When last we saw White Collar, con man extraordinaire Neal had come to the realization that Treat Williams’ Sam was actually his long-missing father, James.
In Tuesday night’s Season 4.5 opener (USA Network, 10/9c), the two men will begin to hash out their issues — but as creator Jeff Eastin previews below, there’s still plenty of turmoil between them. Eastin also mentions a shake-up at the FBI that brings out Peter’s Caffrey-esque side and a possible reconciliation between Sara and the suave con artist — read on for all the details.
TVLINE | The beginning of this season was about Neal figuring out who he is and how his father factors into that. What’s the journey this time around?
For Neal, it will be twofold. Mentally, it becomes about accepting this person in his life. It’s one of those things – be careful what you wish for. All his life, he’s wanted to know who his dad is… Now this person is standing in front of him, and he’s pretty pissed off about it — partly because James has essentially been lying to him since he showed up, saying he was somebody else. For Neal, that’s a real hard thing to reconcile.
As the season moves forward, you’ll see that Peter and Mozzie are the ones that are very encouraging to Neal, saying, “If anybody can understand showing up and lying to somebody for a period of time, it should be you because this is something you, especially, could probably end up doing in your life.” Between their help, he finally learns to accept James. But then, just as that’s happening, a lot of intrigue begins with James, and Neal really questioning who this guy is – not that he’s not his father because he is his father, but it becomes a lot more about, who is this guy really? Is he really here doing what he says he’s doing? Or is there an ulterior motive here? So for Neal, [it's] an emotional journey to accept the fact that this is his father and still continuing the theme of, if this guy’s my father, does that define who I am?
Then on the action/drama side, there’s still this pursuit of the evidence that Ellen left him, which ultimately will prove whether his dad was guilty or not. We have a pretty big finale that’s pretty emotionally cool. Also, we got to shoot in the Empire State Building.
TVLINE | That’s incredible.
Yeah. We got to shoot in the most iconic of New York places. It leads up to a pretty cool finale there. On Peter’s side, his big arc is he’s realized that the closer he gets to Neal, the more on the gray side he finds himself. A little bit of a spoiler is Hughes gets forced out by the evil forces. He convinces Peter that sometimes [he] needs to do what he believes in, not necessarily what the law says, but what he believes in his heart. So for Peter, it’s this realization that to save himself, his career, save Neal, he really has to embrace that Neal side of him that’s always been there.
TVLINE | Neal’s father has been so absent in his life for so long. When he comes back, how does he adjust to having a fatherly presence?
Peter has always acted as a bit of a surrogate father to Neal anyway. So in Neal’s mind, for a while now, he’s had that father figure there. The hard part for Neal is comparing the father that he secretly wishes he had in Peter to the new guy who’s shown up, who is his biological father… Neal has to come to grips with the fact James is his father, not Peter, and as much as he wants to pretend and as much as he wishes [his] life mirrored Peter’s, he really doesn’t know what he wants. He wants that perfect life with Elizabeth. He wants the white picket fence and the dog and those things. A little part of him knows that that’s not for him, but it’s secretly what he tells himself he wants, and now this dad shows up who’s a whole lot different from Peter. For Neal, a lot about that self-reflection is… “Am I looking at a reflection of myself? Or is it too late for me to change [myself] to who I want [to be]?”
TVLINE | Is there more of a physical danger this season as a result of James’ involvement in the larger mystery arc?
Well yes, but not necessarily because of James. It’s sort of who James is in league with. The people that are after James show up and, through them, it gets real dangerous.
TVLINE | There’s a shot of Elizabeth with a gun in the promos.
Yeah. That’s pretty cool. I can’t say too much about that. She plays a pretty active role this year.
TVLINE | What is the state of Neal’s love life in these last six episodes? He’s kissing Sara in the promo.
Sara’s back in Neal’s life. In an earlier season, she admits to Neal that she had a sister that disappeared much like Kate disappeared. I always felt that was a bonding thing between them. That comes up a little this year. She’s decided to pursue that. In that pursuit, her company, Sterling Bosch, has offered her a pretty huge promotion in the UK, and she is inclined to take it. At this point, her and Neal have decided to do more of a casual, friends-with-benefits type relationship, which they feel is a good way for them to maintain what they like about each other without the pressure of what usually causes them to break up. Fortunately or unfortunately, this pressure suddenly that Sara’s going to take a new job in the UK and they’ll probably never see each other again, it really pushes both of them to say, “Is this something worth saving? Or is this something we really want?” And like I said, we get to use the Empire State Building as our big iconic set piece at the end of the season, which turned out really great.
TVLINE | Any fun cases or episodes coming up that you’re excited about?
There’s several, but one would be Neal and Sara kissing by the fountain. That’s an episode where they both get kidnapped together, which is a fun one. It ended up turning out very well. And then the last couple leading up to the finale are really, really good, just because of all the stuff inside the Empire State Building. We got the whole tour and the history and everything else that we get to play into a little bit, and [we really like] the vistas of Neal and Sara at the top. We had access to what they call the 103rd floor that only like celebrities are allowed to go to. As a matter of fact, while we were filming there, we had to shut down for about a half an hour because Adam Sandler brought his family up and wanted to show them. That shut us down for a few minutes, which was actually kind of cool.
TVLINE | At this point, are there any places that you want to film at that you haven’t been able to?
Not really. There’s the High Line in New York, which is that park there that we’ve been trying to shoot at. I’d love to do [that]. I don’t think there’s any problem. I think that’s a matter of scheduling on our part. But we shot at Yankee Stadium last year. We got the Empire State Building. We’ve done a lot of iconic New York. Russian Tea Room would be fun. Madison Square Garden, maybe.