At the moment when Neal and Peter discovered a trove of plundered Nazi treasure inside Vincent Adler’s (Andrew McCarthy) stolen German U-boat, I started to think the episode should have been titled “Nazi See, Nazi Do.” Although I’m glad the show's writers restrained themselves. In truth, I was pretty disappointed when SS lore began factoring into White Collar’s ongoing “Who killed Kate and why?” conflict. That sense of letdown had nothing to do with sensitivity about my own grandparents having survived the Holocaust. Nor did the revelation of a sunken, Hitler-authorized submarine carrying billions of dollars in Swastika-inked merch feel inauthentic or implausible. But as narrative coups de grace go, I’d anticipated something less stepped-on than raiding the pantheon of New Order fascination.
Such is the two-horned wildebeest of expectations. When I sang the hyperbole of White Collar for another outlet during its inaugural season, I mostly applauded USA’s breakout hit for both catching me off guard as pure entertainment and consistently surprising me with its unpretentious smarts. None of that has changed. But like so many of the cons our central protagonists encountered during season two, the stakes sure did.
This time last year, we were thrust into the show’s spring hiatus with a bang, literally, as Kate perished in a mushroom cloud of budget-CGI flames. In the 15 episodes since, Collar has struggled at times to concurrently move several relationships forward and add layers to its whodunit intrigue, while keeping each week’s primary thrust—brilliantly edited, cleverly scripted crime-busts—in plain sight. As a result, tonight’s finale had dual standards to match: finally rewarding viewer’s year-and-a-half investment in the music-box saga and leaving us dumbstruck a la when Kate’s plane graphically exploded and amped up excitement for the ensuing season’s premiere.
In regards to the latter, “Under the Radar” notched its highest marks, ostensibly providing no less than three endings that would have all been fairly satisfying on their own. Andrew McCarthy, in a return engagement as Neal’s mentor-turned-saboteur Vincent Adler, needed to go. Adler brimmed with villainous potential, but whether because of McCarthy’s availability, his iffy performance, or the character serving more as Ghost of Fugitive Future than real adversary, he felt increasingly thin and disposable. To see Peter actually shoot him in the back was pretty riveting. And harmless as Adler began to seem, at least he was ready to pull the trigger without stalling by way of grandiose sermonizing.
The only belief that required suspension in those closing minutes arrived when Peter happened to stumble upon the floating embers of a Chrysler Building painting that looked suspiciously like Neal’s copy. I trust Peter’s intuition explicitly at this point, so I don’t know if that almost-divine intervention was necessary, or even less than ridiculous.
As can be expected during a finale, its climactic third tends to stick with you the most. It’s kind of like every NBA game that way. But there was a lot to like throughout the first half hour’s buildup. While Adler’s henchman looked more like Bruno’s personal assistants than menacing assassins, holding Neal and Peter up at gunpoint in a limo and forcing them both to digest a nebulous sleep agent was geeky-cool, edge-of-seat material. And the payoff within the episode’s payoff—a full tour of the hijacked U-boat and neutralizing of its planted TNT—was Collar's equivalent of seeing the Blue Whale model at New York's American Museum of Natural History. In other words, fucking cool.
Then, of course, there was Neal’s emerging romantic involvement with dashing businesswoman Sarah, which later became compromised when Caffrey shared a heat-of-the-moment smoocharoo with Alex. (Two consecutive weeks of tongue-play for our leading man, yowza!) From this, and an improbably shoehorned-in dinner party with Peter, Elizabeth, Neal and Alex, we learned once again that Neal has significantly more trouble committing to sexy upper-class ladies as he does
investigating gallery heirlooms and various priceless doodads. Personally, I’m on team Sarah, and you can’t blame the writers for letting some mystery linger around their star-crossed fate.
As for whether I even bothered to keep up with assorted back story about the fractal and how Alex’s grandfather was the German naval equivalent to Peter Falk in The Princess Bride, not really. I think most of us who’ve been with the show since it debuted can agree that the fabled music box’s origins became a lot less interesting than why the hell it was so valuable and Peter and Neal's charming dynamic. (The show’s ratings, which have marginally declined this winter, are likely proof of that, and are bound to spike back up for this finale.) And it's quite likely that undiscovered Nazi art/jewelry collections are the most treasured items never to have been claimed, making it a score worthy of Adler, Neal, Alex, Mozzie, and Peter’s obsession. Which is enough to leave us wondering if Neal would deem them worthy of betraying and manipulating Peter all along (it would certainly justify Mozzie’s unceasing loyalty).
My guess? He let Alex—who wanted to express gratitude toward toward Neal and help him find closure, while ensuring her grandfather’s heroic efforts didn’t go for naught— into his apartment, she stored the originals in a warehouse for him, and that devilish grin of triumph Neal flashed in the closing seconds was earned from having redeemed Kate’s death, completed the long con on Adler (while keeping Peter out of the loop because it was personal), saved the day, chosen the lawful path, and, of course, protected the welfare of his ultimate love: precious works of art. Or some minor variation on that. It certainly explains his curious hunch about what dockside gate Adler hid the valuables in. Collar goes to admirable lengths to keeping its audience guessing, but if Peter appeared to have gone turncoat once before without actually changing allegiances, it’s doubtful they’ll pull such a bold maneuver with their leading stud.
- Was I the only one wondering if that whole Hitler-clones bit was inspired by the Mr. Show skit from some years back?
- “Another day, another Nazi sub.” More like just another day at the Blimpie franchise, am I right?
- “The Germans built things to last for ages.” Except radical military states! Hey-oh! Yeah, fuck you Nazis!
- So is Kim Cattrall the new Fabio in those I Can’t Believe You’re Not Butter ads? Sounds about right.
- Diana’s nerd-bullying of Mozzie was my favorite thing of the whole episode. “Nice gadget, Mr. Wizard.” I feel like invoking Luke Dunphy when I say, “Heh, good one Diana.”
- We had another classic McCarthyism: “A treasure for the ages.” McCarthula is back!
- I officially declare that no primetime drama is ever allowed to face a do-or-die situation and have one of its characters turn to the other and utter some variation of “Hey, if we don’t make it,” EVER again. Unless it ends with, “then got your nose!”
- In all seriousness, I just want to thank all you guys for sticking with me through these past several episodes and always keeping me on my toes. My calloused, desperately in-need-of-clipping toes. Hopefully, we’ll be back for more White Collar congregation this summer when season three kicks off.