With a title as ominous as “Judgment Day,” you can be sure the White Collar season three finale is going to deliver. The possibility of freedom has been held out for Neal Caffrey for the latter half of this season. Now that his commutation hearing has finally arrived, we get to see where Neal’s friends and colleagues stand on the matter. New revelations, unexpected twists, and a gravity-defying stunt all lead up to a jaw-dropping cliffhanger. In other words, it’s business as usual in the world of White Collar.
The mid-season premiere “Checkmate” revealed that, against all odds, the US Probation Office has decided to consider commuting Neal’s sentence based on his exemplary record. On paper, Neal is “the poster boy for reform,” with the recent recovery of the U-boat treasure and arrest of Matthew Keller putting Neal in the US Attorney’s good books.
What they don’t know is that Neal was involved in hiding the stolen treasure in the first place, and that his FBI handler Peter Burke has had to turn a blind eye to a lot of Neal’s ‘extracurricular’ activities. Peter has struggled with his conscience ever since news of Neal’s possible commutation arose. On the one hand, Neal broke the law (repeatedly) and ultimately put Elizabeth in danger as a result. Yet on the other, Neal has proven that he no longer wants to run and, more importantly, that Peter can trust him when it counts.
Do you deserve to be free?
Neal’s commutation hearing takes place in a vast, stark white room — for what I can only assume is for dramatic effect. (It works.) Neal is told that the hearing will take place over the course of two days, with various people coming in to give their statements. The episode is broken up with scenes from these interviews. June, Sara, Elizabeth, and Jones reveal their true feelings toward Neal Caffrey and whether or not he deserves to be free.
Unexpectedly, Agent Kramer is listed among those who will give a statement. Kramer’s interest in Neal has been hinted at, and in last week’s episode, Diana confided in Peter that Kramer’s investigations has led to the discovery of Neal’s coded letters from prison.
The possible results of Neal’s commutation hearing seem to be pretty clear. Either he goes free or, in the worst case scenario, he stays on the anklet. But as Mozzie points out: “Behind every worst case scenario, there’s a worse worst case scenario.” For once, Mozzie’s paranoia is well-founded, and Kramer reveals that he has his own plans for Neal.
For the first time, Peter has to go up against his old mentor. Neal scrambles to thwart Kramer and ensure his freedom, enlisting the help of Sara, Mozzie, and even Peter. We also get to see Peter and Sara working together to get Neal out of a tight spot, which is pretty fantastic. By the end of the episode, it seems as though Kramer might have a point when he asks Peter: “Are you handling [Neal]? Or becoming him?”
In addition, we finally get a glimpse of Neal’s past. The episode gives us some tantalizing hints into his backstory, before he ever became Neal Caffrey. I shall say no more, but trust me, it’s awesome.
Matt Bomer has said in several interviews that Neal’s conflict throughout this season has been internal: ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ Neal’s final speech at his hearing seems to answer that question once and for all, and he’s definitely come a long way since the start of the season.
It’s also been stated several times by the actors and writers that this season’s cliffhanger is the biggest one yet. You guys will have to watch and judge for yourself, but in my opinion? It totally is. My heart is still pounding just thinking about it!
As if we don’t have enough reason to look forward to the next season, Jeff Eastin Tweeted me the following spoiler a while back:
Start placing your bets, everyone! ;)
→ Mozzie has one last surprise in store…
→ “I’m thinking we need a third cake.” “One with a file in it?”
→ Elizabeth compares her marriage with Peter to his partnership with Neal.
→ “I’ll lead the federal bloodhounds on a chase of the wild goose variety.”
→ A very subtle Ford plug is integrated into the episode. You can hardly notice it. Really.
→ The episode begins and ends with a close-up of Neal’s face.
DO NOT miss the White Collar season finale! “Judgment Day” airs tomorrow, February 28th at 10/9c on USA.