Can you believe it’s the White Collar third-season finale already? And are you ready for the answer as to whether or not Neal will be a free man? Well, here we go…
While we open with Neal getting the particulars on the commutation hearing process in a room with no decor (because all important hearings on TV seem to happen in big, open rooms with no decor and are run by unlikable, interchangeable bureaucrats), Peter is stunned to hear that his pal Kramer (Beau Bridges) doesn’t just have his sights set on luring Diana to Washington. He wants Neal there, too. Here I think, “Dude, get your own friends. Don’t steal someone else’s.”
Kramer isn’t above digging up all of Neal’s past to get what he wants, and so it’s up to Neal to recover the much-talked about Raphael painting that he stole, while we hear from everyone else in his life, including Sara and June (the much-missed Diahann Carroll). Where’s the painting? It’s on Roosevelt Island with a figure from Neal’s past: Ella Parker, who happens to be in witness protection. Neal recovers the painting, but Kramer and Diana are waiting for him and Peter on the other side. What’s Neal’s solution? Jump from one tram car to the other, and head back to the island, where Mozzie rescues him with a stolen ambulance.
Neal intends to return the painting to Sara’s bosses and right his wrong, but to do that, he has to evade Kramer’s minions, and he can’t do that alone. It’s Diana who keeps him from being nabbed, and Peter who has Sara get a last-minute meeting with her boss. This is so Mr. Winston Bosch himself will tell Kramer that he hired Neal to authenticate the painting, leaving Kramer blustery. At his hearing, Neal tells the panel of generic people that he’s got everything that he wants, even if his anklet is still on. Call me sappy but I found that heartwarming.
But Kramer, being the tool that he is, has some U.S. Marshals on hand to arrest Neal for the smallest charge, so that he can “control” him. I loved Beau Bridges when he was the head of the CIA on The Agency, but as much as I loved him there, that’s as much as I hate him here. Faced with that, Peter makes eye contact with Neal across the street, silently warning him to do the last thing he wanted to do: cut his anklet and run.
I must admit that White Collar‘s third season had me wavering. There was a lot that didn’t work for me, from some of the episode scripts to the addition of Hilarie Burton as a regular, and between that and a time-slot conflict with The Voice, the show stopped being “must-see TV” for me. Even comparing it to other USA original series, Suits beat it handily this year. As such, I came into “Judgment Day” warily, and looking for something to excite me about this show again. I say that because even against my growing cynicism, this was a watchable finale. White Collar knows how to do things big when it comes to final chapters (just look at last season), and this was certainly big. I liked that everyone had a part to play in the episode, showing that Neal can’t do everything by himself, and that maybe he shouldn’t. The Neal of three seasons ago might have lone-wolfed it, but he’s got a support system now.
It was also a treat on a character level; it was nice that not everyone said what we expected them to say. For example, Jones saying that Neal’s sentence shouldn’t be commuted. It was not what we might have wanted, but it was perfect for his character. And through it all, the good episodes and the not-so-good episodes, there’s no doubt that Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer are one of the best leading teams working in television today. There are many instances of good actors matched together, but DeKay and Bomer are not just good individually, but they’ve shown us what it means to be a team. Here again they support each other just as much as they have their own moments. Were I an actress, this is the kind of partnership that I would want to have.
Now, about those last couple of minutes: I have to admit that after three seasons, White Collar ending on a cliffhanger each time is getting kind of old. Having said that, this particular one fits fairly well to me. With all the talk about Neal not wanting to run and how much he appreciated his life in New York, I figured he was going to be forced into a situation where he had to – and obviously, the show couldn’t have him get too comfortable with his current situation. How it’s going to play out, I have no idea, but it was fairly clear to me this was the road that Neal was going to be pushed down, and as long as it feels right to me, I can’t argue with it.
Am I breathlessly awaiting a fourth season of White Collar? Maybe not. But this episode is proof of something I do have a deep respect for: that while things don’t always work out flawlessly, this show kept going and these writers and this cast recovered from that. That takes a lot more work, and that’s something to be proud of.