White Collar's Season 4 Finale: The Man in the Mirror
When Sam was actually revealed to be James, Neal’s long-lost-possibly-cop-killing-father, I figured things would end one of two ways: with James dead and Neal angsting, or with James going on the run and Neal joining him and angsting. Instead, we got Neal NOT joining him... and angsting. I guess I was partially right—I’m sorry for doubting you, White Collar, but you just really love that will-Neal-stay-or-will-Neal-run storyline and I’m actually delighted that this time around, Neal’s loyalty to Peter and the life he’s built for himself in New York never truly came into question. In fact, Neal is perfectly poised to find himself fighting tooth and nail for that life when White Collar returns for its fifth season later this year as Peter takes the fall for James’ actions and James yet again bails on his son.
James’ hasty exit comes in the wake of that super touching father-son moment from last week’s episode—you know the one I’m talking about: when Neal’s crazy art skills were praised by his AWOL daddy and the idea of Neal being a brilliant artist in his own right was floated and we all had to grab the tissues because there was TOTALLY JUST SOME DUST IN MY EYE OKAY? And then to follow that up with Neal and James’ conversation about Neal’s blue eyes and how he spent hours in front of a mirror as a kid after his mom told him he got his blue eyes from his father? Why you gotta be so rude, White Collar? What did I ever do to you other than sing your praises and leer at Matt Bomer’s overabundance of physical attractiveness (seriously, bro, you need to learn how to share)?
New boss Amanda Calloway was basically confirmed to be on Evil Senator Pratt’s payroll but Neal, Mozzie, Peter, and James seemed, for once, to be ahead of the game. Sara was headed to London for a swanky new position in her firm, but the promotion felt less like a goodbye for Sara and Neal and more like a, “Sucks about your probation, come see me after you get rid of your ankle bling.” Neal’s life and his small, unconventional family seemed to be coming together and for once, his gaze wasn’t caught somewhere on the horizon plotting a possible escape.
So of course White Collar had to stomp all over it.
I just never really thought James would be revealed to have ACTUALLY killed his superior thirty years ago. Sure, he occasionally seemed a little overeager to get his hands on his former partner’s evidence box, but eh, the dude had been on the run for decades, of course he’s anxious. Those odd moments also served to build tension and suspense—tension and suspense that I was certain would dissipate once Neal and the gang got their paws on the box and vindicated Daddy.
For the sake of a possible positive future between James and Neal, I’m glad the important distinction was made that while James DID shoot his supervisor all those years ago, both officers were mired in corruption and it wasn’t the simple, black-and-white matter of a bad guy gunning down a good guy. However, that detail doesn’t change what James did or that he lied to Peter and Neal about it, ALL of it, right down to the extent of his mob ties.
Throughout the hunt for Ellen’s evidence box, the connections between Neal and James were kicked into emphatic overdrive—the eyes, the physical resemblance, the other traits that mark Neal as James’ son—and brought to the surface as positive things just in time for Neal to confirm one of his worst fears: that he is just like his father and his father isn’t someone that anyone should want to emulate.
However, eye color and jail-time are where their similarities end, as the cliffhanger ending to “In the Wind” showed us. In the past, when push came to shove, Neal Caffrey could be counted on to do the right thing and with each subsequent season, his eagerness to save the day has only grown. When Peter took the fall for James’ murder of corrupt Senator Pratt, the door was wide open for James to come forward and clear Peter’s name, and armed with the evidence from Ellen’s box, to do a little self-improving of his own, but he refused, telling Neal, “In this life, somebody always takes a fall—don’t let it be you.” Years of being on the run have jaded him with regard to trusting anyone other than himself and as a result, he’s incapable of having a real, lasting relationship with anyone, including the son who desperately wants a reason to idolize him. With the opening of Pandora’s evidence box, Neal has every reason to turn away from his roots, both to avoid the pain of past hurts as well as avoid the fears for the future. If Neal had never met Peter, there’s a very good chance that Neal might have become exactly the sort of man James is and if we’re honest, Neal’s faith in justice and family are still shaky enough that if this current situation with Peter paying for James’ crime goes in the worst direction it possibly can, Neal could still become that man, maybe even something worse considering how much we’ve seen him gain and lose over and over again over the last four seasons.
Still, even though the outcome for James and Neal’s story was far from the happily-ever-after ideal, if nothing else, Neal finally learned the truth about his father. What's more, despite all the negativity surrounding that knowledge, now that the mystery surrounding James, and by extension, Neal, has been eliminated, Neal finally has good lighting, quality tools, and a clean canvas with which to create the masterpiece of himself.
You know, after he angsts for a little while about how much his dad sucks.
What did you think of White Collar’s Season 4 finale? What do you hope to see in Season 5?
– Loved James’ confusion over who Sara was. Kate? Alex? Poor Neal.
– Are Neal and Sara over? London certainly complicates things, but theirs was seriously the sweetest and most sincere of fake marriage proposals.
– Do you think James will reconsider leaving Peter to take the fall?
– Where will Season 5 find our dynamic duo when White Collar returns?
– Downton Abbey had its #FreeBates hashtag. Should we claim #FreeBurke as ours?
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