking garage (loved how she signaled Peter to draw one of her guns) that points to Diana's strength and grit. Can't wait to see more of her next season, especially working directly with Neal.

All in all, a great season finale that made me anxious to find out just what will happen next. Eastin and Co. have done a great job balancing the serialized and the procedural aspects of the series this season and I hope that balance continues over into next season as the mystery of the music box, OPR, and Fowler's co-conspirators continues. I'll gladly tip my hat to that.

Season Two of White Collar launches this summer on USA.


Asta said…
I'm no fan of Kate and have many of the same complaints about the character and actress as you do, but I do want to see Kate back. I want to find out more about her, I want Neal to find out more about her and I want Neal to make the choice to move on with his life without her in it.

And I've grown to love Alex over the last few episodes. Gloria and Matt have awesome chemistry. The writers realize this as well because Jeff Eastin has already stated we'll see more of her next season and the writers were asking the fans opinion of her on Twitter the other night.
Nancy said…
Kate had enough time between when she was first seen and fire boom to get off the plane. Remember, it was out on the tarmac so there was a whole side viewers never saw.
Fowler blew it up? Doubt that. Not only did he provide papers to get Kate and Neal away, most stuff he did was legal. There's someone who got him to get music box, who set up bang. He also told Peter where Neal was, why do that if intent was death. Fowler could have used a gun anytime.
Tempest said…
I've often wondered if Kate's blandness wasn't deliberate -- a way to make us question her loyalties the way Peter does, or to make us not root too hard for Neal to run away with her.

Glad to see Diana back; I just wish they'd let her use her real accent. And could we get Sharif Atkins bumped up to series regular?
Blythe said…
Even though I'm not a fan of Kate (or the actress who plays Kate) I agree that there should have been a scene with her and Neal together before the plane went boom.

I'm torn about whether or not I want her to still be alive and return next season as she's so bland but, as someone else commented, it would be more compelling to have Neal realize that she's not what he wants and walk away from her.

Love Alex and Diana and am happy that they will both be in season two!
jenmoon said…
I don't think they've handled the Kate thing at all, to the point where I'm hoping she's dead for real. We've never been able to get a sense of them together or why we should care (other than Neal does), and yeah, he's got more chemistry going on with Alex.
Unknown said…
so glad diana is here to stay, also loved the way they reminded us in a casual way the she is gay by having peter ask about her life partner and how she was, im hoping that when season 2 returns we will see more of her personal life, great to have a great, well rounded lesbian character in a good show, too bad natalie morales is leaving the show but they really wasted her middleman talent on this show.

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