Well, you guys called it: "Sam" was not Sam at all, but Neal's father! I'll be honest, it definitely didn't occur to me this would be the big revelation in the mid-season finale. This was partly because White Collar is just not the kind of show where I dwell too hard on the big-picture mysteries, but also because that particular possibility just seemed really, I don't know, obvious? For those of you who called it a while back, this twist must have been reminiscent of the now-infamous Dexter Season 6 "twist" that was excruciatingly obvious a full EIGHT episodes before it was finally revealed. But at least in this case, the twist actually added to the drama rather than detracted from it. Up until this episode Sam was an incredibly minor, slightly unlikable character who tended to check into hotels under his own name despite being on the run from killers. But now he's NEAL'S DAD. You know? Instantly more interesting/likable. He is the man responsible for CREATING Neal. If that's not deserving of our respect, what is? Now we just need to get to know him.
The reveal of Sam's true identity nicely mirrored a number of imposter-related shenanigans throughout "Vested Interest." I mean, if we're being real this is an entire show about imposters, but this episode featured at least a half-dozen imposter-related scenarios—even Jones and Diana got in on the fakery. The primary plotline involved an FBI convention getting somehow infiltrated by an industrial spy looking to abscond with some cutting-edge law enforcement technology (or, as we'd learn later, the man responsible for inventing it). It was exactly the sort of case that Neal and Peter could handle in their sleep, but unfortunately Neal and Peter as a unit weren't operating at full-strength. No, at the outset Neal was still hecka miffed at Peter for having possibly exposed Sam to a potential mole within the FBI, so it was still cold-shoulder city.
For his part Peter was trying to be a good guy to Neal and, in a way, win him over again despite not really regretting what he'd done. This was demonstrated in a weirdly lighthearted montage wherein he fixed the coffee maker and presented Neal with a fresh cup, only to have Neal decline and then buy his own at Starbucks. Ouch. Also, Neal couldn't seem to hide his contempt for Peter, allowing it to spill forth during a panel they both shared at the FBI convention. Lottttta passive aggression going on there; it was almost enough to make Neal seem unappealing. ALMOST. But because this was White Collar, their friendship didn't remain on the rocks TOO long. Sam re-entered the picture and Neal saw an opportunity to smoke out the FBI mole who'd given away his whereabouts. And everyone knows that to smoke out a mole, one needs a rat. And what followed was one of the silliest White Collar scenarios of the season: Neal literally set a rat loose in the White Collar Crimes Division in order to distract Peter and slip a piece of paperwork into his "to-sign" pile that would authorize surveillance of Sam.
Admittedly, Jones' reaction WAS pretty hilarious:
So yeah, anyway, Neal had decided he DID want to work with Peter in the Sam situation, just without Peter's actual permission.
Meanwhile, Neal's demeanor improved when he realized he needed to keep up a front at the FBI convention, so he did a much better job at being nice to Peter and together they easily smoked out a false FBI agent by recording an entire room of them to see which agents didn't pat their pockets when informed one of them had lost their credentials. Clever! After they had their mark, Diana and Jones impersonated event organizers and tricked the guy into attending a specific panel where the maker of a VERY expensive bullet-proof vest would be presenting it. But instead of trying to steal the vest, the dude tried to steal the maker! A chase and parking lot shoot-out ensued, and at some point during the shootout Neal decided to run across the hoods of a dozen cars and ended up getting SHOT! (Cue devastated reaction shot from Peter). Fortunately he was wearing the vest prototype and all was well.
Elsewhere, Neal's plan suss out the FBI mole with Mozzie and Sam wasn't going so well after Sam decided to take matters into his own hands and he got himself bound, gagged, and beaten by a thug with an agenda. Neal fairly easily snuck in and saved Sam just before Peter and his team arrived to chase the thug away (without catching him). In what represented a major change of heart, Neal secretly dabbed Sam's blood and slipped the sample to Peter for I.D.ing. Later that night while Sam was chillin' at Neal's, Peter phoned Neal with the bombshell: The person Neal had known as Sam was indeed simply using the identity of a deceased informant... The Treat Williams-looking dude was actually Neal's father. Neal awkwardly confronted "Sam" about it and the episode left us there. Cliffhanger? Not really. Just a big piece of the puzzle locking into place. But still, it only took us 11 episodes of talking about him before we finally met Neal's dad, so that's pretty cool. Oh, and also Peter and Neal kind of officially made up during another FBI panel when Peter suggested that their relationship is based more on faith than trust; i.e., even if one doesn't trust what the other is doing, they have faith that they're doing it for the right reasons. Because no criminal has ever used "right reasons" to do a terrible thing. Great lesson, Peter!
Guys, my problem is this: The thing that makes White Collar fun to watch is the same reason it's hard to write about... What's to discuss, exactly? Things happen, they're fun, and then it's over. Even in this stretch of episodes where a sort-of mythology was introduced about Neal's family, I'm still not all that thirsty for answers. I just want the next episode to quickly explain what his dad's deal was (because let's face it, it's basically backstory), make Neal and Peter be besties again, give Elizabeth a few fun scenes, and show a cool heist going down. You know? Season 4 has been solid if not enthralling, but that's okay. I almost wish it would just skip the parts we KNOW won't last (i.e., Peter and Neal's cycle of fighting) and just introduce a really cool archvillain or something. I'm not saying my interest in White Collar is waning per se, but my ability to say something new about it each week may be. You know? If White Collar can't manage it, then how can we?
Oh well, these are issues we can revisit in January! Overall this was a solid mid-season finale—not earth-shattering or must-watch, but perfectly enjoyable. Like coffee!
... Did you see the Sam twist coming?
... Is your patience starting to wear thin with the Neal-Peter on-again, off-again fighting?
... Should Elizabeth get an exciting day job? Something?
... Have you ever set a rat loose in order to distract a mark?