To me, White Collar represents a turning point for USA. It straddles the line between light-hearted procedural, which is the old style of show USA used to make a la Monk and Psych, and the character-driven, higher-concept stuff currently ruling the network, like Suits and Graceland. I almost gave up on it in its early days, but was hooked just enough to give it a chance to grow, and was rewarded for my effort. The sixth and final season, which consisted of a mere six episodes, ended this week with “Au Revoir” and, unfortunately, White Collar did not sprint through to the end.
In the past, the show has developed some really cool arcs, such as pitting Neal (Matt Bomer) against Peter (Tim DeKay) as the former considered returning to his criminal lifestyle. In the final year, the show returns to case-of-the week installments, mostly, with the final story, which spanned a few episodes, feeling like a longer version of the same. Neal and Peter go undercover to take down what is supposed to be one of the best illegal groups of all time, the Pink Panthers, but instead of this being a huge capper to their career together, the case unfolds the same as always and the good guys win as easily as ever.
There are signs that White Collar could go in a better direction. Long-time foe Keller (Ross McCall) gets involved. Instead of seeing Neal and Peter wrestle with what he’s done to them in the past, though, his part is glossed over and he’s just someone they work with. Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) worries about Peter staying in the field now that they are expecting a baby, leading one to believe a major life decision will be made. But instead, Peter just jumps into danger as willingly as ever, and there’s never even a chance for Neal to save him, as I expected to happen.
As “Au Revoir” draws to a close, the script gets really messy. Neal faking his own death, I sort of get, especially because he does let Peter know he’s OK. But Neal built a family here, so why would he abandon them? Why does White Collar hint Neal may have (or may not have) gone back to being a criminal without letting us know if his growth has paid off? Why doesn’t Peter try to arrest Mozzie (Willie Garson), whom he knows stole money? There is a bond of mutual respect between Neal, Peter, and Mozzie that allows them to work together, but Peter would never sit idly by and let the other two get away with anything as he appears to do here, nor would Neal be so heartless as to abandon everyone he cares about and wait an entire year to clue them in.
It’s just not good storytelling. One expects a show, in its final episode, to give some sort of pay-off to what’s come before it. Tiny bits of the epilogue do this for some of the supporting characters, but not in any way that matters so much. The core players, though, aren’t well served at all. Instead, they appear inconsistent and shy away from the personalities they’ve developed. Though I do admit that DeKay and Garson do get some juicy emotional bits to prove their range.
I mention supporting players, and “Au Revoir” does make time for Jones (Sharif Atkins), Diana (Marsha Thomason), and June (Diahann Carroll), as it should. Unfortunately, June’s role is basically a cameo, and the other two get happy endings without being shown to do anything special at the end to earn them, made even less satisfying by the time jump.
White Collar was very good at times. Sadly, its finale was not one of them. It will be missed, but if this is the direction the show was heading in anyway, I’m glad it’s gone before it completely tarnishes what it did when it was at its best.