Themes of family, loyalty, and betrayal resonated throughout last night’s exciting and touching season finale of White Collar, which not only gave us the wedding proposal of our dreams between Neal and Sara (Matt Bomer, Hilarie Burton), but wrapped up the convoluted story arc involving Neal’s father in a moving and unexpected way. Guest star Treat Williams turned in his best performance yet as Neal’s fugitive dad James Bennett, who finally revealed his true self in the aptly titled “In the Wind,” and the supporting cast did their usual fine job with a wonderful script in which New York City’s iconic Empire State Building practically earned its own billing as an additional character.
Senator Pratt’s pet FBI Agent Calloway (Emily Procter) is even more snake-like this week, as she conspires with Pratt (played by the equally unlikable Titus Welliver) to find the evidence box hidden by James’ partner Ellen in the Empire State Building. What’s inside the box will almost certainly prove Pratt’s guilt, but will it exonerate James of the murder for which he claims he was framed? James is acting antsy about getting his hands on the box first. In a surprisingly sweet father/son conversation, James defends his impatience by pointing out that it’s one of his and Neal’s similarities; along with his “extraordinary good looks” (hard to argue with that, when you see those two strikingly similar handsome men next to each other … casting Treat Williams as Neal’s dad was inspired). “You’re the blue in my eyes,” Neal tells his father, something his mother told him as a child. (I’m sorry, I seem to have something in my eye myself …)
The plan to recover the evidence becomes suddenly more urgent when Calloway reveals to Peter that she knows it’s hidden in the Empire State Building. She enlists Peter’s help in executing an FBI search to get the box before either Pratt or Bennett. Peter’s suspicions about Calloway are confirmed when his old supervisor Reese Hughes passes him information confirming that Agent Calloway is actually Pratt’s (very attractive) lap dog. Peter must then pretend to help Calloway while simultaneously covering for Neal, Mozzie (Willie Garson), and James as they hurriedly execute a typically delightful multi-level con and heist (a White Collar special!) involving a cardkey copier which uses a remote pair of receiver cufflinks; a huge diamond ring borrowed from Neal’s landlady June (Diahann Carroll) for a staged wedding proposal (Neal to Sara, on the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building); two bogus caterers (James and Mozzie); a thermos full of hydrofluoric acid; and a champagne bottle containing pressurized helium gas. The plan is made even more complicated when the boys discover that Senator Pratt has rented out the 51st floor, directly above the ceiling where the box is hidden.
Calloway tracks Neal’s anklet transmitter to the 51st floor, but she finds only Peter and Pratt … and discovers that Peter is wearing Neal’s anklet. Furious, she takes Peter’s badge and gun and places him under arrest, demanding to know where Neal really is. At that moment Jones and Berrigan (Sharif Atkins, Marsha Thomason) report that they’ve found the box in the ceiling of the 50th floor and everyone moves downstairs, allowing James and Mozzie to grab the actual box by using the hydrofluoric acid on the 51st floor (and giving us some hilarious dialogue … “Easy! You’re pouring acid, not gin,” James grouses, and Mozzie replies “Oh, perhaps you’d rather punch the tile into submission?”) The acid works just a bit too well, and ceiling tiles crash onto the 50th floor, alerting Pratt and the FBI agents (but it wouldn’t be a White Collar heist if everything went smoothly, right?). Mozzie hands the box to James to make a run for it up the stairs, while he takes a different route to meet Neal on the secluded 103rd floor balcony (afforded to “Nick Holden” for the romantic champagne celebration of his recent engagement). James is intercepted on the stairs by Pratt’s bodyguard, however, and is forced at gunpoint to hand over the evidence box … but have no fear! Before giving the case to James, Mozzie swapped out the real contents, which he is now handing over to Neal on the 103rd floor.
And now we see the reason for the champagne bottle full of pressurized gas, as Neal reveals the best 007-style gizmo of the season: a miniature dirigible frame hidden in the champagne bucket, which is inflated with the helium from the bottle and then sent away (carrying the evidence in its bucket gondola) across the city by GPS remote. Oh, White Collar, you never disappoint!
The evidence is safe, but Peter and James are still in peril. Peter manages to escape from his conveniently inattentive FBI captor and races to find Pratt, who pulls a gun on James when he finds that the evidence is not in the box; When Peter barges in, James grab Peter’s previously confiscated weapon from Agent Calloway’s (even more) conveniently abandoned handbag. In a tense standoff, Peter orders both men to put down their weapons, but James fires, killing Pratt. Peter takes his gun back, and tells James that he’ll testify to the shooting being in self defense, but he has to bring James in. James isn’t having any of it, though. He grabs Pratt’s weapon and aims it at Peter, who fires a warning shot in James’ direction (NOOO, silly Peter! Now you have gunshot residue on your hands! Don’t you even watch TV?). James takes off, and Calloway and the rest of the FBI arrive in time to see Peter holding his weapon over Pratt’s dead body. Peter is taken away in handcuffs, accused of Pratt’s murder.
The evidence blimp has now landed safely on Neal’s balcony. James arrives shortly after, and begins rummaging through the evidence, but Neal tells him to stop. He has found proof that his father lied about being framed, and is actually guilty of the murder of his police supervisor thirty years earlier. The anger and disappointment Neal feels is painfully evident in Matt Bomer’s anguished delivery, and the scene becomes even more dramatic when Diana calls to let Neal know what has happened to Peter. Neal is practically in tears as he begs his father to turn himself in. “All you have to do is tell the truth, and Peter goes free,” he pleads. “Show me you’re better than this! Show me you’re a decent man!” But James’ grim expression tells us what we already know even before he says it; He’ll never let them put him back in jail. James delivers some curt final advice to a devastated Neal: “In this life, somebody always takes a fall,” he says from the doorway. “Don’t let it be you.” And yet again, Neal watches his father leave.
“In the Wind” was about as perfect a season finale as anyone could ask for. The story was packed with emotion, romance, exciting action, plot twists, humorous character interplay, masterful acting, and above all, a continuing plot that leaves us starved for more. Watching the disintegration of Neal’s fragile relationship with his father was heartbreaking, and both Bomer and Williams handled the emotional scenes beautifully. The moments between Neal and Sara were adorably romantic, from the sexy flirting (with Hilarie Burton looking quite tasty in nothing but Neal’s dress shirt) to the marriage proposal that was so convincing it brought Sara (and many viewers) to tears, knowing that she’s actually moving to London rather than marrying the complicated man that she loves.
Senator Pratt may be gone, but evil Agent Calloway is still with us. How will Peter be proven innocent without James’ testimony? It’s going to be a long summer waiting for White Collar’s return!