Judgment Day has arrived for White Collar‘s Neal Caffrey. In this Tuesday’s season finale (airing at 10/9c on USA Network), the suave con man will learn whether he’ll go free or continue to be tethered to the FBI. Either way, though, the tense hour “will change everything,” says series creator Jeff Eastin — and yes, that includes Neal’s bromantic bond with handler Peter Burke.
TVLINE | Every year, the finale is this big cliffhanger that shakes things up. How does this one measure up?
I’m probably biased, but I think it’s the best one we’ve done. It’s pretty exciting. … We’re going to hold on Matt Bomer’s face for nearly a minute [at the very end], and it changes everything.
TVLINE | How different will Peter and Neal’s relationship be by the end of the hour?
Their relationship will come full circle. But at the same, what happens after that will change everything.
TVLINE | What’s going through Peter’s head as he prepares for Neal’s commutation hearing?
The hour presents Peter with the biggest choice he’s ever had. He’s essentially the key to Neal’s freedom, and it’s a big decision. He goes back and forth on it a couple of times before making his final decision.
TVLINE | And how is Neal dealing as he awaits the outcome?
For Neal, this is also the biggest decision he’s ever faced since he’s known Peter. It took me a long time to write his speech that he gives at the hearing. He sums it up nicely [by saying], “But to wake up tomorrow and only have to answer to myself? That means everything.” Just like anybody else who’s facing a big decision like that, he’s doing what he can to maintain [his sanity]. But at the same time, it’s really something that’s out of his control.
TVLINE | We’re seeing a lot of things coming into play with Kramer (played by Beau Bridges) and these coded letters to Kate. How is Neal’s past going to factor into the finale?
One of our working titles for this episode was “Sins of the Past.” Neal has changed quite a bit. And one of the things that he really has struggled with – which, at the beginning of Season 4, we will confront head on – is this idea of who he really is. Peter’s really pushed him toward the light, and in Neal’s mind, he has become a much more responsible person for that. Yet, the things that are hurting him in this episode are things that happened years and years ago, when he was a different person. It’s very tough for him to reconcile that, because he’s like, “You guys are trying the person I’m not anymore.” That’s also tough for Peter. But from Kramer’s point of view, the guy’s a criminal and you thought wrong.
TVLINE | How big of a threat is Kramer to Neal’s freedom?
Quite a big one. Kramer really poses the most serious threat to Neal’s freedom that anybody [ever] has. For Kramer, it becomes a lot less about putting Neal Caffrey behind bars, because he respects Neal and is absolutely blown away by his skill. A lot of the question Kramer is asking himself is, “Why are we letting him go? Why are we taking this person that has such an amazing skill set and setting him loose? Why not harness that and use it for the FBI?”
TVLINE | The two people who’ve worked the most closely with Neal behind Peter are Jones and Diana. What role do they play in his hearing?
That was something we struggled with quite a bit – what would Jones and Diana say? We constructed the episode so that each act begins with somebody testifying. As far as June goes, Diahann Carroll did a spectacular job; she actually sent me a nice note saying that was one of the best, most exciting acting challenges she’s had in a while. I was very impressed. [But as far as] Jones and Diana go, it was a real wrestling match to decide who was going to say what. There was a lot of sitting down with Marsha [Thomason] and Sharif [Atkins] and going back and looking at the characters we created for them and deciding what they really feel. Each of their decisions will probably surprise people.
TVLINE | Matt and Tim [DeKay] told me they couldn’t imagine these characters’ lives without each other in some way. Is the possibility of them being separate something they’re struggling with?
Quite a bit. Neal knows that, left to his own devices, he’ll probably get himself into some trouble. At the same time, he doesn’t want the comfort of the anklet anymore, knowing that Peter’s there to pull him back if he goes too far. The same thing for Peter – he’s come to rely on Neal so much that if Neal’s free, [it’s like], “I don’t know what that looks like.” Does that mean Neal living on some island somewhere, phoning Peter, and Peter emailing him stuff on the case? For both of them, it’s a big transition no matter what happens.