TV Review: ‘White Collar’ Season Five

Maia Zewert

Since its conception, USA Network’s “White Collar” has relied on long overarching plot lines to carry its seasons. For season one, it was Neal’s hunt for Kate. Season two had the music box. Season three dealt with the fallout from the U-boat treasure, and season four explored Neal’s life before becoming a criminal.

All this brings us to season five. I had high hopes going in, considering the cliffhanger the audience was left with at the end of season four. However, when the show returned, it nicely wrapped up the strings left over and moved along within the first twenty minutes. Neal (Matt Bomer) decided to bend the law like he usually does to help get Peter (Tim DeKay) out of a sticky situation and was now indebted to a criminal he once helped put away.

Compared to the other arcs in previous seasons, this one left a lot to be desired. With Marsha Thomason out on maternity leave, “White Collar” evolved into a boys club. Yes, Tiffani Thiessen still popped up as Peter’s wife, but when the show relies heavily on its time at the FBI office, there was a lack of female presence to break up the Peter/Neal bromance. The show did add Bridget Regan as a love interest for Neal, but the only purpose she served was to get Neal shirtless a few times.

I was all set to write the season off as a terrible mistake when the show took its winter break. However, I still tuned in when the show returned in January, and I am so glad that I did. The fire the show held in its earlier seasons came back with a vengeance, revealing the slow pacing of the first half of the season was actually setting up for an explosive second act. 

The season ended on a major cliffhanger, a gutsy move considering the show was not and has not yet been renewed for season six. I do not doubt that USA will give it one. After all, “White Collar” has been one of its more consistent performers in previous years.

However, I would not be surprised if this next season was its last. Creator and showrunner Jeff Eastin is already balancing his time between “White Collar” and “Graceland,” which is poised to become the next “Burn Notice.” In addition, this season demonstrated that the show’s premise is slowly wearing a bit thin. Yes, we have seen Neal take baby steps toward completely reforming his criminal ways, but what is going to happen if/when his anklet eventually comes off? We do not want to see him get back into trouble, which would throw away years of character development. At the same time, if Neal goes completely straight, the show would lose the central push-and-pull relationship between Neal and Peter.

After investing so much time into this show, I would like it to end on a relatively high note, much like “Burn Notice,” which wrapped up last year. The writers knew the season was the last when the show got renewed and were able to give the season an overarching plot line. I think if “White Collar” is given the same notice, it will be able to pull off something fantastic.