Warning: The following contains spoilers from Thursday’s series finale of White Collar.
White Collar said au revoir on Thursday night with a series finale that just as easily could have been titled “Keep On Chasing.”
After pulling the ultimate con and faking his death, Neal jetted off to Paris. Meanwhile, Peter mourned the loss of his pal for a year until he discovered Neal’s secret storage locker, full of medical research and an article about the Louvre’s upgraded security system. With a small smile, the G-man realized his partner was still alive.
But that wasn’t the ending that creator Jeff Eastin originally had in mind, he reveals below. Instead, he went with a variation pitched by the show’s own stars.
Eastin also talks about the possibility of a TV movie and the finale’s homage to Catch Me If You Can.
TVLINE | I can’t believe you fake-killed Neal!
We spent a long time saying, “Nobody will ever believe we killed Neal.” So we spent quite a while trying to sell it. We figured the moment when Mozzie believes it, maybe the audience will believe it.
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TVLINE | When and how did you settle on this particular ending?
I had a different ending [in which] Peter finally released Neal. This was going to be the moment when Neal has to decide what he’s going to do. And so he walked up to the Flatiron building in New York, and he’s tossing a coin. In one version, the coin lands heads, and he goes to the right and he gets in a limo with Mozzie and they go off to be the greatest criminals ever. And then we’re back with Neal, and he’s standing at that same intersection, tosses the coin and it comes up tails and he goes left and he goes to the FBI. We realize it’s a few years later and Neal’s taken over Peter’s job as head of the White Collar Crime division and he’s now an FBI agent and very happy. And then we come back to Neal, and he’s in that same spot. He tosses the coin and just before it lands, we go to black. We never know which choice he finally made. That was the ending that I had settled on from the moment I sold the series. I pitched that ending along with the series to USA six years ago, and it’s one I had planned to stick to.
Then Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer came to me and said, “Hey, look, we love that ending. It’s awesome. But we’ve got a better idea.” And that was the idea, which is Neal, ultimately, decides to kill himself to save the people he loves. But of course, it’s Neal, so he hasn’t quite done that. Once they pitched me this ending, I said, “You know what? This is so much better.” So that’s how this ending came about.
TVLINE | So it was really a collaborative effort.
Yeah, it really was. And it was nice because the series as a whole has been a collaborative effort between me, Tim and Matt. Ultimately, I think to end it that way was really the right thing to do.
TVLINE | What do you want viewers to take away from those final moments?
The real idea there was the relationship between Peter and Neal, that chase that we started. In the world of White Collar, that pursuit will just continue forever. The moment Peter discovers that [Neal] set the entire thing up, I’m hoping people will go, “OK. Neal tricked us one more time.” Obviously, there’s a playing card inside there to indicate that Mozzie had been there before. So Mozzie will also continue on with Neal. And that, really, Neal’s finally free. The entire series, we’ve tried desperately to get Neal to Paris. We figured that if there’s one place that an art thief needs to be, it’s in Paris. So we’re finally able to do that in the very final moment, which I’ve very, very happy about.
TVLINE | Does the Queen of Hearts card mean Mozzie’s on his way to join Neal?
TVLINE | Tim DeKay’s smile in that scene is so great. What’s behind Peter’s grin? Is he just glad Neal is alive? Is he excited by the fact that the chase is on again?
Tim DeKay and I had talked about that. When he came to pitch me that final moment, he didn’t have the details or anything. When Peter realizes that Neal is not dead, he’s faked this entire thing, that smile he has at the last moment really is about the chase is on. Because what we’ve established there is Peter has, to a certain extent, settled down. He’s got Elizabeth, and he’s got his son, Neal. He turned into the guy that’s going to leave at six o’clock and not work late. As much as Peter loves that, the thing he loves more, the thing he’s always loved, is the chase. So for Tim, it was that moment when he realizes that the chase is on. As Tim said when he pitched it to me, “The game’s afoot,” and you see him turn and run out of there. That’s what it is. It’s like, “Great, the game’s on. This is going to keep going.”
TVLINE | So Neal’s next target is the Louvre?
The next target is the Louvre, yeah.
TVLINE | You’ve said in the past that a lot of the series has been about Neal struggling with these two different sides of himself and secretly wanting Peter’s life. Are we to assume from this ending that he realized, “I am who I am”?
Yep. Exactly. That after six years, after this long struggle, Neal can decide, “Who am I? Am I the con man? Am I the thief that my father was, my real father? Or am I Peter Burke?” who in his heart became his de facto father. He’s always struggled with that, with that desire. I said before in a couple of interviews that, for me, Neal wants to be good, but he was born bad. This was finally the decision that Neal Caffrey is what he is at his heart and that’s an art thief. That’s just a much more fun ending than deciding that he is good and that he gets the white picket fence.
TVLINE | I couldn’t help but notice that there’s a bit of an open door with this ending. Is there room for continuation? Maybe a TV movie?
You never know. That would be nice. I know the studio is pushing me to try to have viewers mail ties into USA to try to keep the series going. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Not pocket squares?
Pocket squares would be good, too. Somebody had pitched me the “Tie up White Collar” Season 7 pitch. [Laughs] I said, “You know, that’s not a bad idea.” … I think everybody involved would probably be excited about that idea. So I don’t want to rule anything out, but the ending really was for me not necessarily to say, “Hey, let’s go back and do another one,” but really just to say that Peter will always keep chasing Neal and Neal will keep stealing things for as long as people care to wonder.
TVLINE | The scene where Neal is dressed as an airline captain, was that a nod to your original pitch and this being sort of a continuation of Catch Me If You Can?
Yeah. Beyond that, Frank Abagnale, Jr., the real guy [on which the film is based], was a fan of the show. He had been really nice and sent me like a signed poster and things like that and told me how much he liked the show. We were trying very hard to get him to do a cameo in the finale, but the timing didn’t work out with his schedule. So the airline captain was really a nod to Frank Abagnale, Jr., the original Neal.
TVLINE | What are you going to miss most about this show?
The thing I’ll miss most is just that friendship with Matt and Tim and Willie [Garson] and Tiffani [Thiessen]. Everybody was incredibly nice… Matt and Tim, especially, were such incredible leaders on the set. They would come in every day — long standard 12-hour days, sometimes 14, sometimes 16 hours — and to keep up with the level of humor and the fact that I don’t think I ever saw Tim and Matt not smiling between takes. That does so much just for the morale on set. That’s probably the thing that I’ll miss the most. Whenever I would go off to New York, I’d be able to go out there and hang out with these guys. I’ve never laughed so much or had such a good time. I’ll miss that.
And then the other thing is I will miss New York. For six years, it was sort of my home away from home. Now I realize that unless I decide to set another show there, I will really never be back to New York other than as a tourist and that’s going to be different. I know Tim and Willie have said something very similar.
White Collar fans, what did you think of the show’s swang song? Would you have preferred the original ending? How did you react when Neal “died”? Grade the series finale via the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!