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Thursday, March 1, 2012

White Collar faces "Judgment Day"

USA's White Collar completes its third season with "Judgment Day." A wrench is thrown into Neal's (Matthew Bomer) commutation hearing when Agent Kramer (Beau Bridges) begins a campaign to ruin Neal. The goal is to get Neal's sentence extended, and transfer him to Kramer's supervision in DC. That way, Kramer gets to use Neal for his own purposes, indefinitely. Peter (Tim DeKay) and Neal's other friends help him try to outwit Kramer, but to no avail. In the end, Peter gives Neal a signal, and Neal flees the country with Mozzie (Willie Garson).

"Judgment Day" represents a major game change for White Collar. With Neal cutting his ankle monitor and running, what will season four be about? Now Neal is a wanted man, having to stay out of the eyes of the law. His partnership with Peter is effectively over. Neal abandons his life in New York City. The other option would have been to get in more trouble and be stuck with Kramer. But it's still not a decision Neal should make lightly.

Nor should Peter. Peter sticks his neck out for Neal repeatedly. Peter does everything he can to help and reform Neal. More than that, Peter is his friend. What's more, until Kramer interferes, it works. Neal is changed. It puts Peter's own reputation and career at risk to stand up for Neal, and allow him to escape. There will surely be negative consequences for Peter that stem from these events. But Peter gives Neal a signal to run anyway, because it's what it best for Neal at present. That's real friendship.

And Peter is not Neal's only friend. Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen) gets him two cakes, one for each expected outcome. Mozzie and Sarah (Hilarie Burton) help Neal go around Kramer's back. Diana (Marsha Thomason) assists Neal in escaping Kramer's agents. June (Diahann Carroll) gives testimony in Neal's favor. Even Jones (Sharif Atkins), despite recommending Neal stay in custody, cares about him, and shows it. Neal has to give up this entire life, and the family he has built around him, to flee.

In fact, this might be a repeat for Neal. Not a lot is known about Neal's past, but in "Judgment Day," Neal visits a woman (Judith Ivey) he knew long ago. This woman talks about the day that a teenage Neal ran away, and the lack of contact both have had with Neal's parents. So it seems Neal has faced giving up everything before. Last time, it led him to a life of crime. This time, with Mozzie by his side, it would not be surprising if that happens again.

How can Peter bring Neal in from the cold and restore some balance to his life? That will surely be the focus of the beginning of season four, likely for only one episode, though hopefully for several. White Collar will surely figure out some way to accomplish a restoration of its format during the break. The series takes chances, but throwing out their entire plot structure is unlikely to happen. That's too bad, because this is a heck of a story that could be played out for some time before going back to the regular formula. In fact, White Collar would make an excellent serial, if the network would only consider changing direction.

Awesome season finale, White Collar! The series will return this summer to USA.

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